The Liabilities of Crowdfunding for K-12 Districts

School districts across the country are faced with a new challenge when it comes to funding: managing the liabilities of crowdfunding (online fundraising). With the number of school teachers spending money out of pocket for classroom projects, and the after-school clubs and teams in need of additional funding, there is no question about why we’ve seen a boom in online fundraising on sites like DonorsChoose, GoFundMe, SnapRaise, etc. While the act of crowdfunding is beneficial for both the organizer and the district, the crowdfunding sites being used have little to no coordination with the school districts themselves, creating a number of legal, financial, and reputational liabilities.

In a recent article by Education Week, administrators described today’s crowdfunding process as “decentralized,” and the Tennessee Comptroller stated that the “sites are problematic for school districts because of lack of adequate controls.” He’s not the first one to say this either. A growing number of state auditors, district superintendents, business officers and district attorneys and accountants recognize this exposure. They have made it clear that crowdfunding presents real problems for existing management systems, and that the practice must meet district legal requirements.

School districts assume all liabilities related to crowdfunding as soon as someone within a school or district uses their position to raise funds. State laws delegate responsibility to school districts for activities in schools in this area including the academic and other purposes of those activities and accounting for use of funds including procurement. In addition, federal laws govern student privacy and students with special needs including compliance with written requests on the webpage viewed by prospective donors. Districts who have no processes or policies place themselves in legal jeopardy. Here are many of the liabilities that school districts should be aware of:

FERPA (Student Confidentiality)
Federal laws govern student privacy and prevent student information from being disclosed. This can happen all too easily through student and classroom photographs, and/or a combination of written information in the campaign story, pitch, and description. In some cases, this type of posting needs to be reviewed by a district’s safety and security division for the protection of the students and the organizer.

State and federal laws prevent student disabilities as well as personal information from being disclosed. This means that organizers must take extra precaution when using images and writing campaign descriptions. IDEA also requires that a school provides the student’s family with prior written notice of any changes being made to the special education experience or Individualized Education Program (IEP). Fundraisers for anything that would change the experience for that student would require prior notice and approval – without it, the fundraiser could result in a waste of funds that donors could take issue with. Additionally, because states receive additional funding for students with IEPs, IDEA requires that any items covered under a student’s IEP be expressly funded by the school district. This would prevent a teacher from raising money for an item that is specifically listed under a student’s IEP.

Personal Collection of Funds
Funds should never be routed through the personal bank accounts of any district members. Donations should always be donated to and collected by the school or district. Funds that are collected within personal bank accounts open up accountability issues, and also create tax issues for both the organizer and the donor. Public employees (those who work for the school district) are prohibited by law from using their position to obtain funding or donations, and there are limits on the acceptance of gifts. A teacher who raises money to purchase supplies for their classroom, or a coach who raises money to purchase new equipment for a team, and collects that money in a personal bank account, can be seen as using their position to solicit funds. When donations are made to and collected by an individual, that person is susceptible to taxes, and the donations are not tax-deductible for the donor.

Accountability of Funds
Funds that are managed by the individual organizer opens opportunities for fraud and may violate certain policies or laws. In some states, there is only a certain amount of time that an organizer has available to deposit any donations with the district treasurer. The treasurer could be held liable in any situations of unaccounted funds.

A common question upon completion of any fundraising campaign is who owns the funds or items donated – is it the organizer who set up the campaign and worked to collect donations or the district to which the organizer belongs to? Issues can arise for districts without clear policies outlining the ownership of donated funds and items if teachers or staff members leave their school or district with the assumption that those items belong to them.

Many policies and laws state that any items donated must be tagged and logged into district inventory within a certain time frame. Items that are donated without coordination of the district are subject to being misused, lost, or stolen.

Financial Reports
Donations must be controlled and reported on by the school district. These financial reports are crucial for audits and reporting out charitable donations made to the district.

Appropriateness of Requests
The funds or items requested should be appropriate, have the right intentions, and align with the district’s mission or vision. An inappropriate request may create PR issues for a school or district.

Perceptions of a School or District
Every campaign reflects in some way on the school, the district and the students. A campaign for resources that a school is responsible for supplying, or a negatively written campaign description may paint the school or district in a poor manner and create PR issues.

Use of school and/or district name and logo
Organizing parties always need express permission to use the school or district name and/or logo to solicit funds. Any use of a school or district’s name, or a school or district’s logo within a campaign automatically creates liability for the district. School districts become responsible for any consequences associated with the campaigns, which is why the district must always be involved in the process and give permission for use of those items.

Compatibility with Curriculum and Standards
All items purchased or donated must meet policy requirements and be compatible with the curriculum and standards of the school and district. This is especially true for fundraisers involving technology. Additional costs of necessary software and licenses required to install on new technology should also be taken into account. Funds or items donated that are incompatible with the curriculum or district standards may result in a waste of funds that donors can take issue with.

