Alternate funding for classroom projectsIn a 2005 Toolbox column, Writing and Winning Grants, we looked at the mechanics and basics of grant writing.  This month’s column will show you where to find smaller classroom types of grants and alternate methods of funding for schools.

Fundraising tips

Back to School: 5 Tips for Successful Fundraising suggests that when planning your fundraising campaign you:

  1. Start early – you may be conducting fundraising that is seasonal (candle sales) or weather dependent (car wash) or needs collaboration or coordination before you can start.
  2. Do what works – talking to other schools that have conducted similar fundraisers will give you an idea of what might work and what won’t.
  3. Don’t give away your profit – be wary of sites or products that ask for upfront fees or extraordinary percentage of the profits.
  4. Know what you’re fundraising for – funders need to know how much you’re asking for, what percentage of the overall budget that is, and what that will buy.
  5. Only ask once – coordinate the campaign so that you know who is asking whom for what. For instance, you wouldn’t want all members of your team asking that local sports shop for t-shirt donations for the same project. Have a sign up form or make assignments to avoid embarrassing duplication of effort.

Also see 25 Tips for Fundraising, an article that talks about incentivizing students, teachers and parents, and encourages principal and community involvement and marketing. If you don’t get the word out, it will be hard for potential donors to find you. Social media is a critical part of fundraising these days.

Crowdfunding

“Crowdfunding” sites like Kickstarter appeal to people with all types of creative start-up ideas. To date more than 4.5 million supporters have invested over $731 million to fund more than 46,000 projects. Kickstarter is of special interest to artists, filmmakers and tech geeks, but educational projects are also raising funds on Kickstarter.

Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site similar to Kickstarter, offers 25 percent off to non-profits who want to use their software. Fees for either program are typically 4-5 percent of the money raised for a successful campaign. Be wary of vote promotion sites, such as Avery. While well intentioned, because it relies on getting votes, it only makes sense for a very large school district with a good social media presence.

IncitED is a new crowdfunding community created just for educators whose mission is “to incite important educational initiatives and innovations that benefit learners and their communities around the world.” It provides a platform where educators can:

  • Fund worthwhile projects.
  • Find, share, and replicate effective practices.
  • Collaborate and inspire one another.

Tips for Writing Stories provides some helpful hints that can be used for any crowdfunding site and Kickstarter: Pros and Cons is a great step-by-step explanation on how to use Kickstarter for education.

Technology funding

In Teacher Technology Use, a survey conducted for PBS by the VeraQuest group, teachers cited lack of funding as the biggest barrier to technology in the classroom, which leaves only one out of five teachers with the technology they need.

Digital Wish works like other crowdfunding sites, except that it specifically funds technology. Its mission: “Digital Wish believes that every child deserves a technology-rich education that will provide them with the skills necessary to excel in the global economy.” Tech deals, hardware discounts, and free software promotions are posted on the site and Digital Wish claims that over 30,616 wishes have been granted. You can also use the site to advertise for classroom and project volunteers; Digital Wish is currently working on a one-computer-per child initiative and curriculum kits based on National Education Technology Standards.

Beyond the PTA: How to Raise Funds for Your Classroom describes an innovative corporate/school partnership in which companies sponsor a Tech Search Party, a scavenger hunt where participants pair up in teams and pay a small fee to play. According to the registration page for last year’s event:

“Tech Search Party is a smart phone scavenger hunt ideally suited for the gadget-savvy. Deciphering enigmatic clues leads teams to various locations throughout [town]. When teams find the clues, they simply notify event organizers and move on to the next. The first team to discover all clues or the team with the most clues after two hours will hold bragging rights throughout all geekdom and win prizes….”

Prizes consist of donations from local business and can include anything from coffee and cases of wine, to hardware, tech gadgets and sports equipment. Check the website to see details of the upcoming Tech Search Party.

Classroom and project funding

NJEA’s Hipp Foundation and the NEA Foundation should be your first stops when looking to fund an innovative project or program.

DonorsChoose.org is a popular online charity site that lets teachers post or give to inspiring projects. It is a no-risk site for donors because if projects don’t meet their goals, donors receive account credits for their donations which they can in turn use to fund another project or send a gift card to a teacher they want to support.

Even better, a site called SA500 Kids has partnered with DonorsChoose to help fund technology projects. If you post a technology related project to DonorsChoose, it is automatically added to the SA500 Kids log. This affinity program allows donors to select a school when they shop, much like Target’s Take Charge of Education program (over $354 million donated to schools since1997).

So, if you don’t want to go the online or tech route, what alternatives are there? What Can Schools Sell Instead Of Candy? Trash Bags offers suggestions for selling garbage bags (Bags for Bucks), claiming to make $20,000 a year by selling to businesses and local government. Anything with children’s artwork has great potential for sales, as well as direct donations (since 100 percent of donations go to the school and not the provider and, if done through your school’s 501( c) 3 education foundation, might even be tax deductible). One potential alternative source of funding that hasn’t been a big source of revenue is sales of green or organic products – most likely because of the higher mark-up on many of those items.

For arts and music funding, try Arts Every Day, the Give a Note Foundation, or check out an extensive list on SoundTree. Green classroom projects might benefit from the list of grants and awards on Classroom Earth, Funding and Freebies for Outdoor Classrooms, Trout in the Classroom, and Funding Resources for Educators. For a list of additional tech funding sites, see ByteSpeed and SMART.

And for those many out-of-pocket expenses we know teachers have, Four Ways Teachers Can Save on Classroom Expenses has some suggestions:

  1. Adopt-A-Classroom.org – another crowdfunding that claims 147,578 registered teachers with $18.79 million in donations impacting over 4.36 million students. The registration process is easy and you get free supplies for your classroom from well-known sources like Becker’s School Supplies, Office Max and others. Office Max also partners with the Kids in Need Foundation and Adopt-A-Classroom on product donations to schools through the Goodworks campaign.
  2. If you happen to be visiting a state that participates, you can take advantage of tax-free shopping days. Unfortunately, New Jersey is not on the list.
  3. Tax deductions. Teachers can deduct up to $250 per year on qualified items on their income tax returns.
  4. Recycled classroom materials or donations from retiring teachers or bartering via teacher web sites. See NJREA member and frequent NJEA Review contributor Renee Heiss’s blog post on the Top Five Ways Teachers Can Save Money for Classroom Resources for other suggestions on recycling and other frugal ways to save money.

Two additional sites are for funding classroom projects are Giving Getting (exchanges for free materials and gifts – a donor matching service), and Classwish (similar to DonorsChoose with tax deductions for donors). Some smaller grant sites that have an easier application process (usually online templates) than federal or even state grants and make more sense for innovative classroom projects can be found at Grants and Financial Resources for Primary/Secondary Teachers and Schools. There you’ll find sites that fund classroom garden projects, Lowes Toolbox for Education, Starbucks and CVS Caremark.

After your campaign

As Funding: We Wish to Thank You for Applying points out, even being declined for funding can be a learning experience. Writing a grant proposal forces you to put your thoughts down on paper, assign a budget, and look closely at the resources you will need (time, money, materials). As the article states, even if you are turned down for funding, always thank the funder for considering your proposal. You never know when they may open another round of funding more suited to your request. You may get feedback in the form of readers’ comments that can help you know where you went wrong, and address those areas of your proposal for future submissions. Be sure to thank your donors, funders, community, volunteers and anyone who helped on your committee. Sometimes, just a handwritten note from students or pictures of completed projects is all it takes for donors to remember you for the next funding round.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.