[Update June 2012: I posted 20 Examples of Crowdsourced Fundraising Platforms]
Over the years I've seen a couple of online tools that allow alumni and others to contribute directly to university students, their projects, or their organizations. The latest is called AlumniChoose, and is the brainchild of Tom Krieglstein. I talked to him this weekend about his motivation and his plans.
AlumniChoose sits on two well-established building blocks: micro-funding and social media. And it parallels efforts such as MiddSTART and MontereySTART, "a network of microphilanthropy" students at Middblebury College and its California graduate school, the Monterey Institute of International Studies. But because it's not limited to a single institution, AlumniChoose starts out more broadly.
How It Works
In a phone conversation, Krieglstein summed up his vision for the platform. "AlumniChoose" he said, "will increase the number of donors and the number of donations, and will reduce the institutional cost of getting those donations."
Donations to a specific student project or student organization are held in escrow until the project's financial goal is met. At that point, the institution receives a check for the full amount funded, along with the name, mailing address, email address, and amount given by each donor for the specific project. AlumniChoose verifies that organizers are officially recognized entities on their campus. So donors can presumably feel confident that their contribution is really supporting a service project instead of a keg party.
Krieglstein is frustrated by the transactional nature of annual giving. "Traditional appeals don't fulfill my emotional connection to giving. Instead, they could make my $25 donation feel like a $1 million donation," he told me. So he is trying to connect donors to the meaningful experience they want (and deserve) when funding small projects. This is also the impetus behind platforms like Kickstarter, Kiva and DonorsChoose.
[Krieglstein is frustrated by the transactional nature of annual giving]
1. The AlumniChoose approach may appeal to donors who don't just want to "fund a project," but who see themselves as part of the growth or evolution of a community – such as a student group – to which they have been connected in the past, or whose values and goals they think they share.
2. Partnership with development will make advancement officers more likely to respond positively to AlumniChoose, if partnership ensures the capture of donor data, which is critical to a robust, stable fundraising operation.
Capturing this data should allow institutions to expand their prospect and donor pools. Students will solicit and attract funding not only from alumni, but from their immediate families, distant relatives, and friends.
3. To succeed, AlumniChoose will require full collaboration among student group leaders, student affairs professionals, and advancement offices.
Institutional fundraisers must recognize and embrace this trend: the move toward relationship-based, meaningful interaction at ever-smaller donation levels. With the help of technology, institutions may:
- create instant personal interaction between donors and recipients;
- allow contributors to join mini-social networks of like-minded fellow donors;
- push relationship-based interaction down to modest annual gift levels; and
- decrease the impersonal interaction that characterizes mass solicitation.
4. AlumniChoose may, as its founder projects, increase donor numbers and dollars at low relative cost.
However, it will not put a dent in the short-term budgetary needs of universities, and it will not channel funds to campaign priorities or other projects seen as critical to the central administration. Its greatest value may be in creating a long-term pipeline of future repeat donors.
[Giving will be based not on the institution,
but on the causes its students pursue]
5. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the central donor pool across institutions will grow over time.
Donors may be "tagged" according to what kind of effort they support (e.g., social causes, community engagement, musical theater, international exchange, etc.), not according to which institution they support. On the one hand, State U. may see some donors shift support to projects at other institutions. But in theory this will even out as other schools' donors support projects at State U. Their giving will be based, again, not on the institution, but on the causes its students pursue.
Campus fundraisers have generally avoided partnering with third party platforms, citing reasons ranging from "security concerns" to "controling the message" to "protecting our donor community." Krieglstein says AlumniChoose should be a "partner with the campus development office, to help more students do more."
If it works out that way, and if advancement professionals can overcome their protective instincts, one result may be a tiny bit more money for student activities, and a wider pipeline of donors in the long-run.