Spring 2016

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Alumni Life

Crowdfunding Site Fuels Student Projects

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Read about projects currently seeking funding and make your gift today at catalyzer.northwestern.edu. All gifts made through Catalyzer are tax deductible and count toward We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.

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Northwestern’s Catalyzer platform connects donors to campus causes.

Northwestern’s club rowing team had a problem last spring: too many rowers and not enough boats.

The team’s leaders were thrilled with the group’s growth, but they didn’t know where they’d find the money to buy the two new boats they needed — high-quality racing shells that would cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 each.

Instead of instituting a major dues increase, the team turned to Northwestern’s network of alumni and supporters for help.

The team’s leaders launched a fundraising project on Catalyzer, a crowdfunding web platform for student-led campus organizations that is administered by Alumni Relations and Development, and set an initial goal of raising $15,000.

Turns out the goal was too low. Alumni and other donors gave the team nearly $23,000, helping them buy two brand-new four-person boats.

“We were really surprised,” says Nicole Kempis, a sophomore rower who succeeded Chloe Padula ’15, the leader of the team’s Catalyzer project, in overseeing the team’s fundraising efforts. “I don’t think any of us appreciated how effective fundraising through social media and the alumni community could be. We definitely didn’t expect to surpass our goal that quickly.”

Jenn Kroon and Nicole Kempis
Northwestern rowers Jenn Kroon, front, a junior, and sophomore Nicole Kempis, back, compete at a regatta in Gainesville, Ga., in May 2015. Photo by ROW2K.

Catalyzer, like other crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe, enables groups to raise money from people around the world. However, unlike some commercial crowdfunding sites, Catalyzer directs 100 percent of each gift to the student group seeking the money, even if the group falls short of its fundraising goal.

Since Catalyzer launched in April 2015, 28 student groups have raised more than $120,000. The money has supported a variety of causes, such as providing low-income and first-generation students with gift cards to help cover their expenses, offering financial aid to incoming students participating in preorientation backpacking trips and supporting a student engineering group that is developing a sustainable water source for a village in Kenya.

Each student group posts a description of its project on the Catalyzer site, along with a short video. Students also reach out to potential donors and promote their projects on social media. Supporters make gifts directly through the Catalyzer site with just a few clicks.

Grace Hamilton-Vargo, a senior who leads the Dolphin Show’s fundraising efforts, says she and other members of the student theater group were amazed by the generosity of people who donated through Catalyzer.

“We have a huge alumni family, and it’s been fun to look at our donor page and recognize so many names,” she says. “It’s heartwarming to see that so many people care so much about this project.”

The Dolphin Show raised about $10,200 through Catalyzer, cruising past its goal of $9,000. The group used the money to purchase equipment it usually rents, which will cut expenses over the next few years; to replace scripts and other paperwork with tablets; and to cover the costs of delivering lumber used in its sets to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

Improving the show’s sustainability resonated with donor Jamie Lynn White ’11, who produced the Dolphin Show while majoring in theater at Northwestern and made a gift to the group through Catalyzer.

“Breaking down the set was always sad because we’d done all this work to bring this huge production to life, but after two weekends, all the lumber just disappeared, with no chance for any of it to live on,” White says. “This opportunity to decrease the waste was a great project for the group and a really valuable one for the community too.”

Richard Turner ’62 has donated through Catalyzer to the Dolphin Show, the Waa-Mu Show and projects supporting low-income students. As a member of the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, he makes a point of promoting Catalyzer when talking with other alumni. “I’m a huge fan of Catalyzer,” he says. “It’s a wonderful way to support students directly, and that resonates with alumni.”