Campaigns for Emergencies and Crises
Campaigns created for individuals who are undergoing an emergency or crisis put the affected individual and the donor at risk. Campaigns like these create the perception that donations are going to a “school,” and are therefore tax deductible. Unfortunately, because these funds are going to an individual, donations are not tax deductible and potentially subject to taxes on the individual’s side. Districts and Education Foundations who oversee these types of fundraisers can actually set up proper processes and procedures to collect donations, and also ensure that the affected individuals receive support.

Districts must be aware of potential equity issues between classrooms, teams, or even schools when fundraising. If campaigns are not clear about where the money is going, what it is being used for, or who it is benefiting, parents and donors may make assumptions and take issue.

Other Considerations:

Goal Amounts and Deadlines
On some websites, if campaigns do not meet their set funding goal by a specific deadline, the money can be lost (either returned to the donor or rerouted to a completely different campaign on the site). This is both valuable funding and time lost which can cause donor frustration. Typically a site with flexible goals and deadlines, or that allows the recipient to keep the money is best.

Transaction Fees
Reviewing the fees built in and kept by the website or program is important, and usually something that the Financial Services department needs to review to determine if the percentage fee is appropriate. Donors may take issue if the fees aren’t transparent. Some websites will request an additional “tip” or donation, or even take up to 50% of the funds raised as a fee.

Campaign Marketing and Donor Management
In every case, the district should have the abilities to easily market fundraisers within their district, as well as “own” and manage their donor information. Websites without district controls will typically take ownership of donor information and use it for the remarketing of other campaigns on their site (typically not from your district). Owning the marketing and donor management allows districts to fundraise more effectively over time.

So what can districts do to benefit from the opportunities of online fundraising, but also protect themselves, their schools, their members, and their donors?

Be aware of your current situation. Conduct an internal review to understand what current policies, procedures and guidelines you have in place. Review what crowdfunding sites are available and what is being used in your district. Try and determine what campaigns have been funded or completed in your district and whether your current policies, guidelines, and procedures were followed.

Establish an Approval Process. An important practice to note when it comes to crowdfunding is that districts need an internal review/approval process for every online campaign because only those with a vested interest in the district can properly assess whether a campaign is compliant with all district policies, as well as state and federal laws. Even crowdfunding sites that claim to “vet” campaigns before they are launched won’t catch everything pertinent to a particular district, let alone all state and federal laws. Sites like DonorsChoose have been cited to have campaigns that posed some potentially significant legal and reputational issues for the associated schools and districts, even after going through their screening process. At the end of the day, you have a mix of educators, parent organizations, boosters, teams and clubs who are launching campaigns in the best interest of their students but aren’t always aware of the legal liabilities or the political activities of the school district, which is why districts must safeguard everyone. This type of internal review process ensures that every publicly posted campaign is in the best interest of the district, is in compliance with policies and laws, and is in line with what a district is doing politically.

Find and endorse a platform that is right for your district. In order to protect your users, donors, and the district itself, your platform should allow for your district to approve campaigns before they go live. A platform like Livingtree Give has an automated process that allows tiered layers of approval of every campaign. The fundraising platform should also be all inclusive to your entire district, meaning that teachers, parent organizations, teams, clubs, boosters, and even your education foundation have the ability to use it. Your platform should also have trackable and auditable systems in place so that every dollar donated is recorded and easily dispersed to the appropriate schools and groups. The platform you choose should also provide thorough and easy to use reporting, so that not only can you easily disperse funds, but you can report out every donation at the end of the year. Finally, the platform should be owned by your district, meaning that your district is in control of who has access, how it’s set up, and all of the associated marketing and donors who contribute to your campaigns.

The Livingtree Give platform contains all of the above features and fills the needs of K-12 school districts by providing oversight and management of every online fundraiser in the district. Unlike other platforms, Livingtree Give was developed in coordination with district finance teams and based on the recommendations of K-12 law firms, making it the only platform specifically built for K-12 school districts.


If you’d like more information about how Livingtree Give can help your district manage online fundraising, visit the webpage here, or click the button below to request more information.

Crowdfunding in K-12 Schools: Today’s Situation | Vlog Episode 3

In this week’s episode, Livingtree CEO Gary Hensley discusses the current situation in K-12 schools when it comes to crowdfunding and the risks that teachers, donors, and the district all face when it’s not done right.


Hi everybody, welcome to this week’s edition of two minutes with Livingtree, my name is Gary Hensley and I’m excited to talk about an important topic which is crowdfunding. It is core to our mission here at Livingtree, but I’d just like to discuss: how did we get here, what is the current situation in K-12 schools when it comes to crowdfunding?

