Sparty kick starts Crowdfunding at Michigan State University

spartyMakeover_crowdfundingEarlier this month our beloved mascot, Sparty, helped us launch the first successful crowdfunding project at Michigan State University. Sparty has helped us explore the new trending fundraising opportunity known as crowdfunding (sites like: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Petridish, etc.) that has quickly taken the nation and higher education by storm.

The 2013 Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition campaign was the first crowdfunding project for Michigan State University. The campaign was designed to raise $15,000 in support from friends and fans of our beloved mascot Sparty to help keep him looking sharp as he enters another busy season. The campaign launched in early June and ended in early August (only eight weeks) as we were trying to get him ready for fall.

In addition, this campaign was also used to help educate alumni and friends as to how our mascot program is funded. Our mascot, Sparty, is entirely funded through private support by alumni, donors and friends of Michigan State University. He is not directly supported by the Athletics department and his private event appearance fees are used specifically to fund his day-to-day activities including travel, logistics and fees. Therefore, with the help of former Sparty students, those who wore the costume in years before, we set out to inform friends and fans of what it takes to be the #1 mascot in the country and how they can make a difference.

Lastly and most importantly, the 2013 Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition crowdfunding campaign helped Michigan State University explore a new fundraising trend that has been sweeping across the nation. Sparty has started Michigan State University on the path to integrating crowdfunding into our philanthropic efforts for the future.

So, where do you begin if you want to get started with crowdfunding like we did with the 2013 Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition?

Identifying Your Volunteers

sparty_crowdfunding_volunteersOne of the most important aspects of a crowdfunding campaign is making sure that you have a market that cares enough about your cause to support it. This is where a group of volunteers, committed to your cause, is extremely important. Starting with a small but dedicated group of volunteers towards your fundraising efforts will return astronomical results and save you countless dollars in traditional marketing.

Friends & Fans of Sparty

  • Former Sparty mascot students, those who wore the Sparty costume before, to recruit friends and family members. In our case these former students, alumni today, are the very best to tell the story about the mascot program and can do it with a personal touch.
  • Current supporters/donors to the Sparty Mascot Program as they’re great evangelists for your programs.

Don’t forget to reach out to any larger audiences interested in your cause or topic for funding too. You will be surprised as new evangelists come out of the woodwork.

Friends & Fans of Michigan State University

  • Individuals that have directly connected with Sparty on his official social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • Folks who have had Sparty attend an event or function.
  • Members of the MSU Alumni Association, as the program is part of the MSU Alumni Association and Association of Future Alumni. Yes, crowdfunding campaigns can include an email marketing component.
  • Individuals that have directly connected with the primary social media channels of Michigan State University (Facebook and Twitter) and Spartan Athletics (Facebook).

Creating a Catchy Theme

One of the greatest challenges for some organizations is to have a little fun and humor online. Crowdfunding is very similar to social media so don’t be afraid to have a little fun.


Costs & Resource Needs

The 2013 Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition campaign didn’t have a budget developed for it as the project snuck up on us during the fiscal year and we wanted to run it as close to a social media and peer-to-peer fundraising project as possible. However, I would recommend setting aside a small budget (maybe 10% of your goal) to help with marketing expenses to expand awareness of your campaign to potential new supporters. But, if you have the right volunteers upfront you’ll likely get away with less.

As for staff time, that is where the costs really can grow quickly. If you’ve already got a volunteer program in place you’ll save a lot of time.

Campaign Planning & Setup

  • 3 full-time staff members (15 hrs over three days) to create campaign concept, theme, funding goals and timeframe.
  • 6 full-time staff members (3 hrs) for planning, goal evaluation, responsibilities and reporting needs discussion.
  • 1 full-time web designer (20 hrs over two weeks pre-launch) for setup of online campaign site and giving form needs. As our project was developed and designed in-house. If you use a third party site then this could be less.

Campaign Execution & Reporting

  • 3 full-time staff members (25% of time) to execute marketing and communications tactics to reach the $15,000 fundraising goal.
  • 1 full-time staff member (10% of time) to monitor and report on progress and next steps to a successful campaign.

So, depending on your organization structure there are opportunities to spend more time or less time. However, remember that if you focus your time on “the people” you’ll have a far more successful campaign than if you focus on your organization.

Results: Sparty Rocks the Numbers

Fundraising Results:

  • $15,674 (104% of goal) from 474 donors online
  • 57 first-time donors to Michigan State University
  • 41% new donors
  • 10% young-alumni donors
  • Average gift was $33.00


Volunteer Results:

  • Engaged former Sparty students as peer-to-peer fundraisers.
  • These former Sparty students got over 10% raised before public kick-off helping to make sure the program started out with great energy.
  • The former Sparty students (current alumni) have requested additional opportunities to be involved.

Message Reach:

  • 14,200 email opens
  • 10,920 page views of Sparty campaign site
    • 222 likes on Facebook
    • 29 tweets shared on Twitter
  • 22,000+ fans on Sparty Facebook Page
  • 8,000+ followers on Sparty Twitter Page
  • 4,578 video views on YouTube

Sharing of the Sparty Message across University accounts

  • 16,000+ fans on Alumni Association Facebook Page
  • 2,000+ followers on Alumni Association Facebook Page
  • 230,000+ fans on Michigan State University Facebook Page
  • 23,000+ followers on Michigan State University Twitter Page
  • 440,000+ fans on Michigan State Spartans Facebook Page

The Biggest Win of All

Sparty has helped to kick start crowdfunding at Michigan State University by helping us explore this new fundraising opportunity and how it fits into our overall philanthropic efforts. Sparty has shown us that fundraising is a part of everyone’s responsibilities at Michigan State University.

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