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Crowdfunding Best Practices

The following article was provided by ACSA Partner4Purpose Horace Mann.

How can school district leaders leverage the benefit of crowdfunding for their schools while maintaining internal controls and student protection?

You know better than anyone in the country that school system budgets rarely cover everything schools need. And you also know all the ways that schools have traditionally raised money to meet some of those unmet needs: bake sales, students selling candy or merchandise, raffles, PTA auctions, etc.

However, there are two big problems with school fundraising as it’s been done over the last few decades.

  • It’s labor intensive and inefficient. A lot of students, teachers and parents typically spend a lot of time selling things to raise a small amount of money.
  • It reflects income disparities. Wealthy communities are able to raise a lot of money to cover classroom needs, while low-income communities fundraise far less, such that school fundraising can actually exacerbate income inequity.

A recent innovation solves both of these problems. “Crowdfunding” allows you to appeal to a large audience across income levels with a lot less effort.  You may have heard of crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter or the crowdfunding site dedicated to educators, DonorsChoose.

So, how can school district leaders leverage additional funding that crowdfunding sites offer — while making sure they’re maintaining existing internal controls and student protections?

Consider the following factors when evaluating crowdfunding websites.

  • Financial accountability
  • Ownership of materials and supplies
  • Safety and privacy

Only trust crowdfunding websites that meet these criteria.

  • Purchase and send resources directly to verified schools, instead of depositing cash into teachers’ personal bank accounts. If your staff receives cash, it can put them and the district in a risky situation.
  • Publicly display details about every item funded and provide clear explanation of overhead costs.
  • Require teachers to report how the resources were used in the classroom and how students benefitted.
  • Designate that the school, rather than the teacher, ultimately owns the funded resources.
  • Notify principals when items are shipped and provide line-by-line reporting of every item to the district upon request.
  • Have mechanisms in place to protect students’ privacy, as well as a privacy policy tailored to the unique needs of students in public schools.

Aside from meeting all of the above criteria, crowdfunding through DonorsChoose allows donors to see how every dollar was spent. It’s a level of transparency that’s probably not necessary if a teacher is just fundraising from students’ parents. But because DonorsChoose inspires people and partners to support teachers who live halfway across the country, they need to take all these measures to ensure transparency and accountability.  And of course, that transparency extends to school district leaders, who at any time can request an inventory list of all the materials DonorsChoose has delivered, which they classify as property of the school and district.

Horace Mann, an ACSA Partner4Purpose, has partnered with DonorsChoose since 2011, and every day across the country, Horace Mann representatives help bring the DonorsChoose opportunity to educators. To date, the company and representatives across the country have donated more than $5.1 million. More than 45,000 projects have been funded with that money, and the projects have impacted more than 1.6 million students. by Horace Mann representatives have received more than $550 million in funding to date

Aside from Horace Mann, there are many other companies offering funding opportunities for projects that can be found on the DonorsChoose site under “Partner Funding Opportunities.” Some very famous people also support the site, such as Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Colbert. Steven Colbert auctioned off the set pieces from his Colbert Report show and used the proceeds to fully fund every active project in the state of South Carolina.

Contact your local Horace Mann representative for more information.

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