By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
School districts should have policies governing crowdfunding to help teachers and administrators avoid the risks that come with that fundraising method, State Auditor Dave Yost said in a report released Wednesday.
Crowdfunding is the practice of raising money online through websites like DonorsChoose.org or GoFundMe.com. Campaigns on those sites include a goal amount, a written explanation of the project and information about donations made so far.
The state auditor’s report suggests administrative approval for crowdfunding campaigns, among other guidelines.
Findlay City Schools has an “informal procedure” on crowdfunding, relying on building principals to approve the narrative written for donation sites, Treasurer Mike Barnhart said.
If a need is legitimate, principals might try to make room for it in their budget instead, he said. Or, the district will remind teachers of local funding resources.
Findlay is a “generous community,” Barnhart said, including the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation, the Donnell Foundation, the United Way, PTOs, athletic and music boosters, plus businesses like Marathon and Cooper Tire.
He also cited taxpayers, parents, and partnerships with the YMCA, the University of Findlay, the City of Findlay, and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
Compared to crowdfunding, those resources “provide less opportunity for fraud and are simpler to access,” Barnhart said.
The treasurer’s office occasionally searches donation websites for requests from Findlay teachers, and checks on whether they have been approved by the appropriate principals, Barnhart said.
“One of my concerns is whether those representing themselves as tied to FCS on these sites are really tied to FCS,” Barnhart said.
Making a crowdfunding attempt isn’t prohibited by the district, but “we don’t necessarily encourage” it, Barnhart said.
“The reward isn’t worth the risk or the hoops to get that money,” he said.
Different sites have different ways of handling funds, Barnhart said. Some might directly pay a vendor for the request, while others might transfer money to a teacher or district.
The auditor’s guidelines suggest that schools “designate which crowdfunding services can be used by teachers. These should be services that send donations directly to the school, not to the teacher, to ensure that donations are not diverted or misused.”
Another suggestion is for school boards to approve the donations, which Findlay’s does.
Eight projects totaling $3,356 have been funded since 2015, Barnhart said.
About that many Findlay projects are currently listed on DonorsChoose.org. None of the funding pledged toward them will be used unless the project is fully funded.
Arcadia Local Schools has a formal policy, which states that crowdfunding is permitted with the superintendent’s approval.
One elementary teacher used DonorsChoose.org during the 2017-2018 school year, said Arcadia Treasurer Angie Spridgeon. The campaign raised $570.22 “for flexible seating options for her classroom,” Spridgeon said.
Van Buren Schools’ policy is that “everything needs to be approved through the superintendent,” said Treasurer Alex Binger.
Principals manage the process, and money or other resources must be sent to the school, not to an individual or other group, he said.
Not all crowdfunding websites were designed with schools in mind, and that may be a factor that dampens districts’ enthusiasm toward the practice, Binger said.
Van Buren has undertaken two crowdfunding efforts since the policy was adopted in March 2017, one to raise money for the Centennial Celebration, and one to salvage the eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., after Discovery Tours declared bankruptcy.
Similarly, Liberty-Benton Local Schools allows crowdfunding with the superintendent’s approval.
Riverdale Local Schools “does not permit or sanction the use of crowdfunding” for any activities, “including co-curricular or extracurricular activities,” according to district policy.
The state auditor’s report was written after surveying school districts about crowdfunding. About 20 percent of the state’s school districts responded. Some districts did not answer every question.
It was not clear from the auditor’s report whether the survey was filled out by superintendents, treasurers, school board members or others.
Out of 121 respondents to the question, “Does your school district permit teachers or other district staff to make use of crowdfunding to generate additional education resources?” 54 said they do, and 67 do not permit crowdfunding.
Fifty out of 122 respondents answered yes to “Has your school board or district administration adopted a policy that governs how district staff use crowdfunding?” The other 72 said they did not have a policy.