Crowdfunding at RIT helps find support for projects

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A. Sue Weisler

Jerome Jackson, assistant director of crowdfunding and social media, says two-thirds of the Crowdfunding at RIT projects achieved their fundraising goals, garnering more than $180,000 for a variety of RIT-approved projects.

There’s no shortage of innovative projects happening at RIT, but finding money for them can be as time-consuming as working on the project itself. Just a couple of years ago, several administrators met to determine how students were supporting their projects outside of RIT. They learned students, on their own, raised more than $85,000 in donations from 1,700 supporters to help fund 117 academic and club projects.

But there was a problem. Students who raised the money for their projects received it into their own personal bank accounts and were often personally liable for income taxes as a result. Services such as Kickstarter also collected administrative fees.

Last spring, RIT initiated a crowdfunding program to support external fundraising efforts of students, faculty and staff, while offering guidance on how to develop and market group online fundraising campaigns.

Two-thirds of the 21 campaigns last year were successful in achieving their fundraising goals, totaling more than $180,000. The money was used to help a team of female students build an electric racecar, help other students build a rocket and $15,000 was raised to complete locker room renovations for the men’s and women’s crew teams.

“We’ve become an alternative resource for those seeking funds to support their academic projects or extra-curricular activities while studying at RIT,” said Jerome Jackson, assistant director of crowdfunding and social media at RIT. “Students are able to engage in diverse activities and rely on crowdfunding to support those programs.”

This academic year, up to 30 fundraising campaigns are expected to launch. Crowdfunding at RIT also supports RIT’s faculty-sponsored research projects.

“We’re opening the doors to the entire campus community for approved RIT projects,” Jackson said.

Each campaign will be posted for 30 days, with extensions offered if needed to make their fundraising goals. Even if the goals are not met, the team will still receive all of the donated money, Jackson said.

This initiative also helps RIT engage alumni and parents, who may give just a few dollars to support the projects they are connected to.

Noah Wexler ’16 (new media marketing), a current graduate student in entrepreneurship and innovative ventures, is co-founder and CEO of SHORAQ. He is applying for a $2,500 RIT crowdfunding campaign to be launched in October for a software application to connect video streaming viewers to clothing and items they see in shows, movies and videos.

“We’re seeking funding to help development of the application, and to provide legal funding as well,” Wexler said. “We expect our goal to be reached and exceeded” from friends, family, RIT alumni and people he’s networked with.

“We do need a lot more, but in the short term, this will help us continue developing what we’re doing, bringing in someone who can program for us and help with the legal documentation,” Wexler said.

He appreciates the opportunity to raise some money for his company while getting people engaged.

“Every little bit helps,” he said.

RIT Press plans to launch a campaign to raise money to help publish an out-of-print title, Massimo Vignelli’s Vignelli From A to Z. The original version, published in 2007, quickly went out of print, and there remains high demand for copies. Up to 1,000 copies are expected to be printed.

“We decided to stick our toe into the pool trying the crowdfunding option,” said RIT Press Director Bruce Austin. “Usually we fund our books ourselves and wait to see how the market responds. We’re happy to do that, but it’s not an infinite option. We can’t keep funding books and waiting for the market to respond. This way, we’re helping to ensure financing the book up front.”

Austin said the initiative will also help shed light on other projects. “We’re seeing it as a way to discover new customers and it will serve as publicity to introduce non-donors that the press has titles of related interest,” he said.

Want to crowdfund your project?

Crowdfunding at RIT is open to any RIT student, faculty or staff member. You need:

  • A passionate idea
  • A strong and collaborative team
  • A faculty or staff adviser
  • A commitment of two to four weeks to develop your campaign, communication and stewardship plan. That includes writing about your campaign, developing a short video for the appeal and developing an elevator pitch and press release.

Information can be found at

By the Numbers

Last year, 21 campaigns were created, of which 67% were fully funded* for a total of $180,000 raised.

Campaigns included:

  • A team of female engineering students building an electric car
  • A team of students who raised funds to build a rocket for a competition
  • Renovations and equipment for the men’s and women’s crew teams

*Campaigns that do not meet their funding goal still receive pledged funds.