Alternative funding streams; crowdfunding technology

As technology becomes more prevalent and, according to research by BESA, investment by schools in education technology is set to increase, there’s a growing impetus for schools to ensure that they’re investing in (the right) technology. Ben Gil, launch pilot of Rocket Fund, discusses crowdfunding as an additional income stream that can supplement a school’s tech-budget

Crowdfunding utilises the power of the collective to make things happen; it’s been used to fundraise for a multiplicity of projects across a variety of sectors – including education. “Education is receiving less government funding than it used to, so educators are turning to crowdfunding to help fill the gap,” John Auckland, founder of TribeFirst, explains. It’s something that has taken off spectacularly in the US, with one platform – Donors Choose – having raised in the region of $500m for schools over its 17-years.

Fuelling the future

While crowdfunding might be used to fund additional books for your school library, or seeds for your school garden, our focus here is technology. So, we spoke with Ben Gill, the ‘launch pilot’ of Nesta’s Rocket Fund – a crowdfunding platform for schools established to enable more students to access the latest technology – to learn how schools can
launch their own campaigns.

Rocket Fund was developed in answer to a need in the education sector. “We saw that declining funding was, generally, affecting school IT budgets, while there was a growing need for digital skills in industry; it doesn’t make sense that schools are trying to afford the basic technology when the jobs market increasingly requires those skills,” Ben explains.

The solution: provide schools with the means to supplement their IT budgets. The premise is simple; where previously a school’s fundraising ventures might have been restricted to a limited community of donors – such as parents/guardians – crowdfunding is an opportunity to engage with a wider, digital audience. Ben gives the example of a bake sale, reminding us there are only so many brownies that can be bought on the day, and that you can’t attend unless you have a child at the school. “Whereas crowdfunding opens it up to everyone; anyone can donate, where ever they are, and they can donate as much as they want to.”

Every mission needs a launch pad

Using a crowdfunding platform enables you to create a project to tell people exactly what you want for your school – and exactly why you want it – and to build your campaign around this. It also gives you a greater opportunity to reach or connect with businesses and the community. Donors Choose, for example, receive a substantial amount of their donations from large businesses and foundations, donations that are distributed through the platform to schools which match the donor’s area of interest; it’s of great benefit to schools that might not otherwise be seen by such companies. Rocket Fund does similar work, securing significant sponsorship from five companies which is distributed through the platform to the schools which match their areas of interest – ‘Match fund’ is another incentive for schools that they are working on.

One way that schools are fundraising for themselves – using the platform and supported by Rocket Fund – is what Ben calls a ‘concentric circle’. The starting point is reaching out to the school’s close contacts – those who they know on a school, day-to-day basis – and then local businesses and parents’ businesses, if they want to and if they can, as well as local groups. “Some of the biggest donations often come from local businesses and not the big guys – the local surveyor, the local window cleaner the local electrician or news agency,” Ben says. “Beyond having a kid going to the school, the next best motivation to donate is that it’s the local school to you.” In this, Rocket Fund provides a place to connect – a platform providing a school with its own page and URL that can be shared easily.

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On a crowdfunding mission

The team at Rocket Fund are there to support schools through the process, providing tips and guidance and answering any questions along the way. Once you have decided to embark on a campaign the first thing is to create a pitch and make it transparent – be clear about what your school’s fundraising for, and show where the money is going. For donors, this is appealing, because they can see exactly what they are investing in.

Next comes the fundraising process. Online, Rocket Fund suggest emails and social media campaigns to get the ball rolling, but Ben says that schools can run events offline, too. “We had a school where three teachers completed a sponsored swim and using their Rocket Fund page for donations.” There are schools that have also just focused on
businesses, rather than parents. This, Rachel Chatterjee, operations commander at Rocket Fund, says is usually approached in phases. “So, they would write a letter, then
make a visit to the business in person and then, maybe, do a third stage which would be like an interview,” she explains. The interview process is useful in that it allows businesses to learn more about the project and decide whether it is something that they can invest in – emotionally and financially. Taking fundraising beyond the school gates is an exciting prospect; as Ben notes, it invigorates a sense of community, there’s the fundraising aspect and then there’s the marketing process itself which – if the kids are involved – is a good educational experience in itself.

Fuelling imagination in the classroom

“Schools are already fundraising – independent schools have been doing it on a large scale for years – Rocket Fund is a means of making fundraising more efficient and more effective by enabling more people to support schools. It’s a way of trying to boost current budgets rather than replacing government budgets,” Ben says. The idea behind Rocket Fund is to enable schools to experiment with technology and provide students with the tools and support they need for the 21st Century. SBLs are being asked to achieve the impossible with budgets and this is an innovative way that might just help boost the coffers to procure the right IT for your school.

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