Case Study: Vassar College's Vassar500 24-Hour Crowdfunding Campaign
Sometimes the best fundraising ideas come from one aha! moment. Other times, it takes the culmination of factors for the proverbial lightbulb to go off.
For Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based Vassar College, three main factors played into the liberal arts college’s decision to try something completely new for its February fundraising appeal.
It began with the class of 1989, which “began making noise about how they wanted to try something different as they were working toward their fundraising project” for the 2014 25th reunion, which happened this past June, says Willa McCarthy, senior director of alumni affairs and the annual fund at Vassar College. The class of ’89 expressed its unhappiness with Vassar’s online giving form — it was too institution-centric, wasn’t fun, asked for too much data, took too long to fill out and, perhaps most distressing, there wasn’t anything inspiring about it. That got Vassar thinking about becoming a little more creative and innovative in its fundraising.
In addition, in February 2013, Vassar received some unwanted visitors, as the notorious Westboro Baptist Church planned a protest on Vassar’s campus. In response, Vassar alumnus Josh de Leeuw launched a crowdfunding campaign with the goal to raise $100 for every minute that Westboro planned to protest, with the proceeds going to the Trevor Project, which supports LGBTQ youth.
“It really galvanized the entire Vassar community and then went viral and well beyond the Vassar community and raised more than $100,000 through Crowdrise,” McCarthy says. “And it was an experience. People really felt engaged and connected. In that particular instance, there was an attack on the values that we all hold dear here at Vassar, which are nondiscrimination and inclusion and excellence. Many alumni enjoyed being a part of that experience, and the class of ’89 came to us and said, ‘We want to do something like that.’”