School Fundraising in a Web 2.0 World

(Originally published in the spring 2011 issue of The Fundraising EDGE)


At Morgantown High School in West Virginia, student athletes and marching bands practice and compete on aging fields, while fans sit in stands dating back to the original 1927 design. With a massive facelift needed on the antiquated facility, school leaders knew they had to tap into as large a donor base as possible to raise funds for the renovation. Through the power of social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the school is now well on its way to meeting its fundraising goals.


“I highly recommend social networking as a fundraising tool,” said Denver Allen, the project’s fundraising coordinator. “The use of social media is now the quickest way to reach as many people as possible in the least expensive way. With the click of a button you’re reaching thousands of people. We’ve even reached alumni from as far away as Texas, Arizona and Florida.”


These days, Morgantown High is one of a growing number of schools leaping onto the interactive bandwagon. Social networking and bookmarking sites, blogs, forums and RSS feeds have penetrated modern school district and PTO/PTA fundraising operations, thanks to their ability to increase online traffic, enhance communication, retain existing volunteers and attract prospective ones. By utilizing these types of Web 2.0 technologies, schools and parent groups can affordably launch and manage major fundraising campaigns and projects, update members, boost collaboration and communicate with people across the globe.


Facebook Fundraising

According to statistics, nearly two-thirds of online Americans use social media and one out of three Americans update their Facebook status or post tweets at least once each week. In addition, a new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that

Internet users are more likely to participate in volunteer groups and organizations and reach out to other members than non-users. Survey results showed that 80 percent of Internet users – including 82 percent of social network users and 85 percent of Twitter users – say they participate in a voluntary group or organization, compared with 75 percent of all U.S. adults.


In the case of Morgantown, the Internet has certainly played a key role in the ability of the group to network and raise money. A project-centric website features tabs for donations, a Twitter feed provides instant tidbits on the project and a Facebook page provides an outlet for alums to interact and view photos and fundraising updates. The YouTube page houses video highlights of TV news coverage about the project.


From blogs to Internet forums to newer tools like Google Wave and the location-based Foursquare, there are now a host of technologies available that can increase marketing and communication efforts. Fundraising professionals say these online social media tools can help provide a cost-effective portal for people looking to donate. In today’s digital world, even the smallest school or parent group can utilize the web to effectively tap into a wider audience.


“I think more and more groups are depending on the internet to promote their fundraisers,” said Howard Gottlieb, a veteran fundraising professional in Mansfield, TX. “Simply writing a small blurb on a Facebook page will hardly entice any to sell more and buy more. I think the successful groups integrate Facebook, Twitter, e-mail campaigns and website promotions along with the old-school verbal and written promotional materials. As with non-internet related promotional activity, those that do it aggressively and properly see much better results.”


Gina Pellegrino has certainly noticed the benefits of social media applications. As president of an elementary school PTO in Meriden, CT, Pellegrino helps keep parents and volunteers informed through continuous Facebook page updates covering topics such as upcoming school activities, calendar events and fundraising news.


“Sending home a printed flyer or literature in a student’s backpack is no longer the only method to communicate with parents,” said Pellegrino. “Today, people have smartphones and they can quickly see alerts and updates.  If we’re selling cookie dough for a fundraiser, I’ll keep updating my Facebook status so it pops into news feeds and quickly raises awareness. People will contact me that don’t even have children in the school, so I find it to be really handy in reaching out and increasing the audience.”  


An Increasing Trend

Although a growing number of parent groups and school districts have turned their attention to online fundraising and social networking, industry experts say many more have yet to fully integrate social media into their fundraising efforts.


 “PTOs and PTAs have moved more slowly than – for example – business, because PTOs and PTAs can’t leave parents behind,” said Tim Sullivan, publisher of PTO Today magazine. “So while businesses are now embracing Facebook and Twitter pretty rapidly, email adoption remains the big movement for PTOs and PTAs right now. Yes, more groups have Facebook pages and some are on Twitter – but those are still exceptions.  The big change has been how many groups are getting serious about building email lists of their families and then using those lists.”