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?

Livingtree, INC Launches The Family Efficacy Score™, A Major Advancement In Family Engagement

AUSTIN, TX — May 21, 2019 —Livingtree, Inc., today announced the launch of The Family Efficacy Score™ (FES). Creator of Livingtree Engage platform, the private, safe, and secure community for teachers and families to engage in support of better learning outcomes for children announces a major advancement in family engagement that translates into better student learning outcomes.

The Family Efficacy Score™ (FES) allows districts, schools and teachers to measure the degree to which they are engaging with families in the learning lives of students and how that engagement translates into specific measurement of learning for students.

Dr. Steve Constantino, national expert in family engagement and Senior Vice President for Livingtree shares, “Educators continue to face significant pressure to raise student achievement. We know that family engagement is a direct conduit to improved learning. Now, with the Livingtree technology and the new Family Efficacy Score™, we can easily help all teachers engage every family and then watch that engagement translate into better learning for all students, especially those that struggle in school.”

Through Livingtree’s capacity-building professional development, teachers learn the necessary skills in family engagement strategies and then how to apply those strategies to technology. Family responses to teacher engagement posts are then measured and the FES is displayed to teachers in a simple, easily understood format. The system can also take the FES and compare it to targeted learning outcomes to show how the engagements with families are impacting that specific learning.

“Family efficacy is the bridge that connects family engagement to student learning,” said Gary Hensley, Livingtree CEO. “Promoting better family efficacy translates into better student achievement.”

To learn more about how your school district, school, or classroom can get access to Livingtree Engage, visit or call (512) 957-2313.

About Livingtree
Founded in 2012, Livingtree’s mission is to improve the learning lives of students so they can succeed beyond the classroom. Through its family engagement platform Livingtree Engage, its fundraising platform Livingtree Give, and its teacher-based messaging app Livingtree Messenger, Livingtree aims to serve and connect school communities. The Livingtree Engage platform has been recognized by EdTech Digest as an Award Finalist for the 2019 Communication Solution, an Award Finalist for the 2018 Administrative Solution and Communication Solution, and as an Award Finalist for the 2017 Parent/Student Solution. Livingtree was also recognized for its work by the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business, as the 2016 Gold Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Silver Smartphone App of the Year.

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?

How a School Program Saved Thousands by NOT Using Snap-Raise

The Basha High School Air Force JROTC program in Chandler, AZ, like many other school organizations across the country, depends on fundraisers to cover the costs of their program’s equipment, supplies, and experiences. In years prior, the JROTC program worked with Snap-Raise to help them raise funds. But after evaluating the costs and fees they were losing each year, they decided they needed a better solution. They found a school fundraising platform with all of the fundraising and promotional tools that they needed, which ultimately allowed them to keep an additional $4,000 that they would have otherwise lost to the costs of Snap-Raise.

The change was a result of an all-to-oftenly asked question: is the “convenience” of Snap-Raise really worth its cost? After losing so much of the funds they raised from their parents and community members to the fees that were charged with Snap-Raise fundraising program, the JROTC program decided it was time for a change.

What is the cost of using Snap Raise?

What percentage fee does Snap-Raise keep? Snap-Raise has a hefty cost starting at 20% of the funds raised, plus payment processing fees and any student prizes (some people online have reported fees up to 50%).¹ The primary fee essentially covers the cost and commission of letting an independent Snap-Raise representative collect and send emails to parent and community-members requesting donations for the fundraiser (note that Snap-Raise does not publish a standard fee charged by their agents). These high percentage fees and costs are the most common Snap-Raise fundraiser complaints among online articles and forums.

Snap-Raise Percentage Fee Review
An article comment about the Snap-Raise fundraising process and percentage fee.

Other online comments indicated that the fees varied on a sliding-scale based on the percentage of the program’s “participation” – meaning in order to achieve the lowest possible fee most, if not all, students in the organization must provide the minimum number of email addresses of family and friends to the Snap-Raise agent. It also appeared that some Snap-Raise representatives may charge slightly higher percentages in order to take home a larger commission. Regardless, many parents and community members seem to be unhappy with the percentage that Snap-Raise takes from the funds raised.

Snap-Raise Fundraising Process and Fees
An article comment about the Snap-Raise Fundraising process.

The Need for an Effective Fundraising Solution

When school programs are short on funds, or wanting to provide additional experiences for students, every dollar counts. Each year, the Basha JROTC program conducts an annual fundraiser, which is a crucial event to raise funds for program equipment, critical supplies, and educational field trips. Their program was in need of a fundraising platform with the efficiency of Snap-Raise so they could raise just as much money, but with lower fees to maximize the funds they raised.

