Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week With Online Resources

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and these sacrificial saints are worthy of honor and acknowledgement. Other than moms (and don’t forget yours this Sunday on Mother’s Day), who else works for such  a small pittance,  gets hardly a thank you for the direction they give, and finds joy doing what most people dread? This week let’s give praise where praise is due and show the teachers in our lives how much we care.

According to Edutopia, 40% of the teachers they polled said that a gift card would be the most appropriate gift. While Starbucks is a common choice, many said that they would like cards to book stores, restaurants, or spas. Consider having the class donate to this fund; parents don’t have to wrack their brains trying to figure out what to get and the teacher can purchase a gift she really wants. Plus, there are tons of great sites out there where you can buy a gift card online (such as Gift Card Mall or iCARDS) and either print it out or e-mail it to the recipient; you never even have to leave home!

Facebook is obviously a great way to connect with past and present friends. Why not look up a former teacher? Tell that special person how they impacted your life. Maybe they helped you overcome an obstacle or taught you a great life lesson. Teacher appreciation week doesn’t just have to be about current students thanking the teacher they have now.

Another way to show that special teacher in your life how much you care is to send an e-mail to the various parents of students in your child’s class. Create a list of classroom items that your teacher may need and each family can bring an item to the teacher (e-mail sign-ups can prevent overlap). Consider gifting crayons, pens, a CD player, some educational DVDs, books, stickers, or wall décor to your educator. Many teachers lack the tools they need to help their students learn and this is one way to make his or her job easier.  You could also raise money online by creating a webpage on Fundly. In a few minutes you could set up a donation site for families at your school and relatives to donate funds for your school or classroom… no selling cookie dough and no expensive wrapping paper catalogues!

Novelist and historian Henry Brooks Adams once said “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” With such an important and demanding role in our society, shouldn’t we take the time to show our appreciation to these everyday heroes?

How Will You Thank a Teacher This Year?

Teacher Appreciation Week is only two short weeks away (May 7 – 11), so I thought I’d give you some time to plan out how you will show the teachers in your life how much they mean to you. These visionaries touch the future everyday and deserve to be honored. As Alexander the Great once said, “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”

Teaching has to be one of the hardest occupations in the world. As a former high school teacher myself, I realize that this job truly is one of high risk and high reward. The full classrooms, budget cuts, and variety of student and parent personalities can really take a toll, but eyes lit up with understanding, a simple “thank you,” and a legacy of promise certainly is a reward unto itself. More than just a job, teaching is a calling to touch the future and to better humanity. So how does one show appreciation to those so dedicated and self-sacrificing?

An apple motif is charming and traditional, but there are only so many name placards, paper weights, and #1 Teacher chotckies a desk can hold. However, the gifts that always meant the most to me is when a student would pick it out himself, not when mom shopped and wrapped it up perfectly. A card written with handwritten words of gratitude, a stuffed bear paid for by a hard earned allowance, or homemade cookies would have me smiling all day.

My sister is currently a sixth grade teacher at a private school and some of the parents there collect $5 from each student to purchase a gift certificate for coffee or to a favorite restaurant. For my nephew’s teacher, last year a group of us painted her classroom and made art for the walls with her theme of “the State of California.” Another favorite idea is when a few of the parents get together and make lunch for all of the teachers during a teacher work day and their kids serve the meal and clean up.

With school funding being so tight these days, I think another way to make sure that a teacher is appreciated is to ensure that he or she has all of the supplies they need for their classroom. An online fundraising page with Fundly can allow parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends to donate to the school fundraisers without having to purchase high-priced wrapping paper or calorie packed cookie dough through traditional fundraising. A well stocked library, efficient computers, art supplies and other educational resources make life much easier for any educator.

Not only do these ideas help the teachers, but it also instills an attitude of gratitude for the students who sit in the desks. So how will you thank a teacher this year?

Meeting Your Donors Where They’re At

A couple of weeks ago I went to my niece’s birthday party and had an interesting conversation with her grandfather. He was planning on attending a Crab Feed that I was organizing at our church and we were discussing the amount of money that came in last year verses the amount of guests who attended. He thought the giving rather low and I thought it was adequate for the level of guests that attended. In non-profit fundraising, different causes attract a certain group of people and you have to meet them where they’re at.

So far on my resume I’ve been a teacher then I entered the nonprofit world working at a homeless shelter, church and symphony. I’ve learned that in each of these fields, fundraising and the donors they attract are just as vast as the categories themselves.

Education Fundraising

Education fundraising attracts generous grandparents and family members who are usually hit up once or twice a year with jog-a-thon sponsorships, cookie dough sales and catalogs with overpriced candles and wrapping paper. These fundraisers tend to be fairly successful as prizes of cheap toys and gadgets are dangled before the eyes of sticky fingered, wide-eyed children; and what doting grandma or uncle can say “no” to little Susie when she says “Would you like to buy something to help my school?” (Currently I’ve consumed three out of five Girl Scout cookie boxes in two weeks with this approach and have two tubs of cookie dough from another niece stocked in my freezer… too bad the treats don’t come with “sucker” stickers for my forehead.)

