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Crowdfunding for schools

Main Subject: CPD

Subject: Cross Curricular

Author: Joe Carter

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Crowdfunding for schools

KS2 Book Topic: Cloud Busting

From iPhone compatible watches to the world’s largest jockstrap, crowdfunding has raised billions for countless new projects, but is it a potential gold mine for schools with dwindling budgets?

Plans are currently in motion to erect a bronze statue of Robocop in the city of Detroit. If you’re wondering how this came to be and, more to the point, where the money came from, the credit (or blame) lies with crowdfunding.

According to UK charity Nesta (nesta.org.uk), ‘crowdfunders’ raised $1.5 billion during 2011, mostly in the US, to finance over a million projects, ranging from new video games to community ventures. Crowdfunding is used to bankroll such projects through small contributions from a large number of sources, rather than large amounts from a few – a process that has been made infinitely more convenient by the internet and services such as Kickstarter (kickstarter.com) that promote fundraising campaigns and make it easy for interested parties to pledge funds.

A share of £15 billion

Opportunities for schools to take advantage of this new spin on public funding are many. Nesta believe that, within three years, crowdfunding could provide £15 billion of finance per year in the UK. Educational institutions being slowly starved of budget are sure to want a piece of the pie.

One of the first schools to experiment with this approach is Hanover Primary in Islington. Situated alongside Regent’s canal, space at the school is in short supply. To give children every opportunity to expend their energy, it was decided a new playground should be built to provide as many activities per square metre as possible. However, to achieve their goal, Hanover Primary would need to raise £62,634. And while staff and governors were able to accumulated much of this through a selection of grants and money from the school budget, it remained a challenging target. The suggestion to use crowdfunding to help finance the playground came from a parent, who had already used the Spacehive website (spacehive.com) to get some big civic projects off the ground. A social enterprise, Spacehive is growing in popularity as communities begin to take urban planning into their own hands. For the school, it presented an opportunity to engage local residents and businesses with their cause.

“It was a very easy process,” says Jack Sloan, deputy headteacher at Hanover Primary.

“Spacehive were very forthcoming and we found them quite approachable.”

“We didn’t have to give them all that much information,” he continues. “We supplied a précis of the project and a breakdown of costs, but it wasn’t as detailed a brief as we would need to give our governing body, for example. Bank details and a little information were also provided, and this was used to create a page online where people could find out about the project and contribute funds.”

Easy money?

With a substantial sum of money still to be raised, the hope was that, once information about the project was online, donations would start to flood in. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It wasn’t that Spacehive didn’t pull its weight, either. “They did quite a lot for us,” says Jack. “They were very proactive in getting stuff out to the press, we were in lots of local and national newspapers and people were calling up to find out about the project. What I expected was lots of people contributing small amounts of money. That really didn’t happen.”

In hindsight, Jack believes the failure to convert the publicity into pounds may partly have been due to the lack of a social media campaign. Spacehive was keen to promote the project through Twitter and Facebook, but, after lengthy discussions, the school decided it was not an appropriate tactic at that time.

However, it wasn’t all bad news as the school did manage to hit its target. So where did the funding come from? “The bulk of the money was donated by local businesses who we had personally approached.” Jack reveals. “I was amazed at how supportive they were when we sat down and spent time with them. Spacehive played its part as the businesses we spoke to liked the idea of being promoted on the website if they donated.”

Although a new school playground has yet to ride the same wave of zeitgeist that funded Detroit’s future tribute to Paul Verhoeven, it seems the potential of crowdfunding is still there to be tapped. And Jack Sloan, for one, is willing to give it another go: “It made me think that there is money out there and people are willing to do things for schools as they are highly valued. We feel more a part of the community that we did before.”

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