OU’s crowdfunding site benefits students, campus
No matter what the day, or the time, Nikki West is constantly using her phone or computer to check progress on the University of Oklahoma’s official crowdfunding website, “OU Thousands Strong.”
“If I’m sitting at home watching Netflix, watching for the show to load, I’ll check the progress. It’s not necessary, but you get attached to the projects and want them to succeed,” says West.
As director of OU’s Digital Initiatives for University Development, West is the digital guru for making sure it all works.
“It’s entrepreneurial, it’s social media,” West states bluntly.
West is the content and web manager for the website, powered by ScaleFunder. There are no service fees and 100 percent of donations goes to the particular project. All donations are tax-deductible.
The crowdfunding project had to get official approval from the OU Board of Regents and ultimately, OU President David Boren. Six to nine projects are usually available at any given time. Projects are given 30 to 45 days to raise money before they “expire.”
Each project must have a faculty or staff sponsor and student leaders who are responsible for promoting the campaign on social media or with family and friends. OU staff serve as consultants and will “hold your hand” to get the project launched, West said.
While the project is run and managed by students, there are strict checks and balances. Money goes directly to the OU Foundation, not to the students. It is then distributed on an “as needed” basis.
Acceptable projects are those which directly benefit the students or campus community, such as research, scholarships, equipment, travel costs, and student-led organizations. Not allowed are projects for building campaigns, salaries or tuition.
Funding goals are capped at $5,000.
Based on the number of donors, one of the most popular campaigns benefited the OU Food Pantry. That initiative attracted 82 donors who contributed $4,763.
The teacher certification campaign raised nearly $3,000 from 31 donors.
In order to graduate, education majors must do their student teaching for one semester, but that work is unpaid. Gregg Garn, dean of the College of Education, compares student teaching to unpaid internships.
At the same time, teachers must pass certification exams and background checks which can cost as much as $500.
And “every dollar matters for these future teachers,” says Garn.
“There’s always a dozen or so of our graduates that are kind of right on that financial line, where a couple of hundred dollars may make the difference between being able to do that, or delay it. It’s a game-changer. It’s definitely a big deal for a number of our students.”
Mandy White, a 2016 education graduate, was one of those students.
She had no income since she had been practice teaching but needed the tests to get her teaching license. Her first job was teaching kindergarten at Epperly Heights elementary school in the Mid-Del school system.
White, now on maternity leave, says getting the cash gift was “financially, a blessing.”
After paying for the tests, she had money left over which she used to buy supplies for her classroom.
“For me, it was a very humbling experience. I didn’t go into teaching for the money. I went in it for the passion. With the support I received, this made it even more humbling to start my career in such a low-economic area.
“Not every student can bring the supplies on the supply list. So I was able to provide that for them,” she said.