How to Crowdfund Your Classroom

If you’re like most teachers, you spend a crazy amount of your own money on your classroom. In fact, this Forbes article explains that teachers spend an average of $513 each year on classroom supplies, books, and their own professional development. A lot of teachers end up buying classroom materials for students whose families cannot afford everything on the Back to School Supply list. Other teachers just don’t have the patience for the months long bureaucratic process of filling out forms in triplicate in order to buy one novel with a school purchase order.

Because of budget cuts, and the need for a tremendous amount of new technology due to the latest testing requirements, a lot of school coffers are running on empty. Teachers who want to do anything beyond sit in the classroom all day with their students reading ancient textbooks have to come up with the money to do so. Some get creative by finding free field trip locations and using public transportation. And still others find help online. In fact, crowdfunding has become an indispensible resource for teachers looking to find money for classroom projects, materials, and field trips.

There are several crowdfunding websites out there, a few of which are designed to raise money specifically for educational projects. Most crowdfunding sites are set up the same way—you describe a project you’d like people to contribute money towards, you offer rewards for different levels of monetary donations, the site takes a percentage of the money you’ve raised for processing fees, you get your money, you do your project, and you send updates to your donors along the way.

With a little determination and knowing the right way to sell your project, you can find great success at raising money online for your classroom expenses. We’ve put together a list of some cool educational projects that have been funded on five different crowdfunding sites, along with some tips to get you ready to try crowdfunding for your own classroom.

Image courtesy of Pixaby by erge

Image courtesy of Pixaby by Erge

5 Educational Projects Paid For By Crowdfunding

  1. Daily Free Press: When the Daily Free Press, an independent, student-run newspaper based out of Boston University, needed cash, they turned to GoFundMe. The paper has been around since 1970 teaching students the basics of print and, more recently, online journalism. Costs of running the paper, including the printer, rent, and small business fees, had traditionally been paid by ad sales. However, in recent years ad sales fell off and the paper went $68,000 in debt. In response, they switched to producing content primarily online and remodeled the business to cut costs. But they still had to pay their debts. The Daily Free Press’s GoFundMe project earned $82,409 in 3 months, leaving the paper debt free and able to successfully implement their online strategy without worry of going under.
  1. Code Monkey Island: New York City based designer and developer Raj Sidhu had an idea to make coding and programming accessible to young kids through a board game. Sidhu took his project to Kickstarter, because of the site’s popularity and ability to get creative projects funded. Code Monkey Island is a family board game that teaches programming basics, such as conditional statements and Boolean logic, to children as young as eight years old. Sidhu’s project was funded by 706 backers and raised $39,503. Another wildly successful Kickstarter was LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow project that raised 5.5 million dollars to bring interactive books and video field trips to classrooms free of charge.
  1. Central High School: AdoptAClassroom.org is a site that focuses solely on getting classroom teachers the materials that they need. This is one of the rare sites where 100% of the donations go to the classroom, because AdoptAClassroom requires teachers to purchase the needed supplies online through partner programs. Donors to the site receive updates on their impact. To date, AdoptAClassroom has raised over 21.5 million, helping over 5 million students in112,000 classrooms. Sometimes, crowdfunding sites have generous corporate donors who fully fund projects. Through AdoptAClassroom, Great Clips gave two teachers at Chicago’s Central High School full classroom makeovers. You can watch the amazing video of the classroom reveal here.
  1. First Lego League: Teacher Mike Henderson at Bernard Black Elementary School in South Phoenix wanted to start a Lego Robotics Team for 5th and 6th graders, but the school reserved most of the extracurricular funding for athletics. Knowing that not all students were interested in sports, Mr. Henderson created a project on IncitEd, a crowdfunding community for educators. The project earned $1,300, which allowed 10 students to join the Lego Robotics Team and engage in afterschool STEM activities.
  1. Rebuilding Moore, OK: After Moore, Oklahoma was hit by an EF-5 tornado in 2013, donors rallied together on DonorsChoose, a site dedicated to helping teachers find funding for their projects. In response to both Briarwood Elementary and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore being leveled by the storm, donations funded 450 classroom projects, so that students in Moore could start school the next year in fully furnished classrooms with all of the necessary supplies. DonorsChoose is arguably the best-known educational crowdfunding site, having been publically supported by many celebrities, including Oprah and Steven Colbert. 70% of projects on the site are fully funded. Generous corporations, such as Google, have been known to flash-fund all open DonorsChoose projects in certain communities.

How to Get Started in Crowdfunding

So now that you’ve seen how generous total strangers can be, are you ready to get your own classroom project out there for some crowdfunding? We’ve put together a short list on how to get started.

  1. Choose your site: You may want to start by using a site that caters specifically to educators. There are a few things to consider when choosing sites. Look at what percentages of donations actually make it to the project. Also, some sites take an all-or-nothing stance, meaning if you ask for a certain amount of money and you don’t make that much through donations, you don’t get anything. Read the FAQs on each site to ensure you understand how each one works. You can check out a quick comparison table of some of the top crowdfunding sites, but keep in mind that it’s from the people at crowdfunding site GoFundMe.
  1. Create your project profile: When you write up your project, remember it is going to be competing for donations next to thousands of others. What makes your project more worthy than another? Why does your classroom need what you’re asking for? How does your project impact your students and the community? Be specific and add pictures! The more information you give, the more donors will feel connected to your class. Tell a compelling story and let donors know why your project is important. PCWorld put together some useful tips for building successful content on your crowdfunding profile.
  1. Consider offering rewards: Some crowdfunding sites let you set up rewards for certain donation amounts. You could offer hand-written letters from students, photos of the finished projects, or even supervised classroom video chat calls with donors. Adding a little incentive to higher levels of donations may mean your project will get fully funded. This article from Crowdfunding Academy can help you figure out some special crowdfunding perks to offer.
  1. Post updates: Most crowdfunding sites will let you add updates while your project is posted and after it has been funded. Use this feature to connect with people who have already donated and to compel others to give to your project. The updates can include photos, student testimonials, and descriptions of how your class is preparing to complete the project. In this article on secrets to crowdfunding from ignitiondeck, communicating with your audience comes in at number 7.
  1. Thank you notes: When your project has been funded, don’t forget to send thank you notes, emails, or videos. Your donors will appreciate the personal communication and will remember your class next time you need funding. DonorsChoose requires that thank you notes from students be sent to donors. Here’s the information page from their site that gives suggestions for and examples of thank you notes from children at all grade levels.

In Short

Teachers have long felt the burden of needing materials for their classrooms that are not supplied by the school. Despite the current educational trends of technology and project-based learning, the funding for anything above and beyond textbooks often comes out of teachers’ own pockets. Crowdfunding has changed the game for educators. We’ve shown you how bighearted total strangers have been to educational projects and given you a few tips to get your own classroom project online for funding. Let us know how the experience with crowdfunding goes for you!

2 Comments

  1. Marlies Harris

    March 18, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    I am so glad I stumbled across this blog. This is very smart and I am sure there are tons of teachers who can relate and appreciate the tips and information. I never would have thought that this would even be an option or would ever work. I do find myself spending a lot of my own money just to create the best learning environment for my students.

    • Marlies Harris

      March 29, 2015 at 9:47 pm

      Just to add on to my comment I posted earlier, this website is very informative and provides a great opportunities for teachers. Had I not been given to explore educational blogs, I would still be completely clueless to this amazing and informative blog. Looking through your blog, I can see that you discuss useful topics that all teachers can either learn or benefit from, so this is pretty cool. Great blog and keep them coming!