Igniting Student Philanthropy at UConn

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Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

3 min read

A nationally recognized crowdfunding competition that offers UConn student groups a chance at $27,000 in incentive prizes has returned for a second year.

The Ignite competition for 2014 involves 18 UConn student teams, including eight who competed in the inaugural 2013 event. It will run through April 6, 2014, with winners announced on April 17.

Unlike traditional crowdfunding campaigns, which often reward only projects that reach a specific goal, all donations to competing teams in Ignite go toward a team’s UConn Foundation fund. The competing teams therefore all win, with many counting Ignite as their most successful fundraising effort ever.

The 2013 grand prize winner, Community Outreach: Alternative Spring Breaks, used the $10,000 prize, plus more than $5,000 raised through donors in the competition, to cut the cost of an alternative spring break in half for participating students this year. Even the groups that competed but did not win a prize in 2013 used the donations raised from Ignite to benefit students. The Asian American Cultural Center, for example, offered a leadership conference for student members through their competition proceeds. More than $65,000 was donated through Ignite in 2013, from more than 2,600 donors.

The UConn Foundation is committed to increasing private support to meet the needs of a growing University. Programs like Ignite introduce philanthropy for UConn to students while they are still on campus and can directly experience the impact of their giving. Because of this, the competition is primarily focused on attracting student and young alumni donors. A revamped prize structure in 2014 also offers challenge awards for all donations from friends, family, and UConn faculty and staff. Of the student and young alumni donors to the 2013 competition, about 88 percent made their first gift to UConn through Ignite. The emphasis of Ignite is to compete for the number of donations, not the size of the donation, with a $5 minimum, which attracted students and young alumni who did not have a history or proclivity to past giving. Donations are accepted online, by text message, in person at the UConn Foundation building, or through specially organized events on campus.

The prizes are made available to the teams through the generosity of alumni David Barton ’61 and Adam Schwartz ’97. It is Barton’s fourth year supporting student philanthropy efforts through his giving. Schwartz’s gift this year will specifically support prizes for student team marketing efforts and the creation of a solicitation video contest.

The competing teams in 2014 span the breadth of a large public university like UConn, and include some of the largest, as well as some of the smallest, student organizations on campus. Competing are:

Allstars Aligned
AsACC’s Pan Asian Council
The BRIDGE Program
Community Outreach Youth Service Programs
Honors Alternative Spring Break (HASB)
Husky Sport
Living, Learning, and Experiencing (FYP & LC)
Pharmacy Student Leadership Fund
Seas the opportunity for UConn Sailing
Support the Campus Sustainability Fund
UCMB Tower Project
UConn Formula SAE
UConn Greek Week
UConn Voices of Freedom’s Annual Gospel Tour
Veterans Student Organization – Support Activities

Surprisingly, the size of the organization does not determine the winner; last year’s competition revealed that comparatively small organizations, like the UConn Ski Team or the School of Engineering’s Eurotech Program, could win a prize through effective fundraising, innovative use of social media, and targeted marketing.

Ignite received national attention last year when it won a Silver “Circle of Excellence” Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), a national trade association, and was recently featured at a CASE regional conference in Boston.

For more information about Ignite or to make a gift in support of the competing teams, please visit huskydrive.uconn.edu.

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