So, a brief history on it: if you go back 10 years ago, crowdfunding was not something that you may have heard, it was a relatively new concept and so therefore you maybe had a few teachers, a few schools, that had participated in something like that. Today, you have anywhere between 20 and 30 percent of your teachers and/or schools that have an online campaign on behalf of their school or district identifying themselves as a teacher or someone related to a school. And because of that scale, districts have had to reconcile with this. Parents don’t want to sell stuff anymore, they are giving stuff online, and you have ubiquitous access to this technology. And because of that, districts are now wrestling with some of the legal, financial, and reputational consequences that come along with that.

So that is our mission here at Livingtree on our Give product to help districts manage that. But the reason for that is when you don’t do it right, you put everybody at risk. It’s one of those scenarios where it really does benefit everyone to have some safeguards in place around this topic. You are giving to a public school which is a government entity, and that money has rules and regulations about how it needs to be received. So it can put teachers at risk for receipting that money on behalf of a school, it can put the donor at risk for assuming that it is a tax deductible donation when it could not be, and it puts the district at risk with some of the district concerns: around FERPA, does it expose student images, is it for an item that might be covered by an IEP for a student so that brings in IDEA regulations, does it comply with our district standards, is it the right message that we want to put out there about what our school district is about and what we are fundraising for?

So there is a whole set of layers about this problem and the first is awareness. That’s part of why we do this is just putting things out there about how schools are funded, what parents feel about fundraising, and the last leg of the stool which is how those risks are associated with crowdfunding. It’s a very powerful tool but it’s got to be used in the right way. We’d like to get your likes and comments, have you been involved in a crowdfunding campaign, and were you aware of some of those risks and liabilities?

The Evolution of K-12 Fundraising | Vlog Episode 2

“Why is it that I have to buy something in order to support my child?” is the question that Livingtree CEO Gary Hensley poses. Over the last decade, there has been a shift in the way that parents prefer to interact with school fundraising.


Hey everybody and welcome to this week’s edition of we don’t have a name for it yet, but we are excited to cover a range of topics that are relevant to our audience, and the topic we want to cover today is fundraising, and how that has evolved over time and how parent’s tastes have evolved.

Part of the reason why I even started the company was really as a Dad who was trying to manage my own daughter’s fundraising: she was running around the track and we were doing crazy things collecting pledges and dollars. And at that moment as a parent, I was wondering what did I do wrong to have to go through this. And it was around 2013 and everything seemed to be transitioning to online except for fundraising for schools and that was really the start of the journey for me as a Dad.

A lot of times schools would invite me to go do things or invite parents to buy things, and I always thought, I really didn’t want the wrapping paper or the cookie dough or the Yankee candles, that just really wasn’t my thing. But I did want to be supportive of my child and my kid’s schools and all those things, but it always felt like there was this mismatch between my desire to want to do something for my own kids and the thing that I had to do to do that. I’m sure a lot of parents out there kind of know what I’m talking about or probably have done this, you probably have bought the magazine subscription or you’ve bought the Snickers candy case for your kid and you just wonder why is it that I have to buy something in order to support my child. I feel like that has evolved in the market.

When I talk about this with our school districts, we talk about how parents have changed, and the way they want to interact is really online, they want to make super simple and super fast. So I’d love to get your comments as parents out there, as maybe someone who has participated in a fundraiser: would you rather just give or buy the product?

The Beginning of Livingtree Give | CEO Gary Hensley

In this video, Livingtree CEO Gary Hensley talks about the beginning of Livingtree Give and why he originally started the company. 


“I wanted to take an opportunity to talk a little bit about something that really was the beginning of Livingtree Give. The product has evolved a ton over time, and it’s very toward compliance, and it really does help districts manage the process of crowdfunding. But that’s not why I started the company.

I started the company because I’m a dad and I have two kids, and there was a period of my life where I was a single Dad. And when that was happening, there were lots of times where schools would ask me to do something as a Dad that I just wasn’t able to do – like it just wasn’t going to happen. And some of those things related to fundraising, so there would be a Chipotle Night, or there would be a Back to School Night, or there would be some night or afternoon, and they would ask me to attend that in person and I just couldn’t do it. And a lot of times, to the disappointment of my kids, I’d have to tell them ‘no, Dad can’t make it to that fundraiser as much as I know you want to go and I know all your friends are going to be there, I literally can’t do it’ because I’m thinking about how I’m going to pay rent next month and how I’m going to by groceries. Anything that took me away from that (my kids’ school activities) was for me undoable, and that was part of the story in all of this which was if you invite parents – and there’s a lot of parents out there not just single parents, but just parents in general where you are busy and trying to survive… asking parents to go to an event on 2oclock on a Tuesday, it just isn’t going to happen for a majority of parents.