That meant something with:
Contact management to easily upload donor contact information and grow a donor-base year after year.
Email communication tools to easily promote fundraisers to donor contacts, and provide updates along the way.
Easy-to-use creation tools that allow for quick campaign creation and savable templates to use year-after-year.
Effective promotional tools that allow for internal fundraising competition, easily sharing across social media, and features that drive donations.

Fundraising with a New Platform

Fortunately, their school district had recently implemented a new platform that checked those boxes and would allow them to fundraise in a way that was both scalable and cheaper for their organization. Upon launching the campaign, the Basha JROTC set a goal of raising $10,000, which was very quickly surpassed within just a couple weeks. They extended their goal to $15,000, and by the end of their campaign that ran for about a month’s time, they had raised just shy of $18,000!

Livingtree Give Fundraiser Over SnapRaise
The Basha Air Force JROTC’s Livingtree Give Fundraising Campaign

How The Program Was So Successful

So how’d they do it? The JROTC program split their students into 3 groups, plus a 4th group for staff and incorporated a “Leaderboard” feature to drive competition among the students. The feature associated and tracked donations by group, and displayed the leaders as the campaign went on.

Livingtree Give Basha Fundraiser Leaderboard
The Basha Air Force JROTC used the Livingtree Give Leaderboard feature to drive competition in their fundraiser

Additionally, the organization followed the “Guide: Campaign Promotion Best Practices”. They were able to collect the email addresses from the families and friends of students in the platform’s contact manager, and then draft out and send timely emails to drive donations to their campaign.

By taking the campaign into their own hands and using the effective tools within the Livingtree Give school fundraising platform, the Basha JROTC program took home around $4,000 more than they would have using a fundraising program like Snap-Raise*.

Livingtree’s goal is to provide the most comprehensive fundraising platform for K-12 districts by incorporating the best tools for K-12 organizations, teachers, coaches, and students to maximize their fundraising abilities. With unique campaign web-pages, built-in contact and donor management, email campaign creation, online leaderboards, automatic reconciliation, detailed reporting, and a multitude of fundraising options, Livingtree Give’s “do-it-yourself” model platform allows K-12 members to efficiently manage their own campaigns with low transaction fees through their exclusive education partnership with PayPal.

If you are a Parent Organization, Club, Team, or School Organization looking for a better way to fundraise, you can sign up for a free Livingtree Give account below.

Are you a district administrator? Click here to learn more about Livingtree Give’s District plans.


*Amount calculated based on 5% + $0.30 per transaction vs. 28% on a total amount of $17,933.98 raised.


How School Districts are Funded | Vlog Episode 1

Do you know how school districts are funded? Livingtree CEO Gary Hensley took a moment in the first of our new vlog series to address the confusion of where districts receive their funding and the challenges they face. What are your thoughts?

Hey everybody, my name is Gary Hensley and I am the CEO of Livingtree and this is a weekly episode that we are going to try and do. We work in the field of education, and specifically around fundraising and family engagement, and so we are going to cover topics that are related to those two. And one of the things that I get the privilege to do is to go around the country and talk about fundraising, and I’ve noticed that there is some confusion about how schools get funded. This is a conversation that is going on nationally as districts and states try to figure out how to support their schools. So, I wanted to go over what those three buckets are and the relative percentage of that, and I’d love to get your feedback if you knew that, or didn’t know that, or your thoughts around school funding and maybe your solutions to that.

So, there are three buckets. The one that most people are familiar with is the federal bucket. So the federal government does provide money to schools and you hear that there are billions of dollars being spent, and that is true, but it is spread out over 14,000 districts. So when you really look at the percentage of money that is going to any individual school district, it is relatively small, so it ranges anywhere between 5 and 10 percent of the overall school district’s budget. So, it is the smallest of all of the buckets that schools get money from.

The second bucket is the state. So, the state provides, and depending on the state, around 40 percent of the overall school district budget.

And then the last bucket is the local bucket. And that comes from local taxes in a lot of cases, and that funds the other 40 to 50 percent of the school district’s budget. So, as you can see the biggest buckets really come from the state and the local entity. And what has happened overtime since the recession is a lot of the local dollars went away because the biggest portion of taxes is assessed from property value.

So those are the three buckets that comprise how school districts get funded. And that might be a surprise to you, especially the percentage of those three areas. So just wanted to go over that because this a part of the problem that school districts are wrestling with, is: what percentage, and who needs to fund, and if the state needs to provide more do you get that from local taxes or does the federal government need to kick in more dollars. What you start to realize is that it’s really 50 different educational systems across the U.S. so as you can see it’s a challenge and school districts are wrestling with this.

Obviously for us, a growing portion, and I don’t know what percent it would be is crowdfunding.

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!”

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