Response: Show Me the Money! Ways Teachers Can Raise Funds for Their Classrooms
The new question-of-the-week is:
Yes, schools should provide adequate financial support to teachers and their students. However, when they don't, what is your best—and specific—advice for how teachers can raise money for specific materials they would like to use or projects they'd like to do with their students?
What teacher doesn't need additional funds to support students?
In today's post, Alfonso Gonzalez, Holly Spinelli, Susan Lafond, Amanda Koonlaba, and Barbara Gottschalk provide some ideas on where to get it!
You might also be interested in:
Response From Alfonso Gonzalez
Alfonso Gonzalez has been teaching grades 4-8 for 27 years. He is a national-board-certified teacher in the area of Early Adolescent Generalist with a master's of arts in teaching and has completed two ISTE Capstone certifications. He Tweets regularly at @educatoral and blogs often at Mr. Gonzalez's Classroom:
Start With a Project
My best advice is to begin with a great project in mind. Do not think you can approach anyone saying, "I need a class set of Chromebooks and some iPads for my classroom," and they will give you money. Starting with what you want will rarely, if ever, get funded.
One Way Is to Ask for Money
One way I have seen teachers raise a few hundred to around a thousand dollars for a project, and a great place to start, is DonorsChoose. Another way to get money is to start a Kickstarter, or Indiegogo campaign. When I started a campaign, I chose Indiegogo because, with Indiegogo, you get to keep any funds promised, unlike DonorsChoose and Kickstarter, where projects only get funded if all the monies requested are raised. Be prepared to spread your project far and wide to find people to donate money.
Another Way Is to Look for Grants
In my 27 years teaching, I have procured 43 grants,19 of them for one specific project (which I will share later in this post)! I have gotten at least one grant per year for the last 20 years straight, so I can tell you that it is possible to fund your greatest project ideas with grants. Here's what I've learned from writing lots of proposals:
- As mentioned earlier, start with a great project or have a few projects in mind.
- Tell the story of what kids will be doing and learning. The materials they need to complete the project should make sense and be necessary for the project. The project comes first always.
- Next, and this is important, contact your district office and find out who receives grant information. Tell that person to forward all grant opportunities your way. Those are the best grants for which to submit proposals. That doesn't mean you shouldn't submit proposals to grants that you find yourself; just remember that if you found it easily, so can everyone else.
- Submit many proposals. The good news is that you can use the same project and submit it to as many grants as it fits. Keep in mind that every grant has its own requirements and questions. Make sure you stick to their question formats and their requirements such as word counts and font size!
- Once the grant period is over, be prepared to write a final report. Most end-of-grant reports want to know what went well and what didn't go so well. And one thing they really need you to do is to SPEND ALL THE MONEY they gave you. It's more work for them if you have money to carry over so best not to do that.
The project that has been funded from 19 of the 43 grants I have received is my Environmental Stewardship Project. Environmental projects are hot so you will find grant opportunities there. STEM is also a hot topic for grants. When you submit proposals, make sure they are innovative and cutting edge. A project to have your students connecting to kids in another country to share their stories will have a better chance of being funded than a project to have kids write stories on brand-new iPads to share only with you.
So get started and get that project you've been wanting to try funded!
Response From Holly Spinelli
Holly Spinelli is an advocate for equality in classrooms with specific focuses on anti-racism, anti-bias, and anti-oppression facilitation. Holly began her career as an English teacher and student-rights activist in New York City public schools, and she is an appointed member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. She continues to grow this work as an adjunct instructor at a private college in New York City and as a public high school teacher in the Hudson Valley in New York:
Realistic Resources for Educators' Shrinking Budgets
The expectations for educators to do more with less in our classrooms is the not-so-new norm. The struggle to meet ever-changing curriculum demands, especially district-level technology-driven initiatives, is overwhelming and financially taxing. Unfortunately, budgets for daily school supplies like books and pens seem nonexistent, and teachers' salaries across the country remain relatively stagnant as the cost-of-living rises, so how can we create learning environments that are rich with new and engaging experiences, when we get anxious any time a student reaches for an extra piece of loose-leaf paper?
We find ourselves reaching into our own pockets to pay for basic classroom supplies. So, what are realistic solutions to get funds for our classrooms, so we can deliver the best possible lessons to help our students meet current educational demands and to keep learning exciting? I taught for nearly a decade at a Title I school, and after year three, there was literally no supply budget. Here are realistic resources and strategies that my former colleagues and I used (and still use) to help get the materials we need so we can provide the best learning experiences for our students:
- Social Media and Online Fundraising
By today's standards, this may seem cliché, but it works! When my previous school needed equipment for physical education classes, we enlisted the help of complete strangers from across the globe to help us meet our needs. The result? Over $1,000 worth of donations raised in two weeks so that we could purchase free weights and yoga mats! Current online fundraising sites that are educator friendly include: Youcaring.com, Adoptaclassroom.org, Fundmyclassroom.com, and Donorschoose.org. We had success with Donorschoose.org. It helped our school community raise funds for classroom library books, classroom furniture, physical education equipment, digital cameras, and transportation for a field trip!