Now I’m not saying to toss these ideas away, but my sister came up with a great idea to avoid overpaying for unwanted clutter and calories: she asks what percentage of the item actually goes to the school and then she gives a certain amount to compensate. For example, my niece sells wreaths to go to winter camp every year. It costs about $25 for a small wreath but regardless of the size, $5 goes into her account. I’d rather give her $10 and forego tossing the wreath in the trash when it dies. With Fundly she could even start her own website, e-mail friends and family members with her sales pitch and then give them the option to help with a purchase or direct donation.

School fundraisers are a great way for students to compete for and earn what their school needs, but a Fundly site would also be an ideal way to earn dollars year round. It would be perfect for a library building program, acquiring new playground equipment or buying updated textbooks. Friends and family members could get a letter or e-mail from the student and when they log on, they can see how close the school is to approaching their goal. No extra calories, no overpriced clutter, no juggling checks and cash in flimsy envelopes and all the money goes to the cause and not unwanted products.

Humanitarian Fundraising

This is one of my personal favorite areas of fundraising: homeless shelters, food banks and recovery programs. With the economy in its current state, more and more people are reaching out for help and the generosity of our communities is incredible as they are stepping up to help their fellow man. Sometimes I think that this is also one of the easier areas of fundraising because of the compassion factor: who isn’t moved by a picture of a family huddled in the cold or a before and after picture of a man caught in the grips of despair then miraculously transformed into finding hope and a future?

When I worked at a shelter, I had the privilege of being the Special Events Coordinator and I organized golf tournaments, annual banquets, Christmas gift giveaways and school supply drives. While most of our funding came through monthly direct mail campaigns, the connection with the volunteers and banquet guests kept the dollars rolling in. Currently they are incorporating more online fundraising options such as evites, e-mail campaigns and e-newsletters. I remember the budget for thousands of mailers was outrageous and I can’t imagine the savings that the internet is bringing. (However, I must also add that about 20% of the donors were elderly who prefer the traditional mailers and return envelopes. Compartmentalize your donors and focus on what works for each age group and giving level.)

Church Fundraisers

I’ve been at the same church since I was 13 years old and in those 23 years since, I think I’ve helped out and participated in just about every type of ministry with events ranging from car washes to banquets to craft fairs to building programs. From the perspectives of a child, teen, adult and parent, I’ve seen more than my share of fundraising opportunities.

Now with the church going crowd, there’s an easy side and a difficult side to garnering funds. First of all, there are moral and spiritual obligations to give… that’s the “easy” part. The difficult part is that these donors are already contributing and in a church environment they are continually asked to give more: the opportunities include tithing, missions, maybe a building program or special family in need. Then there are outside ministries such as crisis centers, inner city outreaches or clothing drives that tap into the same church-going crowd. (Now this is where this post started: the grandfather I was talking to couldn’t comprehend why people weren’t being more generous. My argument was that the guests that were attending our event were already generous and this was just an additional cause to support.)

In churches, I think that social media is a greatly underused resource. The church is already an established community and Facebook is just a visual extension of that family. When I opened my Facebook account, within two weeks I had 86 friends and 90% are from church!

So far I’ve started fundraising websites for a golf tournament and have two pending with a recovery ministry and outreach to veterans. Fundly is great for these projects because while the funding will be funneled through the church, each ministry can have its separate site to post future events, how close they are to their financial goals and they can share their mission with the friends on Facebook. Also, the cost is minimal so the funds go directly to the task at hand with little to no time, man power and effort invested.

Fundraising for the Arts

When I started working at a symphony, the dichotomy of fundraising really hit me. I was used to the homeless shelter food donations, creating something out of nothing and an entirely different clientele. Then at this creative office an expanse of Juilliard graduates, prodigies, business moguls and wealthy retired philanthropists paraded through the doors. I worked in the development department and helped with events such as food and wine tastings, concerts in private homes and an annual grand ball. Just as the causes had completely different goals, so did the donors who contributed.

While many of these supporters aided both the arts and humanitarian causes, the acknowledgement and expectations that they required from the nonprofits they contributed to were entirely different. The motivation seemed to range between moral obligations to social prestige. Petitioning for funds also required a new thought process: to attract the wealthier donors’ attention, it took a refined touch of wining and dining accompanied by bells and whistles. They had seen it all and heard it all and usually earned their money through fine business acumen; if anything less was presented, the ask was left on the table.

While relationships are the basis for any size gift, the bigger asks and more powerful donors require more in depth one-on-one attention and nurturing. However, incorporating social media is a great way to open the door to any donor. Showing a sample artists’ work, advertising events and ticket sales and petitioning funds for future projects are all perfect things to display on a fundraising page. By using Fundly, donors can also have their giving posted on Facebook to encourage their friends to join their efforts.

