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How to Turbocharge Your Classroom Fundraising

Say bye-bye to bake sales. Crowdfunding is an easier way to get the resources your classroom needs. Here’s how to craft a successful campaign.

Are you spending too much of your time organizing fundraisers or reaching into your own pocket to pay for classroom needs?

If so, you’re not alone. “Ninety-two percent of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies,” says Dennis Hu, CEO of Fundly, a crowdfunding organization located in Palo Alto, California. Eighty-two percent pay for students’ instructional materials.

“Many schools do not provide teachers with enough money to pay for the supplies they need,” says Julia G. Thompson, a ninth-grade English teacher and author of The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide. “Teachers everywhere have learned to adjust to tough economic times by recycling, asking parents or businesses to help and making good use of the supplies they have.”

Typical fundraisers and bake sales take time, volunteers, money and energy—and yield little, says Andy Saberioon, co-founder and CEO of PledgeCents, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers, PTA/PTO members and nonprofits that focus on K-12. Grants may help but they take time to write and the wait for approval, then funding, could take months.

“Crowdfunding has enabled teachers an easy way, a simple way” to raise money and reach larger audiences through social media, Saberioon says. PledgeCents is less than two years old but has already helped teachers raise over $100,000 for various classroom and school needs.

“More and more teachers and schools are signing up because they are seeing the impact crowdfunding has had for their peers,” Saberioon says. “Teachers are raising money faster and are able to put the funds to use ASAP.”

Louise Morgan, a second-grade teacher at Sycamore Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, who blogs about saving money at FrugalTeacher, says, “I fund field trips, author visits and equipment in my classroom through grants and crowdfunding programs” such as DonorsChoose and local grants. 

How it works

You create a description of a fundraising project and post it on an Internet crowdfunding website. Specific details vary on different sites, as do levels of support and guidance, but the general idea is to tell prospective contributors about your goal, why it’s important and how they can help. Some crowdfunding sites walk beginners through the process; others are better for people with more experience. Browse the “about us” and “how to” information on several sites to find the best fit for your project and your abilities. 

People have used crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for business ventures, charities and personal needs both serious and frivolous—even potato salad. In 2014, crowdfunding from 6,911 backers of Zach Danger Brown’s Potato Salad campaign, which went viral, raised a total of $55,492 for the Cleveland, Ohio, man—who’d never even made potato salad before!

Try these resources for your next fundraiser:

DIGITAL WISH helps educators get technology products such as netbooks, e-readers, cameras, computers and projectors for classroom use. You create a “wish list” of technology items your classroom needs and create a “giving page” to recruit supporters, and share it with your community. Registering with Digital Wish makes you automatically eligible for matching grants. The site also offers grant libraries and teaching resources to help you integrate the new technology into your curriculum. By October 2014, more than 31,140 teacher “wishes” had been granted with “over $12 million in technology.”

DONORS CHOOSE helps teachers “shop” for items they need from participating vendors such as Amazon, Best Buy, Lakeshore Learning, Quill and School Specialty. Teachers write a brief description of what they need for their classroom. After volunteer screeners make sure requested items match the product description and the project is approved, you have four months to meet your fundraising goal. “About 70 percent do,” says founder and CEO Charles Best, a history teacher in Bronx, New York. Since he created DonorsChoose in his classroom in 2000, more than 203,000 teachers have used it to fund 500,000 projects and raise $271 million for their classrooms, Best says. A two-minute video explains the program.

KICKSTARTER helped Elly McGuire, a former pre-K and kindergarten teacher in Rhode Island, raise money to self-publish a children’s book that became ”the cornerstone” of Schmitty The Weather Dog Weather/Science Assembly STEM Enrichment Program that she and former teacher, now meteorologist Ron Trotta present at school assemblies across America “bringing fun science to kids.” See Kickstarter to learn how to start your crowdfunding project.

