The University of Colorado is attempting its own version of the latest craze in raising money — crowdfunding — to fund eight unique projects on the Boulder campus.
Within the next two weeks, CU is planning to announce the crowdfunding campaigns for projects ranging from undergraduate research to departmental programs.
University officials say they hope enough people will give gifts in small increments to help the projects get fully funded.
Crowdfunding, or using social networks to fund a project, has become an increasingly popular tool in recent years. Companies such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo provide online platforms for people to explain their project and how much money they need to raise.
The online platforms also provide a space for backers to donate online and get updates as the project moves along.
For CU, crowdfunding can serve a dual purpose. Organizers say they hope to fund interesting and unique projects on the campus while also giving alumni, students, friends, family and others a deeper sense of engagement with the school.
Ray Johnson, project leader for the crowdfunding effort, started thinking about how the university could use crowdfunding in 2012 when he became a lecturer in the Leeds School of Business Deming Center for Entrepreneurship.
"There's a lot of good stuff happening here, but how does this stuff get funded?" Johnson said.
Prior to his work at the university, Johnson helped raise over $85 million for startups around the world. He's also the commercialization director for CU Cleantech, a public-private partnership that supports the commercialization process and brings students and industry members together.
After months of researching the feasibility of crowdfunding, putting out requests for projects and talking with students about how to make their funding requests successful, it's almost go time, Johnson said.
Schools such as Arizona State, University of Alberta, University of Utah and UCLA have had success with crowdfunding.
Johnson said CU consulted with Cornell University about the success of its pilot crowdfunding program.
Cornell raised almost $115,000 in less than 60 days for seven projects, Johnson said. Roughly 60 percent of funders were alumni, Johnson said, and half of those were first-time donors.
Gigi Reynolds, spokeswoman for the university system's fundraising arm, the CU Foundation, said the crowdfunding pilot complements CU's existing fundraising tools. She said about 50 percent of gifts made each year are less than $100.
Crowdfunding is better aligned with how and why young donors are giving, said Maggie Linn-Addison, assistant director for annual giving.
"They prefer to give online, so this gives us another venue to reach out to them more effectively and communicate with them in ways that they prefer via Facebook or Twitter," Linn-Addison said. "They're the type of donor that really wants to know what their money is doing and the impact it's going to make."
CU now asks for donations through direct mail campaigns, phone calls, emails and personal visits.
Donating to a crowdfunding campaign also gets people invested in a way that traditional fundraising formats haven't.
"There's an engagement aspect often with crowdfunding, and people feel invested in a project or a program that's being funded in a way they might not when it's an appeal for our annual fund," Reynolds said. "Crowdfunding will be able to show them that the process goes on after the money is raised."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or email@example.com.