With every cause there are a variety of donors that come with it. Furthermore, within your donors it is important to categorize giving levels, the most effective ways of communication and the best angles to get them involved. From direct mail campaigns to online giving, the most valuable way to reach your donors is by knowing who they are.

Fundraising for Charity on Kids’ Terms

We’re amazed by stories of children who at an early age become inspired to start charities, like Ryan’s Well Foundation, founded by a 1st grader to provide clean and safe water to developing countries; Alex’s Lemonade Stand, founded by a 4-year old who wanted to help other kids with cancer, since 2004 raising more than $50 million!; and Free the Children, founded by a 12-year-old in 1995, now the world’s largest network of children helping children through education, with more than one million youth involved in 45 countries.

Yet, it doesn’t require starting a charity for young people to have an impact on their communities.  We need to emphasize to our kids that they can make a difference every day in their own backyard.

I was invited recently to give a speech to a group of 50 highly influential individuals: Kindergarten through 5th graders.  The topic?  How kids can become involved in community giving.   I needed to illustrate and explore how each and every one of them can make a difference. This was no easy task – It’s hard enough to get in the heads of an adult audience, but it’s significantly more challenging to engage the mind of a child.

My first challenge was speaking their language. According to Tanya Truong, founder of Volunteer X, an online community promoting volunteerism locally and globally, “With children, it’s better to focus on the word ‘share’ rather than ‘give’.  Kids are taught by teachers every day about generosity through ‘sharing’.  Using that common language allows kids to relate better to the concept of service to their community.” Keeping that in mind, I began my lesson.

First, we defined “charity” (in kid speak) as an organization that is in charge of doing great things in our community, like helping to get clothes on people’s backs or food for those who have none.  Through a series of graphics on my iPad, I illustrated 3 ways we can share:

Time. Kids excitedly recalled volunteer service projects like the Cub Scouts creek clean-up day.

Money. Prompted by the image of dollar bills on a toilet paper roll (I hoped they wouldn’t pick up on the real meaning), they remembered coin collection jars at the school to support kids with cancer.

Recycled or new products. Images of toys, Spaghetti-O’s, and used clothing urged stories of canned food drives at school and clothing donations curbside at home.

Next, the kids offered up the names of nonprofits they knew – Second Harvest Food Bank, Toys for Tots, and Hope Services. How amazing it is that the school and home become a youth marketing channel for charities!

I added our very own parent association, the Home & School Club and shared information about the 4,000 hours of volunteer time and $100,000 per year donated to support the school. Eyebrows raised when the boys calculated you could buy 1,000 big Lego kits for that!  These kids didn’t realize that a “charity” was so closely tied to their own school.

My final hurrah was a game orchestrated to give the kids the power to donate “money” to charity (Hershey’s Kisses do just fine to represent money).  My approach:

  • Write the names of the 4 charities we discussed on paper signs
  • Break the kids into 4 teams, each team with 20 “dollars”
  • Instruct the teams to decide ahead of time how many “dollars” they wanted to share with each charity
  • Let them decide as a group how and where to “share” and put their “money” on each charity sign

It went rather smoothly.  At the end of the game, “volunteers” (a word we had discussed) added up the total donated to each cause and shared the results:

Second Harvest $25

Home & School Club $20

Hope Services $16

Toys 4 Tots $15

Apparently 4 “dollars” were eaten in the process.  However, the experiment was a success.  The kids seemed to take away a better understanding of how they might have a positive impact on their community.  A few tweaks and I thought I could take it prime time!

Then I learned the formula behind the giving, at least for a group of 2nd-5th graders.  Turns out, my son and his teammates determined that they would donate their “money” according to the donations each charity had already received.  If a charity was low on dough, the team increased the amount of “money” they had planned to give.  If a charity had significantly more “funding”, they decreased their originally planned giving and moved it to a more needy cause.  They had embraced the power of sharing in a way I had not imagined.

It’s important to bring the message of giving (sharing) close to home for kids.  It can be as simple as encouraging them to volunteer time for a local food bank or to help raise money at their own school. The students I addressed had no idea that computers, music, and the school garden were paid for with donations through the parent organization.

When I was a kid in the old days, I went door-to-door to ask neighbors for donations for school fundraisers, usually selling candy or magazine subscriptions. Today, kids’ natural technology saavy can be harnessed for good.  For example, online fundraising for school walkathons has never been easier.  Students can help parents create an online donation page, produce a personalized fundraising video, and encourage family and friends through email and Facebook to support their school with a credit card donation.

Teaching concepts of philanthropy in kid terms and guiding those concepts into action not only benefits our communities but more importantly gives children the satisfaction and positive self esteem that come from doing for others.