5 ideas to crowdfund money (and more!) for your school

Utter the phrase “school funding” and—whether you’re among friends, strangers, or just querying the internet—you’re likely to incite a storm of opinions.

Public or private, from pre-K through 12th grade, in rural communities and urban, the subject of paying for education in America has always been a complex one. In the past year alone, declining government support, teacher strikes, and systemic funding inequalities have made headlines across the country.

What to do about it all?

ioby doesn’t have all the answers, of course. But one thing we do know is that teachers, students, parents, administrators, and local nonprofits all have the power to rally their communities and raise the support they need to bring real, tangible, positive change to their schools. And we can help.

But first—if you’re wondering…

What place does community crowdfunding have in supporting education?

Volunteers in Detroit

[Summer in the City, Detroit, is crowdfunding right now to send campers back to school with backpacks full of supplies. What’s your idea to crowdfund for your school?]

You’re not alone. ioby has long fielded questions about the appropriateness of crowdfunding for public good projects of all sorts. But in ten years of crowdfunding, we don’t often find that government agencies see a successful grassroots fundraising effort, feel relieved that someone else is doing their job, and direct their support elsewhere.  

In fact, time and time again, we’ve seen just the opposite: crowdfunding campaigns let decision-makers know loud and clear what their constituents care about, and prove that residents are willing to rally the community to get things done. These breakthroughs in understanding often lead to increased government funding for local projects, not less (we’ve also found the same thing to be true of grants from foundations.) In our experience, crowdfunding and government responsibility often goes happily hand in hand.

Now, if you’re ready to consider crowdfunding for your school, we’re happy to share these…

5 awesome examples of community crowdfunding for education

The following are just a handful of the many, many more school projects that have found the support they need with ioby, but they illustrate some of the many types of initiatives that can be crowdfunded—as well as some of the non-monetary benefits community crowdfunding is famous for helping local leaders cultivate.


Bronx Students investigate transit pricing[Students investigating transit pricing in their community, a project crowdfunded by the Center for Urban Pedagogy]

If you’re a parent who wants your school to shine for all to see…

→ Check out Central High School Grounds Improvement

Memphian Katy Leopard and her team raised over $11,000 on ioby to fund fresh paint, new landscaping, better signage, and other improvements to the public-facing outside of her son’s high school. She was proud of the school’s hard-working teachers and high-achieving students, and wanted its neglected exterior to look clean, cared for, and welcoming to match. Shortly after her campaign surpassed its goal, the Shelby County School District offered to match what she raised with an additional investment of $10,000.

Katy says: “This is how this kind of thing works. Where when somebody sees, ‘Oh, there’s this groundswell of support with these active alums and active parents over there at Central High,’ then people want to invest in that success and momentum.”

If you’re a teacher who wants to provide new opportunities for learning…

→ Check out Pollinator Garden

New Jersey pre-K teacher Naomi Montalvo crowdfunded over $4,000 on ioby to build a garden at her school and seed it with plants that attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. Her vision was to teach her urban students about the vitality of the natural world by letting them experience it firsthand.

Naomi says: “[The kids] are really excited. Even the faculty are excited. People have been coming to ask me questions—they’re like, ‘When is it happening?’ And I say, ‘We’ve got to wait for the fundraiser to be over!’ It’s really good.”

[Students at the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School]

If you’re an administrator with needs and goals that change every year…

→ Check out Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School

After accruing 25 years of experience in educational consulting and social services, Susan Tenner co-founded and became executive director of Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (BUGS), an urban middle school that exists to “provide a hands-on, interdisciplinary education to young adolescents of all abilities and backgrounds, with a focus on real-world problem solving and the exploration of sustainability.” She has led ioby campaigns to raise over $6,000 for a garden classroom, over $1,300 for a compost competition, and over $5,700 for a rainwater catchment project—among others.

Susan says: “The connection between money and entitlement, or money and control, that’s a huge subject. What’s neat about crowdfunding… is that a lot of small donations brought together have a really different feeling than one person [or agency] who dumps down a lot of money and holds the purse strings. You have a different feeling of collective responsibility, or collective ownership or joy. Grow that feeling!”

If you’re a student with an idea for an awesome improvement…

→ Check out Cleveland Bike Library

Ohio high school student Randy King was just 16 when he crowdfunded $295 on ioby (and then over $700 a few months later) to initiate a bike share program in two schools he attended. He sees commuting by bike as a way to mitigate climate change, encourage students to be physically active, and avoid long wait times for busses.

Randy says: “A lot of people are passionate about this, and some people didn’t know how to get started, and I took the initiative to make this change, and I’m letting everybody else get on board.”

If you’re a nonprofit who wants to partner with a school on an extracurricular initiative…

→ Check out Bronx Students Investigate Transit Pricing

Frampton Tolbert of NYC’s Center for Urban Pedagogy raised almost $12,000 on ioby to enable 15 city high schoolers to investigate social justice issues in their community over the summer. The students learned principles of investigative journalism; interviewed transit leaders, advocates, commuters, and elected officials; and created a short documentary about their findings.

Frampton says: “A public crowdfunding platform is great for showing people more than they would usually get to see about a project, whether they donated or not. … [Our donors] got to see exactly how they helped to create this positive impact.”

Have these fantastic projects sparked your imagination? Want to know how ioby can help you get your education project off the ground? Just drop us a line—we’d love to talk!

Additional resources:
ioby’s Guide to Environmental Projects in Schools: Our list of five simple projects any classroom can do, in five easy steps, with less than $500.
When We’re All Urban Planners: Making a Virtual Village to Create a Better City: This 2012 publication explores the implications of increasingly crowdsourced community planning.
Schools & Playgrounds: Thumb through scores of great projects for youngsters on ioby: some already funded, some raising money as we speak!