About Promise for Education

Promise for Education is a systemwide fundraising effort for undergraduate scholarships. The six-week program runs through Oct. 31. All funds raised will provide direct scholarships and grants to undergraduate students from California with a demonstrated financial need.

If you think crowdfunding is only for indie filmmakers and bootstrap startups, think again. The University of California today (Sept. 18) became one of the first universities in the nation to tap the fundraising power of social networks with its Promise for Education campaign.

The goal: Boost scholarship aid for deserving UC undergraduates through an online campaign that draws attention to the importance of keeping public higher education within reach for all Californians.

UC Regent Sherry Lansing, who was lauded by other members of the Board of Regents today for her leadership in helping launch the program, said the campaign was unique in that it represented the "democratization of fundraising," allowing anyone who cares about UC and its students to get involved at any level.

"We've been struggling with how to have more resources available for students, and that's what the Promise campaign is all about," Lansing said. "There is an ability for everybody to get involved. It brings the whole community in."

The concept of Promise for Education is simple. Individuals make a personal promise — run a marathon, tutor a student, ride a unicycle — and set a crowdfunding goal ($50, $100, $1,000 or more). Then they share their promise through Facebook, email and other social media channels. 

 Their friends are directed to PromiseforEducation.org, where donations can be made to see the promise fulfilled. All donations go directly to scholarships and grants for UC undergraduates with financial need.

The campaign has already drawn significant support from celebrities, industry partners and other notables, said Jason Simon, UC executive director for marketing and communications.

"Over the last three weeks we have engaged in a bit of a ‘preview' mode and as we launch today, with more than 150 promises, we already have pledges of roughly $900,000," Simon said.

Among those who have joined the effort: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jamie Foxx, David Spade, Matt Barnes, Wilmer Valderrama, Gabrielle Union, Sasha Alexander, filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke, and rapper and spoken word poet Watsky.

The promises range from the silly to the serious. Jamie Foxx, for example, has pledged to rap like Bill Clinton, President Obama and Mo'Nique from the movie "Precious." His fans already have pitched in $10,000 for student scholarships to see him fulfill it.

Gov. Brown, on the other hand, has taken a decidedly more scholarly tack, promising to hold a brown bag lunch with a student from each campus if he reaches his fundraising goal of $10,000.

Other members of the UC Board of Regents also have gotten involved, and three of them — Regents Richard Blum, Norman Pattiz and Fred Ruiz — each promised during the meeting to give $100,000 to the cause.

In addition, Bank of America and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), which is chaired by Lansing, have each come aboard with $100,000 donations to the student scholarship fund.

Jay Sures, vice chair of EIF, told the board that as a UCLA alum and board member of the UCLA Medical Center, he felt a deep personal connection to the campaign and its goals.

"We believe in the powerful role that UC plays in transforming California, and I've experienced that first-hand as an alumnus," he said. "But we are also keenly aware of the transformative nature that social media is having on philanthropy."

Crowdfunding campaigns have taken off in the past couple of years, Sures said. More than $2.7 billion was raised last year through such campaigns, and that amount is expected to nearly double in 2013. UC is smart to capitalize on the phenomenon, he said.

His promise? Five paid internships for UC students next summer at the highly coveted United Talent Agency, where he is managing director.

Student Regent Cinthia Flores said she initially had been apprehensive about the campaign, but had become excited about its potential. She told board members that she raised $800 in less than 24 hours after pledging to spend a day dressed up as Superwoman, and had less than $200 left to raise.

"I'm fully on board and there are a lot of students who are really excited about it," Flores said.

Students have embraced all sorts of creative promises, from a UC Berkeley student who promises to work a soup kitchen for 2,000 hours to a UC Riverside athlete who has pledged to do 20,000 pushups in 20 hours.

Brittaney Khong, a recent graduate of UC San Diego, told the board she became involved because scholarships had done so much for her personally.

"My parents are Vietnam War refugees and our family has faced a number of challenges, namely financial."

As a senior in high school, Khong had nearly given up her college dream, until the phone rang and she learned she had been awarded a scholarship from the UC San Diego Student Foundation.

"This scholarship was entirely funded through student donations. UCSD students, who were struggling to pay for their own tuition, were generous enough to help out a future classmate, whom they'd never even met. Their spirit of philanthropy inspired me and gave me hope for the future. Sure enough more scholarships came in, and by fall of 2009, I had moved into my dorm room...

"I owe everything I am to the generosity of others," she said.