Crowdfunding for a Purpose

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — From “The World’s Most Super Amazing 100% Awesome Cat Calendar,” to a sandwich maker called the Grilled Cheesus, crowdfunding is used for just about everything. But the popular trend isn’t just for fun and games. A growing number of college students are turning to sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter to help those in need halfway across the world.

“It’s so easy for people to log on to GoFundMe and start an account and start a fundraiser within 15 minutes,” said Samantha Nanayakkara, a student at Yale University.

Last year, instead of planning a traditional spring break, Nanayakkara and Yale student Kenneth Gunasekera decided to put their time to good use by organizing a group trip to Sri Lanka. Their goal? To help an orphanage in need.

“We’re both Sri Lanken-American,” Gunasekera explained. “We’ve been to Sri Lanka a couple of times, but we’d mostly gone to visit relatives and we never engaged with the country in sort of a service capacity. We wanted to give back to the culture that’s given us so much.”

But they needed funds for the things they wanted to do at Sanhinda Children’s Home, like install a new water pump, buy new beds and mattresses, get new uniforms for the kids, and teach them English. So they decided to set up a go fund me campaign, setting their goal initially at a $1,000 dollars. When they quickly hit that milestone, they upped it to $3,000, which they reached in less than a month.

“Recently, more than 50 million dollars was raised for more than 7,500 charities in a matter of just a day online,” said Robert Forbus, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Southern Connecticut State University. “This is not going away. It’s only growing.”

So if you’re going to use crowdfunding to raise money, what’s the secret to success? We asked Dr. Forbus to weigh in. “The people who do the best at crowdfunding are the people who have a really compelling story to tell,” Dr. Forbus said.

“When we set up our account we made sure we had a very compelling description of our trip, so we talked about the kids we were going to be working with and their background and how much they needed the resources that this money could give them,” Nanayakkara recalled.

A good picture on your campaign page is also key. “We had a really, really cute kid from the orphanage,” Gunasekera said.

Another tip? Get the word out about your campaign to as many people as possible. “I think the easiest thing is we just had a link that we could send out to everyone,” Gunasekera explained. “We basically spammed almost everyone we knew, like teachers from high school, some of our friends around here on Facebook.”

“Ken and I have very supportive family and friend network that we sent it out to and they were all so helpful and all gave at least 10 or 15 dollars,” Nanayakkara said. “Every little bit helped.”

Also always send a follow up note to those who contributed, not just to thank them, but to also explain how their money was used. “If you go into that arena and you’re not authentic, you’re not real, and you don’t deliver on your promises, it’s a pretty bad mark on your name and your character going forward,” Dr. Forbus said.

“GoFundMe gives you a space for donors to actually enter their own information like their name and email address in, and you can keep them updated with how the project is going, send them pictures afterwards, so I think it’s really important to collect that information so you can eventually follow up,” Gunasekera said.

For Nanayakkara, Gunasekera and the 13 other students on their trip, the donors gave them more than they could have imagined … An experience to last a lifetime.

All of the money the group of Yale students raised went directly to the orphanage and they even had some money leftover to set up an account from which the orphanage could withdraw money from when needed.

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