Crowdfunding Goes to Class

Crowdfunding projects are mushrooming on campuses worldwide and it often seems that no two look exactly alike. There are several posts about crowdfunding on the CASE blog—and it’s been written about in CURRENTS, too.

Tim Cigelske, social media director at Marquette University, is teaching a crowdfunding class at his institution, where students worked on seven different projects that supported the school. He answers a few questions about the value of the class and his approach to teaching it below.

How is the crowdfunding project structured within your class? Do students vote on one project or are there several? What are their roles?

My colleagues in the university advancement department helped me identify Marquette projects that would be good candidates for crowdfunding. After surveying and vetting each one, we narrowed them down to seven projects for my social media analytics and measurement class to work on throughout the semester.

I had student teams interview with a representative from each project, whom we called a client, just like it was a job interview. They interviewed at our Career Services Center and combined it with a presentation on interview etiquette, tips and best practices.

I wanted to give the students (most of whom are seniors) some real-world interview experience and get client feedback for the best match. Then I put the teams and clients together and they got to work.

What types of causes or projects did you choose?

It varied. We have on-campus projects for service trips, autism research, literacy programs, a humanoid robot and international student housing. There is one project with the American Cancer Society that supports Relay for Life, an external community project that works very closely with student organizers and participants. They’ll all go live on IndieGoGo’s partner page on April 1 (with the exception of the American Cancer Society, which has its own platform).

Is there a digital identity angle to this class—for example, do you provide lessons on developing a professional social identity as they promote the cause?

Absolutely. For the first half of the semester, students create a social media strategy for their client and document it all through an online portfolio on Tumblr. Their first assignment was to write a bio of their team and explain why a potential client should hire them. The model for this, as cited in the syllabus, was the idea that blogging is the new resume. I don’t just want them handing in Microsoft Word papers to me. I want their work to be searchable and available to potential employers online, which also makes students more accountable.

Does the project live on after the semester or is it more of a “crowdfunding blitz,” where they have to raise the money within a week or two?

The actual crowdfunding campaign is live for the month of April, but the larger strategy is creating a foundation for analyzing and measuring each department’s social media. The process is about identifying mission, audience, platforms and other components for using social media successfully. Each department’s social presence should keep growing after this class. The crowdfunding component is just a way to get it “kickstarted.”

How do you work with the development team, if at all, during the crowdfunding process?

My development colleague Sara Harvey and I have been discussing the potential for a social media crowdfunding project for years. When I was given the opportunity to teach this new class, we realized we had finally found a way to try out a pilot program. Another development colleague, Michael Kelly, helped launch Marquette’s first crowdfunding project, which exceeded its goal and helped develop best practices for my students. We’ve worked very closely since the planning stages and there’s no way we could have done this without the partnership of Sara, Michael, our finance people and others in our advancement office.

What were you trying to learn specifically on a personal (or professional) level as you worked on this project?

Three words: return on investment. Social media can’t just be reduced to a bottom line, but I do think social media managers need to show value in terms of dollars and cents. What better place to explore this topic than a class on social media measurement? My approach to the classroom is to treat it like a laboratory. We don’t have all the answers, but we’ll try things together and analyze the results. I’m also figuring it out as I go along by crowdfunding the textbook I wrote for this class. In the process, we’re helping departments across campus with social media and fundraising, measuring ROI and giving students some real-world experience for their resume. It’s a win-win-win.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the class looks like as it develops! Check out a video and more information on the class in a Marquette Magazine online exclusive.

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