LSA's new crowdfunding hub

Fundraisers in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) are gearing up for this month’s launch of the university’s new crowdfunding platform, Community Funded. The new platform includes a dedicated LSA dashboard of active causes, making it easy to highlight the college’s most pressing needs and newest initiatives year round.

LSA has a strong track record of successful crowdfunding campaigns, led by Director of Digital Fundraising Michael Reed. Reed is looking forward to Community Funded features that will enable college fundraisers to launch crowdfunding campaigns more quickly and provide a more dynamic giving experience for LSA donors.

Getting our Feet Wet at the Biological Station

Knute Nadelhoffer

LSA’s first Community Funded crowdfunding campaign celebrates the retirement of Knute Nadelhoffer, longtime director of the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS). The two-week drive kicks off on Tuesday, November 17, and aims to raise at least $20,000 for the UMBS Scholarship Fund. Two generous UMBS alumni are offering a $10,000 match to boost contributions, and a series of emails to nearly 4,000 alumni and friends will encourage the community to honor Nadelhoffer’s leadership and support students with their gifts. 

Changes for Giving Tuesday AND Giving Blueday: What to Expect

LSA’s fundraising priorities at the college level will remain focused on student support scholarships through the fall and winter semesters. About 70% of LSA undergraduates normally receive some sort of financial aid, but student need is accelerating as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on. Last spring, when the outbreak started, the College of LSA was able to award more than $134,000 in emergency scholarship aid to undergraduates thanks to the generosity of donors. LSA will observe Giving Tuesday, the global day of giving on December 1, 2020, with a one-day campaign for the LSA Fund for Need-based Support

When Giving Blueday returns on March 10, 2021, the Community Funded platform will provide new ways to highlight matching gifts and challenges, offer better search capabilities so that donors can find and support the U-M funds they find most appealing, and display dynamic donor maps showing the widespread reach of our loyal donor base.

“All of our campaigns will be housed in one place with Community Funded, beginning with Knute’s Retirement Campaign,” says Reed. “And when Giving Blueday rolls around in the spring, we’ll be ready to help donors support what they love about LSA.”

LSA’s Crowdfunding BLUEprint

Reed says campaigns work best when they’re focused on immediate needs and approach targeted stakeholders, like alumni, parents, or previous donors, with a clear and specific ask. LSA donors respond to a sense of urgency around programs and initiatives that matter to them, as evidenced, for example, by the college’s consistent success on Giving Blueday. The university’s annual day of giving, Giving Blueday features energizing crowdfunding tools like leaderboards and social media ambassadors to spur interest in hundreds of causes. Lead donors step up with a commitment to fund a significant portion of the campaign and provide valuable leverage for the hourly challenges and special giving matches that incentivize donors to vote for their favorite campaigns with their wallets. In 2019, over 1,800 alumni, parents, friends, faculty, staff, and students gave $1.9M to LSA on Giving Blueday to impact the future of students and the college.

Data collected from stand-alone and Giving Blueday campaigns in 2018 and 2019 reveal that LSA “crowdfunders” represent each of the last eight decades of grads from the college (all the way back to the 1940s!), with most graduating in the 1970s-’00s. These insights help Reed and department fundraisers plan communications strategies for new campaigns. While email is used as the primary outreach mechanism, most campaigns are supplemented with a range of communications, from social media to direct mail.

Crowdfunding at its Best: Three LSA Case Studies

Recent LSA crowdfunding campaigns have rallied diverse groups of individuals to launch new initiatives and kickstart scholarships or outreach funds. A common thread is a focus on the demonstrated impact on students in LSA -- and how each contribution moves the needle.

Closing the Gap with the LSA Laptop Program

Launched as a pilot in 2014, the LSA Laptop Program has become one of the college’s most relied upon programs for increasing equity among its student population. Due to the pilot’s resounding success, the program was expanded in 2020 to serve all incoming University of Michigan students who meet criteria identified by the Office of Financial Aid; it is now known as the Michigan Undergraduate Laptop Program and is managed by the Office of Enrollment Management. Through the program, low-income students who cannot afford to purchase a laptop -- an essential tool for any college student, especially during a global pandemic when most undergraduate classes are online -- are offered a free MacBook Air to use throughout their undergraduate years. 

Early in 2019, while the program was still in its pilot phase, it became apparent that almost one-third of the fall’s incoming LSA class would be eligible for the program and LSA didn’t have enough laptops to fulfill the need. So LSA turned to crowdfunding to help close the gap with a special two-week campaign.