Tips: If you are replacing old items, take photos of those items and post them on your site. Let people see WHY you're asking for the funds to purchase "what you already have." Also, make your pitch enticing. There are a lot of charities out there, so make sure you include information that demonstrates how YOUR project is unique and why people should support it.
This sounds like a new fitness craze, but if you're an educator, it's more heart-pumping than that! Freecycle.org is a nonprofit group that helps people in local communities connect with one another to give away and receive gently used items FOR FREE! Think of it as a giant yard sale where everything is priced for $0!
- Reach Out to Local Business Owners
Again, this may seem like a no-brainer, but consider the benefits. If a local business owner recently upgrades the printers in his office, he can donate the old ones to your classroom. He can donate unused office supplies, too! Keeping open communication with local business owners can be mutually beneficial. Your classroom receives supplies free of cost, and in many instances, the business owner can claim the donated items on his taxes. It's a win-win for all involved.
This option can be a little time consuming, but the outcomes are worth it. Each year, companies like Target through its "Target Teacher Grants" program, and the Kids in Need Foundation, provide opportunities for educators to submit proposals to receive funding for classroom supplies. Digital Wish is a group that awards teachers grants for technology in their classrooms, and unlike annual programs, teachers can apply for digital wish grants every month!
This is not the most comprehensive list of ways to get materials for your classroom, but they're excellent places to start!
Response From Susan Lafond
Susan Lafond, a nationa-board-certified teacher in English as a New Language (EAYA ENL), has 20 years of combined experience teaching ESL and foreign language. As an assistant in educational services with New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), she focuses on regulations and educational issues related to English-learners (ELs) and ENL/Bilingual programs, as well as creating and organizing professional development across the state on ELs. Susan has been serving on the AFT National English Language Learner Educator Cadre since 2004 and is an expert practitioner and adviser to Colorín Colorado:
Are you thinking of a creative idea that would really benefit your students educationally, but there are not enough funds to make this idea a reality in the school budget? Is your first thought a grant? Expect to invest MANY hours searching education grant websites! My advice is to not go this method alone. Work as a team with other educators. That way you can divide up the work and capitalize on strengths. And don't forget to get administrative/district support before you go far in your efforts. Without that, you might as well not even start. Writing a grant is no walk in the park, either. It is a daunting task that requires experience, knowledge, and time. You will have to wade through a lot of unfamiliar terminology to navigate the application. Once you start writing, be ready to jump through many hoops.
GetEdFunding - This is a free, curated database of many active grants and awards that are currently available to public and private P-12 schools, districts and educators, higher education institutions, and the nonprofit organizations working with them. This database can be searched using one of six criteria: state, institution type, grade level, educational focus area, content area, and 21st-century themes and skills. Users have to register, but it is free and only requires basic contact information.
If you find larger grants too daunting, start with a mini-grant. This option is less time intensive and more user-friendly.
DonorsChoose.org - This was the method by which I got two grants. I found it easy to sign up and submit requests to citizen philanthropists asking them to fund specific project requests I had for my classroom. If the project is funded, Donors Choose purchases the equipment/materials the teacher signed up for and sends them directly to the school. As part of the agreement, I sent the donor(s) pictures throughout the implementation of the grant, a thank you letter, and a cost report on how the money was spent. (If donation is over $100, each donor receives thank you letters from the students.)
Partner Mini Grants
Another option is to look to the community for a local grant.
Local library - Every fall, our ESL department organized an event with the library to engage our ELL parents and students in literacy and raise awareness of the services provided by the library. Students began to use the library for studying and tutoring. As a result, the library noticed that they lacked books in the language of our English-learners. They applied for, and were awarded, a multiyear grant. We worked with them to assist with the grant, and that opened the door to future partnerships.
Community based organizations - Similar to the library, other CBOs may have interest in or access to state or national grants. It is worth a phone call to inquire. After all, this is a great way to partner for the benefit of students that both of you serve.
PTA - Our district's PTA did some fundraising during the year and then offered what they raised to be used for projects that would benefit students. I applied for money to purchase the software package that accompanied the ESL textbook series we were using and easily got funded.
Car washes and bake sales
Yes, there is always the option to organize students for a district-approved fundraiser. These are still common with after-school clubs, student groups that travel (music, language clubs), and sports booster clubs. Make the case for funding of a school-related endeavor that will benefit the students and get on the district calendar to raise money.
