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Why K-12 School Districts, Parents and Teachers Need a Better Way to Engage

Research shows what most people already believe as a matter of common sense: parental involvement is an essential component of a successful education. Parents need to be actively engaged in their children’s education during the critical K-12 years, because they will always be the first and most important educators in their children’s lives.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for parents to keep up with all of their kids’ daily lessons and life experiences at school. Every parent knows how hard it is to get an answer to the simple question “what did you do at school today?”

There are also very limited opportunities for parents to actually see into the school. While there might be an occasional open house or school newsletter, beyond that parents and teachers will often only communicate if there is a disciplinary problem. With today’s technology, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Parents want more access and information on a day-to-day basis. They want to know what’s going on in the classroom and around the school, and generally stay involved in their kids’ education.

This white paper examines best practices for K-12 school districts to successfully implement an integrated communications platform that provides the convenience and accessibility of social media—while safeguarding student privacy and meeting the diverse needs of parents and teachers throughout the district.

 

How Social Media Fails Parents and School Districts

Teachers and school administrators have increasingly embraced social media as a way to better connect with parents and families. However, the explosion of different apps, profiles, pages, and websites can ironically end up fracturing the K-12 community, rather than bringing it together.

For schools to continually inform, involve, and engage parents, there need to be open lines of communication among teachers, parents and administrators. But if one teacher is on Instagram, and the next is on Facebook, and the school administration uses Twitter, it can be harder than ever for parents to keep up with the latest news.

Important messages can easily be lost amid all of the photos and status updates. Disparate apps and social networks make it especially hard for parents to find out what they really want to know: how their child is doing.

Parents should have one place to look for everything they need to know about their children’s education, not five places to look for bits and pieces of information. That’s why K-12 school districts need a unified communications solution that gives parents the equivalent of a front-row seat or a window into the school.

Finding the right platform to facilitate this level engagement can be challenging because there are so many different factors to consider. Schools must meet the needs of diverse communities while complying with privacy regulations at the local, state, and federal levels. For many schools, it’s become increasingly clear that disparate social media initiatives can’t do the job effectively.

When we talk to school districts about the challenges they face in driving greater engagement with parents, some common themes emerge, such as:

  • Ad-hoc communication methods with no central hub for shared information
  • Lack of defined policies for using social media to engage parents
  • Language barriers between schools and families

The right engagement platform can eliminate these obstacles so that even hard-working parents who don’t have the chance to visit the school and meet the teachers can still get a first-hand view of what’s happening in their child’s classroom.

 

4 Capabilities Your K-12 Engagement Platform Must Have

Secure Two-Way Communication

Engaging parents isn’t just about communicating information to them. By definition, being an engaged parent requires the ability to participate in the school community, whether it’s in person or online.

Parents need to be able to ask questions, make comments, or offer their support for activities at the school. They also need a secure, legitimate place for this communication to take place—not a teacher’s personal Facebook profile or an informal “class” page that’s publicly accessible.

Comprehensive Translation

Today’s K-12 classrooms contain more nationalities, ethnicities, and languages than ever before. This poses a major challenge or school districts seeking to improve communication with parents. Your district may contain families with dozens of different primary languages, and failing to translate messages can disrupt parental engagement.

With so much tension around immigration and citizenship issues, parents in diverse communities may be afraid to even follow up on any official notices that they don’t fully understand. Your district’s parental engagement platform should automatically translate messages into each parent’s preferred language to avoid confusion and keep families engaged.

Easy Mobile Access

If you want to reach the parents in your district, there’s one place you can always find them: on the phone. Mobile devices are so pervasive today that they’ve quickly become the best means of communication for most families.

Desktop computers and home phones are rapidly disappearing. To reach the people in your community, especially when something is time sensitive, you need to make information and messages easily accessible via common mobile devices.

Everything in One Place

Parents should never miss a message from their child’s school because they didn’t check Twitter for a few days. Nor do parents want to have to wait to receive a formal letter for every school announcement.

