FAQ

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a method of fundraising using personal networks and peer-to-peer solicitations to excite and empower friends, family and like-minded individuals to give to a particular cause. This approach allows a large pool of people to give, primarily through email and social media, modest contributions toward a campaign that positively impacts the VCU community. A team of advocates is essential to the success of this type of grass-roots effort to execute a marketing plan that maximizes personal networks. A Development and Alumni Relations project manager leads the team. Crowdfunding projects advance people, innovations and environments at VCU through support of faculty, students, research, patient care, community projects and more.

Who organizes the campaign?

Campaign coordinator. VCU community member (student, faculty, staff, volunteer, alumnus) in charge of leading the crowdfunding project. This individual is responsible for creating campaign content and recruiting volunteers/advocates and orchestrates the campaign from planning through stewardship.

Campaign volunteers/advocates. These individuals help the campaign coordinator expand the campaign’s reach by using their social media networks and personal connections to promote the project during the public phase. These individuals must be the initial donors to the project and will promote their giving through peer-to-peer communications to help generate interest and support.

DAR project manager. This individual is the VCU development representative of the school, organization or program in which the project is held. The DAR project manager assists the campaign coordinator with applying for project approval and provides guidance throughout each phase of project implementation.

What is the purpose of an Igniter project?

Igniter projects encourage philanthropic support for university initiatives that use research and collaboration to challenge norms, discover new ways of thinking and, ultimately, better the community. Money raised through Igniter campaigns are charitable gifts that directly benefit VCU programs and/or units.

Are gifts tax-deductible?

Each gift made through Igniter is 100 percent tax-deductible. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Igniter does not promote tangible gifts or perks.

Will my project receive the gifts made to support it?

Every gift made to an Igniter campaign directly supports that specific project. Other crowdfunding sites distribute funds only if the campaign goal is met. Every gift made via Igniter is applied to the project fund even if the goal is not met.

How much time does it take to launch an Igniter campaign?

A campaigns requires significant preparation: a two- to three-month time investment is needed from beginning to plan till the campaign ends.

DAR project managers must understand the effort required to run a crowdfunding campaign. For best results, project managers should thoroughly review toolkit materials and best practices before beginning the planning process.

At a minimum, campaigns must include:

Quiet phase. This typically takes two to four weeks. This will be the time for campaign coordinators to outline a marketing plan, to recruit and train volunteers, to prepare written, photo and video content and to identify outreach lists for target audiences.

Public phase. This is the public launch of your campaign and lasts seven to 30 days, depending on the goal. During the project, the campaign coordinator will send weekly (or daily for shorter campaigns) updates to your project advocates and volunteers. You will also continue to provide content for your volunteers to promote through their personal networks.

Stewardship phase. Thanking donors is vitally important. This includes providing narratives and illustrations of how their contribution will move the project forward and what impact the project will have or has already had. Stewardship should occur two to four weeks after the end of the giving period but can last as long as one year after the campaign closes.

Who can create an Igniter campaign?

Any member of the VCU family can start an Igniter campaign! That means students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. All crowdfunding efforts must support the university’s mission and be approved by the Office of Annual Giving.

What do I need to start an Igniter campaign?

First, consider the following:

  • Is the project viable?
    • Does the project meet a need within the university and the school/college/unit/organization?
    • Will the project inspire donors to actively partner with you (make a gift) to make the project a success?
  • Is the project achievable?
    • Is the campaign goal realistic in terms of time and goal?
    • Is it possible to completely fund the campaign through smaller, individual gifts made via Igniter as opposed to a few donors making significant gifts?
  • Is the project approved by your DAR project manager?

Need help? Contact the Office of Annual Giving.

If yes, then:

Determine the appropriate fund that currently exists in either the MCV Foundation, the School of Business Foundation, the School of Engineering Foundation or the VCU Foundation.

  • If your project requires creation of a new fund, contact the Office of Annual Giving for consideration.
  • Set a realistic and attainable fundraising goal between $500 and $10,000.
  • Establish a specific timeframe for your Igniter campaign; most crowdfunding efforts last seven to 30 days.
  • Recruit a team of five campaign advocates to help spread the word.
  • Develop a solicitation list of at least 20 individuals who would be willing to support your cause during the quiet phase.
  • Use toolkit to develop a stewardship plan for thanking donors and communicating with them after the close of the campaign.

When are applications due?

Project leaders should submit the application for their campaign site at least 90 days before the proposed public launch date. Once an application is submitted, you should expect a response from the DAR Office of Annual Giving within 10 business days.

What happens after my application is submitted?