 And so, if there was an opportunity to do something online in all of those events that I was invited to, and if there was an opportunity as a Dad to say ‘I was able to participate, and guess what I didn’t have to go but I gave 10 bucks and that was a part of the participation,’ that would have meant the world to me at that time because that was probably the only way that I was going to be able to participate for a good three years of my life.

That was a part of the genesis of the company, how do we help parents engage with things at school in a way that’s easy, and that kind of fits every parent including parents that are super busy, and that’s everybody. So, I just want to share that with you because that’s on my heart. I know there are a lot of parents out there in that situation, and that’s kind of our mission as a whole is to bring those types of opportunities to every parent regardless of whether you can make it physically or not. So that’s it!”

Crowdfunding: Some Districts Ban It, Others Embrace It

Sarah Schwartz’s Education Week blog follows the recent Crowdfunding Research Report published by EdSurge, and outlines many reasons why a multitude of school districts like Metro Nashville Public Schools are banning the use of crowdfunding sites like With the recent boom in education crowdfunding, Schwartz finds that “leaders are starting to voice concerns” because “they have no way of knowing whether the instructional materials and technology flowing into their schools through individual teacher requests are aligned to district standards” and they worry that “the decentralized process will make it hard to monitor how money is distributed among schools.” Others echoed these concerns, stating that “such sites are problematic for school districts because of lack of adequate controls.”

However, even with these concerns, Schwartz indicates in her research “that banning crowdfunding isn’t the way to go.” Instead, she points out that many leaders aren’t giving up on the “potential benefits” of crowdfunding because of the additional funding, supplies and experiences it provides for students. As the EdSurge crowdfunding report points out, “instead of banning educators’ use of these platforms altogether, administrators should manage teachers’ projects and create a unifying policy for crowdfunding in the school district.”

What Other Publications Have Said

Many recent publications are supportive of the latter idea, allowing crowdfunding with the right policies and platforms in place. A special report published in July of last year by the Ohio Auditor of State made a similar statement on its cover, that “with sound policies in place, school districts can ensure that online fundraising enhances student learning.” In this report, Auditor Dave Yost provides an informative overview of crowdfunding, surveys of Ohio school districts, specific liabilities of crowdfunding (including student confidentiality, financial controls and accounting, and reputational risks), and best practices for districts.

A few months after it’s publication, the California School Boards Association published guidance recommending that districts “be aware of all such campaigns conducted in the name of the district, a district school or a district employee.” The CSBA recommended that districts adopt policy to govern crowdfunding campaigns, and in it districts should “require prior approval,” list out the “criteria to be considered,” address “mechanisms for financial transparency,” and “identify the crowdfunding platforms that may be used.” Even the National School Board’s Association is currently in the process of revising their “best practices” around crowdfunding for K-12 school districts, and is another resource to watch for in the coming months.

Filling the Holes of a Deeper Problem

The problem, as many will agree, is the funding gap in America’s Educational system. State and federal funding for public schools dipped sharply during the Recession that began in 2008. Although the numbers have recovered somewhat, many districts are still not being funded at the same level. Today, reports indicate that about 94% of America’s public school teachers are spending their own money on classroom supplies, with the average annual expenditure totaling $480. Some teachers on social media even reported spending thousands of their own dollars to fund projects they find crucial to their students’ education.

While crowdfunding may never completely fill the gap, it has become a saving grace for many teachers, boosters, and parent organizations who otherwise can’t secure funding from their school or district. It has also become a reflection of the changing culture in schools and parents: turning away from the traditional methods of fundraising that require large sums of time and effort with high overall costs, and toward the easier methods of online donations that have lower costs and more transparency.

Overcoming the Challenges of K-12 Crowdfunding

At Livingtree, we consistently refer to Austin Independent School District, who was one of the two school districts featured in EdSurge’s full crowdfunding report, and Chandler Unified School District as examples of districts who have successfully overcome the challenges of crowdfunding. Leaders from both districts recently participated in a panel at SXSW EDU, and talked about the importance of realizing that fundraising has changed and is now a part of our reality. As Michelle Wallis, Executive Director of Innovation at Austin ISD stated, they chose to implement their current system and platform three years ago because they needed ways to safeguard everybody, including, teachers.

Austin embraced the reality that people want to, and expect to, give online and to have an easy experience doing so. Without a system in place, it becomes the “wild wild west.” Thus, they put together a set of guidelines and set up a system that the district endorsed, supported, and rolled out district-wide. Their system integrates with principal and district approval, so when a teacher posts a campaign, it is automatically sent to the principal and district for review. On the backside, their finances are linked with their bookkeeping system, and then it is all loaded into their donor database where they have tracking, reporting and receipting for every campaign.

