Educators are increasingly turning to online crowdfunding to pay for expenses not covered by cash-strapped districts. In fact, the popular education crowdfunding site DonorsChoose states that teachers at 85% of public schools in American have posted a project on their site, with over $1 billion raised to support requests from teachers. Another commonly used site, AdoptAClassroom.org, maintains that over 225,000 classrooms have been adopted in their 22 years of operation. But not all districts are on board, with some having banned the use of crowdfunding services altogether because of inadequate controls.
If your district currently allows crowdfunding by staff members, how can you ensure that the funds and supplies raised are in compliance with district standards?
Some crowdfunding sites claim to have built-in financial transparency and accountability, integrity controls, and measures to ensure privacy and safety. While helpful, you should be wary of relying on these sites to provide oversight and instead implement your own controls over crowdfunding activities to ensure district compliance. While online fundraising should ultimately follow the same guidelines you currently have in place for other fundraising, our education industry professionals have developed the following list of internal control crowdfunding best practices:
- A list of District approved third party crowdfunding vendors should be established and regularly updated.
- All fundraising campaigns should be approved in advance.
- All items acquired with crowdfunding monies should be consistent with your district’s purchasing policies. Pay particular attention to technology purchased to ensure it follows your technology plan.
- Funds must be used as described in the fundraising efforts, and therefore as intended by the donor. Fundraisers that state specific usage of the money being raised (for example, Chromebooks for students) will inhibit your ability to use the funds for other purposes.
- In order to ensure that funds raised are used in accordance with donor expectations, publicly display details about each material that was purchased and explain fees and overhead costs. Require teachers to report on how the resources were used in the classroom and how students benefitted.
- Funds need to go through district receiving controls, even if they are ultimately to be used by teachers in the classroom. Any items purchased through fundraising are considered district property and therefore subject to inventory procedures.
- Some crowdfunding sites charge an upfront fee and a percentage of the total money raised. Others offer all or nothing, you reach your goal or receive no funds. Research these sites before you begin a fundraiser, or you may end up with less money than you expected. Ensure the site is on the approved District listing.
- While using student names and pictures can be compelling when soliciting donations, doing so can result in FERPA violations.
- Pay attention to equity issues between classrooms and schools. Having an enthusiastic teacher raise money for his/her classroom while other teachers do not can lead to inequitable resources for students. And since monies raised must be used in accordance with donor intentions, make sure you address any possible equity issues before launching a fundraiser.
It is possible to succeed with crowdfunding platforms to raise additional money for your district, as long as you employ a transparent, collaborative approach towards determining the best platform and strategy, with one eye always fixed on integration within your district’s existing control environment.