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Pitt launches crowdfunding platform

By Dale Shoemaker / Assistant News Editor

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Pitt’s Global Public Health Brigades has turned to crowdfunding and selling dates with its members to raise money for a trip to Honduras this summer.

“We’re still relatively unknown,” said Alex LaMonaca, a molecular biology and neuroscience double major. “Crowdfunding is definitely more profitable than other events. It gets our name out there.”

The Office of Institutional Advancement launched the new crowdfunding platform, EngagePitt, and started pilot campaigns for eight groups — seven by students and one by faculty — in December. The office opened the platform fully on Feb. 19, according to University spokeswoman Cara Masset. 

Several groups, including Pitt’s Rowing Club, have already reached their goals, according to a release. According to Masset, the University launched EngagePitt to allow student and faculty groups “to showcase their research and outreach programming to the Pitt community as well as to their expanding networks of family, friends, and colleagues.”

Whether or not a club reaches its goal, it still receives all of the money raised, according to a University press release.

Global Public Health Brigades’ crowdfunding campaign raised $1,505 — 30 percent of its original $5,000 goal — between Jan. 7 and Feb. 23 from 20 donors. 

The funds raised, LaMonaca said, will assist in sending brigadiers to help fix houses that were destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. It costs $780 to send one brigadier to Honduras for seven days.

Global Public Health Brigades was one of the pilot campaigns, starting its process in October and shifting its initial plan to seek grants for the trip, LaMonaca said. 

Pitt’s turn to virtual campaigns follows the University of Virginia, which became the first ACC school to launch one in 2013 after partnering with USEED. 

On EngagePitt, donors donate funds online as “gifts” to Pitt, making them tax-free. Like its counterparts, anyone can donate or monitor a campaign’s progress on the site. Unlike similar platforms, EngagePitt doesn’t charge users a fee or take a portion of the donations. Additionally, the majority of crowdfund donors come from a founder’s personal network, according to a study in the Journal of Business Venturing published in 2014. 

After a campaign is complete, the University deposits funds into either a Student Organization Resource Center (SORC) account for a student campaign or the appropriate departmental account for a faculty campaign. Masset said she doesn’t anticipate students using the site more than once an academic year. 

Though she did not say how much the project cost the University, Masset said the Office of Institutional Advancement began the project last spring in collaboration with several University offices, including Student Affairs and CSSD. 

In addition to Global Public Health Brigades, Pitt’s Society of Women Engineers, the Black Action Society and Pitt’s Men’s Glee Club all have active campaigns. 

Currently, the Glee Club is closest to reaching its goal, as the club needs only $225 more to reach $6,000 in the next 44 days. The money they raise will go toward touring Italy, a commissioned work for their 125th anniversary, and producing a high-quality CD of their 125th anniversary concert, according to their campaign page. 

The Office of Institutional Advancement said it is encouraged by the success of the campaigns so far. 

Like other crowdfunding platforms, such as GoFundMe and KickStarter, EngagePitt campaigns include donor gifts, or items donors receive based on their level of giving. The Men’s Glee Club, for example, is offering donors who give $500 or more an all-access season pass that includes two tickets to all of their concerts for an entire year. So far, one donor has given this amount, according to the donations page.

To launch a campaign, interested groups must first submit an online application, including a compelling pitch and promotion plan, Masset said. Videos by the group are also encouraged. Global Public Health Brigades did not include a video with their campaign, but the Men’s Glee Club did. In it, they show footage of a past concert and announcement of their upcoming tour of Italy for their 125th anniversary. 

The process of setting up an EngagePitt campaign can take from two to four months for a typical four to eight week campaign, Masset said, so that groups can “effectively plan and be trained in using this new fundraising platform.”

Pitt wanted to launch its own crowdfunding platform, Masset said, because of crowdfunding’s growing popularity and interest expressed by students and faculty.

“We hope that, through the site, donors can connect with and support projects and causes at Pitt that they might not have known about otherwise,” Masset said in an email

SGB President Graeme Meyer said since EngagePitt’s launch, SGB has recommended several student groups use it for funding SGB is not able to provide. He said he sees SGB allocations and EngagePitt able to coexist because SGB is only able to fund about 55 percent of annual requests. Meyer said EngagePitt allows student groups to “share responsibility,” one of SGB’s philosophies for allocations funding.

“Shared responsibility means that student groups are not relying on funding from us to put on their entire program, but rather they rely on our funding for a portion of their programing. By using EngagePitt, student groups will be able to generate the additional funds they require,” Meyer said.

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Pitt launches crowdfunding platform