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How Berkeley conquered crowdfunding chaos


This week we are chatting with Ryan Lawrence, Crowdfunding Manager for UC Berkeley, about crowdfunding and how universities can benefit from it. He is part of one of the most successful crowdfunding programs in the educational sector and his tips can be useful for anyone considering the idea of a crowdfunding campaign.

Ryan was talking about Berkley’s crowdfunding success in Chicago Digital Philanthropy Afternoonwhere Hubbub were also attending.

What makes a successful crowdfunding campaign?

In my opinion, there are a few key elements to a successful campaign. First, the project needs to have a compelling story behind it to get donors interested and excited about the project. Second, the project must have a committed project team that is willing to divide and conquer the workload, and keep up the momentum throughout the entire campaign.

This same team must also have a large social media and network reach – crowdfunding is not “if you build it, they will come” scenario, so the more people the teams can contact, the more success they will have. And finally, and it seems so simple, but the crowdfunding team must be willing to ask the same people for donations multiple times.

It’s all about finding the time that’s convenient for a donor to pull out their wallet and make a gift. The number one reason that teams are unsuccessful is because they are afraid of asking multiple times.


Image: @UCBerkeleyFood

How did Berkeley raise over $250k with its crowdfunding program?

In my role, I see myself as a consultant for our crowdfunding teams. I work with groups from start to finish and do weekly check-ins via the phone or in-person to make sure that materials are being developed on time, an outreach strategy is in place, and the team is comfortable with their plan.

Once a campaign launches, I work with teams to discuss what they’ve done so far and we brainstorm together on new ideas for them to try out. The groups that are consistent about meeting with me weekly always outperform better than those that do not. I also provide them with training and materials to teach best practices to set them up for success.

What was the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that you need to quickly set realistic expectations for the amount of money that groups will raise. Nearly every group comes to me thinking they will raise much more than they are capable of doing.

After I show them the numbers it would take to reach that goal, they usually are happy with lowering the initial goal and setting up a stretch.


Image: @cal

How would you convince a university to launch a crowdfunding program?

One of the biggest concerns I hear from other institutions when they are hesitant about starting up crowdfunding is that they are afraid that it is going to take away from the annual fund. From my experience, this is simply not true.

Donors will give to a crowdfunding project and see it as a one-off donation to their regular gift. In addition, crowdfunding is a great way to attract new donors and to highlight the amazing initiatives that are taking place around campus and beyond.

It creates excitement in donors who are able to directly connect with areas that they are passionate about.

Do you recall the biggest challenge you faced when you were involved in one of the world’s first university crowdfunding programs with University of Delaware?

I think nearly every institute that has ever established a crowdfunding program will agree – the biggest challenge is getting everyone onboard around campus that crowdfunding is a valuable tool.

I remember having multiple meetings with our legal teams, IT and system securities, gifts processing, procurement, and countless other groups to explain to them what we wanted to accomplish and why.

Once everyone was excited about the program, it was simply waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. If I remember correctly, it took about a year and a half before our first project launched online.

What should we expect from your presentation at the Digital Philanthropy Afternoon?

I’ll be slightly limited on time, so I’m planning on keeping my presentation short and sweet. I hope to highlight my program at Berkeley to show how we set up teams for success, then leave plenty of time for questions.

I love talking about this topic, and I hope my presentation will encourage schools that haven’t yet started crowdfunding to give it a try.


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