crowdfunding for school gardens

The back to school season also means back to fundraising. The purchasing of school supplies and new shoes is quickly followed by efforts to help raise money to fund the educational needs and activities not supported by the school district. (For many of you, I bet this is an amount that seems to grow each year). At my children’s school, I am in the midst of volunteering for campaigns to help raise the funds to support this year’s demands and my energy and pocketbook are quickly draining. I have spent a lot of time this year researching fundraising options and thinking about the philosophy behind giving and knowing that many of you are probably in the same boat, I wanted to share some thoughts.

The traditional youth and school fundraisers centered on the sale of products are quickly getting replaced by crowdfunding alternatives. What is crowdfunding? Broadly defined, crowdfunding is fundraising efforts focused on raising small amounts of money from large numbers of people generally without the exchange of any type of goods. Frequently they involve the use of online platforms and social media or in some cases efforts are organized around events.

The administration at both of the schools I work with are fully behind (and strongly encourage) using crowdfunding techniques rather than product sales. They like crowdfunding campaigns because more of the money raised goes directly to the school – it is a great thing to be able to promote. That being said, one of the challenges I have found is that people do not fully understand the time and energy it takes to conduct a successful crowd fundraiser. You have to replace the reward of a product with the motivation to give just to give. To do this you have to be so very clear about the goals of your programs and expenses, why they are important and the critical need for the funding. Communicating this information is much more complicated than just throwing together a fun run or putting together an online fundraising website. It comes down to sharing your story and marketing it in such a way that folks who are not involved with it on a day to day basis truly understand the value of what you are doing. I can honestly say from working on both types of fundraisers, that the product fundraisers I have worked on have been less time consuming and tend to bring in the same if not more money. However, that being said, crowdfunding campaigns do something that product sales do not. A successful crowdfunding campaign creates a sense of community and cultivates feelings of ownership that, over the long run, expands the number of people invested in your efforts which will hopefully contribute to the sustainability of your program in the future.

So what are some tips for creating a successful crowdfunding campaign? KidsGardening recently participated in a webinar from the School Garden Support Organization on Crowdfunding for School Gardens and if you have the chance, check out the archive for more information. In addition to talking about a social marketing campaign we hosted using the Crowdrise platform, and sharing some of the tips I have gathered, Hillary Lyons shared information about the Embrace Joy and Justice Campaign from Slow Food USA, and Roger Doiron introduced us all to Seedmoney.org.

If you are thinking about exploring the use of a crowdfunding campaign for your school garden, you really need to check out Seedmoney.org. Specifically focused on helping garden programs (both in the United States and around the world), Seedmoney provides the platform and the assistance to help you conduct a month-long crowdfunding campaign (from November 15th through December 15th). On top of that, they also have grant opportunities for the chance to earn matching funds. The deadline to apply to participate is November 12th, so make sure to check it out now if you are interested.

I will leave you with these thoughts. As I begin to get weary in asking for money, I try to find ways to remind myself why it is important – I have to pair the tedious fundraising work with some time out in the school garden surrounded by the little smiling faces eager to learn to remind myself these efforts help create a school environment that is positive for teachers and students. Also, I try to always remember the importance of telling the story. It is important to remember that when you are knee deep in the weeds, not everyone has the same perspective, but that does not mean they do not want to help. And my last tip is to always remember the importance of saying thank you for every donation, no matter the size. Gratitude is a two way street. It is important to the donor, but it also fuels the recipient. It helps remind you that you are not alone and you have people supporting your efforts.

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