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Turning to the crowd for project funding

Colleges and universities creating their own crowdfunding platforms
University Business, December 2013

With funding cuts threatening research and other projects, some institutions hoping to promote innovation are following the trend of raising money through social networking.

The twist: They’re creating their own crowdfunding platforms to do it. As examples such as the $2.9 million pledged to fund the creation of an affordable, professional 3D printer show, ambitious people have been able to use crowdfunding through platforms such as Kickstarter to turn almost any idea into reality.

Georgia Tech Starter, a peer-reviewed crowdfunding platform for science and engineering research projects, launched in September. Unable to find a crowdfunding platform offering the type of oversight officials wanted, the school tapped its own population of top-notch developers to create a site, says Georgia Tech Research Institute researcher Allison Mercer, who managed site development.

A review process ensures the project creator has the skills to execute the project within budget and in the proposed timeframe. “This safeguards the public’s trust in our scientists, and ensures that the site will endure,” she says. Since projects retain the school’s nonprofit status, donors can get tax receipts.

Crowdfunding in higher ed is catching on outside of science research, too.

The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University launched a 60-day crowdfunding campaign in October to fund various projects. The iSchool’s new iFuel site was designed in-house to better secure donors’ personal information. It will allow those closely associated with the effort to personally reach out to donors, says Scott A. Barrett, assistant dean for advancement.

“As it gets more and more challenging to reach donors and prospective donors via direct mail and telefund, we felt this provided another avenue to tell our story and encourage support.”

More than 30 percent of the donors in the first four days after the site launched had never given to the iSchool before.

Being able to hand-select a project to help fund means donors know they can have a direct, dramatic positive influence on students. Plus, they already spend a lot of time online. That combination means asking for money via iFuel “becomes a much easier conversation,” says Barrett.