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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Crowdfunding Tips for Students and Schools

This post is written by Andrea Lo, CEO of Piggybackr, and originally appeared on Edsurge on May 22, 2013.
Crowdfunding is the collective effort by individuals pooling their money to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. You've seen in the news Kickstarter campaigns raising millions for celebrities, musicians, and even cool watches, and charitable groups raising thousands for disaster victims. Small businesses and investors alike are eagerly waiting for Congress to pass the Jobs Act to allow for equity-based crowdfunding.
But you may be asking: how does crowdfunding fit in with your school, PTA, or student group's fundraising strategy?
Here at Piggybackr, we’ve built a crowdfunding website for students from kindergarten through college to learn how to raise money online and gain 21st century skills in a safe, fun, and educational way. Students fundraise as individuals or as a part of a team led by a student leader, parent, teacher or mentor, but student involvement is key.
We asked a few of Piggybackr’s student, parent, and teacher users to weigh in on five commonly asked questions to help you make sense of crowdfunding.
How did your crowdfunding fundraiser compare with past offline fundraisers?
David Brinza, Coach of FIRST Robotics Team 980 in Los Angeles, shares that because crowdfunding helped personalize the fundraiser for each student, engagement “was higher than prior efforts (LED lightbulb sales, concessions sales, ask letters, etc). We raised more money this year than we did in our past two years of student-led fundraising."
David Caroll, parent of a child on the Melbourne High School Crew team in Florida, says the team "also did car washes, dinner nights, and a yard sale but [crowdfunding] was by far the most effective way that we raised funds."
20 year-old UC Berkeley student Danielle Ngo adds that people “mentally check out if you approach them with magazine subscriptions, cookie dough, or candy bar fundraisers” but that students were excited to use the Internet.
Why did you decide to crowdfund your cause?
Ngo, whose student team raised over $14,000 on Piggybackr for service learning projects, chose to crowdfund because students are shy about directly asking people for money. Being able to raise money via social media, a method that is “second nature” to students, was important.
Abril Vela, a high school junior at Northside College Prep in Chicago, decided to crowdfund to challenge fellow student members to learn vital skills in networking, project management, and teamwork. She successfully raised over $5,300 for her student-run organization, ‘Girls in Computing.’
What are the biggest challenges people should be aware of?
Lori Mullins Johnson, a PTA parent at High Tech Middle School in San Diego who spearheaded the first school-wide crowdfunding campaign, points out that a big "hurdle to jump over [is] figuring out how to improve participation with more actively participating team members." Students, parents, and staff who actively participate are usually successful, but not every participates.
Vela adds that "there will be slow points in the process of fundraising. There is a chance that people may lose interest, there may be times that it looks like you won’t achieve your goal," or even that "team members have given up." But "no matter what happens to your levels of support, keep fighting and people will see that you deserve their support."
Tips on getting a crowdfunding campaign approved by higher ups?
Johnson had to get several approvals before setting out to try this kind of fundraising. High Tech Middle School is charter school that is part of a larger charter school organization, so they talked to their charter’s Foundation Director, and asked her what she would approve for use.
Patrick Gusman, who is helping Howard Middle School students in D.C. crowdfund, says "schools are justifiably cautious about what products and services that they provide to students" and that finding a safe, flexible, and transparent platform makes a big difference in how easy the sell is to school administrators.
Michael Mclaughlin, a third grade teacher, believes crowdfunding is an exciting opportunity to teach students to "create and share, incorporate with other [people's] thoughts" but cautions that getting approval really depends on whether you're at a public, private, or charter school.
Advice for a school or student-group crowdfunding for the first time?
  1. Get comfortable and passionate about asking for help. Ngo shares that as a college student, "It was hard for me to put myself out there and open up to many people about the things I do outside of school. But, that let me tap into why I really cared about my project!"
  2. Leverage your network. Vela admits to reaching out to people she didn’t know and asking her teachers who were prominent in the tech world to help her spread the word.
  3. Use social media strategically. Ngo suggests to use "short and catchy messages, and post around 9pm when most people are online."
  4. Create a mini-contest with prizes for top participants. Brinza's team gave fun space-themed gifts to the leading students based on money raised and effort points earned at the end of the fundraiser.
  5. Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect to raise thousands without careful planning and effort. Make a plan, get the proper approvals, and learn from mistakes.
At the end of the day, crowdfunding is not for everyone, so do your research! Many schools and nonprofits have complicated rules and hierarchies (PTAs, Education Foundations) around fundraising activities and use of technology in schools. Johnson reminds us to be open-minded and patient because crowdfunding "is really new to many of the people involved, so it’s not [always] an easy process."


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