Crowdfunding has gained a lot of traction in the past few years, primarily as a way for artists to fund their pet projects. Musicians and filmmakers may have been some of the earliest adopters of this especially populist form of fundraising, but they’re far from the only ones taking advantage of it. Many institutions of higher education have already started to look to crowdfunding as a way to raise money for various projects. In fact, some crowdfunding platforms are specifically devoted to working with institutions of higher education.

In case you’re not too familiar with the concept yet, crowdfunding was born out of the desire to make it possible for projects unlikely to be backed by big investors to more easily raise the money outside of the system. By making it easy for anyone to contribute, crowdfunding platforms allow for projects to raise money from more contributors giving in varying amounts, rather than having to depend on one or two sources to cover the full cost.

For educational institutions, it provides the opportunity to get people excited about particular projects and initiatives and feel more invested in their outcomes. Some people may be more inclined to help fund a particular project they care about, than to donate that same sum to the school’s more general fundraising efforts. Abby Adair Reinhard fromUSEED, a crowdfunding platform specifically developed for universities, says that “Crowdfunding often engages alumni and other donors who are otherwise not engaged by traditional outreach from development offices at colleges and universities.” Working with the University of Delaware, they found that 77% of the donors through USEED were giving to the institution for the first time.

Crowdfunding isn’t just a matter of getting information on your desired initiative out there, it involves working to raise interest and spread the word about it as well. Reinhard suggests that “the key to a successful crowdfunding campaign is creating a compelling story and building a community that cares about the project.”  If the tech project you’re hoping to fund is already of interest to students, enlisting their help could provide them a great opportunity to gain experience in marketing, fundraising, and social media. Otherwise, you’ll need a staff or faculty member devoted to the cause to help get the word out.

There’s not a lot of data or success stories about the use of crowdfunding for higher education yet, as it’s still too new of a practice. Jacob Johnson of Innovosource states, “Crowdfunding is a very cool concept, and people should be excited about its possibilities; but, it’s also unproven in regards to developmentally-rigorous technologies, still under federal policy review, and hazy in ownership rights and ROI.”

While still finding its feet as a form of fundraising for higher education, crowdsourcing does offer some clear benefits. In addition to bringing in more funds, its most obvious appeal, it can also encourage greater interest and involvement in university programs. Students, alumni, and members of the larger community who invest in one of the school’s initiatives will have a vested interest in following the results and sharing progress with others. While you’ll have to do some of your own marketing to raise interest in the project, at a certain point the various funders invested in the project will start to do some of that work for you.

Tips for Funding Technological Innovations at Your Institution: Crowdfunding