Everything should be thoughtfully organized in one place so parents can quickly catch up on day-to-day updates, upcoming events and volunteer opportunities, and anything else that’s relevant to their children.

Crowdfunding in the Classroom:
A Guide for K-12 School CFOs

We all want our children to have the best possible experience at school: in the classroom, on field trips, and in sports and after-school activities. However, K-12 school districts are facing a tight financial squeeze today. Budgets have been cut, competition is increasing, and the future balance of federal, state, and local contributions to education funding remains uncertain. In this environment, it’s no surprise that teachers and parents have turned to online crowdfunding platforms to raise extra money for their kids’ education. 

Online fundraising is quickly becoming a critical source of support for everything that makes up the educational experience, but schools can be exposed to risk if they lack defined policies and a secure platform for raising money online. This white paper examines some of the best practices we’ve learned from discussions with school administrators and our own hands-on experience helping districts organize and execute successful online fundraising strategies.

 

Traditional Fundraising Strategies Aren’t Meeting K-12 Schools’ Needs

Traditional approaches to fundraising typically struggle to raise enough money to fund everything teachers and parents want for their children. 

Let’s look at an example. If your school has a big pizza party fundraiser, about half of the money you raise is probably going to the company supplying the food. Likewise, things like bake sales can only raise a limited amount of money. These events can still be great for the community, but they’re not ultimately that effective as fundraising methods. They also require parents or other volunteers to dedicate a lot of time to organizing, running, and cleaning up after the event.

K-12 school districts need a simpler and more efficient approach to fundraising. Fortunately, technology is providing a solution that allows schools to raise money online with minimal time commitments and overhead costs.

Crowdfunding Is Already Disrupting School Fundraising

Individual schools and teachers are already using public crowdfunding tools to raise money for a wide range of needs inside and outside of the classroom. While the initiative is laudable, the results can be unpredictable. If your district doesn’t have a centralized platform and clear policies for online fundraising, teachers can inadvertently put their school’s reputation at risk and even threaten the trust of the donor community.

For instance, teachers might turn to the web to raise money for classroom basics like extra notebooks or desks. There might not even be a funding shortage; a teacher might just not realize that resources are available, or think they’re helping out by bringing in extra money. But they could still spark an outraged reaction from parents. Imagine the phone calls coming into the office: “How could you not provide funding for kids’ desks?”

In other cases, teachers might set their sights on a more ambitious goal, like getting tablets for their classroom. But once the tablets are purchased, the teacher finds out there isn’t curriculum available for them, or the devices don’t meet the district’s standards for security.

So the tablets end up locked in storage, and soon enough, the calls start coming in: “We donated money—why aren’t the tablets in my child’s classroom?”

The risk is real, and maintaining parent and donor trust is essential. It may have been no big deal when a few web-savvy teachers started trying crowdfunding for specific class projects, but the technology has outpaced schools’ official policies and created substantial risks for unprepared districts. Crowdfunding can be much bigger than any conventional fundraiser like a bake sale. You need district-wide fundraising policies and coordination to avoid these issues and effectively raise money for school programs.

Best Practices for Your District’s Online Fundraising Strategy

LivingTree Give (formerly known as Edbacker) was designed to enable secure, efficient, and transparent online fundraising for K-12 school districts with enterprise-level management and reporting functionality. The platform was developed as more than just a product – we aim to solve serious problems: America’s education funding gap and the lack of technology to support the parents and teachers who are tirelessly working to improve the lives of students.

Our user-friendly online platform is designed to bring parents, educators, and donors together to fill this funding gap. As the nation’s first platform designed specifically for school districts and educational foundations, LivingTree Give makes it easier than ever to organize and promote fundraising campaigns, and manage relationships with parents and donors.

By managing all of your online fundraising initiatives in one secure platform, you can also make your campaigns more effective than ever. Our research has indicated that, when the proper policies and technology are in place, incorporating online fundraising into your program increases total giving by up to 40%.

