Crowdfunding Strengthens Your School and Community

Naomi Leight

Over the last few years, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter have exploded in popularity, have become intergenerational and achieved massive global reach. They have developed from a simple way to connect and share with friends near and far, into vital tools for a number of different audiences. Social media technology provides both vital data and strategic audiences for marketing agencies and corporations. It is a disseminator of real-time news and information from traditional as well as citizen media sources. These tools can also be harnessed as change facilitators, listening mechanisms, public feedback loops—and unbeknownst to many, as financial resources.

As professional Jewish educators, this last descriptor is where you should focus your attention. You may be wondering how a social network—your personal networks, your student’s networks, your friend’s networks, your school’s networks—can be harnessed as a financial resource. This article will share the newest way in which the nonprofit world can turn their individual and collective social networks into a nontraditional source for funding. This new concept is termed “crowdfunding.” By understanding crowdfunding and how it’s currently benefiting projects, ideas and causes within the Jewish community and beyond, you will gain insights into how Jewish educators can utilize crowdfunding both to raise money through these online networks and to develop a stronger community.

Crowdfunding is the act of receiving money from a large number of persons collected together. This concept should feel familiar to you because it is not a new one; it was only recently coined because of the newest way it is being pursued. Think back to the last gala dinner you attended, or even the synagogue appeal you sat through. The organization hosting the gala called upon the attendees seated at tables to raise their hands or stand up to pledge a contribution to their hosts. The synagogue president solicited the congregation members to pledge a donation for the new building fund or Hebrew school. In both of these cases, a person stood up in front of a crowd and received monetary pledges from a group of people collected together. This is a traditional fundraising strategy and it works. This new conception of crowdfunding refers to these activities being conducted in an online space, specifically on a crowdfunding platform.

Crowdfunding is a key tool for the Jewish community because it exists in the space which reaches the next generation of Jews, Gen X and Gen Y, which make up the college student and young professional demographic between the ages of 20 and 45. This “next generation” engages each other and the greater Jewish community in the online space. Furthermore, studies have shown that giving trends for this demographic are small amounts to many project-based ideas and causes. Unlike their parents and grandparents who give larger amounts to fewer organizations where their funds are allocated according to the needs of the organization, the next generation insists that they know exactly where their money is going. There is one more component that hooks in Gen X and Y and that is related to the way crowdfunding functions, a project does not simply take donations, but takes contributions that are exchanged for rewards. Meaning, crowdfunding is not simply giving money to a project you want to support and participate in but receiving something in return, which will be discussed in detail later on in this article.

In order for Gen X and Y to give, they want not only to have a connection to the project, idea or cause but also to see that they can trust the organization or person behind the project. The next generation prefers to give smaller amounts of money to a larger number of projects and causes. Crowdfunding meets all of the next generation’s giving criteria and facilitates trust building, actively asks for participation and engagement, and encourages small contributions to many projects.

Understanding the concept of crowdfunding and why it’s a strategic new tool for Jewish communities around the world is only the beginning. In order to use your networks as a fundraising tool, you must understand how crowdfunding works and how it can be harnessed to make an impact on your bottom line and to grow your community. Let’s start with a sample idea: your Jewish day school wants to start a garden to teach the students about life cycles, chakla’ut (agriculture), Tikkun Olam and tzedakah. However, your school does not have the budget to take on such a project and cannot run a traditional fundraising campaign for it. School staff and some engaged parents decide to create a team to fundraise for this project and want to do so through crowdfunding.

This is an exciting and innovative project. You’ve done the research and know how much money you need to raise to get it off the ground and up and running for the next school year and how to incorporate it into the students’ schedules. Your principal has approved it for the curriculum if the funding is in place. You know what the positive impact will be on your students and the Jewish community. You have a team of supporters behind the project, who are ready to campaign to achieve success.

With all of these points in place, you are ready to crowdfund. The first step is to choose the right platform for your project. There are dozens of crowdfunding platforms, the two most well known and popular being Kickstarter and Indiegogo. However, your project is special because it serves the Jewish community. You may want to consider a niche market platform that caters specifically towards Jewish projects, ideas and causes, such as, of which I am a co-founder.

There are three key reasons as to why picking the right crowdfunding platform is so important, and why bigger is not always better. The first is all about your networks. Through crowdfunding, money is not raised from crowds of random strangers but by a network consisting of first, second and third degrees of personal connection to the project creator. This means you will raise 95 to 99 percent of your funds from your family, friends, acquaintances and friends of friends. There is a very low probability that a person unconnected to you, your friends or your community will come to your project and pledge money.

