Getting noticed in a University is no easy task.
Universities can be a strange hybrid of part small town, part multinational corporation, part Hogwarts – there are lots of people engaging in the community for a variety of reasons, and the competition is fierce in trying to get their attention.
We’ve been lucky at the University of Essex to have had great support from our Vice-Chancellor since the inception of our crowdfunding programme, but there are still plenty of potential donors, advocates and project leaders that we haven’t reached yet.
Lots of people seem to have heard of Click, our crowdfunding platform, but what it is still needs explaining.
So when we were offered the opportunity to showcase our crowdfunding platform at the Vice-Chancellor’s Summer Reception in June in front of 300 University senior staff and Essex community leaders, we saw an opportunity to really put Click on the map at our institution.
To tell people what it is for sure, but also show why it’s so important.
This is the story of how it went:
We wanted the event to be interactive as well as informative. To show crowdfunding at its best, but also to provide entertainment for attendees. Most importantly, to offer the ability to donate real money to projects, without that being the focus.
We designed the event as a ‘show and tell’ style affair – each project was given a space to pitch their project, and every attendee was issued with a voting token to pick their favourite. Cash prizes were given to the three projects with the most votes with a top prize of £500.
The caveat for this opportunity was to have eight (yes – eight) new projects live on the platform by the date of the event. Remembering being told this news still makes me shudder to this day. Eight is a big number for any time of the year, let alone when the majority of students have left for the summer.
This presented us with a huge challenge, but we set about it in earnest, and were not going to be defeated. We’ve spent a year making contacts across our campuses, and now it was time for them to earn their keep.
Our first bit of good fortune was that the University’s acting school, East 15, has lots of talented young people wishing to take plays to Edinburgh Fringe. This type of project is perfect for crowdfunding, as it offers a compelling ask, as well as a wealth of exciting but inexpensive rewards (free ticket to my show anyone?).
Acting students are also brilliant at promoting themselves, which I guess you’d have to be really! One email to the school returned three student theatre projects eager to go on the site – a wide spectrum from the inspirational to the downright controversial.
Projects soon followed from our contacts in the Student Enterprise Office and the Students’ Union. We got a further two projects from my student caller team working on our annual telephone appeal.
These students tend to be super keen as well as proactive, and a month of them promoting our Click matchfunding pot on the phones got them thinking and ultimately funding their ideas on the site.
We also got Ralitsa from Hubbub on board to be on our helpdesk with us and troubleshoot any problems, and a group of students from our most successful project to promote the benefits of the platform. Our dream team was complete – thought we’d get 5, we were told we needed 8, we got 9, easy! Erm, not quite…
We were ready. The sun was shining, our branded yellow tablecloths were ironed, our yellow voting tokens were counted, and our yellow Click balloons were inflated and looking ‘fetch’. As Coldplay once said – it was all yellow. And the students were also vaguely on time for once! We sorted out last minute tech issues, and soon we had 9 projects all with working laptops, donation forms and eye-catching displays (even if the cosplayers were testing the limits of my ‘let students be students’ mantra).
Everybody seemed to love chatting to the students and hearing their stories, and students worked their socks off to show how much they cared about their project. This event also marked one of the most bizarre conversations I’ve ever had in my 4 years working at Essex:
Elderly Lady: Can you help me? I’m not very mobile in this wheelchair so can’t visit each stand, would you be my proxy?
Me: Sure, if you tell me what interests you I’ll tell you about projects in that area.
Lady: I like theatre.
Me: Great, well we have three student plays here. One about the Syrian refugee crisis, one about (deep breath) legalising class B drugs in Ireland, and one about (big gulp, deeper breath, be brave James) the history of the sex toy.
Lady: (instantly) The last one. (pause) Just don’t tell them it was from me.
It was all over far too quickly, and it was time to tally the votes.
With a healthy majority, it was Women’s Rugby that won the day, but to be honest (cheesy line alert) we were all winners in the end. The event was a resounding success, not just in terms of lots of people on the night saying they enjoyed it, but by raising the profile of crowdfunding at the University.
Over 90% of attendees voted, and also donated a combined £681 to projects on the day and the weekend following the event. More than that, we’ve had a number of new enquiries from across the campus, asking us to speak to groups of students in the new term and tell them more about the joys of crowdfunding. We’ve also been asked back to showcase next year.
It was hard, but well worth it. Before this event, we had support from the man at the top, and various areas we’d worked hard to cultivate. Now we’ve got a host of new avenues to explore.
Essex has gone from ‘dipping its toe’ to going ‘all-in’ on crowdfunding.