Schools Slowly Beginning To Embrace Crowdfunding

In Houston area schools, crowdfunding, an increasingly popular way of using the Internet to raise money for everything from starting a company to adopting a baby, is slowly taking root.

Only early adopters have put crowdfunding to work in cash-strapped public schools despite the largest of the education-centered crowdfunding sites, donorschoose.org, having been in existence for more than a decade. Experts say that overwhelmed teachers are reluctant to tackle yet another endeavor and often are uncomfortable with the platform, but the School at St. George Place has banked $43,000 worth of supplies since August 2012 from donorschoose.org, while other campuses struggle to raise meager funds by holding labor-intensive car washes, hosting spaghetti dinners and clipping “box tops”.

“It’s 2014. Technology is here,” said Adam Stephens, the 32-year-old principal of the School at St. George Place. “This is a great resource, and this is free, to get right down to the nitty-gritty.”

He said that teachers can create proposals in their pajamas with little risk. He added that corporate giants like Chevron and Kia sometimes provide matching funds.

According to experts, the timing couldn’t be better for fundraising to evolve in public education. In reference to Texas Education Agency data, U.S. Census Bureau data showed that 2011 was the first time per-student spending declined nationally in public education since data collection began in 1977. In Texas, funding fell from $6,656 per student in 2001 to $6,559 in 2011.

Startups, including a Houston company, are joining the ranks of education-focused crowdfunding giants like donorschoose.org and adoptaclassroom.org indicating the need is great. Because of the tremendous shortages in public schools, Andyshea Saberioon, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based PledgeCents, said his fledgling crowdfunding company started last spring.

“I do think it’s completely wrong in a sense that teachers have to find outside sources for funding,” the 25-year-old Houston native said.

Making it as painless as possible for teachers, administrators and parent leaders to ask for help is his company’s aim. As Saberioon put it, PledgeCents, which recently won a city of Houston business plan competition grant, will build proposals for the school, even the crucial video appeals that increase the campaign’s chance to succeed.

“It’s about making that emotional connection,” he said.

While broadening the fundraising potential exponentially, teachers and schools can then circulate the proposal via email and social media, reaching family and friends they wouldn’t normally approach.

Saberioon and his partner intentionally avoid the terms crowdsourcing or crowdfunding, when PledgeCents make its pitch to schools, which tend to scare off teachers.

“They don’t know what that is,” he said. “A lot of teachers we speak with, some are not tech-savvy, the majority don’t have time.”

As Jennifer Radcliffe of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports, by sending home letters every fall asking parents to donate the tissues, crayons and hand sanitizer needed for the classroom, teachers are ironically among the founders of old-fashioned crowdsourcing. According to the senior director of policy and learning for donorschoose.org, Melanie Duppins, crowdfunding simply moves that effort online and broadens access to potential donors.