The 9 essentials of crowdfunding for the classroom

Fund your projects easily with these top tips

As funding for public education continues to decline, districts, administrators, and classroom teachers struggle to find ways to fill gaps left by budget cuts. Traditional school fundraising methods, such as gift wrap sales, are time intensive and often only raise a small amount of capital.

Fortunately, the advent of the internet has created new fundraising opportunities for schools and educators. One such fundraising mechanism crowdfunding—uses the collective power of individual donors who are united in support of a common cause or goal. It’s been used successfully by movie producers, startup founders, and others with a truly great idea. Teachers are discovering it, too. In the classroom, crowdfunding can be used to fund exciting projects, purchase technology, or supplement resources.

Crowdfunding might sound like a lot of work, but it’s actually quite easy to implement. Here is what you need to know to get started and successfully fund your own projects.

  1. First, define your project.  Be specific. What do you want to purchase?  Why?  Megan Aldridge, a first grade teacher in Athens, GA, decided she wanted to purchase a class set of ukuleles to supplement reading and math instruction. “People nationwide donated to the project,” she said. “They were excited to bring music to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to play music.”

Another elementary school teacher, Kim Russell, tired of not being able to share the books she was reading with her students. They liked reading books in the library, where they were able to see the text projected with the document camera.  Russell decided she wanted one of her own. “The project took me half an hour to write it up,” Russell says.  “It was funded in less than two weeks.”

  1. Tell your story. Who are you? Why is this project important to you? Who will benefit from the project?  How?  When defining your mission, be transparent about what you are funding, and remember to make it compelling. Donors are more likely to support a project if they can make a personal connection to the person or group they are supporting. When writing about her ukelele project, Aldridge referred to research about music stimulating the brain and activating cognitive development. She also shared how her student loved to sing, dance, and learn kinesthetically.
  2. Pick a platform.  There are over 300 crowdfunding sites to choose from. Donors Choose is popular for educational fundraising, though sometimes a vision can be limited by the vendor selection. My husband, STEM teacher Chris Sugiuchi, faced this problem when trying to purchase GoPro cameras for his project Chase in Space, which enabled his classroom to design, build, and launch a capsule into space in order to capture images of the earth’s curvature. He researched several crowdfunding sites, including Kickstarter, before deciding on Indiegogo, which allowed him to purchase materials directly from the vendors of his choosing.  “When deciding on a platform, you should research various crowdfunding sites,” Sugiuchi suggests.  “Which one funded a project that most closely matches your situation?”
  3. Publicizing your project is key.  Shannon Thompson, a school library media specialist, recently funded a 3D printer for his makerspace. “The best suggestion I have is to spread the word in any way you can,” he says, “which I guess is pretty obvious. I put it on Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram. And I encouraged/begged loved ones to do the same.”
  4. Involve parents and families in your community. Have students share news of your project with their extended family. Encourage families to help spread the word via social media. Afterward, have your students help write thank you notes and letters explaining what they are doing with the items they purchased.  You can feature them in pictures too.
  5. Establish a timeline. This will outline deadlines for final planning phases, length of time the fundraiser will run, how initiatives will be fulfilled, and when the project will be completed. It is best to keep your funding period limited to encourage people to donate.

Elementary school teacher Carrie Maxey has funded more than 22 projects through Donors Choose. She offers several tips:

  1. Request less. “I typically find the projects requesting $400 or less will get funded quicker than those requesting a much larger amount.”
  2. Slot yourself in. “I work hard to incorporate my project in the Teacher Funding Opportunities available (where companies/individuals have offered certain amounts of funding on projects meeting certain requirements).”
  3. Put some heart into it. “Also, the more personable the project profile is, the more likely it will get funded.”

Crowdfunding is a great way to fund exciting classroom projects and field trips, or just to provide resources that you otherwise could not afford. Study successful campaigns to see what works. Use a variety of social and traditional media to promote your project. Utilize vendors and local businesses to donate materials and matching funds. Be as transparent as possible.  Make sure to involve students and their families. Follow through with your incentives and thank yous. Know you can do this.  Use crowdfunding to create the classroom of your dreams today.

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