Inspiring philanthropy

There is an art to telling a story—especially when it’s not your own.

Students in Professor of English Lisa Lebduska’s “Writing in Professional Contexts” class explored this art—but with purpose—when they developed crowdfunding projects.

In collaboration with Lebduska, students launched Crowdrise or Kickstarter websites on behalf of various organizations. They each identified and cultivated a partnership with a nonprofit or business and worked to persuasively convey that entity’s need for funding through digital storytelling.

“Students learned the complexity and responsibility that accompany any fundraising effort, because ultimately they tried to tell a story that is not their own. So they began by listening to and reading about their clients, and understanding their story in the fullest sense,” Lebduska said.

The students developed the campaigns using text, video and audio. They wrote, edited and revised their campaigns, incorporating feedback through a peer-review process. Also, Lebduska advised students on carefully choosing appropriate images, video and audio—including securing necessary permissions—and developing a plan to promote campaigns beyond their own social media circles.

Lebduska’s collaboration with students on this real-world project “is about both thinking individually and together. It’s about making our thinking visible to one another so we can learn from each other,” she said.

Campaigns supported the following nonprofits: the Village Mountain Mission in the Dominican Republic; the Mansfield Music and Art Society; Little Free Library (Norton, Mass.); and the Voluntary Artists Studio Thimphu in Bhutan, among others. One student developed a Kickstarter campaign for Cape Fifteen, an apparel company launched by two college students, including Kyle Rumberger ’16.

Amanda Brazell ’17 focused her campaign on Cake4Kids—a San Francisco-based nonprofit that delivers birthday cakes to foster children.

“The hope of Cake4Kids is to make these kids feel special for at least one day out of the year, to raise their self-esteem, and to increase their chance of success in school and life. I instantly fell in love with this charity,” said Brazell, who named her campaign “Birthdays are AWESOME!”

Her two-minute video features heartwarming footage of young children messily indulging in birthday cakes. On her Crowdrise Web page, Brazell writes: “A cake, though simple and sweet, can mean the world to a child struggling today. With your donation, we can influence their outlook on life and help them achieve a brighter future.”

Thanks to efforts to promote the campaign, including on Facebook and Instagram, Brazell surpassed her $1,000 fundraising goal. An economics major, she said, “what’s great about doing this project is that I get to help the community while also fulfilling my education interests.”

Demetra Edwards ’17 focused her crowdfunding project on raising funds for the Winslow Farm Animal Sanctuary in Norton, Mass. Established in 1996, the nonprofit rescues and rehabilitates abandoned and mistreated animals. “It really is a hidden beauty of Norton,” she said.

The sanctuary’s president, Debra White, shared with Edwards the nonprofit’s areas of need, including medical care for the animals and building repairs.

What captured Edwards’s interest and became the crux of her campaign was the need to repair the sanctuary’s 100-year-old donkey barn. “I thought it was perfect. Because our fundraisers are only required to run for 30 days, I figured that urgency would add to the campaign and show possible donors how important it is to raise the funds before winter,” Edwards said.

In her campaign, “Dollars for Donkeys,” she wrote about the donkeys that would benefit—Bianca, Jezebel, Scamp, Stardust and Zorro—and featured them prominently in her video. She stressed that because the sanctuary operates 100 percent from donations and volunteer work, it faces challenges budgeting for repairs.

“I am happy to be supporting a local cause on my own,” Edwards said. “I think it is amazing that Wheaton professors want their students to be involved in our local community because it really shows how they want us to reach beyond the classroom. I now have an amazing connection with a local charity because of Wheaton.”

The class project reflects a major principle in a liberal arts education: understanding and respecting differences in others and ourselves, Lebduska said.

“If students can truly hear and convey an individual’s or organization’s story in a respectful way that persuades others to contribute to that organization’s efforts, they’ve brought the pieces together. They’ve made rhetoric real and purposeful,” she said.

They’ve made a real difference. Lebduska reported that her class raised more than $5,200 for their organizations.

Wheaton College Professor Lisa Lebduska Wheaton College Professor Lisa Lebduska Wheaton College Professor Lisa Lebduska

Professor Lisa Lebduska works with students on developing crowdfunding campaigns for nonprofit organizations.
Professor Lisa Lebduska works with students on developing crowdfunding campaigns for nonprofit organizations.