How the University of York pioneered crowdfunding and inspired young alumni to donate like never before
When the University of York’s Development Office was looking for new ways to increase donations from young alumni, they decided to trial crowdfunding. Four years down the line, the results speak for themselves:
- 700-1000 crowdfunding donors each year
- £50k raised annually, contributing around 10% of total annual giving income
- 24% of crowdfunding donors are current students
- The highest giving rates among alumni aged under 30 of any UK university
- 91% of alumni donors are new to the university
- 15.3% of donors give to multiple projects
Why did you introduce crowdfunding?
At the University of York, we have a vast array of student clubs and societies, as well as an active Student Union, so the demand for project funds was growing. In the Development Office, we knew we wanted to empower students to raise their own funds. Crowdfunding fitted well with that, so it was the right time in our growth to introduce it.
The university also has a young and rapidly growing alumni base we wanted to engage with – 25% of our alumni are under 30 – so, we felt crowdfunding could help with that.
Finally, of course, at York we like to be pioneers, so the chance to work with Hubbub and be the first UK university to introduce crowdfunding was a big attraction.
Putting it together
What is your crowdfunding strategy?
Our crowdfunding strategy has become a fundamental part of our overall fundraising strategy. Through Hubbub’s crowdfunding platform, which we’ve branded YuStart, we offer students tailored support and training for their projects.
It’s about removing the barriers to crowdfunding for both students and staff. We welcome, support, enable and encourage them to be involved in crowdfunding and to use their networks creatively.
As well as working closely with student groups and sports clubs, we’ve also helped some departments to integrate crowdfunding into their curriculum. For example, students in Theatre, Film and TV are encouraged by their lecturers to raise funds for their projects through YuStart.
What benefits have you seen from crowdfunding?
One of the major benefits has been the broadening of our supporter base. We really wanted to increase engagement with young alumni. Now, we not only have a lot of new student and staff donors, but it’s also changed the profile of our alumni donors. In fact, at the moment, we have the highest proportion of alumni donors under the age of 30 of any UK university. Also, 91% of our alumni donors are supporting us for the first time.
Crowdfunding has also helped to strengthen the ties between the Development Office and the student community and raised the profile of fundraising right across the campus. This means we no longer have to reach out to students to get them involved. They see us as somewhere to get help for their projects and actively approach us, so it’s creating a continuous pipeline of activity and income.
After four years, we can say crowdfunding has helped to turn the University of York into a fundraising university, rather than a university that fundraises.
Getting into good habits
You talk about “serial crowdfunders” and “serial donors” – what do these mean?
We’ve used crowdfunding to build stronger relationships with the student community, because we feel this helps them to develop the habit of philanthropy. Using the crowdfunding platform to raise funds for a project you’re personally involved in is a good way of doing this.
What we’ve found is that once a student has used the YuStart platform and had a good experience by raising the money they needed, they’re likely to come back again. Each project is different, so each time they’re telling a new story and developing more transferable skills. This is what we call a ‘serial crowdfunder’.‘
Serial donors’ are slightly different. We’re proud of the fact that 15.3% of our donors give to more than one project. Many do this because they visit the YuStart platform to donate and see another project on there that they’re interested in. So, YuStart is a valuable tool for encouraging these ‘serial donors’.
The big match
How do you use matched funding?
Matched funding has been really useful in encouraging students to participate in crowdfunding. For most YuStart projects, the Development and Alumni Relations team will match a proportion of the total target from general alumni donations. Alternatively, for some projects, we’ll approach a donor who has an interest in that particular project area – for example, music or science – and invite them to be the matcher.
This helps us to find more crowdfunding projects, because we offer it to projects that apply for general alumni funding, but don’t get it, if they generate funds by crowdfunding on YuStart.
This serves as a big incentive for students to become involved in projects, because it almost guarantees funding. In fact, at York, projects with matched funding raise, on average, three times as much as those without it.
What are the results so far?
The stats are pretty impressive.
- Crowdfunding is engaging 700-1000 donors annually and accounts for around 10% of our total giving income each year.
- 24% of crowdfunding donors are current students. This is important, because it’s teaching them about the need for philanthropy and they carry that with them when they graduate.
- The YuStart platform has engaged and involved younger alumni in ways that we haven’t seen before. In terms of giving, we have the highest participation rates among alumni who are aged under 30 of any UK university.
- Crowdfunding has also proved very effective in persuading staff to donate and 7% of our donors are university staff.
- 36% of our donors, including 91% of our alumni donors, are also new to the university.
- We’ve also raised the profile of the university and some of our most innovative projects in the press.
What would you have done differently?
We’d have introduced crowdfunding sooner!
What's it like to work with Hubbub?
Hubbub have been amazing.