New crowdfunding platform puts fundraising power in students’ hands

Published: Nov 17, 2017

Students in Patapsco Hall at UMBC.
Students in Patapsco Hall at UMBC. (Students in Patapsco Hall at UMBC.)

Since 2014, UMBC has used crowdfunding to support both philanthropic endeavors and entrepreneurial projects – everything from purchasing new instruments for the Down and Dirty Dawg Band, to creating educational opportunities for future Retrievers. The continued success of fundraising efforts like these has now led to the creation of Gritstarter, a custom-designed crowdfunding platform UMBC hopes will encourage student, faculty, and staff to serve as their own champions for fundraising.

“This is a tool that connects the UMBC community with donors and helps everyone on campus understand how philanthropy works and how they can be involved on both sides,” said Leanna Powell ’08, assistant director of Annual Giving.

Launched in August 2017, Gritstarter has already raised over $7,000 for student and campus-wide projects, with additional projects currently in the funding stage. One of the most successful campaigns came from UMBC’s mock trial team, who require funds to travel to the national championships in states as far reaching as California and Minnesota.

“We knew we had a number of people – family, friends, alumni, local attorneys –  who were interested in supporting us financially, but we didn’t have an easy way to collect that money and encourage others to give. That’s where Gritstarter came in,” said Ben Garmoe ’13, mock trial head coach, who worked with Powell to build a crowdfunding page that highlighted the work and personal sacrifices the students made to get to nationals.

“We tried to emphasize how even a small donation can make a significant difference, and how our organization works hard to make every dollar we receive go as far as possible,” he said.

The Gritstarter platform comes equipped with a wealth of information for novice fundraisers, with everything from suggestions on how to promote to potential funders, to ideas and guidelines for video creation. By giving students control of their own fundraising efforts – and supporting them with training from the Annual Giving office –  they’re afforded the ability to gain vital skills such as business management and strategic outreach, said Powell. This platform will also be an integral fundraising aid for UMBC’s inaugural Giving Day in February 2018.

In addition to traditional goal and deadline-driven fundraising efforts, Gritstarter also serves as a home for continued goodwill efforts like the Stay Black and Gold Student Emergency Fund. All donations to this fund serve to directly offset unexpected financial burdens for UMBC students.

Collaboration has been the driving force throughout the process of creating Gritstarter. On-campus departments and students were consulted to determine what the aesthetic of the platform would be and how it would fit into the established brand of UMBC.

Screenshot of UMBC's Gritstarter homepage.
UMBC’s Gritstarter homepage

“We wanted it to look like something for students and that’s why we worked with [student designers at] commonvision to design it because we wanted students to immediately see themselves in it and know it was for them,” said Powell.

Melissa Prather ’18, environmental science and design, and Samual Buettner ’18, design, were initially tapped for their design input as commonvision employees but eventually became the duo responsible for designing Gritstarter’s look and feel.

“Everyone ended up agreeing that it did make sense to have such a student centric thing also made by students,” explained Prather. The pair took inspiration from the landscape of UMBC to create dynamic imagery and logos, dedicating nearly five months to collaborating on the finished product.

Several academic departments, athletic teams, and student organizations are already taking advantage of the new crowdfunding platform but Powell has high hopes that interest will continue to grow. “I want every student organization to meet their fundraising goal and I want every student organization to fundraise with us,” she said.

Photo by Marlayna Demond ‘11 for UMBC.

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