Crowdfunding: Reaching your PEAKS

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Tompkins Weekly 5-18-15

By Ray Weaver

PEAKS, a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, is the region’s original crowdfunding and event registration platform, helping local non-profit agencies raise money through online giving. In the past three years, PEAKS has helped over 60 area organizations raise over $400,000 of funding for a variety of programming including financial literacy, free and low-cost health care, youth educational opportunities, community development and more. One of the first campaigns to launch on the new PEAKS system was for Healthy Food For All, a program of CCETC that provides subsidized CSA Shares to low-income individuals so that they have access to local, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. To date, nearly $20,000 has been raised and hundreds of families helped, using the PEAKS platform. In 2014, their annual Harvest Dinners used PEAKS’ event registration platform to allow dinner-goers to reserve and pay for their tickets online.

2014 was a spectacular year for PEAKS users. Over $150,000 was raised for over 20 different organizations. Organizations ranged from Alternatives Impact program, who provides financial literacy education to the community to Vitamin L, which shares the strength of positive actions through song. Other campaigns focused on introducing youth to agriculture, educational field trips for students and home repairs for senior citizens.

But, what is PEAKS and what it crowdfunding? “Crowdfunding is a fundraising tool that began to see popularity in 2009, and exploded around 2011”, said Ray Weaver, Director of PEAKS. “The landscape has changed significantly, with hundreds of different platforms that all are helping to raise money for an idea, a person, an event or a cause. Crowdfunding is attractive to people because it’s done mostly online, relies heavily on social media and digital marketing, and is relatively low-energy when compared to traditional fundraising methods.”

Crowdfunding works by asking for gifts from people online, through a website called a platform. These gifts are generally money, but can be almost anything! The organization asking for the gifts creates a page with information about their cause, which is called a campaign. Friends, family members, co-workers, clients, businesses, neighbors, and anyone else you know are encouraged to go to this campaign and make a small contribution to the cause and to spread the word about the campaign! This is how crowdfunding gains its traction. Whereas traditional fundraising relies on a few large donors to reach a goal, crowdfunding asks for several small donations to reach the same goal. Once the person makes a gift to the campaign, they send on the information to their digital networks, and asks them to do the same.

While this may not sound all that impressive, or even that difficult, the hardest part is getting people’s attention. In this day and age of digital communication, each email, blog entry or social media post needs to be engaging, exciting and have a call to action. PEAKS offers informative toolkits on their website that help people think through campaigns, as well as strategies to marketing them successfully.

PEAKS also has another secret weapon: champions. “What really makes PEAKS unique is how it uses “champions” to support a campaign”, explained Cadell Williams, Cornell University Student and intern for PEAKS. “Champions are people who support an organization, like a board member or a volunteer, who set a personal goal for themselves. They may say that they want to raise $500 for this organization from their own network. They create their own page, and send people there to make donations. The donations then register on the main campaign page. The more exited and passionate people are about the cause, the more likely the campaign is to be successful.”

In 2012, PEAKS was first introduced to Cooperative Extension via Food Network Star participant “Emma Frisch”. Frisch had just finished her first successful campaign supporting indigenous farmers in Ecuador overcome the devastation to their lands as a result of climate change. Frisch suggested that PEAKS partner with CCETC to support local organizations whose missions aligned with program areas and values of Extension: Agriculture, Environment and Energy, Nutrition, Community Development and Youth Development.

For more information about PEAKS, please visit

Ray Weaver is the Public Affairs Coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and the Director of PEAKS. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County is an independent 501 (c) 3 affiliate of Cornell University.    

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