Chandler Unified School District was in the same situation about a year and a half ago. As Chandler USD’s Chief Financial Officer Lana Berry stated in the SXSW EDU panel, “we found that we needed a crowdfunding platform because…this is the new method to raise the most amount of money with the best safeguards put in place,” however they “needed to standardize that and approve it.” Berry continued, that “we needed to have a system in place that we were proud of so that when people donated to a Chandler Unified District fundraiser, they knew exactly where their money was going.” So, they started by looking at their policies to make sure they had board policy to back what they were doing. They then looked at their procedures to determine what they allowed. Finally, they looked at what tools were currently being used, and found they had just about every tool out there – GoFundMe, SnapRaise, DonorsChoose. They knew how important it was to have the right processes and procedures in place to help guide their principals and their schools, so they went on a nation-wide search for a platform that would help with guidance, the approval process, account for the dollars that came back in, and that would meet all of the district’s needs.

After finding a platform that met their strict criteria, the district is now in control of their online fundraising and sending their online campaigns through the correct processes and procedures. As Berry says, “It’s important to take the first step and move to implement something because this area is going to continue to grow, it’s the new form of raising money. Parents love it and don’t like the old ways. There are still a lot of mechanisms in the old forms of fundraising, but more and more people are utilizing this new way of giving.”

Review and Approve Your District’s Campaigns

An important practice to note when it comes to crowdfunding is that districts need an internal review/approval process for every online campaign because only those with a vested interest in the district can properly assess that a campaign meets all district policies, as well as state and federal laws. Even crowdfunding sites that claim to “vet” campaigns before they are launched won’t catch everything pertinent to a particular district, let alone all state and federal laws. DonorsChoose, for instance, has been cited to have campaigns that posed some potentially significant legal and reputational issues for the associated schools and districts, even after going through their screening process.

As Erin Duryea Gilsbach, the Director of Professional and Policy Development for King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul, LLC, wrote in an article for the NSBA Council of School Attourneys: “a review of some of the posts from educators on revealed some significant legal issues within the teacher posts themselves, including potential FERPA violations and liability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).” She later explains that these posts “included a number of potential FERPA issues related to teacher posted photographs, which were combined with specific written information in the posts about the classes. These descriptions could also legally be considered to be potential IDEA violations, and/or violations of specific district policies. Other posts, while they did not pose any particular threat of liability, painted the schools and/or districts in a very negative light when asking for funds.” Further in the article, Gilsback describes a number of real examples that pose serious risks to the organizers and associated districts.

The point is that even sites that are seemingly more protective can still miss major liabilities or even specific policies from within your district, thus making it imperative (regardless of whether you have a manual process or an automated process built-in to your chosen platform) that your district have some sort of internal review process of all online campaigns. At the end of the day, you have a mix of educators, parent organizations, boosters, teams and clubs who are launching campaigns in the best interest of their students but aren’t always aware of the legal liabilities or the political activities of the school district, which is why districts must safeguard everyone. This type of internal review process ensures that every publicly posted campaign is in the best interest of the district, is in compliance with policies and laws, and is in line with what a district is doing politically.  

Creating a Supportive Environment for Crowdfunding

So, while some districts may go with their first instinct and take the easy route of banning crowdfunding sites, it’s important to realize that this option forgoes the many benefits that crowdfunding has to offer for school districts. With the right platform, school districts can support, and even encourage members to raise funds for additional materials and experiences that they can provide their students. In order to do this, districts must take the first step to be aware of their current crowdfunding situation, and look into their current policies, procedures, and guidelines, as well as what campaigns are out there with a school or the district’s name on it.

It’s also important to be extremely selective of the crowdfunding platform that your district decides to support and endorse. Consider adopting a platform that has everything you need to truly oversee the crowdfunding process in your district – with an automated multi-level campaign approval process, tracking of donations, centralized fund routing, donor management, detailed reporting, and built-in tools for all of your parent organizations, boosters, clubs, teams, and teachers. These features are many of the reasons why Austin ISD, Chandler USD, and districts from all around the country are choosing to partner with Livingtree.

To hear Michelle Wallis of Austin ISD and Lana Berry of Chandler USD talk more about their journeys of successfully overcoming crowdfunding, you can watch their recent 30-minute session at SXSW EDU here:

If you need assistance locating crowdfunding campaigns from within your district, contact Livingtree Sales at, and we’ll help provide a detailed report of all campaigns, as well as amounts raised and revenue lost.

