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UC’s twist on crowdfunding inspires students

Gov. Jerry Brown and Aimee Dorr, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, attend the program launch at Thursday's University of California Board of Regents meeting. Lacy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle

Gov. Jerry Brown and Aimee Dorr, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, attend the program launch at Thursday's University of California Board of Regents meeting. Lacy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle

By
From page A3 | September 20, 2013 |

By Justin Berton

University of California regents have come up with a novel approach to raising scholarship funds: have students dress in a cow suit for a week.

Or swim 3 miles nonstop. Or wear a horse’s head in public.

Those are just some of the adventures pledged by UC students in a novel crowdfunding campaign that calls on anyone — including students — to tap into their social media networks for a donation.

The six-week promotion, called “Promise for Education,” allows users to make a “promise” of their liking — run a marathon, climb a mountain, wear a superhero costume for a day — and then set a fundraising goal.

The online contributions from friends and colleagues — regardless of whether the promise is fulfilled — go into a fund for grants and scholarships for UC students. Officials said they hadn’t set a goal for how much they wanted to raise before the late-October deadline.

UC spent $700,000 to create the crowdfunding program, drawing the cash from private, non-tuition funds. And within hours of launching on Wednesday, hundreds of promises had been posted and the dollars were beginning to roll in.

Everyone’s a fundraiser

Regent Sherry Lansing, who oversaw the concept, said that while celebrity alumni undoubtedly would commit to high-profile promises and large donations, smaller contributions raised by students through their pledges would drive the campaign.

“It’s the democratization of fundraising,” Lansing said. “It truly empowers everyone to be their own fundraiser.”

The call to pass the hat online comes after years of tuition increases. Annual tuition at UC is $12,192, not counting books, living expenses or other mandatory fees. That’s about double what it was in 2008, when UC went on a fee-hiking frenzy during the recession.

The university raised tuition each year between 2006 and 2011, but stopped when Gov. Jerry Brown found ways to put more money into the system — including the voter-approved tax increase, Proposition 30.

But Lansing said in announcing the campaign, “Proposition 30 has taken the strain off, but it is not the magic bullet.”

A UC Riverside student pledged to become a vegetarian for a year for $5,000. A UC Berkeley student promised to perform 100 flips for $2,500.

Others were more altruistic: One student pledged to clean up a beach, while another promised to pour 2,000 bowls of soup at a soup kitchen.

If the governor raises $10,000, he promised to host a brown-bag lunch in Sacramento and invite one student from each UC campus.

Personalized giving

Cinthia Flores, a student regent, said at first her peers were hesitant of a plan that asked them to solicit each other through their Facebook and Twitter networks.

Flores, however, said she warmed to the idea after she realized the campaign worked beyond raising money, engaging alumni and students in a new way.

“It’s an opportunity to have an individual identity with the UC system,” Flores said. “A lot of private schools have a lot of involvement from students and alumni on campus and in fundraisers. This is a new way to get people involved and inspired in the UC system.”

Flores promised to dress as Superwoman for a day for $1,000. By mid-Wednesday, she said, she’d raised $800.

For Angela Sanchez, a UCLA graduate entering graduate school, the chance to raise money for fellow students was one she readily accepted.

Sanchez said she was homeless the last two years of high school and relied on scholarships and grants to pay for college.

She pledged to organize a 24-hour magic show for students if she could raise $3,000.

“This cuts through a lot of the red tape of giving,” Sanchez said. “We can’t change the circumstances as they are right now, but this is immediate action we can take.”

— Reach Justin Berton at jberton@sfchronicle.com

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