Oberlin College Launches Crowdfunding Website


Simeon Deutsch

College junior Maya Zeemont rehearses alongside fellow OSteel members. OSteel is currently part of the College’s new crowdfunding project, which offers student and faculty groups a way to fund their projects.

Elizabeth Dobbins, News Editor

The Oberlin Annual Fund launched Oberlin’s crowdfunding platform last week, marking the College’s first entry into crowdfunding. The site, still in its pilot launch phase, will feature a changing selection of student and faculty projects each month.

Tip Hosack, director of the Oberlin Annual Fund, said he hopes the new platform will encourage donations from alumni by focusing on specific projects with clear results.

“It’s almost meeting the expectations of the alumni,” said Hosack. “Why aren’t we doing this already? Other higher [education institutions are] also going to this type of fundraising as well and utilizing this platform, and this goes in line with the other philanthropic interests of our alumni, whether it’s Kickstarter or funding small specific projects [so] that they can really see their money going to work right away.”

Jessica Stewart, assistant director of the Oberlin Annual Fund, said this platform is a way to target younger alumni for donations.

“We’ve noticed that a lot of young people are really familiar with that model — using Kickstarter, Indiegogo — so we felt that it was the natural progression of philanthropy in Oberlin,” said Stewart.

In order to be considered, fundraising proposals must fall within the site’s project guidelines. The project must fit with Oberlin’s missions and policies, propose a feasible strategy and display a strong plan that is beneficial to the Oberlin community.

As th sit is in its pilot launch phase, project applications won’t be opened up to the entire campus community until March. The projects approved in March will be posted on the site as part of April’s “I Like Oberlin Month” fundraising campaign.

Though still in pilot launch phase, the platform will feature new projects every month leading up to April. Within the next few weeks, the Oberlin Annual Fund plans to elect a committee made up of students, faculty and staff to select the proposals.

“It’s going to try to be … a cross section of the campus com- munity,” said Hosack.

This month, the Annual Fund chose the projects of people with whom it had already formed connections. Currently, information about this fundraising platform is being spread largely through word of mouth, but according to Stewart, the Annual Fund hopes to do more advertising in the coming weeks.

“Since we just launched it, we picked people we’ve been working with closely and already have a connection established, and so it’s easy for us to kind of reach out to them and have them come on to the site. … That’s just because it’s the first time. We hope to open it to the community and encourage people to approach us,” said Stewart.

This month, the site is featuring the Undocumented Students’ Scholarship, OSteel’s Trip to Trin- idad and the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s ceiling conservation project. The crowdfunding plat- form is just one venue of each of these organization’s fundraising efforts.

College senior and OSteel Band Co-Director Monica Hunter-Hart said OSteel has already raised enough money through grants and other crowdfunding campaigns to allow the band to travel to Trinidad. She said she hopes to use this platform to gather funds for master classes and side trips during its stay in Trinidad.

“We were really hoping this could be sort of a cultural learning experience [and a] historical learning experience about Trinidad and also about the steel pan in general,” said Hunter-Hart.

OSteel raised some of its funds through an Indiegogo campaign.

Hunter-Hart says this platform took a percentage of its funding, but the College crowdfunding site allows organizations to keep all of the money they raise.

“[Oberlin’s crowdfunding platform] is really nice,” said Hunter-Hart. “It’s not like Indiegogo or Kickstarter. … You get to keep all the money that you make [through the College platform]. [With] Kickstarter, if you don’t make your goal, then you will get your money rescinded from you.”

Andria Derstine, director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, is using the crowdfunding site as a way to raise money for the museum’s $500,000 ceiling conservation project. She says the platform is ideal because it allows donors to “purchase” small sections of the ceiling that their donations can be put towards restoring.

The museum has been raising money for the ceiling conservation project since 2011 and started the physical work on the ceiling this June. Approximately $120,000 is still needed, and Derstine said she is hopeful this crowdfunding platform will provide access to new donors.

“[The crowdfunding platform] enables us to reach a really broad swath of people,” said Derstine. “Of course, we can link to the crowdfunding site through our own Facebook pages and our blog, and I think this is a way that will enable us to reach literally thousands of people that we would not have otherwise been able to reach through the normal venues.”