  • The Office of Annual Giving provides approval for the campaign within 10 business days.
  • Verifying criteria include:
    • Project supports an existing fund in a VCU-affiliated foundation
    • DAR project manager has demonstrated ability to provide assets and support for the campaign
    • Campaign marketing and stewardship plans are in place
  • Once a project is approved and all content (copy, photos, videos) is submitted, the Igniter site will be built by the OAG team and will be ready for review within 15 business days.
  • Revisions are submitted by the DAR project manager and executed by the OAG team.
  • The DAR project manager can update the following aspects of the Igniter site during the campaign:
    • Email updates to campaign participants
    • Copy
    • Additional photo/video content

What giving platform will be used?

All crowdfunding campaigns to support VCU must use the Office of Development and Alumni Relations’ platform, Igniter.

This sounds like a lot of work! Do I have to do all of this? Can I use another platform?

It is a lot of work, but a successful Igniter campaign is well-planned and organized. Crowdfunding works when your personal networks are encouraged to be as excited about your cause as you are. By telling stories, sharing photographs and videos and showing the potential impact of a donation, you invite others to join in furthering VCU initiatives and, ultimately, impacting the community.

Using another platform is certainly an option, but the university is best served when all fundraising efforts work through existing giving structures and policies. Here are a few reasons:

  • Gifts made through other platforms typically are not 100 percent tax-deductible.
  • Gifts made through Igniter will directly go to the project, even if the goal is not met.
  • Donors do not run the risk of losing their campaign pledge to a third-party vendor if the campaign goal is not met.
  • All donor gifts made through Igniter are connected appropriately to donor profiles in the VCU database of record to ensure accurate accounting and stewardship.

What if the campaign goal isn’t met?

Your cause will still receive all donated funds even if the goal isn’t achieved.

What fees are associated with Igniter?

All contributions to support VCU are assessed administrative and credit card fees, totaling no more than 6.75 percent, depending on the type of card used.

What if I don’t have a big social network or I don’t think my personal network is interested in supporting my project?

If that is the case, then crowdfunding might not be for you. Crowdfunding is all about your personal connections and how you can encourage them to support your cause. Before starting the application process, you might want to reach out to your connections to see what support they might provide.

Can I get a list of alumni from Development and Alumni Relations for solicitation purposes?

Neither the Office of Annual Giving nor other VCU staff will provide contact information for alumni to volunteers.

I’m not a professional videographer and I don’t have any equipment. Does my Igniter campaign need a video?

A video is not required for a crowdfunding campaign, however, it is probably the most powerful tool for demonstrating the impact of a donation or advocating for a cause. A video does not need to be high-quality or even shot with a video camera. A homemade video, shot with a smartphone, is often more authentic and appealing. Best practices are to keep the video under one minute, have a clear message and call to action. If you have additional questions or need direction, please contact the Office of Annual Giving.

How much can I expect to raise from a crowdfunding campaign?

That depends entirely on your effort and the size of your network! A typical crowdfunding campaign can raise $500 to $10,000 with an average gift of $50-$75.

I still have a question. Who do I ask?

Reach out to the development officer who works with your academic unit, school or college. Or contact Jessie Pavlidis, project coordinator, at pavlidisjl@vcu.edu.

How it works
How it works

Application process

Who can apply to use VCU Igniter?

Current students, faculty and staff have the ability to use the platform. Those selected to use VCU Igniter must identify a fund held at a VCU-affiliated foundation to receive donations. If you are unsure if your group has a fund, email annualgiving@vcu.edu for assistance. All applicants must have a VCU Development and Alumni Relations team member sponsor. Currently, we are not accepting VCU Igniter applications from alumni. All projects need at least five champions who can be counted on for donations and word-of-mouth advertising.

Project principles

  • Time commitment: Four to six weeks planning, 30-45 days active execution and stewardship. View Timelines for Project Collaborators.
  • Team structure: One campaign coordinator and at least five advocates
  • Strategic goal setting: Dollar goals and overall project goals

All project teams must complete a thorough application process. After your application has been submitted, it will be reviewed by the crowdfunding committee. You will be notified of acceptance or rejection within two weeks of the application closing date. If selected, you will receive login credentials to access the Community Funded platform to begin setting up your project.

Note: To complete the crowdfunding application, you will need to identify at least five advocates for your crowdfunding project.

Is my project eligible?

Gifts made on Igniter are treated as gifts to VCU, and they are tax-deductible. Gifts go through the regular gift processing, receipting and recording protocols. Therefore, use of the platform is restricted to projects that meet certain eligibility criteria.

  • Gifts must go into a fund held at a VCU-affiliated foundation. If you do not know what fund you are eligible to use, or if you need to set up a new fund, contact annualgiving@vcu.edu.
  • Projects must have a VCU DAR employee as a sponsor.
  • Projects must have the approval of the ranking development officer of your college, school, center or unit. Not sure who this is for your area? Contact us at annualgiving@vcu.edu.
  • Certain projects to support research activities are considered sponsored programs and could be subject to additional regulations.

