What gift is more valuable for a university: A mega-million-dollar gift from an individual, business or organization or thousands of smaller gifts from across the university’s alumni and friends? The answer of course, is they are both extremely significant.
“It takes each gift, no matter the size, to continue to support and grow the university and its initiatives, and we rely on the large transformative gifts to tackle big projects and make big plans,” said Dr. Ron Area, chief executive officer of the Marshall University Foundation. “But what are equally important are the grassroots efforts. These gifts send messages to the administration of our Marshall University family’s priorities and passions.”
We’ve all seen the requests in our social media feeds, asking for support from the local kids’ ball club, primary or secondary school and even for a family or specific individual who has been met with challenging circumstances and someone, sometimes on their behalf, reaches out in the hopes of fundraising monies to cover the expenses.
“Crowdfunding,” defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as “the practice of obtaining needed funding by soliciting contributions from a large number of people especially from the online community,” has replaced the door-to-door sales of youngsters hocking wrapping paper and candy bars and moved it all online. It is convenient, for most “in the palm of their hand” and people give to the causes that often tug at their heart strings or resonate with them personally in the moment.
For the Marshall Foundation, introducing its own crowdfunding tool this past August 2022, was not only requested by departments, but it was also a necessary instrument to own the solicitation and stewardship process. Gifts being solicited by internal Marshall programs through outside crowdfunding sources, were challenging to track, receipt and acknowledge.
“We had been asked repeatedly if we had the capability and began looking for options available and what other universities were doing to fill that need,” said Griffin Talbott, program director of the annual fund. “If we aren’t providing a tool, someone else will.”
Other crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe or offered through Facebook were not providing adequate information about who the donations were coming from, or how much each individual donation totaled. Most often, a lump sum would be received, weeks, sometimes months after the fundraiser had ended with no detailed documentation. This left the Marshall Foundation no choice but to deposit without acknowledging the true donors.
“Having our own crowdfunding tool helps to bring function inside our organization so we don’t rely on outside reporting and money collecting procedures,” Talbott said. “Our crowdfunding tool is also able to be used across multiple social media platforms for awareness, but yet has a centralized backend reporting and acknowledgement structure that caters to several of our stewardship priorities such as tracking giving history, providing tax receipts for charitable deductions and acknowledging active alumni memberships.”
Targeted for use by departments and colleges across campus, the Marshall Foundation crowdfunding platform seeks to fill a need that departments and colleges have for grassroots fundraising over a short period of time for a specific project or passion. One of the first departments to use the tool was the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development, a subsidiary department housed within the Marshall University College of Education and Professional Development.
The June Harless Center’s mission is to provide leadership in education initiatives for West Virginia educators and students. The Center provides educators and families in rural West Virginia with a support system that addresses educational problems, sustains school improvement and provides positive growth in all educational factors.
“The site was set up about a week in advance of our large in-person event in Charleston on Aug. 9,” said Alicia Syner, program developer of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in West Virginia. “We had hoped to collect $20,000 in donations from supporters leading up to the event and by using the QR Code to donate online while physically at the event. To date we have received close to $6,000 through the crowdfunding campaign. We plan to keep the page available through December 2022.”
The event, which celebrated West Virginia’s statewide participation in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, raised $45,000 additionally through sponsorships and a silent auction at the event, but the crowdfunding component was the first of its kind.
“The June Harless Center was looking for a fundraising platform that was zero to low-cost, would generate a QR code for donations and be user-friendly,” Syner said. They considered choosing Mighty Cause and Facebook as their crowdfunding tool but wanted the option to “thank donors specifically and track donor information more easily through the Marshall Foundation platform.”
“For our next fundraiser, I would take full advantage of the tool by customizing a thank you letter and email as well as uploading a video,” Syner said. “The Marshall University Foundation crowdfunding tool is easy to navigate and share with donors. We could not have pulled this off without Griffin and his team. I highly recommend using this tool for your next fundraiser.”
Interested Marshall University departments may apply online by visiting the giving website. There are policies and guidelines in place to assist a group in determining if they are prepared to launch a crowdfunding campaign and each project submitted is thoroughly reviewed. Only a select number of campaigns will run “live” at any one time, to prevent overcrowding of competition, and there is a donor wall for each project that allows supporters to be recognized, if they choose, and motivate others to become involved.
Project coordinators should be faculty or staff at Marshall University, have the sponsorship of their department chair and/or dean of the college, at least three people assigned to their team, seed money for 50% of the goal, photos, videos and a designated project or initiative with a specific timetable of how they plan to reach that objective.
“Donors are giving online, and this crowdfunding tool goes hand-in-hand with that trend,” Talbott said. “It is easy for departments and schools to get started and easy for donors to react.”
For more information about the Marshall Foundation crowdfunding tool, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://give.marshall.edu/submit-application to apply.