For additional resources, Chandler USD and Austin ISD have shared their procedures and guidelines, which can be accessed at


To request more information about how Livingtree Give can help your school district support online fundraising without the complexities, click below:

EdSurge Crowdfunding Report Lists Livingtree District as “Paving the Way”

Online fundraising is a growing area in K-12, and crowdfunding has exploded onto the scene over the last decade. While many students, families, teachers, and schools have embraced this new type of fundraising, school districts are facing unintended liabilities from these types of campaigns. EdSurge collected research on crowdfunding in K-12 over the last year, and just recently published a report of their findings. Among the seven crowdfunding platforms that EdSurge compared, Livingtree Give was effectively highlighted as a platform to:
– “Ensure that money raised through crowdfunding goes directly to the school or district, but that administrators can allow teachers to spend the money wherever they’d like in a secure and trackable way”
– “Maximize district oversight by providing administrators with full reports for campaigns in the district and ensuring that all campaigns have been approved before they’re published”

In the full downloadable report, Austin Independent School District was featured as one of the two “Districts Paving the Way.”

This section of the report uses Austin ISD (pictured below) as an example of a district that has developed strategies to support crowdfunding and boost teachers’ efforts. The district provides Livingtree Give accounts to teachers, boosters and parent organizations across their district. Once campaigns are approved, they feature these campaigns in their Livingtree Give public portal, which donors can access through the district’s website.

Austin ISD featured in EdSurge Report

Under the Integrations section of the report, EdSurge mentions Livingtree’s integration on Austin ISD’s website which links donors directly to their Give portal. The integration option is offered to all of Livingtree’s customers as part of the district plan.

The report also profiled the Livingtree Give platform, where Chandler Unified School District in Arizona was featured as a “highlighted project.” After going on a nation-wide search to find a crowdfunding platform that met all of their district’s needs, Chandler started their first year with Livingtree Give this fall and had garnered more than $50,000 in donations as of December 2018.

Livingtree is pleased to be recognized among the top crowdfunding platforms, and as one that truly helps districts manage the complexities and eliminate the liabilities of crowdfunding. To learn more about how the Livingtree Give platform can help your district, visit

To further understand the process of crowdfunding in K-12 schools, the liabilities that districts are facing, and how to develop policies and procedures around it, visit the EdSurge Report page and download their full report.

2018-19 K-12 Mid-Year Crowdfunding Risk Report

Crowdfunding has exploded in K-12 education. The number of campaign requests, as well as the number of donations towards these campaigns have significantly increased over the years. Data from one popular crowdfunding site for teachers showed that during the 2017-2018 school year, over 254,000 campaigns were funded, resulting in over $152 million in funds raised for K-12 classrooms, projects, and experiences.

This type of online crowdfunding has opened enormous opportunities for K-12 school districts to raise funds for projects, equipment and supplies. Crowdfunding is ultimately helping close the education funding gap and support the needs of schools and students. Its efficiency and effectiveness have been proven not only through the generous donation amounts, but also through the speed and ease compared to traditional methods like burrito or donut sales.

Despite the many benefits of online crowdfunding, school districts need to be aware of the associated risks and liabilities. Every single campaign that is posted poses serious liabilities for a school district, depending on how the campaign is pitched, what names are used, what the campaign is raising funds for, and what type of student information (photos, names, etc.) is displayed. Every donation made to the campaign also comes with financial liabilities for a school district, including where that money is routed, who controls or oversees those funds, who owns the funds, how inventory is accounted for, and how the school district manages to report those funds.

The lack of proper built-in oversight, tracking and reporting on crowdfunding sites – even education-specific sites, present significant legal and reputational risks for school districts across the country. Every school district should have oversight for any online fundraiser conducted in the name of the district, a district school or a district employee.

At Livingtree, it’s our goal to help school districts understand the risks of crowdfunding, and better manage the process within their district to ultimately raise more money. Due to the recent publications from state auditors and school board associations on crowdfunding, Livingtree decided to take a deeper dive and report what is happening right now. To provide a better picture of the current risks school districts are facing this year, we took the latest data from the earlier mentioned crowdfunding website to develop this Mid-Year Education Crowdfunding Report.

According to the crowdfunding website, over 145,000 projects have been fully funded so far in the 2018-2019 school year. At that pace, we expect to see around 290,000 fully funded campaigns by the end of this school year, an increase of 36,000 campaigns from the previous year. In addition, this year’s completed campaigns have raised over $77 million of donations for teachers and school projects. Based on that number, we’d expect to end the school year with around $154 million of donations, an increase of $2 million over last year. Since this data is only taken from one popular crowdfunding site, it’s likely that the overall crowdfunding totals are much greater.

To further understand this issue, Livingtree compiled all of the campaign data from the crowdfunding site for the 2018-2019 school year and composed lists to help identify which states currently have the highest risk when it comes to education crowdfunding. Below, we’ll examine the states with the Highest Average Amount Raised per District, the Highest Average Number of Campaigns Posted per District, and the Highest Average Number of High Risk Campaigns Posted per District.

Note: the data is organized to represent states in amounts per district to give the most accurate representation of every state. Hawaii and the District of Columbia are not represented in the data.