Projects that do not meet all of the above criteria are not eligible to use Igniter.

Project kickoff

Before you can begin a crowdfunding project using Igniter, the campaign coordinator needs to ensure that the full team (advocates, internal marketing and communications staff, etc.) is aware of the expectations of launching a crowdfunding project. This starts with a campaign kick-off meeting to set a project goal, develop a content plan and get a basic understanding of next steps. Then, you should give your team access to the platform by adding them as project collaborators — campaign coordinators will be given access to the platform after they have completed Igniter training, as conducted by the Igniter crowdfunding team.

  • Read, share and understand the expectations of a successful project (see Project Principles above)
  • Log into your project on the Igniter website
  • Fill in basic project information — title, short description, fund number, goal and advocate list; this information should come from the application you completed to apply with minimal editing.

Gathering assets

In addition to the basic project information, including goals, you will also need to create additional content:

Story page checklist

  • A full description of your project, including visuals to break up the text
  • Campaign images and video — must be hosted on YouTube or Vimeo first
  • See these tips for a guide to telling your story

Video best practices

  • Keep them short — 30-60 seconds
  • Put the who, what and why in the first 15-30 seconds
  • Ask people to first give and then to share with their networks
  • Do not overproduce — successful videos can be shot on a smartphone camera with minimal editing. (Overproduced videos could harm your project – ‘If the video looks so good, why do they need money?”)
  • See these tips for a guide to a killer pitch video.

Communications planning

The key to crowdfunding success is a solid communications plan, which includes email and social media. Your project team should have a communications plan and timeline at least two weeks before you intend to launch.

Prelaunch checklist

  • Create a communications plan outlining what will be sent prior to and during each week of the campaign
  • Recruit advocates to help support the project and carry out the communication plan and make sure all have accepted their invitations to the platform
  • Create a stewardship plan outlining how you will stay in touch with donors throughout the life of the project and three to six months after project completion
  • Identify one person on your team to send timely thank-you updates throughout the campaign
  • You must have early donors. The platform can be opened for a limited time for them; this allows for starting off the launch with donations already posted

Suggested timeline & launching the project

Crowdfunding campaigns require a minimum of four to six weeks to plan and four to six weeks to execute a successful campaign launch (total of 8-12 weeks). Project teams that take the time to craft thoughtful messaging, create a compelling campaign video and assign communication roles set themselves up to meet and surpass their crowdfunding goal.

Sample timeline

Eight weeks before launch
  • Complete training sessions
  • Begin shooting for video
  • Assign campaign roles
  • Recruit additional advocates
  • Finalize accounting information
Six weeks before launch
  • Work on your communications plan
  • Check in with advocates
  • Create email contact lists — contact your unit’s DAR professional for assistance with alumni email lists
Three weeks before launch
  • Input webpage content for final copy edit
  • Plan messaging for mid-campaign updates
  • Production of video content
Two weeks before launch
  • Send prelaunch emails
  • Prepare messaging for launch-day emails
  • Finalize accounting information
  • Confirm campaign roles and responsibilities
  • Arrange for platform to open for early donors
  • Make final edits to video and copy on story page
Best practices
Best practices

Influencers and matching-gift opportunities

If a major donor is contacted and wishes to participate in a matching gift donation, you must contact Jessie Pavlidis, annual giving project coordinator, to ensure that the match is handled appropriately within the platform.

Proper collection of crowdfunding donations

Because of rules related to VCU’s nonprofit status, personal and payment information must be managed properly. To this end, donations must be made through the Igniter platform’s payment page by the donors and using either their own device or a university-owned, PCI-compliant device.

Ways people can make donations online

All Igniter donations must be made using a credit card through the Igniter giving page.

Receiving offline donations

If you have a donor who submits a donation outside the online platform, those must be submitted to Gifts and Records Management for proper processing. The Office of Annual Giving will add the donor’s information into the system so they will receive credit on your project’s donor wall (if they wish to be named).

Project updates and milestones

Updates are a critical and underutilized form of stewardship and donor engagement. You must be committed to sending updates during AND after your campaign.

Updates should enlighten, entertain and engage the donor about your cause by:

  • Showcasing your campaign’s progress
  • Featuring selected donor’s personal statements about what drew them to the issue you are trying to solve
  • Sharing interesting facts or stories about the cause you are undertaking or issue you are tackling
  • Providing special “VIP” or “behind-the-scenes” access to your process or training (featuring your laboratory, practice regime, research travels, etc.). Remember, the goal of all updates takes the donor along with you on your journey and entice them to share your mission with others who might find it compelling!
  • Use a short video, highlight someone who is either a face of the project discussing statistics about your issue, a testimonial from someone who will be impacted by the money or someone who has been impacted previously (previous scholarship recipients, those who have gone through the program you’re raising money to continue).
  • Thank donors, restate impact their money is making
  • Take compelling statistics around the issue you’re raising money to tackle/solve or quotes from those who will benefit from the money raised
  • Prime donor to share with someone they know that would be interested in the project by describing a certain aspect of the project (a certain issue within your larger mission, connection as a graduate of the school, etc.)

