April 8, 2013 · Tips & Insights

Let’s Have a Barn Raiser: 8 Ways to Crowdfund for Education



Global wealth distribution today is highly unequal. A United Nations University report states that in 2000, 1% of the world’s adults held 40% of the world’s assets. Given this tough economic situation, access to education is paramount to providing opportunity for advancement. Yet combined with rising costs and decreasing public funds available for education, equal opportunity seems a far-off dream. What could be less empowering than being able to predict your educational opportunities simply by virtue of the zip code in which you live? Though dependent on significant efforts and not a silver bullet, crowdfunding offers a chance to rally our communities for change in a more egalitarian way than ever before.

Crowdfunding is people pooling their resources together to support an idea or effort initiated by a person or organization. The concept is not at all new. “Barn raising” —  in which a community comes together to build a barn in a fraction of the time it would take a family to build it on their own — was popular back in the 17 and 1800s. Yet today, we redefine community. No longer is it just the people who live near us from a geographic standpoint. Now, our global, social, and economic connectedness allows us to create and participate in communities across these traditional boundaries. We can now raise barns via crowdfunding — and in doing so, we can begin to bridge gaps in education, wealth, and beyond.

When you start to craft your crowdfunding campaign, one of the most important first steps is to define your community. Who will be moved to contribute or share your campaign with their social networks — on and offline? I find people join a campaign community for one of three reasons. The first is that they care deeply about your purpose. The second is that they have pride in you, your work, or your associations. The third is that they like the perks or tokens of thanks you offer. People tend to like to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Here are eight reasons to redefine your community in education:

  1. Improve Your Curriculum: Victoria Ramirez is a 1st grade bilingual teacher at Voices Charter School in San Jose and a Teach for America member. Her school lacks strong science resources, so she aims to show her students the value of science education for future careers. They view astronauts in high esteems, and Victoria believes that, “By meeting a Latino astronaut, we are giving my students a chance to see themselves in the future.” Victoria’s campaign speaks to everyone who looked up to role models in their youth. I don’t know about you, but my first career aspiration was to be an astronaut.

  1. Cover Tuition: Guelord Mbaenda lives on the border of the Eastern Congo and Rwanda. He has been working as a peacemaker for 11 years and wants to refine his skills by attending the Coventry University’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies for a one-year Masters in Peacebuilding. He has rallied support from friends and family, but needs to raise additional funds to cover the gap. By sharing his experiences as a peacemaker, his diligence in persevering in tough times, and the value his education will bring, Guelord inspired others who shared his passions to help him achieve his goal.

  1. Run Youth Education Programs: Black Girls Code launched their campaign to teach computer programming to more than 300 boys and girls from underrepresented communities in more than 7 cities across the United States. They particularly focused on giving girls from African American, Latino, and Native American communities the opportunity to learn valuable tech skills and to plant a seed that may “Change the Face” of the future of tech! The resounding success of their campaign and the response they received from the community show how well their message resonated with the world — particularly with women and minority groups. Here are two of the many comments they received: “I love the very idea of this project, and I am so proud to know you all are teaching my little sisters to embrace their inner geek! Rock on and many blessings to you all!” and “Congratulations for this amazing initiative! I’m Latina & I feel very identified with this initiative. I had to study computer programming for almost 2 years without telling my parents :-)”

  1. Conduct ResearchThis group — consisting of a student, a professor, and a science professional — is researching microbiomes in the human body. Their campaign turned the traditional model of scientific research on its head. Instead of conducting research behind closed doors, this team engaged the world in “citizen science.” Contributors received sample collection kits for various parts of their body, depending on their contribution size. Contributors could send back their sample for analysis and have it incorporated into the research — crowdfunding and crowdsourcing at work!

  1. Catalyze Startups: Minuum was inspired by a University of Toronto research project to invent a better way of typing on touch screen mobile phones. The student-professor team has taken the project to fantastic heights with the development of the Minuum keyboard, which collapses the traditional keyboard into a single dimension. This radical move opens up screen space and makes typing adaptable to new surfaces, including wearable typing!  Typing aficionados the world over have flocked to this new innovation. They are at 8,000+ contributors and counting…

  1. Foster The Arts: Shanna is a student at MassArt, where she focuses on jewelry making. She has a dream of attending the NOLS outdoor program to “branch out and gain skills and experience that will help me excel as a female designer and aid me in strengthening my focus on sustainable design.” Shanna was particularly inspired by the outpouring of support from the NOLS alumni community, who supported her in droves with advice and contributions.

  1. Amp Up Your Sports Teams: The University of Ottawa Quidditch team launched a campaign to travel to the Quidditch World Cup in Florida. With perks such as a “snitch ornament” and a Quidditch sweatshirt, this campaign mobilized Harry Potter fans the world over.

  2. Teach Entrepreneurship: Ramune and three of her peers created the idea of Thrive, a sensor and phone app that tells you how to care for your plants, as a class project in the Design MFA program at California College of the Arts, San Francisco.  Each team in the class created a campaign and aims to get $1 contributions that will serve as votes for their project.  All contributions benefit the nonprofit Architecture for Humanity.  Thrive’s clever video connects viewers not only with busy Americans who have let their plants wilt, but also with the plant itself!


Check out more Education campaigns and make sure to follow me — Indiegogo’s Education expert — on Twitter at @IndiegogoEdu!


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