Pitt crew

A team of doctors and researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School hopes to boost the financial support for a new ambulance alert system that may reduce sepsis-related deaths.

Their ThinkSepsis campaign is one of several crowdfunding efforts currently underway on EngagePitt, a website to support student activities, community outreach and research projects. Up since December, EngagePitt pilot campaigns have quickly proven an effective way to attract donors, especially today’s generation of computer savvy young alumni.

“The millennials and Gen Xers are used to living their lives through their computers and PDAs. It’s incumbent upon us to reach them where they are living,” says Albert J. Novak, Jr., vice chancellor for institutional advancement at Pitt.

EngagePitt is also a way to reach those with particular interests and common missions through social media.

“Our target audience is people in the Pittsburgh area who recognize the benefit and need to improve technology available to EMS providers. These people understand the benefits of having experts in critical care and emergency medicine working in our local community, and would like to support improving health care in Pittsburgh in a unique way,” says Kimberly Anne MacAulay of the ThinkSepsis Outreach Team at Pitt.

To launch a campaign on EngagePitt, recognized organizations need to present a defined, viable project with the support of the university. The campaign must have one or two team leaders and three to five others in the group, says Novak.

The site lists all current campaigns, a detailed description of the team’s mission, their up-to-date progress and the amount of time left in the campaign. The average campaign lasts about eight weeks, and they are selected for the site on a rolling basis.

The first pilot campaign, hosted by the Pitt Rowing Club to raise $5,000 to purchase equipment, brought in $6,090 from December 3 to January 7 and exceeded its goal by 21 percent. Seventy-five donors made gifts ranging from $5 to $500.

Another campaign by Pitt’s Society of Women Engineers surpassed its goal by 17 percent, raising $2,351 to fund yearly outreach events, including Girl Scout and High School Engineering Days.

With its ending date on March 4, ThinkSepsis has raised $1,860 toward its $4,000 goal.

Other current campaigns include a Pitt Men’s Glee Club “Support our Sound” campaign, a drive by the Black Action Society to host a speaker series and a request to help fund a service trip to Honduras from the Pitt Global Public Health Brigade.

“I don’t think the pipeline (of campaigns) will go dry. It’s a great way for students to do their fundraising,” Novak says. “It’s also been a new tool for scientists interested in seed funding for their research projects.”

What’s key is that with social media, there is the opportunity to keep connected with the university, especially for the recent graduates – who are often the most difficult group to reach, adds Novak.

“The real test is going to be in 10 to 15 years to see how these new philanthropists stay connected with Pitt,” he says.

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.