Education Trends

Educators: How to Give Your Great Ideas Wings (and Cash)

June 17, 2013
Image credit: Veer

For many teachers, summer is peak season for generating ideas. When the daily classroom demands ease up, you can enjoy the luxury of unstructured time to reflect, explore, and brainstorm about the learning experiences you'd love to offer your students.

There's no need to stop at wishful thinking. Jaime Wood and Kevilina Burbank, both veteran teachers from Portland, Oregon, have created a crowdfunding platform specifically for educators. IncitED launched in April as an online space to help teachers raise funds to put their good ideas to work.

"We know a lot of passionate educators with great ideas, but they keep running into the roadblock of money," says Wood. She and Burbank were talking about that challenge one day when out for a walk. They were familiar with Kickstarter Kickstarter the wildly successful platform for crowdfunding creative projects. "And we just thought, why not a Kickstarter for education?"

Why not just use Kickstarter? After all, the platform has raised more than $600 million since its launch in 2009. Some educators have run successful Kickstarter campaigns. Emily Pilloton, for instance, raised more than $16,000 on Kickstarter to help her students design and build their own classroom out of shipping containers at Realm Charter School in Oakland, California.

But Kickstarter is selective about the projects it accepts. Wood and Burbank worry that some worthy education projects would be turned down by Kickstarter.

Then there's DonorsChoose. It has a teacher focus, "but it's strictly for public education," Wood says. "We wanted to think broader and feature ideas that are outside traditional education," including afterschool and informal learning experiences.

They also researched Indigogo, yet another popular crowdfunding platform. It's so popular, in fact, that "it's easy for education projects to get lost there," Wood worries.

Convinced that there was a gap in the crowdfunding marketplace, they moved ahead to develop a business plan, pitch to investors, and design their platform. By April, they were open for business.

It didn't take long for ideas to emerge from the education community. The first IncitED campaign -- for Open Road Learning Community -- was seeking $7,500 to develop a nontraditional learning experience for teens. The campaign topped its goal, raising more than $9,500 and attracting additional support from two corporate partners.

"We're advocates for ideas to meet learning needs that aren't being met in the traditional system," says Burbank. "We want this to be a place not just for fundraising, but also to showcase ideas that can spread."

Telling Your Story

What should educators know about crowdfunding? YouthVoices co-founder Paul Allison and his colleagues at the National Writing Project are trying their hand at running an IncitED campaign to fund a summer digital writing program for teachers and youth. They have set a goal of $15,000, which would enable 15 teens from the Bronx to spend their summer creating digital media and experiencing connected learning. The clock is ticking down to their June 19 deadline.

The crowdfunding process is causing them to think hard about their message. "How do we talk about what we do? How can we make our message clear and engaging? How do we get this idea outside our usual circle?" asks Allison.

Those are all good questions to ask yourself before launching a campaign, agree the IncitED founders. Wood offers three tips to help educators find success in crowdfunding:

  • Have a good story. Tell it in a way that's exciting and generates human interest.
  • Have clear goals. Be concrete and finite about what you're asking for, and why. Explain how you will know you've been successful.
  • Have a strong crowd. Be smart about using social media to connect, and to expand beyond your usual connections.

The InciteED team has produced guides to help educators plan and manage a successful campaign. (Here's the guide to telling a good story.) Find links to more guides on the IncitED homepage.

"We'll work with you to get all the pieces ready," Wood adds, "because we want everyone to be successful." Campaigners already are showing creativity when it comes to "perks," or rewards that donors receive at different funding levels. Legacy Leadership Academy, for instance, happens to have a musician in its parent community. This dad has offered to reward your donation by recording any song you send him.

In the coming months, IncitED plans to add a community space where educators can get help with early-stage ideas. "They may need some time to incubate them and make them better," Wood says.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on several worthy ideas. Campaigns often reach their goal in the final days and, sometimes, the last hours before the deadline, Wood adds. That adds more excitement to the crowdfunding process.

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