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September 16, 2015 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: VOLstarter program part of a national trend

UT Knoxville(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a two-part series on the VOLstarter program launched by the Office of Alumni Affairs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s (UT) VOLstarter program has a unique name, but the foundational concept – crowdfunding – is something that is being undertaken at other universities.

“It’s a new hot topic and trend in higher education fundraising,” according to Lance Taylor, UT’s Director of Annual Giving and Student Philanthropy. Universities are seeking new ways to engage their alumni, and making investments in specific initiatives is an interesting alternative to many who have never given.

In the process, VOLstarter also helps students, faculty and staff find funding for worthy efforts.

“One hundred percent of the donation goes to the project,” Kristen Watt, Assistant Director of Annual Giving who works with the program, said. That’s an important principle. The costs associated with administering VOLstarter are paid from university funds.

“The application process is straightforward,” Watt explained. “There are six or seven open-ended questions that address the impact on you (the person or organization), the community and UT.”

The steps are as follows:

  • Step 1: UT Students, faculty and staff complete an application to have their project posted on VOLstarter.
  • Step 2: The VOLstarter Team reviews the application.
  • Step 3: Once accepted, the VOLstarter Team places the project on VOLstarter for 65 days with a specific monetary goal stated.
  • Step 4: Donors go online and donate to their favorite project(s).
  • Step 5: Once the project is funded or the 30- to 45-day time period has elapsed, project leads are notified of the amount of funding they received after which they can start their project.

The process to submit a project or contribute to one starts here. The VOLstarter webpage also answers frequently asked questions and includes a listing of current projects.

Once projects are added to the list, Taylor said social media, emails and other mechanisms are employed to make the opportunities known.

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