If you think GoFundMe changed the fundraising game forever when they launched their online crowdfunding platform in 2010, think again. Lincoln Public Schools has been using their remarkably similar Fund a Need program since 2003, providing classrooms with everything from field trips, to mariachi ensembles, to pet bearded dragons.
The program aims to expand learning beyond the regular, day-to-day curriculum while lessening the burden on teachers' wallets. The process is simple: teachers, principals and parent groups can submit forms for individual needs not covered by grants on the LPS Foundation website. Once approved, the requests appear on the Fund a Need page, complete with a live tracker of fundraising progress. Then, members of the community—you guessed it—fund that need.
In charge of the approvals is Gary Reber, the Development Officer for School Communities for LPS. He works as a liaison between the LPS Foundation and schools to make sure they have the resources they need. As overseer of the 400+ funds and 60 schools in the district, Reber can confirm that the city truly cares about the future of education, which makes the Fund a Need program and all other fundraising endeavors so worthwhile.
"Lincoln is a supportive community, bottom line," he said. "No matter what you're doing, Lincoln cares, which helps tremendously with our success in campaigns like these."
When Reber came to the Foundation in 2015, he spearheaded an overhaul of their existing Fund a Need site, which had barely been changed in its 12 years of existence. The old website was groundbreaking for a nonprofit at the time, and was even named "Internet Fundraising Program of the Year" by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2005, but it was clearly time for an update. The LPS Foundation partnered with a branch of Nelnet called FoundationGIVE to build a simplified, modern new site from the ground up.
Since the new website launched in 2017, donors have met 100 classroom needs by raising over $110,000, bringing the 16-year fundraising total to over $1 million.
This money allows teachers to enhance students' learning experiences like never before. Teachers at LPS, like most other school districts in the nation, only receive a couple hundred dollars per year to maintain and update their classrooms. This barely covers the basics and forces them to pay out-of-pocket for everything else. That's where Fund a Need comes in.
"The big benefit here is that it can help replace some of that personal money they're spending and fund some of the fun stuff they couldn't do otherwise," Reber said.
Fund a Need has raised money for a wide variety of "fun stuff"—field trips, niche clubs, new instruments, gym equipment, iPads, T-shirts, books—you name it. This creativity allows students to break free from the traditional classroom setting and digest material more easily.
"The school day in most classrooms is very regimented. There's a lot of curriculum to pack into a day," Reber said. "Fund a Need helps provide a learning experience that might turn on a light bulb for a kid that otherwise wouldn't have in a regular day, or put some of the crriculum in a context that's a lot more fun to absorb."
Though the program has been successful, Reber said it lacks one big thing: advertising funds. As of now, teachers are entirely responsible for promoting their individual projects, and there's no marketing for the website as a whole—something he's hoping for in the near future.
"It's not a money making venture for us. It actually costs us money to do it," Reber said. "And that's okay—we see enough value in the program that we don't see it as a loss. But it would be nice to someday make up funds in other areas to better promote campaigns on a wider basis."
But even without this, the incredibly ahead-of-its-time Fund a Need program has streamlined the giving process for donors, provided financial support for teachers and, most importantly, showed thousands of LPS students that there are countless ways to learn.
This article was republished with permission from The Foundry Magazine.