2011 Conference

I’d Buy That For a Dollar: What Robocop Can Teach us about Alumni Engagement #heweb11

View Session Description and Presenter Bio

Photo by Kate Raynes-Goldie, Flickr.

A statue of Robocop is being built in Detroit because a number of people came together on an online fundraising site and made it happen. Jeff Stevens would spend a dollar on this, and so would a whole bunch of other people.

Jeff Stevens presented today on the immense potential that exists in the realm of online fundraising. Sites such as Kiva and Kickstarter are being used to bring people with a passion to help a cause together with the people who benefit from their help in a virtual space. Jeff argues that universities and higher education are missing out on tremendous opportunity for fundraising using micro-transactions and organic marketing.

As Jeff says, a group that is passionate can grow anything into a movement if you get them involved. Social fundraising sites do just that by people involved by putting them in direct contact using live chat, personal profiles, game elements, and much more.

The Three Prime Directives

Robocop had three prime directives:

  • Serve the public trust
  • Protect the Innocent
  • Uphold the Law

Higher education has three prime directives for donations as well:

  • Make it compelling
  • Make it collaborative
  • Make it competitive


Todd Sanders and the now famous #MBteamS race where the drivers were ‘fueled’ by tweets is a great example of hitting all these directives. It was competitive, with 4 teams, collaborative, since Todd relied on fellow tweeters to fuel his car, and really, really compelling, since the winner received a brand new Mercedes. The real winner, though, was St. Judes, who received a $50,000 donation from the event.

Another good example of online from Jeff is the ‘Bald is Beautiful’ campaign for cancer.

Online Donor Behavior

40% of donors go online to research their causes before they donate, and online donors are generous. Jeff quoted a report by Peter Wiley that shows that the median level of giving of online donors more than 50% higher than offline. Online donors have little or no prior giving history, and lower income households donate more generously than other bracket at 4.5% of their income. 3.5% and 2.5% for middle and high, respectively. Gender is also a factor. Men give for self esteem reasons and recognition. Women tended to donate not to higher ed but rather to civic organizations where they could see a more direct impact.

Framing the Narrative

Institutions need  to frame a narrative to entice donors. We need to make people feel like they are involved in the impact their donations make. Kiva and  Donorschoose do this. Donors want to directly see the results of their actions.

For example, Charity:Water shows photos and video of a town or village before and after they build a well using compelling visuals and video. Donors can see the impact they are having as it is happening. This is incredibly more compelling than sending money into a bucket somewhere with the assumption it is being used for good.


Making donating competitive using gaming techniques can also be successful. It gives external recognition and can be expanded beyond the site with a plaque or donor wall, which itself can include donors large and small.

An incredible use of gaming in fundraising is Raise the Village app, which allows you to build a real village using a game purchases. If you buy mosquito nets in the game, mosquito nets are bought for the actual village.

The Hidden Prime Directive: Robocop could not break the system.

Our hidden prime directive: Breaking the silos that exist on campus.

Jeff uses a transportation analogy to say that we need to stop targeting just the people flying jets and helicopters, and start engaging those who are biking, taking a walk, or jogging. We need to engage all our donors, even if all they can give is a dollar.

After all, Jeff Stevens has already said that he would buy it for a dollar.



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