A Teacher’s Guide to Crowdfunding
“I’M BROKE!! But I really want my class to have ______.”
Does this sound like you? Have you spent endless amounts on your classroom this year, but really want to try something with your kiddos that is just out of your price range? Looking to implement something new or get something you absolutely need but cannot afford in your classroom? Don’t want your husband to yell at you every time he sees your credit card bill and finds all of the books that you “just had to have” for your room on the bill? This is the place for you!
I would like to meet one teacher who has not ever spent a dime on his or her classroom ever! I don’t think it is possible. There are so many things we need to buy that are not provided to us, from pencils at some schools to books or technology. And then there are the things that we do not necessarily need, but really want in order to make our jobs a little bit easier or better for the kiddos. I am not saying that other professions don’t have their expenses, or that everything we buy is absolutely necessary, but I don’t see many other working professionals spending hundreds of dollars on materials for their job each year! Some teachers work with no budget provided to them from their schools, so any extra necessities come out of their own pockets. Other teachers have small budgets but are limited on what they are allowed to use them for. Other teachers may even have a bigger budget, but need to get something from a different place. Crowdfunding is one solution that I have found to make things a tad easier.
I have had three large separate projects funded from crowdfunding websites for my classroom.
The first was my leveled classroom library. As a first year teacher in a small title one school in a room that hadn’t been used as a classroom for years, I inherited a less than ideal starter library. It had been picked through, and not one book was a book that I had ever heard of. I spent hundreds of dollars that year on scholastic books, and still felt like it wasn’t enough. I also was at a loss for organization, as I had spent all of my money at the dollar store buying scissors, paper and notebooks for my kiddos, so could not afford the cute and colorful bins that everyone had used to decorate their rooms. I decided to do my first crowdfunding campaign and was shocked when it was fulfilled in just four days! Here is a photo of what I received below:
My next campaign came when I moved to a new state and a new school district. I was teaching second grade, and we have a heavy amount of district and state tests on the computer. Not surprising, considering that this is the twenty first century. The struggle was only having one computer lab and one COW (chromebooks on wheels) that we could inconsistently rent out due to many other grades and classes needing to use it too! In order to best prepare my students for the real world of computers and for these assessments, I needed to ensure they had access to a computer daily. I did my next crowdfunding campaign for over $1000 and was SHOCKED when it was again fulfilled in under three days!
Another campaign came when our fire code changed at our school and we had to throw out all of our old class rugs/carpets, bean bags, pillows, and any comfy option students had to sit on throughout the day. My students were back to sitting on their plastic chairs or on the cold, hard ground. I also had a particularly wiggly class that just needed a little bit more support and flexibility in that area. This is when I decided to try to crowdfund to get money to purchase some new and more flexible seating options. This was also fully funded and I was able to get tons of new and appropriate options for my kiddos.
Currently, I am working toward getting chapter books for my second graders. Our leveled library is and was perfect, but toward the end of the year, my second graders seem to be ready for much more. I want them to be able to embark on longer adventures with characters that they grow to love and look forward to after they read book after book. We are halfway to meeting our goal, and are so excited for the opportunities that are coming with these new books!
Throughout these campaigns, I definitely had big successes and made a few errors, but I could not be more grateful for the compassion people showed for my students. Read below for some helpful hints on your classroom crowdfunding.
Tips & Tricks:
• Space out your projects! My biggest mistake was doing two of my projects back to back. My supporters were overwhelmed and had to slow down their monetary donations and other areas of support.
• Think about the timing of your projects. Although you are thinking about your new classroom in July, donors and parents are NOT and might not be as willing or able to help. Holidays bring big expenses, so that might not be the right time either. Back to school and the end of the year have been two successful times for me. Tax season is also a good time, as companies can use a Donors Choose donation as a tax write off!
• Enlist help! There are so many places to go for help, but the best by FAR is social media. Post your project EVERYWHERE. People that you do not expect to help you will be your biggest allies. Ask your students’ families to help spread the word as well, and tell them the biggest place to gain attention to the crowdfunding is social media, in particular, Facebook.
• Get your students excited about it! Tell your students what you are trying to get, and encourage them to ask their parents or family members to help. If your school district is okay with it, replace a homework assignment with writing a persuasive letter to the community about why your classroom NEEDS what you are asking for.
• Thank everyone! Whether people just share the word, donate one dollar or two hundred, send them a thank you note. Have your students write them or sign them, and make sure they know they are appreciated. This encourages them to donate again in the future and makes them feel validated for their generosity.
• Encourage small donations! Five dollars is five dollars, even on a large product. If you are trying to get 30 flexible seats, inform your donors that even 10 dollars could provide one flexible seating choice for you. You don’t want people to feel discouraged by them clicking on your page and only seeing 200 dollar donations.
