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Talking Shop: In with the Fund Crowd
Talking Shop: In with the Fund Crowd

Hubbub’s Jonathan May on the promise and pitfalls of digital fundraising

By Theresa Walker

Jonathan May launched the U.K. digital fundraising technology startup Hubbub, which serves the education and nonprofit sectors, with Duncan Knox in 2011. The company is expanding its U.S. operations after winning $1 million in venture capital funding in 2016 through the VentureClash investment challenge. Currents spoke with May while he was in the U.S. studying digital fundraising and alumni relations practices at more than 40 colleges and universities. His travels confirmed the importance of relationships in fundraising—even online. “I think there’s a lot more than technology behind the success of different programs,” he says.

Hubbub views 2017 as the "year when crowdfunding [will mature] from an interesting pilot opportunity to a major component of fundraising" in the U.K. Why?

People now have substantial experience with these campaigns at the small scale (a few hundred to a few thousand pounds) and the large scale (hundreds of thousands of pounds). There are case studies and examples to review and replicate. One of the biggest factors is the integration of low-level major donors and donors such as trusts, foundations, and corporations contributing matching or challenge funds for a campaign. That's allowed people to think of bigger targets and make bolder asks when it comes to crowdfunding projects.

Why do you believe crowdfunding has taken off quicker in the U.K. than in the U.S.?

People in the U.K. are willing to try new things faster and implement them more quickly. It doesn't feel like a challenge or a break with tradition or something that's going to threaten anybody. But we're not talking about a big gap when it comes to crowdfunding in the U.S., and I think it will be closed quickly.

Crowdfunding and giving days are gaining attention and wider acceptance. What's your view on these differing digital efforts?

Giving days don't tend to go beyond the networks institutions can already reach. They will engage some people who haven't given before, but they will largely be people who already have an affinity to the institution. I look at giving days as the 21st-century version of the direct mail piece—both are transactional in nature. Crowdfunding is a year-round activity. It's a completely different way of thinking about things. You can look at an individual student or project, you can see their name and face on the project, you can see and hear them in a video talking about it and giving you updates. The stewardship tends to be incredibly personal. At the moment I think there's a danger that people are replacing telephone programs with giving days, and I think they should be looking at this the other way around because the pipeline is everything. The relationships in that pipeline are being lost by translating these engagements into transactional campaigns.

It sounds like you have some reservations about giving days.

My instinct is that giving days are great, but people should be thinking about them as an opportunity to build relationships rather than just raise money. A lot of giving days have a strong financial-only focus, and after three or four of them that's going to start to bite. You don't want people to get into the mindset of giving only when they've been fired up about it as a result of some fun campaign. You want them to have that affinity. The challenge is to work out how to use the digital space to build longer-term relationships.

About the Author Theresa Walker Theresa Walker

Theresa Walker is a senior editor at Currents, where she covers the marketing and communications beat.




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