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powered by the people - the magic of crowdfunding in sports

Part two of a series on the role of crowdfunding in fund development.

When people talk about sport, philanthropy isn’t top of mind. Neither is crowdfunding. Sport funding is changing and government support is becoming harder to come by, but the money is out there - you just need to find it. One of the best – and most effective – tools is crowdfunding. When you think about it, a crowdfunding campaign is similar to sport - it’s time sensitive, there’s a very clear goal and it’s competitive. Whether it’s at the national level to represent your country, at the university level to pay for training camps, or at the local level to afford extra equipment, crowdfunding has a great return on investment. In this second instalment of a three part series on sport crowdfunding, we’re taking a look at how crowdfunding within your athletics department can be very successful and how student-athletes and alumni can be your best resources!


I fell into crowdfunding quite innocently. Back in 2014, while working at McGill Athletics in Montreal, I had a group of eager alumni wanting to raise funds to endow a scholarship in honour of their teammate – Mike Soles – who was a local hero and also living with ALS. They had come to me, looking for a fast, efficient, user-friendly way to raise money. We had a tight timeline, motivated alumni, a great cause, and a defined goal. These elements, which I would soon prove in practicality, are everything you need for a successful crowdfunding campaign.

I approached our annual fund team - who were still piloting their custom built crowdfunding platform – and said that I needed a landing page for this project. A simple request, I thought. If you work in a university, then you know that often times, simple projects can elicit a lot of ‘nos’ and ‘it’s too complicated’ or worse, ‘no one has ever done a campaign that big.’ No one was buying into using crowdfunding for a campaign this big, until I convinced a few of my wonderful colleagues to take a chance on it, and we reached our goal of $80,000 in four days.

Now, I am certainly no crowdfunding expert, I have failed many campaigns. Becoming well versed in this method of fund development has taken a lot of lessons learned, practical experience, combined with a clear understanding of donor intent, and a commitment to donor relations. The Soles campaign – that ended with over $230k in just over a month – was a perfect storm of circumstances and is a tough campaign to use as a benchmark, but it had the most important elements: a solid team, lead gifts, a communication strategy, clear goal and short timeline. Most of the other successful campaigns I oversaw were student-athlete driven for very specific needs – nationals, training camps, new equipment, etc. and most exceeded their goals by 30-50% with a few even quadrupling them. They were success stories because we worked hard at making sure the campaign had what it needed.

University/College Athletics crowdfunding is its own beast, but it’s also one of the best resources for the department. As we mentioned in part one of this series, crowdfunding is built for athletes. As well, with most campaigns, other than your time (and that of the volunteers), not much else needs to be invested, no postage fees, printing costs, or special gimmicks - just an honest, clear-cut emotional appeal with a very specific goal, so the ROI is usually quite high. Not every school will have the opportunity to build their own platform, but using others such as Fundrazr (a personal favourite) means that fees are directly tied to funds raised, so the risk is fairly low.

I like to break campaigns down into three sections:

  • Silent Phase

In the silent phase, you’re vetting potential projects, confirming with your department that they make sense, finding team leaders, developing strategy and securing lead gifts

  • Activation Phase

The activation is go time. You’re soliciting your audience, activating your strategies, keeping the momentum via updates, monitoring your goal and building up to a big finish!

  • Post-Campaign Phase

This is actually the most important part of your campaign. Why? Because typically crowdfunding brings in new donors and retaining donors is a lot easier than acquiring new ones so say thank you and even more important is to make sure that report back on the impact your project had

Last June, my colleague Danielle Melman from UC San Diego Athletics and I held some NAADD crowdfunding round tables during the NACDA Convention - here is a summary of our crowdfunding how to guide and best practices.

Just as we said last week, crowdfunding as a fund development tool leverages the passion of a community. In all areas of giving, it is important to connect your supporters to the individual. Who exactly is being helped? Why exactly do they need the money? And, most importantly, where will the donor’s money go? Crowdfunding provides the perfect platform to fulfil these questions – it is direct, it is personal and the outcome of the fundraising is clear.

Stay tuned next week for a look at crowdfunding within the community and how partnering with community foundations and other organizations is a great way to reach your goal.

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