Response From Amanda Koonlaba
Amanda Koonlaba, Ed.S., is an educator with 14 years of classroom experience. She blogs at Party in the Art Room and serves as a content specialist with Education Closet. She is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and presenter for arts integration and STEAM. She was the Mississippi Elementary Art Educator of the Year in 2016:
I have found DonorsChoose to be pretty reliable in raising funds for resources for my classroom. However, having used the platform multiple times, I'd like to offer some specific advice to teachers.
First, make sure it is within the parameters of your school district's policies that you use a platform like DonorsChoose. For instance, some school districts will allow DonorsChoose but not platforms like GoFundMe.com. So, make sure you know what is allowed before you sign up with a DonorsChoose project.
Second, plan ahead. It can take months to get a project funded. So, you can't get supplies for something you are teaching next week using DonorsChoose. Give your project about two months to get funded. I wrote a piece for Education Closet about planning ahead for arts integration, which is a passion of mine. It feels appropriate to share that here. Hopefully, it is helpful in the application of what I am saying about DonorsChoose.
Third, collaborate. I've found the more students that can be impacted the more likely the project will get funded. Instead of just asking for something for your classroom, collaborate with all of the teachers in your grade level. This helps donors see a greater return on their investment. They donate $25 and help 100 kids instead of 30.
Fourth, incorporate things like STEAM or the arts into your project (arts integration, wink wink). Innovation is exciting to donors. You want them to think, "Man, I wish I was in that classroom." Many times it just takes a little creativity to turn a regular lesson into something really innovative and fun. Think about adding the painting of self-portraits to a lesson on character traits where you are asking for iPads. A donor will be impressed by the tech and the painting!
Fifth, keep the cost down. I think people who make small donations look for projects they think they can impact. If your project is for $2,000 worth of materials and a donor can only contribute $25, they may not feel like they will be helping much. But if your project is for $200, $25 goes a long way. I've found it helpful to break larger projects up into several smaller ones to keep the costs down.
I am a DonorsChoose Teacher Ambassador, but that is not why I am writing this. I am writing this for the same reason I was asked to be an ambassador. I have had so many projects funded through DonorsChoose that I've lost count of how many and how much. The things I've learned have worked for me, and I want to help other teachers get projects funded, too!
Response From Barbara Gottschalk
Barbara Gottschalk, a recently retired English-language-acquisition teacher, spent eight years writing many successful grants for Susick Elementary, a public school in suburban Detroit. Her book, Get Money for Your Classroom: Easy Grant Writing Ideas That Work, was published by Routledge in 2017:
This question brings up an important concern. Even though I've written a book to help teachers get money for the projects they'd like to do with their students, I still wonder—are we letting school districts off the hook when we turn to outside sources for funding? Should we be lobbying for adequate financial support instead? I don't have the answers to these difficult questions, but in the meantime, I'll answer the easy question—how can teachers get money for projects and materials? Here are two tips I've learned the hard way.
I used to think grant funders were looking for entirely new ideas. It's true, a fresh idea is always welcome, but funders also realize nothing is completely new under the sun. It's OK if someone else has executed your project; what you should do is add your unique take on it. The people giving you money want to see a track record of success. That way they know you can implement projects and use materials wisely. If you've got a great idea, try it out first on a smaller scale.
One of my colleagues, an elementary art teacher, did a great job with this in a successful grant proposal she wrote for extra art materials. For one year, her students worked in homemade sketchbooks she'd cobbled together using district-provided drawing paper. The students loved doing individual work, but the sketchbooks weren't durable, and the students' finished pieces weren't suitable for display because the poor quality drawing paper damaged easily. She duly noted that in her grant proposal—and got the money. She showed tangible evidence of need as well as proof that her idea was a viable one. After all, it was already being implemented; she just needed better materials the grant could provide.
I once received grants for two very similar puppet-play projects in consecutive years. The difference was in the first year I requested funding for professional teaching artists to assist. In the second year, I applied to do a similar project but didn't request funding for teaching professionals. A key part of the application was to show our teacher team could implement the project on our own this time, thus demonstrating the sustainability of the initial grant request. We got the money—and proved our point!
My experience writing grant proposals has also shown me the importance of community connections. Of course, community partners can directly give you money, but they can also band together with you to submit a strong grant proposal to another funding organization. For example, a senior-living community near my school was so eager to have our students visit they gave us money to pay for bus transportation to their facility. After our students visited several times and did various projects with the residents, however, I was always able to secure grant funding for future visits and projects through other sources. The ongoing relationship with the senior-living facility made for very persuasive grant proposals!
Now, as a board member for an arts organization, I see firsthand how difficult it is to recruit school partners for grant seeking. People from community organizations have told me they'd like to connect with schools but they don't know who to contact. Let that person be YOU. If you've got an idea, think of how you could band together with another community partner—a senior-living facility, an arts organization, a local park, even another school—to make a compelling request for funds.
Thanks to Alfonso, Holly, Susan, Amanda, and Barbara for their contributions.
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