The second is visibility. On a large crowdfunding platform with tens of thousands of projects, it is unlikely that your small, community-based project will be featured on the homepage of the website or Facebook fan page. On a niche platform such as Jewcer, each and every project is featured on the homepage and Facebook fan page. There is a very high probability that everyone who arrives there will see your project. The third is correlation. On a niche market crowdfunding site, all of the projects are connected in some way. A person who comes to a project on Jewcer that is focused on health and wellness through Jewish values, may see your related project and say, I love the idea of teaching kids how to create a garden, I wish I was able to have that as a child, I will pledge $18 to become part of making this happen. The correlation between the two projects is high and so the probability for non-connected funders increases. Picking the right platform increases your chances for success through crowdfunding.

After selecting a platform, you will need to submit your project to the site, crafting a project description in the format that will best work on the crowdfunding platform. Once your project is live you will begin to outreach to your networks. This network outreach is done carefully and strategically, and the best tools are social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and of course through personalized emails. With an innovative and creative idea that clearly makes a positive impact on the Jewish community, your project has the ability to attract your networks to participate, contribute and share your project.

As a Jewish educator, you may spend a significant amount of time thinking about how to enhance your students’ education. In the world of crowdfunding there are specific types of projects that see more success: they have to be creative, innovative and compelling. You already have a leg-up in this area because your projects and ideas are related to children! Projects which seek to benefit the development of children are popular because most people who have children want to see the best for them, or people feel that they were missing something from their own childhood experiences.

The next key component to a successful project is the rewards. Projects that have very high success rates offer what the crowdfunding world terms “pre-sale” rewards, which are typically products which you purchase before they are made. For example, your students have a class project in which they are assigned to create a storybook. In order to fund the printing of this book for the children, parents, family and friends, the teacher can create a crowdfunding project. For a $50 contribution, donors might receive one copy of the storybook and fund one student in the class to receive the book for free. For $118, they receive the same reward plus a second copy of the book. A $5 contribution garners a thank you note written by the students via email, and $18 earns a thank you email including a picture of the class holding their storybook. You are “purchasing” the storybook before it has been created, hence “pre-sale.” That is just one example of a pre-sale model project and how rewards can work.

However, a project that is not pre-sale can also succeed with creative and fun rewards. Have your students make a thank you video or song. As an art project, have students make thank you cards that you can send to the people who contributed to your project. There are endless possibilities and as you all know, children are more creative than adults and can come up with innovative rewards for the project.

In crowdfunding, the types of projects you want to stay away from are those that don’t speak to Gen X and Y, those that don’t speak to your networks and those that are just seeking to raise money, like a new building fund or to send the class on a school trip. If your idea is not project-based and does not have a specific end goal, crowdfunding is not the right tool.

Most importantly, you should never see your networks as merely a funding source but as participants in your project, idea or cause. In this connected era, people recognize when they are being used as a resource versus being invited to become part of, and provide their thoughts and funds for, something greater. Crowdfunding should not only provide a way to fund an idea but to create a pocket community around a project that brings people together, strengthening both the project and the community as well.

Crowdfunding is a powerful tool for mobilizing your networks, but as with any tool, it should be wielded with great consideration, used only strategically and harnessed for a greater cause. Jewish crowdfunding has enormous potential for supporting existing Jewish communities and funding projects and ideas, while planting the seeds for developing and strengthening the Jewish communities of the future.♦

Millennials or Generation Y = people born between 1981-1991.

  • 93% of Gen Y said in 2010 that they gave to nonprofits
  • 90% of Gen Y would stop giving if they lost trust in an organization
  • 85% donate because of a compelling mission or cause
  • 63% said they gave to 3 or more organizations
  • 79% of Gen Y volunteered in 2010
  • 65% want to know how their money makes a difference
  • 59% contribute because of personal requests
  • 58% prefer to give online
  • 58% said their largest single gift was under $150
  • 56% contribute because of a personal connection or trust in the organization’s leadership
  • 52% gave because of a friend’s endorsement
  • 43% want monthly contact from organizations which they support and to know about programs, services, volunteer opportunities and fundraising events
  • 42% donated because of a family member’s endorsement

These facts and more can be found at: The 2011 Millennial Donor Report.

Naomi Leight is co-founder and communication specialist of and holds a master’s of public diplomacy from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. She can be reached via email at

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HaYidion Networking Autumn 2012
Fall 2012