Teacher Innovation #11: Accessing Crowdfunding to Support Your Innovation

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The second to last post for the Summer Teacher Innovation Series comes from friend and colleague, Tyler Henry. Tyler is a jack of all trades and master of all! Well, I might be exaggerating, but Tyler is an incredibly talented educator who can do a little bit of everything. As a teacher, Tyler’s background is as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) instructor; he has typically worked with high functioning student as well as those with behavior concerns. Tyler transforms his students–that is no exaggeration. I have watched him first-hand better the lives of his student through his instruction and maybe more importantly the way he cares for them and spends time with them. Today’s post is short and to the point. Tyler shares his experience with fundraising for the classroom. Raising money for student needs is sometimes seen as taboo, and I know many teachers who are unsure of how to ask for grants or to reach out to the public for help. Hopefully today’s post will help another teacher out there find the funding they need to help innovate in their classroom.

Previous Entries in the Series: Post #1 // Post #2 // Post #3 // Post #4 // Post #5 // Post #6 // Post #7 // Post #8 // Post #9 // Post #10

By Tyler Henry

I remember my first year of teaching like it was yesterday. I had so many dreams, visions, and ideas that would increase student achievement, get them prepared for college or a career, and ultimately change my students’ lives forever. I had ideas for college visits, guest speakers, and a classroom that resembled a Starbucks coffee house. Unfortunately, I quickly learned just how limited my school’s budget was to implement life-changing learning experiences.

I learned from other teachers that in order to make these initiatives happen, I would need to raise the funds myself. After researching ways that other teachers secured funding for “out-of-the-box” learning experiences, I decided to use a crowd-funding website to secure funds for a field trip to visit a local university less than 10 miles from the school. When I saw how much buy-in the community had and how much they longed to support my students, I began to research other ways to allow the community to support my students’ learning. Throughout my research, I discovered that community members donate to these initiatives as a way of “investing” in the next generation. So, if you find yourself wanting to expand your students’ knowledge with some “out-of-the-box” ideas that need a little financial backing, I have a 5 step process for giving local businesses and community members an opportunity to make their investment count.

  1. Create an innovative idea: What sets this apart from anything that has ever been done before in your classroom/school/community?
  2. Do your research: Are there research-based instructional strategies to support your request.
  3. Create a budget: Thinking from a consumer standpoint, do you feel that you are asking for reasonable resources at fair prices?
  4. Develop a plan: How will you “sell” your idea? Will you use crown-funding, target a specific business, etc?
  5. Sell it: Use your data and research to show community partners how your project or idea will become part of your curriculum.
The best way to begin a crowdfunding campaign is by identifying the resources most needed in your school or classroom at the moment. Don’t start with a major campaign asking for an iPad for every student in the school. Your first project should be small, practical, and easy to fund. 90% of projects posted on DonorsChoose receive funding if they are asking for less than $500. What resources would make your teaching more impactful? Keep it simple!
My first ever crowdfunding campaign was to take 40 students to Georgia Gwinnett College, give them a campus tour, and feed them lunch (https://www.donorschoose.org/project/sweetwater-middle-school-college-visit/1179064). I was amazed that 17 donors (most of whom did not know me or my students) saw how important a college visit would be in the lives of middle school students. Each year since then, I have taken my students to at least one college visit each year and have had no trouble getting any of the projects funded. You can view my current campaign to take this year’s class of students to Kennesaw State University here: https://www.donorschoose.org/project/college-tour-2017/2615991

My best advice is to find specific foundations and organizations that will support your idea. For example, I teach high functioning autism. Whenever I have a project or innovative idea, I first reach out to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since Bill Gates has autism and is constant supporter of autism-related grants. By finding the perfect partner, you can provide your students the best learning experiences possible while allowing these partners to invest in their community.

If you have not dove into the incredible world of grant writing, I would encourage you to check out DonorsChoose.org and create a free teacher account. You have nothing to lose!

**Before posting a project, make sure you complete a fundraising form from the bookkeeper and get approval from the school principal.

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