Where their story begins
When the University of York’s Development Office was looking for new ways to increase donations, from young alumni, in particular, they decided to trial crowdfunding. Five years later, their crowdfunding programme has grown from strength to strength. Through encouraging alumni, staff, current students, family members and friends to support more than 240 projects, the team at York have truly cultivated a community of passionate and engaged donors.
We spoke to Matt Ingram, Young Alumni Officer at the University of York, to hear more about their crowdfunding journey, how the programme has evolved over the last five years and what's next for them.
Hubbub: What were the reasons for starting a crowdfunding programme at York?
Matt Ingram: Like many universities, York has lots of student clubs and societies, as well as an active student union. We could see that the demand to fund student activities was increasing and had already started to see a few projects from clubs and societies show up on some of the more common crowdfunding sites. By having a platform of our own we could empower students to raise their own funds, while also having the opportunity to tell great stories about how supporting York's students truly made a huge impact on their university experience.
At the time of launching, we were also very aware of the University's young and rapidly growing alumni base, which we were keen to engage with. 25% of our alumni are under 30 and we felt crowdfunding could provide them with a closer connection to York that, in turn, would encourage them to give.
Finally, at York we like to be pioneers, so the chance to be one of the first UK university to introduce crowdfunding was a big attraction.
Putting it together
H: Can you tell us more about your strategy when it comes to running a successful crowdfunding programme?
MI: The way we approach crowdfunding at York has become fundamental to our overall fundraising strategy. Through our programme, which we’ve branded YuStart, we offer students tailored support and training so that their projects can be successful. 94% of the projects that run on Yustart are successful - which we're really proud of. That success can definitely be attributed to the time and attention paid to finding good projects and supporting them throughout the running of their project.
Project success is 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.
H: What are some of the knock-on effect that you’ve experienced since the implementation of your crowdfunding programme.
MI: One of the major benefits has been the broadening of our supporter base. We really wanted to increase engagement with young alumni. Not only do we 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 very 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 five 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
H: Do you see students coming back to run more than one project?
MI: Absolutely! 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’.‘
H: What about donors - do they give to more than one project?
MI: They’re starting to. 15% of our donors give to more than one project. Many do this because they visit the YuStart platform to donate and may see another project on the site that they’re also interested in. Being able to have a platform that displays all of our projects together is a valuable tool for encouraging donors to give to more than one project.
The big match
H: Could you tell us how more about how using matched funding has helped to increase project success?
MI: 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 serves as a big incentive for students to become involved in projects because it almost guarantees some level of funding. In fact, at York, projects with matched funding raise, on average, three times as much as those without it.
Until Next Time
H: What's next for the team at York?
MI: Now that we’ve established our crowdfunding programme, we’re looking to integrate more community fundraising projects from those who participate in activities such as the University’s Great York Walk appeal.
Rather than using yet another platform to run these projects, we want to bring everything together under the Yustart brand. So far, this has been a success with more than 35 community fundraisers setting up a project to raise monies from family members and friends. We’ve also really enjoyed working with Hubbub on how we can make changes to the way the platform works so that it can better support these kinds of projects.
Update! In November 2019 the University of York ran their first-ever giving day with Hubbub. Over the 36 hours that their giving day ran, the team at York encouraged more than 500 donors to support projects such as student hardship and mental health research. Over £66,000 was raised during York’s giving day and they’re looking to organise their second giving day in November 2020.