Milestone update(s)

  • Progress milestone: Note percentage of goal raised thus far (50 percent, 75 percent, etc.) and describe the impact that specific amount of money will have.
  • Countdown milestone: Include elements of progress milestone update and note how much time you have left.
Communications plan
Communications plan

The key to crowdfunding success is a solid communications plan. After your campaign application is approved, your team will work through a communications plan template. If you’re including assistance from your unit’s development team, that team’s communicator should sign off on the plan first before it’s implemented. Your communication plan should include the following:

  • Project title, short description and goal
  • 30- to 45-second campaign video
  • Full description of your project, including visuals
  • Project lead thank you message
  • Communication timeline
  • Campaign emails
  • Donor thank yous
  • Campaign updates
  • Social media platform(s) posting calendar
  • Supplemental ads (e.g., print, web ads, google ads, Hulu, etc.)

For a sample template, please contact the Office of Annual Giving.

Communications planning

The key to crowdfunding success is a solid communications plan, which includes email and social media. Your project team should have a communications plan and timeline at least two weeks before you intend to launch.

Prelaunch checklist

  • Create a communications plan outlining what will be sent prior to and during each week of the campaign
  • Recruit advocates to help support the project and carry out the communication plan and make sure all have accepted their invitations to the platform
  • Create a stewardship plan outlining how you will stay in touch with donors throughout the life of the project and three to six months after project completion
  • Identify one person on your team to send timely thank-you updates throughout the campaign
  • You must have early donors. The platform can be opened for a limited time for them; this allows for starting off the launch with donations already posted

Suggested timeline & launching the project

Crowdfunding campaigns require a minimum of four to six weeks to plan and four to six weeks to execute a successful campaign launch (total of 8-12 weeks). Project teams that take the time to craft thoughtful messaging, create a compelling campaign video and assign communication roles set themselves up to meet and surpass their crowdfunding goal.

Sample timeline

Eight weeks before launch
  • Complete training sessions
  • Begin shooting for video
  • Assign campaign roles
  • Recruit additional advocates
  • Finalize accounting information
Six weeks before launch
  • Work on your communications plan
  • Check in with advocates
  • Create email contact lists — contact your unit’s DAR professional for assistance with alumni email lists
Three weeks before launch
  • Input webpage content for final copy edit
  • Plan messaging for mid-campaign updates
  • Production of video content
Two weeks before launch
  • Send prelaunch emails
  • Prepare messaging for launch-day emails
  • Finalize accounting information
  • Confirm campaign roles and responsibilities
  • Arrange for platform to open for early donors
  • Make final edits to video and copy on story page
Troubleshooting
Troubleshooting

What tactics can I take if my project isn’t on track?

If you’re finding that you’re halfway through your fundraising campaign, and you’re not quite to 50 percent of your goal yet, there are some strategic changes you can employ:

  • If you’ve been sending emails from your group or unit at this point, try sending emails from an individual instead — personal appeals tend to elicit more donations than general appeals.
  • Have project team members send personal appeals via email and social media to their networks and talk about why the project is important to them.
  • Identify potential donors who could make the last gift to push you over your goal and personally reach out to them (work with your unit’s development team)

Can I extend my project’s timespan if I’m short of my goal?

Projects must run for their designated time span that is set when the projects start. This shorter length of time creates more urgency and will bring in more donations if the messaging emphasizes this. The Igniter team will consider approving an extension for 24-48 hours in the event that a larger donation is expected to come in to help the project meet its goal.

What can I do if I’ve exceeded my goal, and time is left?

If you still have time left on your project and are at your dollar goal, consider "stretch goals." These are things that you could accomplish in your project with additional funds. These things can be then used as marketing tools to bring in additional donors and/or encourage current donors to give more.

Can the platform take early donations before my project is live?

Yes — if you’d like to "seed" your project with donations before your project goes live, you can request to have your project opened for a few days prior to the quiet phase or those donations can be entered at support.vcu.edu/give.

How can we contact donors so we can send personal thank yous?

Campaign coordinators will have the option to send individual and/or group emails to their donors via the crowdfunding platform.

How do I receive my project’s funds once the project has ended?

Projects have designation ID numbers when they are built, bringing the funds into selected accounts during the active period of the project. Because we use a payment processor that is integrated with our CRM, it takes only a few days for the gifts to populate in the VCU CRM.