• Encourage people to share your page! Not everyone can donate to your classroom and that is A-Okay. Tell them that another great way to help would be to share your link, because you never know who their friends are and what their friends passions might be.
• Look for businesses and deals! On some websites, businesses will price match or help with certain types of classroom projects. You can also reach out to important community members in your area who can either donate or help spread the word.
• Shop around! The first option might not be the best option. Make sure that you have a detailed plan of what you want to buy and see if you are getting the best deal possible.
• Be DETAILED! Donors want to know EXACTLY what they are donating to. Make a detailed list of exactly what you want and how much each item costs so that donors don’t feel tricked.
• Share photos! Draw attention to your page by having an engaging and attention grabbing cover photo. Also take photos as donations come in, and after you receive materials so that people can see what they purchased in action.
• Don’t be afraid to go big! While it might be tempting to do a smaller project at first, you will be surprised at how much people will donate. Don’t ask for too much for a project that wont need it, but be sure to get what you want. People are likely to donate to your project at least once, but if they see you doing three separate flexible seating projects in a year rather than one large one once, it might turn off donors.
• Explore your options! There are quite a few crowdfunding websites that you can choose from, and you want to be sure to pick the best fit one. The two that I like the most are GoFundMe and DonorsChoose. Look below to see the pros/cons I found with each one.
• Talk to your school. Before you start a crowdfunding campaign, talk with your school and make sure they are okay with it first. Different schools have different rules and some are very picky about the website you use to crowdfund, and some schools do not allow it at all. Be sure your school is okay with it first!
• Always be thinking about your next project! Once you finish one project, it is okay to be thoughtfully thinking about your next project. Make sure it is something valuable to you and that you do not just ask for something simply just to have it. Start shopping and making a dream wish list for your classroom. Think about your last project and the timing, then decide when it might be good to start your next project. Don’t exhaust your same audience constantly, it might be a good rule to limit yourself to a certain number of projects in a school year. I try to do one project a year.
• Be thoughtful on what you ask for! People were much more willing to donate books and computers to my classroom than chairs that they did not understand. It was essential for me to explain the exact importance of WHY I needed each item when I asked for flexible seating, and what exactly it would be used for.
• Post campaign posters around the area. Print out the campaign poster with a link to the website and put it in your Starbucks or grocery store. You’d be surprised who might find it.
• Think about doing a fundraiser. You could do a bake sale, car wash, or some other fundraiser where people can donate online and then receive a good or service from you in exchange. This can also help teach your students about good business.
There are two main crowdfunding websites that I like to use.
The first is GoFundMe. This website let’s you ask for anything you want with very little guidelines. This is my most preferred website for a few reasons. First, you are not limited on where you get what you want. Some websites only have a few options to choose your items from. Second, GFM just got rid of taking out a percentage of any part of your project. This means, whatever donors give you, is exactly what you get (minus a very small credit card processing fee). GFM allows for cash donations in which the percentage that they take out for processing is exempt. I also like GFM because you can purchase items as the money rolls in, rather than having to wait for the entire project to be funded. GFM does not force you to write thank you notes the same way DC does, although it is still good etiquette to do so. Finally, GFM does not have a clause that requires you to leave the items at your school if you were to change jobs, where DC explicitly states that the decision for that would be up to your principal. When you use this website, it is important to be incredibly detailed in your description. I would explain your need, explain how it would positively impact your students, and then provide a detailed list with prices and pictures of what exactly you would be getting for your classroom. On this website, it is important to post updates as money comes in with photos of what you are receiving. This attracts donors to your page because it looks active which encourages them to donate.
The other crowdfunding website that I have used is Donor’s Choose. This website is specifically for teachers that are trying to raise money for their classroom. On this website, you fill a virtual cart with everything you want, and they will send it to you once your project is fully funded. It is more structured that GFM, as you have to follow a certain protocol in order to complete a project. This website does have many pros and a few cons. The first pro is that it is a tax write off, so anyone who donates can write it off from their taxes. This encourages business and some people to make sizable donations, particularly in March and April (tax season). Another great part about Donors Choose is that many times they have companies that will price match donations or will donate a certain amount of money if a certain goal is met in a certain amount of time. This is extremely nice, as it takes away some of the pressure to be raising money off your hands. Some cons of this website are that it is up to your principals discretion on if the materials can be taken with you if you move schools, the percentage that they take out is extremely size-able, there are a lot of protocols and timelines that you need to fulfill when a project is completed, you cannot receive any part of your project until it is fully funded and finally the places that you can shop are limited (there are a lot of options, but it is not as flexible as GFM).
All in all, if you have not tried a crowdfunding campaign for your classroom, I HIGHLY encourage it.
Best of luck to you! Please leave any questions or feedback in the comment section below.