Highest Average Amount Raised per District

StateAvg Amount Raised Per DistrictTotal Amount Raised (Statewide)
North Carolina$32,785.70$3,770,355.42
South Carolina$22,163.51$1,861,734.46
Rhode Island$7,415.36$259,537.51
New York$7,076.41$4,932,259.16
West Virginia$4,749.19$261,205.20
New Mexico$3,691.19$328,515.69
New Jersey$2,376.73$1,430,790.69
New Hampshire$1,898.28$317,012.57
South Dakota$970.19$146,498.51
North Dakota$319.74$58,192.12

Florida made number one on the list for the highest amount of money raised from the crowdfunding site, averaging out at over $57,000 per school district. The next three states all averaged over $40,000 in funding per school district.

Regardless as to whether these donations reach schools in the form of funding or project items, a district must be able to ensure that every dollar is tracked and properly routed, and oversee the process to maintain accurate inventory and donation reporting. State-wide totals are also included in this report for reference.

Highest Average Number of Campaigns Posted per District

StateAvg Number of Campaigns Per DistrictTotal Number of Campaigns (Statewide)
North Carolina62.57185
South Carolina47.03947
Rhode Island14.4505
New York13.19097
West Virginia10.3564
New Mexico7.1628
New Jersey4.32601
New Hampshire3.3547
South Dakota1.9294
North Dakota0.6106

Florida again tops the list at number one for the highest average number of campaigns posted from the crowdfunding site, at 107.2 campaigns per school district so far this year. The higher the number of campaigns being posted, the higher the risks and liabilities for school districts without fundraising controls in place. And without the ability for school districts to review and approve campaigns before they go live, it’s almost impossible to be sure that the campaign meets all of school district’s requirements.

Highest Average Number of High Risk Campaigns Posted per District

StateAvg Number of High Risk Campaigns Per DistrictTotal Number of High Risk Campaigns (Statewide)
North Carolina3.8434
South Carolina2.6220
Rhode Island2.278
New York1.61107
New Mexico0.653
New Jersey0.4233
West Virginia0.420
New Hampshire0.240
South Dakota0.228
North Dakota0.04

Nevada leads the way for the highest average number of high-risk campaigns posted from the crowdfunding site, at 7.7 high risk campaigns posted per district so far this year. At Livingtree, we identify high risk campaigns as those classified on the crowdfunding website as either “Special Needs” or “ESL.” The classification of high risk is due to the fact that “Special Needs” campaigns have a high possibility of violating a student’s IEP, which a district would be legally required to fund through IDEA. There are also special services that ESL students qualify for that can’t be funded outside of the school district. These are all in addition to the existing risks that go along with crowdfunding, making them much higher risk campaigns. So far this school year, “ESL” and “Special Needs” are ranked as the 7th and 8th most popular project categories.

What to do next:

Again, it’s important to note that these statistics were generated from a single crowdfunding site, and that this is only a piece of the “crowdfunding picture.” We’d expect that total crowdfunding numbers are much larger, however it is difficult to collect data from every single site out there.

Because of these statistics and the associated risks, some districts take the easy route by setting policies that ban crowdfunding. However, this option forgoes the many benefits that crowdfunding has to offer for school districts, and creates a new task of having to police the large number of crowdfunding sites to ensure district members aren’t using them.

The other option is to evaluate online fundraising management options and adopt one that provides an automated district approval process for all campaigns, tracks all donations, routes funds through a district account, gives the district access to their donor information, provides aggregated reporting for every campaign, and has built in tools to make fundraising easy for any PTA/PTO, booster, club, team, or district member.

Once a management platform is selected, procedures and guidelines can be written to accompany the school district’s fundraising policies (no, you don’t actually have to re-write policies!). These should clearly outline rules for only using the district’s chosen fundraising management platform, campaign approval criteria, required campaign content, and ownership of the funds raised.

Once this is all in place, start fundraising! With your district overseeing the entire fundraising process and having official procedures to guide the process, fundraising becomes manageable and easy.

If you are curious about your school district’s risk potential on the crowdfunding site we used, check out the free tool created by Livingtree to evaluate your district’s risk potential, dollars collected, and number of campaigns posted so far this school year:

Is your school district ready to start evaluating fundraising management solutions? Then download our free Crowdfunding Considerations Guide for K-12 School Districts and know the 7 important areas to evaluate when looking at fundraising sites:

Data Sourced from:

How A School District Raised Over $10,000 via Email

When you hear the word “homeless” the first image that comes to mind probably isn’t a child, is it? And yet there are more than 2,300 students in the Austin Independent School District that experience homelessness each year. The effects of that are something that no child should experience, especially during the holiday season.

That’s why the Austin Ed Fund launched a campaign to raise funds for Project HELP, a program of the Austin ISD that supports students experiencing homelessness by providing material support like gift cards for food and clothing, bus passes and connections to other community resources.

