Higher Education Crowdfunding: Hubbub’s 2017 Predictions

As technology and social media pave the way for digital fundraising innovation across both higher education and the wider cultural sector, the growing trend of crowdfunding is providing an exciting opportunity to increase both engagement and participation.

Many UK and European universities are now running their own crowdfunding programmes (the University of Oxford, University of Manchester and Essex University to name just a few). Some of these programmes have now been running for 3 years, and as a result, 2017 is set to be the year crowdfunding matures from an interesting pilot opportunity to a major component of fundraising. Questions remain about best practice, donor retention and integration with campaigns and major donors, but many of these are now being answered by the early adopters.

Crowdfunding is driving significant new donor acquisition and participation in those who have embraced it. The University of Essex launched its crowdfunding platform Click in 2015, and within a year, Click has raised £40,000 across 37 crowdfunding projects, nearly quadrupling the total donor base in the process.

As the more established programmes mature, the big things that are coming in 2017 are matchfunding, integrated multi-channel campaigns, and best practice in donor retention. This is great news for those considering crowdfunding and digital giving, as the ROI, benchmarks and best practices developing provide a roadmap for both building a business case and executing a great programme.

Source: Hubbub Fundraising

1 ) Matchfunding

Matchfunding, where institutional, trust, corporate or major donor funding is matched with crowdfunded donations, can lead to great success, and in 2017 universities will include more of this — and from more diverse sources — in their crowdfunding programmes. Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund recently launched matchfunded crowdfunding programmes, and its likely than many of the foundations and trusts with reach into higher education will see opportunities here too. As the number of academic research crowdfunding projects increases, this opens up new avenues to these larger funding bodies.

The data supports using matchfunding: it not only increases the number of donations to a given project, but also the total funding for each campaign.

(Image: YuStart)

We analysed universities using matchfunding on their crowdfunding projects for over 2 years (the University of York, the University of Southampton, and Somerville College, University of Oxford). The average funds raised per project are consistently higher on matchfunded projects, and on average are tripled.

According to Susie Braithwaite, Deputy Director of Development, University of York, matchfunding can “give crowdfunding projects an initial boost, getting their campaigns off to a flying start. This momentum builds confidence in asking which can present a barrier to fundraising.”

One of the easiest routes to matchfunding — one that is already being used and we expect will expand substantially in 2017 — is low-level major donors — where it provides both a clear ask, a strong case for support, and an exceptional donor experience and stewardship opportunities for that donor.

2) Multi-channel campaigns

Fundraising is steadily heading towards multi-channel campaigns, where telethons, direct mail and digital tools integrate to increase the efficiency of each project.

Somerville College (University of Oxford), has used crowdfunding over the last two academic years as part of its multichannel calendar of Annual Fund activities, including online and social media pushes. This has increased the participation rate by 16%-20%, while the participation among students and young alumni has increased by a factor of 5.

Source: Somerville College, University of Oxford Case Study: Participation, the Annual Fund and Major Gifts

However, bringing digital giving and traditional forms of offline giving (telethon and direct mail campaigns) together with crowdfunding and peer to peer fundraising will lead to substantial increases in fundraising in 2017. Many institutions are now looking both to represent their existing campaigns online, and to convert their donors, staff and students into advocates. Using US “Giving Day” style challenges — such as additional donations that are unlocked when 200 young donors give — makes the campaigns collaborative, fun and engaging for the younger generations. We think there’ll be a big trend in 2017 towards adding digital into the DM and telethon mix.

Source: Marquette University, 1 Million Dollar Challenge

3) Repeat crowdfunding and donor conversion/retention

Retention is a constant challenge — not just in digital campaigns, but also in DM and telephone fundraising. With existing digital programmes maturing, 2017 is the year where testing and exploration will start to lead to insight and best practice.

As crowdfunding donor retention becomes a “focus issue”, here are three tips that will help you stay abreast of the latest developments:

- Measure: Take a closer look at your database and analyse the giving patterns of your donors. Do crowdfunding donors give to more than one project? If you have collected information on their relationship to the project in question, does this reason correlate with future giving behaviour? What rates of conversion to other donation methods are you achieving? If you are measuring this, you will be in a great place to experiment, which brings us onto the second point.

- Experiment: Typically, one of the strongest factors affecting the likelihood of a donor giving again is the timing, relevance and strength of the next ask. If a donor has indicated that they know a project’s promoter personally, then it’s best to leverage that relationship. Some donors explicitly opt-in to be contacted about making further gifts, and in these cases an immediate follow-up is called for. And if a donor has opted to give to a very specific cause, it’s best to try to make the next communication relevant. A general approach for an unrestricted regular gift as part of the next telethon is not the best approach for someone who has chosen to give £20 to a student comedy show. Crowdfunding does give you an additional option: rewards. Exclusive rewards may also contribute to the donor’s future loyalty, and provides an opportunity to make the donation experience positive and long-lasting, well after the initial philanthropic act.

- Learn: The maturing sector is increasingly lending experience and best practice back to those who want to learn. CASE conferences regularly include talks on crowdfunding and digital giving. There is also Crowdfundlist, a mailing list for the sector. The Hubbub Sharing Centre and Resources page has examples of case studies, business cases, training materials, stewardship comms, etc, which can guide strategy. And finally, there is a series of conferences and webinars you can attend to learn and network with sector professionals.

In summary, 2017 is the year crowdfunding starts to displace or integrate with telethons and DM campaigns and in the process provide a mainstream, cost-effective digital giving solution which increases engagement and participation and brings university communities together.

Interested in learning more about the latest fundraising advances visit the CASE Spring Institute in Educational Fundraising