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.