After launching the campaign, the Austin Ed Fund sent out emails that resulted in over $10,000 in donations, but how?

The Austin ISD is in its third year of using Livingtree Give, a platform that allows members of every school in the district to launch online fundraising campaigns, while allowing the district to oversee the process, ensure that all campaigns are in compliance with district, state and federal policies, and report on all of their fundraising activities.

Unlike other mainstream education crowdfunding sites who maintain and own the donor’s information for future advertising purposes, Livingtree Give enables the Austin ISD to store and build their own database of donors. With this database, the Austin ISD can easily provide information to previous donors about other campaigns within their district, and that’s exactly what they did for the Project HELP campaign.

Using Livingtree Give’s built-in email communication functionality, the Austin Ed Fund sent emails about the Project HELP campaign to their database of donors. In just a week’s time, their community came together to support the campaign and raise over $10,000.00. With such a generous response to the campaign, they’ve now doubled the goal from $10,000 to $20,000 in hopes of truly meeting the needs of every family and student experiencing homelessness this holiday season.

To see the progress or make a contribution, you can visit the Project HELP campaign page here.

For more information on how Livingtree Give can help your school district, visit

Who own’s your donor’s information isn’t the only thing you should worry about. Download our Crowdfunding Considerations guide to learn about the 7 areas that administrators should consider when evaluating crowdfunding sites & policies for the district.

Is Your School’s PTA/PTO Ready for #GivingTuesday?

Every year on Livingtree Give, we see projects from outdoor gardens to programs for the arts.  Every project has an outcome directly related to students. Where else can you have such an impact on the future of our country and the world to inspire a life-long journey of learning?

One of the biggest problems for schools is funding. Schools need resources now to support the over 51 million students across our country. Our school’s educators, clubs, orgs, teams, and PTA/PTOs work tirelessly to secure funding that supports the additional educational resources and experiences for our students, and that often includes fundraising. One of the best days of the year to fundraise is on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday started off as an idea in 2012 and has turned into the largest single day of philanthropy in the world. This day provides an enormous opportunity for your school’s PTA/PTO to market their campaigns, involve the community, and bring in more money than any other day of the year.

Here’s why you should launch a campaign:

1. Education is the second largest category of giving on the #GivingTuesday. People are already looking for opportunities to give to education so take advantage of the momentum.
2. It is a great way to engage your community in what your school is doing. #GivingTuesday is about connecting people to your mission!
3. If you have an urgent need at your school it is a great way to raise the money you need.

Livingtree Give has innovated school fundraising, and provides modern online tools for school PTA/PTOs. Every PTA/PTO account has the ability to manage their school and donor contacts, launch a multitude of online fundraisers, promote their campaigns and activity portal through built in email and social sharing tools, and both reconcile and report on all transactions automatically.

To help further innovations and improvements in Education Technology, Livingtree is donating part of the proceeds generated on #GivingTuesday to Ed Tech non-profit StartEdUp!

For more information and to sign up for a free account, CLICK HERE.

You can also download our “GivingTuesday for Education Toolkit” that we created in coordination with PayPal and 92Y.

You can learn more about #GivingTuesday and our partnership with 92Y and PayPal in the video below:

#GivingTuesday 2018 + Livingtree Give

Take part in this year’s global day of giving!

#GivingTuesday (11/27) + Livingtree Give

What is #GivingTuesday and how is Livingtree Give involved?

#GivingTuesday is a global movement where campaigns happen in almost every country in the world.  For the past two years, Livingtree Give (Formerly Edbacker) has been proud to partner with PayPal and 92Y (one of the founders of #GivingTuesday) to help promote #GivingTuesday in education.  Watch the video at the end of this for more!

When is #GivingTuesday this year?

This year, #GivingTuesday is on Tuesday, November 27, 2018.

Who can participate in #GivingTuesday?

Anyone, anywhere can get involved and give back in a way that’s meaningful to them. There’s no minimum or limit to how people can do good.  All types of organizations are welcome to participate.

Does my campaign have to end on #GivingTuesday?

While #GivingTuesday is celebrated on November 27th, your campaign can be much longer than one day. We see a lot of campaigns that kick off before #GivingTuesday or that launch on #GivingTuesday and connect to a larger end-of-year or holiday campaign.

To help further innovations and improvements in Education Technology, Livingtree pledges to donate part of the proceeds generated on #GivingTuesday to Ed Tech non-profit StartEdUp!

How can I get started?

We’ve put together a “GivingTuesday for Education Toolkit” to provide you with some helpful resources that you can use to setup a successful campaign, including:

#GivingTuesday mega messages
Sample outreach emails
Ideas for getting involved
Social media tips

Engagement & Fundraising

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