Currency from the crowd

UND groups tap into fundraising with a social flair to augment tight budgets

Aaron Kennedy

UND Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Aaron Kennedy is leading a crowdfunding effort to bring 24/7 weather watching back to UND. He’s part of a growing trend on campus in which groups are using social media driven fundraising to offset budget cuts. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

Aaron Kennedy has his eye on Grand Forks again, and soon will be hoping for a little help from the UND community and beyond.

Kennedy, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences, is leading an effort to bring 24/7 weather watching back to UND. He’s doing this by installing a high-resolution video camera high atop Odegard Hall on the western edge of campus. The new model replaces a now-defunct weather cam that had been in the same spot for about a decade. The new one, however, produces crisper images, tilts up and down and pans the landscape. The old camera was in a fixed position facing west. The new camera can also be controlled remotely.

“It’s an idea that I’ve been mulling around in my mind for a while, to bring a weather camera back to campus,” Kennedy said.

The new camera and web interface will give the public anytime access to check out the atmospheric conditions in and around UND. They also allow Kennedy to incorporate archival or real-time images of North Dakota’s ever-changing weather into his classroom curriculum.

“We can login and move the camera, or it can also do pre-defined scans of an area,” he said.

Ideal course

But the best part is that Kennedy won’t have to pay an arm and leg for it. Instead, he will tap into a growing fund-raising trend known as “crowdfunding” to make it happen. In an era of tight budgets, from traditional federal sources on down, the social media-fueled means to raise targeted amounts of money quickly proved to be a welcome development for Kennedy.

“I saw it used for a couple other things within UND Aerospace that had been successful, so I thought I’d give it a try,” Kennedy said. “It seems like the most ideal course for fundraising for the weather camera project because it’s something everyone will be able to use.”

The total cost of the weather camera project will be about $8,000, which includes a weatherproof camera, storage hardware and installation. The project is expected to go live in the near future.

“I’m probably a little biased but I think it’s a fun little project,” Kennedy said.

Interesting, impactful

“That’s one key to making crowdfunding efforts successful,” said Deb Wilson, associate director of development at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

“The biggest thing is to make sure that your project is interesting and that it will have an impact,” Wilson added.

Wilson spearheads the Alumni Association & Foundation’s “ACT. Crowdfunding” initiative.  So far, it’s supported nine crowdfunding efforts that involve UND groups, each with varying degrees of success.

“The uniqueness of an idea, especially one that demonstrates wide-ranging public benefits or appeals to a robust alumni subset, usually fares better when it comes to crowdfunding at UND,” Wilson said.

Another factor for success is having a group willing to share the workload to get the word out through multiple social media platforms.

“With how quickly things on social media come and go, you have to be out there and really pushing it constantly,” she said.

Jenna Annable, Emma Kischel, Dana Atkins and Dakotah Osborn

UND’s 2017 Women’s Air Race Classic Team (above) recently raised more than $3,000, with the help of an Alumni Association & Foundation crowdfunding campaign, to help defray expenses of its participation in an aviation derby from Maryland to New Mexico. Photo by Shawna Schill.

By the book

One of biggest and most ballyhooed of UND’s crowdfunding efforts was the “Pride-A-Palooza Uniform Drive” to raise money for new outfits for UND’s Marching Band. The drive set a crowdfunding aim of $88,000; in the end, it crushed that mark with a final tally of nearly $91,000 – or 103 percent of its original goal.

The most successful effort, as far as percentage over original goal, was achieved earlier this year by UND’s Women’s Air Race Classic Team. The team needed a little boost to fund its participation in an annual all-female cross-country aviation derby from Maryland to New Mexico.  The team aimed to collect $2,650.13, one dollar for every mile of the race, and ended up cashing in with $3,185 – about 120 percent over its goal.

“The quartet of student aviators ran its crowdfunding campaign by the book,” Wilson said.

“They posted the whole thing on their Facebook accounts and other social media platforms and they kept updating their progress every day of the race,” Wilson said. “They did a really good job and I always point to them as an example of how crowdfunding should be done.”

Organizational power

Other crowdfunding efforts currently in their early stages are the UND Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Strength Drive, which was set up to raise money for new strength and conditioning equipment for ROTC cadets. Also the UND Men’s and Women’s Tennis teams have turned to crowdfunding to pay for priority needs.

The ROTC drive, so far, has collected about 11 percent of its $14,250 goal – or about $1,540. The tennis teams have raised $1,622 on the way to a $10,000 goal.

Wilson said there are advantages that can be realized by crowdfunding with the help of her office.

For instance, the Alumni Association & Foundation has the organizational power and resources to make sure all crowdfunding donors are properly thanked for their contributions and receive a tax receipt. The Foundation also has databases with vast networks of alumni and friends of the University who might be interested in particular crowdfunding causes.

The teamwork presents more opportunities for stewardship with donors as well as builds a stronger pipeline for future giving, she said.

Wilson said her organization would like to see crowdfunding become an even bigger part of its traditional support legacy for UND.

“This is still a brand new channel for us,” Wilson said. “We only dabbled in it last year, but this year, we’re really trying to get it to take off.”