The campaign utilized a lead donation as a one-to-one match to incentivize giving, as well as an innovative, personalized strategy to micro target a small group within its larger audience of 200,000+ LSA alumni and friends. Leading up to the campaign, Reed and LSA’s College Connections coordinators (recent Michigan grads who visit with alumni and parents to discuss their campus experiences) included the Laptop Program in conversations with young alumni working in West Coast tech companies. More than half of the meetings in this mini fundraising blitz resulted in a contribution, accounting for nearly 10% of total donations to the campaign. In just two weeks, 163 donors raised $19,345 against a $14,000 goal. Almost 40% of the donors were new or lapsed (they hadn’t made a gift in several years). The lead matching gift brought the campaign’s grand total to $44,245.

“A digital crowdfunding effort using email and social media was a great way to connect with our large audience of alumni and let them know how they could quickly make a tangible difference by providing laptops for LSA undergraduates,” said Reed. “It really resonated with donors who we haven’t heard from in a long time.”

“This gift is in memory of my grandfather,” said one donor. “He actually was able to help me buy my computer when I started at the University of Michigan in 2005. I think this is a really wonderful program that you are offering students. I was lucky enough to have someone to help me when I couldn’t afford a computer, but can still remember how stressful it was trying to figure out what I was going to do.”

Making a Difference for the Difference-Making HistoryLab Initiative

The Department of History launched its HistoryLabs initiative with two courses in the fall of 2018. HistoryLabs are project-based courses designed to make the value of history and its contribution to the common good easier to see and understand. The semester-long labs enable a small team of students to take a deep dive into the history of a place or event, to study it within the context of its own and our time, and to examine related questions or problems. The resulting digital multimedia projects present valuable insights and resources for addressing today’s social problems.

LSA undergraduate Jack Mahon detailed his experience in the Policing and Social Justice Lab for a 2019 LSA Magazine story. Mahon’s team investigated police shootings of civilians in Detroit between 1957 and 1973 and the anti-police-brutality movement that emerged. “Our research was primarily conducted in archives,” explained Mahon. “A research project of this style hasn’t been produced to date, and most likely would not have surfaced without the work of this lab. By creating a concrete history of police violence and racial injustice in Detroit, we presented key resources for progress in criminal justice reform.”

A two-week crowdfunding campaign was launched in 2019 to support the non-traditional course costs -- like technology, off-site research, and site visits -- integral to HistoryLabs’ success. A series of three emails to 10,000 U-M history alumni and friends shared personal stories from students and professors about the new ways they were approaching the study of history. The campaign came on the heels of an already very successful fundraising season for the department, but the compelling messages about the mission to equip U-M history students with the ability to make change through history won over enough donors to meet the $10,000 goal and earn a $10,000 matching donation, netting the initiative nearly $21,000. More than one third of the donors hadn’t made a gift to the history department in many years, or ever.

Tom Weisskopf

A Personal Challenge for the Residential College

Residential College (RC) Director Tom Weisskopf wanted to honor the RC upon his retirement with an alumni engagement fund to support innovative ways for successful RC alums to share their experiences with current students. He began the fund with a personal $12,500 donation, and chose to encourage active alumni participation by challenging them to raise the additional $12,500 needed to fully endow the Tom Weisskopf Alumni-Student Engagement Fund

"When I began my service as the Residential College Director in the mid-90s, one of my highest priorities was to encourage RC alums to play an active role in the life of the college,” said Weisskopf. “Some 25 years had gone by since the graduation of the first RC class, and I knew that there were many RC grads — some of them my own past students — who had much in the way of wisdom and experience to offer the contemporary RC.”

The RC received 112 donations and easily doubled its initial $12,500 goal, raising a total of $28,295. A fellow RC Professor was so moved by the personal email appeal from Weisskopf that he sent a check to cover the full $12,500 amount. Thirty-nine percent of donors made their first gifts to LSA through this campaign, or renewed after giving many years ago. 

The campaign highlighted the power of crowdfunding platforms to reconnect with and mobilize community members who’ve been away for the organization for some time. Donor responses ranged from offers to participate in future alumni-student engagement efforts (“Happy to connect with students interested in the nonprofit sector/philanthropy!”), to reminiscences of their time in the Residential College (“The RC was a great place for me to grow and learn. I don't [think] I would have survived the UofM if I had not found the RC. It was meant to be.”).