Trending Issues in Special Education, Part 4: Crowdfunding Tips and Websites

Thursday, November 19, 2015 -- Winnie O'Leary

We’re over half-way through this series! So far, we have examined special education classifications, the role of edtech, and the benefits of co-teaching strategies. In today’s installment, we’re going to switch gears and focus on crowdfunding.

For special education teachers, the wish list of classroom resources, assistive technologies, and other tools to personalize learning tends to be long—usually much longer than tight classroom budgets can accommodate. Crowdfunding is one way that educators can overcome this challenge. With this strategy, teachers can raise money for a wide variety of projects by col­lecting relatively small amounts of money from a large number of people, usually leveraging the help of a website designed for the purpose.

As budgets shrink and district or classroom programs get cut, teachers are increasingly turning to this 21st century method of fundraising. Crowdsourcing allows special education teachers to reach out to the online community for financial support to purchase the particular materials, equipment, and supplies that will help their unique students achieve success. This is an amazing way to source extra funds, but how can you get started? A basic Google search will return plenty of recommendations. We’ve tried to do some of the work for you and compiled what we feel are the best strategies:

1. Use crowdfunding for specific projects or needs rather than general fundraising. Select concrete and interesting projects, and provide some background on them. Call out exactly what is needed and why. For example, “I need beanbags for the classroom reading center,” “I need a birdhouse and camera for a hands-on biology unit,” or “I need a sensory box to work on students’ sensory processing.” 

2. Identify a safe, flexible, and transparent online platform to utilize. Edutopia has compiled this guide to Raise Money for Your School Using Crowdfunding, which compares different platforms and offers tips on choosing the right one to meet your needs.

3. Break large projects into smaller steps and create a separate crowdfunding campaign for each. Doing so will help potential donors see your project as a practical and achievable goal that they can and want to be a part of. Keep your campaigns short—a month or two at most—in order to maintain interest.

4. Consider creating a workgroup within your school or classroom dedicated to crowdfunding efforts. This group of teachers, administrators, parents, or students can investigate marketing channels like local media outlets, blogs, and email lists which can be used to get the word out about your campaign(s). Take advantage of your students’ savvy when using social media—for many, that channel is in their wheelhouse. Consider posting in the evening, when the most users are online.

5. Crowdfunding initiatives can be a great project-based learning opportunity for students. Such a project can incorporate financial literacy, marketing, communication, and creative-thinking skills. It also provides an opportunity for students to gain experience with entrepreneurship and models the benefits of planning for long-term goals.

6. Make sure that interactions on the crowdsourcing website you choose (as well as any other communication channels you leverage) feel professional. Avoid grammar and spelling errors. Make use of videos with high production value, good-quality images, and sharp copywriting. Connect emotionally with your audience by taking the time to craft a compelling story for your project. And remember, do not use pictures of your students unless express permission is given.

7. Make use of all of your (high-quality) material to target different levels of donors and offer a range of giving options. Be patient and prepare for mostly modest donations.

8. Consider offering rewards or incentives (probably in the form of recognition) for larger contributions. And, of course, be sure to thank each and every donor, regardless of the size of the contribution. They will be that much more likely to donate to your next project!

Kickstarter and Indiegogo are probably the most widely recognized crowdfunding websites, but there are many other options available, especially for educators. Put time and thought into researching your options, comparing the similarities and differences and choosing the site that resonates with you, your students, and your project. Check out this list of some of the great options out there—one may be the perfect tool for you to fund anything from glitter and glue for the classroom to supporting one (or more!) of your students making tomorrow's next big discovery.

  • AdoptAClassroom.org: Donors can choose any underserved classroom at any school of their choosing to make donations. AdoptAClassroom.org delivers an “Impact Report” to donors detailing exactly what the money     they contributed was used for. Donors are also put in contact with teachers in their adopted classroom throughout the school year and often receive thank-you packages, artwork, and other projects from students. The organization has national partners that include OfficeMax,  JCPenney Cares, Coach, 3M, Carmichael Lynch, and Lane Bryant. 
  • Experiment: This platform helps fund scientific research and discovery. It focuses on hands-on projects like water studies and paleontology digs. So, if you have a project that is oriented toward science and experimentation, this site could be a good fit.
  • DonorsChoose.org: This site has been in existence for many years. Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Colbert are among its supporters—and it’s a great platform for public school teachers to post requests for funding. These requests can be for anything, including classroom mobile devices, art supplies, and field trips, to name just a few examples. The site reports that 70% of projects hosted are successfully funded.
  • ClassWish: Similar to AdoptAClassroom.org, ClassWish allows donors to make a contribution to any U.S. K–12 school or teacher. However, i focuses more tightly on classroom materials. Teachers and administrators can use the platform to make a “Wish List” of resources they would like for their students, and donors can then contribute toward the Wish List of their choosing. ClassWish then purchases the requested resources and has them shipped directly to the school.

These are but a few of the educational crowdfunding sites built specifically to support educators and students. Explore these sites, put together a plan, get your project live on the site of your choosing, and let the funding begin. With crowdfunding, educators no longer have to be limited by the budget process. Now, you can truly offer your students the content they want and the resources they need. The only limitation you face in what crowdfunded projects can achieve is your own imagination—and maybe the cramp in your hand from writing so many thank-you letters. Get started today, and make your wish list a reality!

Looking for more tips on how to put crowdfunding strategies to use? Check out this blog post to answer the question, “Is Crowdfunding Right for You?”

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