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Is Crowdfunding Right for You?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

Teachers stuck in tough budgetary times used to have only a couple of options other than general funding: apply for grants or foot the bill for supplies themselves.

Enter crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding means posting your needs on a website and groups of donors can choose whether to back your project or not. Basically, people who want to help educators get to shop for projects and classrooms they want to support.

Donors Choose, perhaps the best-known crowdfunding site in educational circles, has raised over $225 million since 2000, affecting nearly 11 million students in a positive way (you can see more of their stats here). Other sites, like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, are also options but do not specialize in education.

So this sounds easy, and it might be, but what do you need to know before jumping in?

Donors tend to receive gifts in exchange

If a project is funded, donors tend to qualify for a gift from the class. That could be as simple as a thank you note to t-shirts, stickers, or some other swag. You need to be prepared to fulfill those obligations. Neglecting that end of crowdfunding means you lose credibility and probably won’t get another project funded.

Be specific

Donors don’t like ambiguity. Instead of running a campaign for “books” or “markers”, specify the books or markers and what purpose they would serve in your classroom. Preferably, be descriptive about a specific lesson. The cooler the idea, the more likely it is to be funded.

Be transparent

If you scroll through one of the sites, you will see a lot interactive, creative ideas being presented that are as fun to watch as they are to participate. Once the project gets going, make plans to keep donors updated online, through either social media or an e-mail campaign. They love to see the kids having fun, and they love to see their money being used in a productive way.

You can’t take it with you

Say you run a crowdfunding campaign for a cool new 3D printer. It gets funded and you do some awesome projects with it. Everyone’s happy. Then you transfer schools a year or two later; guess where the printer lives. Even though you organized the campaign and raised the money, supplies bought with it are considered “comingled taxpayer funds”; meaning the district or school owns the printer.

If you think you can handle all these caveats and have a really cool idea for a classroom project (again, check out the site to see the scale of some of these projects out there), crowdfunding is a great way to provide learning opportunities that your students wouldn’t normally have. Start a campaign, share it among your social networks, and create some excited learners!