Here are some specific ways LivingTree Give enables your district to apply best practices for online fundraising.

Coordinated, Secure Fundraising

Our online platform gives your district all the tools needed to organize and manage successful fundraising campaigns—in a secure, unified environment. This is important, because lack of coordination and transparency are some of the biggest risk factors associated with online fundraising.

When individual teachers are starting their own campaigns with no supervision by the district, all kinds of things can go wrong. It’s easy to create the impression that schools are disorganized, underfunded, and unreliable. If donors start to become skeptical that their funds aren’t going to be properly spent on school programs, they probably won’t remain donors for long.

LivingTree Give eliminates this issue by making it 100% clear that every fundraising initiative is legitimate and being managed appropriately by the school district. This enables donors to give with confidence—and ensures that kids in the district actually get the benefits of those donations.

You can set donation options for the duration of each campaign, and accept online payments to collect funds. All of the money you raise can be stored in a dedicated digital wallet to keep things safe, secure, and transparent. You don’t have to worry about the legal or ethical issues that arise when teachers use personal bank accounts or fail to keep detailed records so the district can audit fundraising results.

Alumni and Donor Management

Our platform includes tools to manage all of your donor information, including tracking parents and children based on grade level— so you know when students become alumni and you can tailor your communications accordingly.

School districts shouldn’t be managing donor information in an ad-hoc spreadsheet or written lists. You need an integrated database that puts all of your relevant information in one place. With LivingTree Give, it’s easy to import, export, update, sort and categorize your fundraising contacts—and access them anywhere on any device. This streamlines the process of identifying top donors, projecting fundraising totals, planning and executing campaigns.

We designed the platform to meet the needs of as many districts as possible. LivingTree also works with leading CRM providers to serve districts that require more robust tools for managing relationships with donors.

Enterprise-Level Visibility and Reporting

Transparency is a cornerstone of trust between schools, teachers, parents, and donors. That’s why we built powerful reporting functionality into our platform.

Every single donation that goes through our platform has an accounting code attached to it, so you can see who made the donation, which campaign they gave to, and which school should receive the funds. This is critical not only for maintaining transparency and trust, but also to get donations into the schools as quickly as possible.

Consumer-facing crowdfunding and payment tools weren’t designed for enterprise-level use. As a result, they lack back-end capabilities for tracking and auditing funds from a large group of donors (as you’d expect to have in a school fundraising campaign).

Keeping track of your fundraising campaigns quickly turns into a headache when you have disparate campaigns, accounts, spreadsheets and reports coming at you from different sources (or, even worse, when you don’t have any detailed information about donations). Our reporting tools keep track of all the details automatically so you can see at a glance how much you’ve raised, which campaigns are doing the best, who your top donors are, and much more.

LivingTree Give facilitates detailed reporting for everything that matters to your district: donor information, engagement metrics, and overall fundraising performance. You can even monitor your campaigns’ performance in real time to see how much you’re collecting and who is engaging with your campaigns.

Some specific features include:

• Compare multiple time periods and campaigns’ performance over time
• See how many impressions and unique views your email has received
• Learn who is donating and how much (individually, on average, and in total)
• Check which messages specific donors clicked
• Save, export and print reports
• Much more!

LivingTree Give: Your Solution for Secure Online Fundraising

Edbacker was founded to make enterprise-class fundraising and reporting capabilities available to K-12 schools so they can raise money to support everything that makes a great educational experience. As part of the LivingTree family of K-12 engagement platforms, we’re helping more districts than ever—and we’d love the opportunity to work with you.

LivingTree Give provides one place to manage online fundraising activities for your entire district in a secure, coordinated environment. Administrators and donors can both enjoy complete confidence that the funds being raised will be used as intended, and the district can always audit the results down to the details of even the smallest donation.

Contact us to see a demo or learn more about the challenges we’ve seen and how we’ve helped other K-12 districts achieve their fundraising goals.

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