FUNDLY crowdfunding can be used for all sorts of projects, including education. One example is a Fundly campaign launched by Nikki Taura, a new second-grade teacher at a high-needs, Title 1 school in San Francisco. Her project attracted 43 supporters and raised $1,634 (toward her $2,000 goal) to give her students a classroom library, high-interest books and technology to help them learn.

TIPS FOR BETTER CROWDFUNDNG RESULTS

Help parents help 

“Most parents, and people in general, are afraid to ask for money,” says Michigan fundraising expert and award winning author Kirt Manecke. Help parents (and yourself) overcome that fear by writing out the pitch to use to ask for contributions. Give parents quick and easy information and training. Try role playing sessions to make sure they have “their ducks in a row,” Manecke adds.

Ask a few parents if they’ll agree to match donor contributions, suggests Peter Crosby, Chief Marketing Officer at DreamFund.com, Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. An offer might say, “I will match the next $50 or $100 that comes in the next 24 hours,” or whatever dollar amount and time period the parent can support.

Make it novel

“The best way to frame a crowdfunding pitch is to play up the novelty factor,” says former college professor David Ryan Polgar, now a digital lifestyle expert and creative branding consultant based in West Hartford, Connecticut. 

Polgar says the reason the potato salad campaign went viral and attracted so many contributions was because it was highly unusual. Educators need to find ways to make their campaigns stand out too—to be the proverbial “Purple Cow” or wacky potato salad campaign—because “novelty pays off with crowdfunding.”

Make it personal 

When you share your story, focus on the compelling story behind the cause, advises Dennis Hu, CEO of Fundly, a crowdfunding organization located in Palo Alto, California. “Let people understand the inspiration for your crowdfunding campaign so they can feel involved and invested.”

“People give to people,” agrees Crosby. “The more personalized the appeal, the better.” If you’re raising money for new science lab equipment, bring the story to life and inspire people to give by making one student the “face” of your campaign. Tell contributors about “Jack” and his passion for science. Describe how the new equipment you’re seeking will help Jack and inspire other students to love science too. Let it be Jack who is asking for money, not the school.

Give contributors incentives

Competition is intense and contributor dollars are limited. To make sure those dollars go to your campaign instead of another, consider what the contributor will get out of participating.

“An educator doing a crowdfunding campaign should think more about the value the contributor is getting than the value of the campaign itself,” says Polgar. Remember that your passion may not be their passion. Don’t assume contributors will place the same value you do on your campaign.

Let people donate small or large amounts. The potato salad campaign also let people contribute small increments towards the goal, Polgar says, so people could be involved in a fun, novel campaign for a nominal amount.

Try setting “mini-goals” so you can show donors how their contributions are helping, Hu suggests. Post photos and updates to share those milestones with participants.

Use visuals

“Pictures and videos help tremendously,” says Leonard Lee, a spokesperson for YouCaring, a website used by many teachers and parents to raise funds for things such as classroom supplies and a school vegetable garden for student education and improved nutrition. Visuals help prospective donors understand what the fundraiser is about and who it’s for, he adds. “It always helps for people to see the faces of the students who will benefit.”

“Video testimonials, even if simply captured on an iPhone, can be very emotionally driven and compelling. In fact, personal videos inspire 30 percent more funding than campaigns that are solely text drive,” adds Crosby. Use video to show contributors how their funds will make a difference.

Spread the word

“Just making a crowdfunding campaign isn’t enough, notes Spencer Lanoue, project manager (marketing) for Higher Circle, in San Jose, California.” “Success is going on be based on how [you] get the word out about it.”

Use social media to publicize your project. “Campaigns that use social media are 36 percent more successful than those that don’t,” says Hu. “Most crowdfunding sites have easy-to-use social share features” you can use to reach others.

“Everyone involved—teachers, administrators, parents, students—needs to use their social networks to get word out about the campaign,” says Lee. Share the campaign with your friends, family and acquaintances and ask them to share with their social networks “to cast as wide a net as possible.”

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