Michigan State’s Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns


Michigan State leveraged the popularity of its mascot, Sparty, for one successful crowdfunding campaign.

A handful of small projects are the beginning of what Michigan State development staff hope will be a massive change in annual giving work at the University. That change involves a shift of focus toward more donor engagement via crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding allows donors – specifically new and smaller gift donors – to more clearly see the impact of their gifts, because they’re helping to fund a specific project or cause. This demonstration or proof of impact is something annual giving programs have been struggling with for some time. Crowdfunding, or online peer-to-peer giving, is one very effective way of addressing that desire of the donor to see the impact of their gift.

At the same time, crowdfunding is tremendously efficient at acquiring new donors, because …well, it’s all about the crowd! Peer-to-peer or online ambassador-fueled crowdfunding campaigns reach out to new donors by way of friends and family communicating online, specifically, via social networks. On average, 40 percent of the donors who give during ambassador-led online campaigns are new.

In the video below, Michigan State’s Director of Online Engagement, Paul Prewitt, uses MSU’s recent Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition campaign to show how crowdfunding is helping the University identify more new donors and communicate the impact of philanthropy to all donors, big and small.

Consider the following:

In other words, all those new donors the Sparty campaign brought in for MSU are not just college kids and recent grads – they’re middle age and older supporters of the school. Many of them have deeper pockets than you might imagine.

Knowing the above, it’s clear – serious resources should be dedicated to an online and social media strategy for development. And not just resources for crowdfunding in the annual giving department, but for your entire development operation. Millionaires are online disproportionately more than those of lesser means. It’s not just about the annual fund – if you want to have a major gift program ten years from now, you had better start engaging and stewarding those future big gift donors with a smart online and social media strategy today. And you can start by leveraging the crowd.

Justin Ware helps BWF’s clients build online and social media strategies that lead to six and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns. For more on BWF’s social media service offerings, click here.

2 thoughts on “Michigan State’s Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns

  1. Very important to click through to the MSU campaign page and read the comments, many of which are negative from those that think that the Sparty costume should be funded by the University or the Athletic Department, not external donations. This is a great case study in choosing the best cause for external funding, making sure all your bases are covered in the case for support, and mitigating any potential negative feedback.

    • You bring up a great point, Benjamin. It speaks to the need for a comprehensive social media strategy that prepares your operation for every aspect of online giving. In this case, there are two main areas that you would want to address to mitigate any negative backlash… 1) Having a smart, experienced communicator managing the conversation. This allows the org to quickly start a discussion around these negative posts and help the commenter – and, more importantly, the entire audience that views the comments – understand the rationale behind a fund like this. 2) Build an online ambassador program. With a group of strong ambassadors ready to come to your defense, you can arm your supporters with the appropriate message and allow them to reply instead of having to rely on an institutional reply. Ambassador replies are often more effective, because they come from a real human which is easier to trust than a brand. Again, there are a lot of layers to doing the ambassador response right and a number of ways an institution might use ambassadors wrong in this case …but it all comes back to making a serious investment in personnel and strategy to govern your online and social media activity. The organizations that do it right, are already reaping the benefits!

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