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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Crowdfunding For Schools

Crowdfunding For Schools

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12 Replies 2012 Views

Schools…perpetual fundraisers. Like it or not, many of our schools are dependent upon the generosity of their families to fund things such as books, field trips and technology. Students selling goods to friends and family and their school often seeing a return of less than 50%. Any given day one can find numerous fundraising efforts posted on their Facebook wall.

Why not leverage our social media circles to help our schools achieve their goals more efficiently? Crowdfunding (also referred to as crowdsourcing) is fundraising mostly through the use of social media; asking many people, and their “network”, to each contribute a small amount. Unlike a traditional “fundraiser”, the school/organization collects nearly all of the donated money (host sites may withhold a small percentage), your marketing is not limited to those residing nearby, and donors typically do not receive anything in return. You can find crowdfunding for everything from disaster relief, to company start up funding, to big names such as Spike Lee looking to fund his next movie.

I have yet to try crowdfunding, but looking into it for our middle school next year; so I wanted to reach out and ask the community:

Have you used crowdfunding in your school? What were you raising money for? What takeaways can you share for others interested? What worked and didn’t work?

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Kristen Swanson's picture
Kristen Swanson
Teacher, Leader, Edcamper, Learner
Blogger 2014

We used an Indiegogo campaign to help fund the Edcamp movement a few months ago. Of course, Edcampers are eduawesome so we met our goal very quickly! However, I don't think this is a method that is good to use all the time. I think you should only use it when you really need something. Just my 2 cents. ;-)

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Whitney...one reason that this appeals to me as a parent (and as a PTO/HSA leader) is the clarity of what the goal is and where the money is being used. A few years ago we made a change at our ES and began not only posting our monthly detailed financials - but putting it into a pie chart for those who needed the visual. This year, in our first meeting for the MS one of the concerns parents had was the endless contributing, yet not understanding where the money was going. We are now looking to only hold fundraisers for specific causes, with specific goals (in addition, to be transparent with the financials. That means making sure all, not just the parents that are available to attend the meetings physically, have access to the information easily).

I am not a fan of PTO's serving as fundraisers, but I think crowdfunding/sourcing is an interesting option.

Alaethea Hensley's picture
Alaethea Hensley
Director of Marketing at Edbacker

Online crowdfunding is different but the same in many aspects. It requires just as much work as a product fundraiser, but it is also a lot safer than door-to-door fundraising. Edbacker is a crowdfunding platform that strives to promote safe and effective fundraisers while having the lowest service fee in the industry. One thing that makes Edbacker different from other crowdfunding platforms is our keep it all funding option. Educators can take every cent they raised, even if they did not reach their financial goal.

Our main goal is to have a supportive role in the fundraising process. We work closely with our clients every step of the way to encourage them and help them create a successful campaign. Campaigns with high success rates use social media and educator networking. If you are interested, you can email me directly at ahensley@edbacker.com! Hope to talk to you soon!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

I'm of two minds on this- having just finished grading what felt like 10,000 papers from my School Finance students. On the one hand, we all do what we have to do- what we can do- to create the best educational opportunity for our kids. Selling cookies, pizzas, pumpkins or magazines, or crowdsourcing specific projects through sites like DonorsChoose or Kickstarter...whatever it takes, right?

On the other hand, it seems like part of our social contract is to provide a free and appropriate public education to all kids. The more we lean into fundraising, the more we widen the gap between those we *can* fundraise and those who can't.

Maybe I'm off point here, (or maybe I'm just cranky- see above re: 100,000,000 School Finance papers...) but I'd rather see us spend our time and energy lobbying for equitable, meaningful funding for all schools- whether their parents and teachers can access or support external fundraising efforts.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I agree, Laura- the social contract is supposed to be about a free and appropriate public education for all kids. Reality varies, as people choose where to work and live by their perception of how good or bad the schools are, if they have a choice in the matter. Where I live, it's not uncommon to see people move just across the State line to access better public schools (we did it) versus choosing to send their kids to private school in the other State, with perceived public education quality issues.
As long as schools are funded by property taxes, they are vulnerable in downturns like the one we are still getting over, and there's not a lot of choice open for alternative funding and special projects, other than PTO/ events/ Crowdsourcing, and I see this happening as much in public schools around here as for private ones.
Part of the problem is that innovation and doing the extra cool stuff, like 3D printing and design labs etc. doesn't yet come with a tried and true curriculum you can purchase in a box from a vendor, so getting buy in and funding requires more of a leap of faith. It also takes someone with the strength, persistence and stamina to see it through as well and make it happen, public or private school. Until these things are more universally recognized as valuable, I think we're going to see more and more alternative funding of new initiatives rather than less.

