School districts and parent-teacher organizations have traditionally used various programs to raise supplementary funds for school activities, such as selling products, collecting soup labels and cereal box tops for rewards, and getting rebates from community purchases at participating stores. Educators are always looking for alternate ways to fund programs and purchase supplies. But many feel that "pay to play" assessments for school activities are unfair, door-to-door promotions hold inherent dangers for students, and supporters may be reluctant to buy overpriced "$20 wrapping paper and $15 boxes of chocolate with six pieces in it for a fund-raiser," as one parent said. Growing numbers of districts are therefore turning to the Internet for fundraising solutions.
For example, thanks to a Web site hosted by Indiana's Lawrence Township School Foundation that collects donations for posted "wish lists" for hundreds of teachers, Judy Canfield's class in the Forest Glen Elementary School in Indianapolis was able to purchase and dissect regurgitated owl pellets to learn about what owls eat. "Without a special donation, we wouldn't have been able to provide this hands-on opportunity," she said. Canfield's current wish list includes gift certificates to a bookstore, a color printer and more owl pellets.
Similarly, the "School Kids Come First" Web site in Washington solicits donations for teachers and administrators in Seattle schools to provide unique experiences for students beyond textbooks. Recent wish lists have included a digital camera for yearbook pictures, a couch for a primary-level reading corner, plants for a peace garden and hosting a family skate night. The program charges a 15 percent administrative fee, and as projects are funded, the coordinators make the purchases, deliver the materials and notify donors that the request was fulfilled. The new program has raised more than twentyfive thousand dollars to fund more than fifty proposals for the district.
The Internet is becoming the most powerful fundraising vehicle and offers countless opportunities. At the simplest level, you can compare and learn about options through resources such as Fundraiserhelp.com, Fundraising-ideas.org and School-fundraisers.com. For example, the popular Schoolpop.com program has contributed more than $200 million to more than 60,000 designated schools and other nonprofit organizations through purchases of brand-name products.
Teachers and administrators can also sign up for online fundraising individually, such as Classroom Wishlist or DonorsChoose, a not-for-profit site where educators from all over the country post funding requests. Proposals can be searched by keywords and browsed by categories including region, subject, level, type of school and cost. For example, last summer a teacher in Louisiana who works with low-income students requested $1,590 for a digital projector that was almost 10 percent funded before the school year started. DonorsChoose is "a simple way to provide students with resources that schools often lack" and was responsible for funding $2.5 million worth of resources in 2006.
Linking District Sites
But your own district Web site is the most valuable online fundraising tool, and few schools take advantage of this powerful resource. For example, the homepage of Oregon's Parkrose School District offers prominent links to fundraising programs that include purchases from Amazon.com, Safeway markets and Target stores. DA
Odvard Egil Dyrli, email@example.com, is interim editor-in-chief and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.