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Laura...I think we are caught in a vicious cycle. We continue to fundraise to provide, yet as long as we continue to fundraise, we enable these things to be cut from or left out of budgets.

I think, if not careful, fundraising can get in the way of building unbiased relationships, prevent partnerships that all see each other as equals working together for the same goal, and take the focus off what's truly important...that every child deserves an equal opportunity at a quality education.

What I find is that it is far more difficult to find parents willing and able (because of lack of time) to educate themselves and commit the time to advocate for the big picture as opposed to the limited time commitment and knowledge needed of parents to fundraise money for a particular goal at their child's school. (which is a whole other post topic).

I like the idea of crowdfunding because it is a clear, defined goal. Everyone knows what they are fundraising for and how much they need to raise. (something that isn't always communicated when holding multiple smaller fundraisers). Regardless of how funds are raised, I think it is the transparency, and passionately sharing of the why, that gathers support.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Gwen- I agree with you- part of it is people are willing to do stuff, but like with any volunteers, they have to know what to do, when and where. Otherwise, it's haphazard and ineffectual. We need a version of a Parent's Lobbying Group, done in partnership with education, and really understanding the issues from all sides- and that's a challenge, because so many people make it political very quickly.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia
Staff

We asked our community on Facebook about crowdfunding for schools, and here are some of the responses:

Johanna P: I've used crowdfunding numerous times in my classroom - to get all 70 of my students books for christmas, stock our classroom library, get supplies for the new school year, get PE equipment...everything! DonorsChoose.org and through bloggers are the way to go!

Angela M.: Our school collects money at the start of the year as a one off lump sum for excursions. The school holds a school fair every two years to raise money rather than sending home endless requests for fundraising activities.

David W.: It's a new world and education needs to sync up to keep up.

Barb W.: I resent this. What other profession has to recruit money for their job. This is insulting to us as a professional community. Sorry.

Cherelyn C.: I have used Donorschoose twice to try and get novels for my classroom. But times were completely unsuccessful. I didn't get a single penny. I think it's because I don't really have many friends or family members, so nobody wanted to donate. I pushed it on Facebook, our school's website, even on the FB pages for Oprah and Colbert. Got nothing.

Virga B.: Are parent's informal payments on school request also crowdfunding?

Geraldine Smythe's picture
Geraldine Smythe
CEO- Co-Founder of www.culturebooster.com, Using crowdfunding to teach

Gwen and everyone, great discussion!
Gwen- shameless plug alert- we'd love to work with you and your middle school! We bring a little different twist to the typical, wonderful new world of crowdfunding sites that offer fundraising for school classrooms. We have built different age-appropriate curricula to teach students all about crowdfunding but through that, and more importantly, they learn the steps it takes to be successful in the work world. The students build and design fun, creative fundraising campaigns to benefit their own schools and local charities as they learn what it takes to create value from scratch through social entrepreneurship. Whether they are destined to be employees or business builders, every student will one day end up working some place and needs to know what their strengths are and how that maps to the work world. So much the better if they can get a head start on understanding that they have a real knack for a certain field of work, based on a fun project they got to practice with in middle school.

We've been beta testing our curriculum and integrated, student-safe crowdfunding platform, and so far the Fall 2013 tests since our Sept launch have been yielding great results for students and teachers! Classrooms have been really empowered and are learning loads of lessons I personally didn't get a chance to learn till long after college.

I think as far as making quality education available to all for free, speaking to another comment above, we heard that time and time again when I ran our art school of 7 years. We saw the massive shift in youth unemployment, which few people really talk about now- eclipsed by general "recession" talk- but this issue is critical to bolstering the world's economies. That's when our team knew we needed to jump in as we had the ability to help. So our current curriculum is in fact free for schools, in an effort to level the playing field. Whether the kids raise the money or not, doesn't take away the real educational value of the experience they get in trying to raise funds for a special project. And the stakes are lower now than they'll ever be for them while they're still in school.

There is no one silver bullet for improving education, but the times are changing, and forums like this are great to get dialogue going, share best practices, tools etc- we all have to remember to not politicize and pre-judge, as one writer above me noted correctly. As a long-time educator, I've noticed that the more individuals, especially young ones, are supported to make bold choices, the more they thrive and can make many more good choices compared to bad ones, provided we genuinely believe in them. Innovation is a bold choice. Our teachers, education leaders and bold parents are the key to leading the way in modeling this brave behavior so students feel taking a leap of faith on themselves is a good thing, not something to be feared. It's really the only way anything good has ever been created from what I've seen.

Thanks for starting this interesting conversation! If you'd like to see more about what we're doing at culturebooster, please check out our web site. As we're still building, we would love any and all constructive feedback as we try to change lives for the better! Enjoy. www.culturebooster.com

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