Crowdfunding Successes (and Challenges) for Garden-Based Education

A few years ago, a garden teacher I know launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $1,000 for her school garden science program. At the time, I had known this teacher for a few years, had visited her garden many times, and had led learning sessions for her first and second grade students. But what compelled me to give was that the project was nearly funded. As a goal-driven person, I really wanted to see her meet the mark, so I gave.

Fast forward to last month, when I met a fundraising goal of my own: $5K from 40 unique donors in three weeks. That may seem like a pretty specific goal–because it is! What worked about this goal was that it was set for me as part of an “Accelerator” on the internationally-reputable crowdfunding platform, Global Giving.

In this post, I’ll share some tips from five crowdfunding tools in hopes that it inspires you to consider new ways to draw dollars from your supporters.

PlatformProjectMoney RaisedWhat It Funds
Global GivingDirt Girls$6,280 (of $5K)Expansion of the program to two new sites, including salary for apprenticeships to train new mentors
Mighty CauseThe Z Project$280 (of $1,250)Materials such as seeds and soil to support ten sites with growing 800 lbs. of zucchini for the cafeteria.
Seed MoneyTraveling Dirt GirlsTBD (of $750)Transportation costs to take Dirt Girls to share their horticultural expertise in the community.
KickstarterPlanting the Seeds of Wellness$1,161 (of $2,000)Garden infrastructure to build a garden that teaches nutrition as part of a comprehensive health initiative.
Go Fund MeOur School Science Garden$1,100 (of $1,000Garden infrastructure to grow and nurture plants to teach about the science of life cycles and ecosystems.
Summary of Platform, Project, and Progress.

What Worked, What Didn’t

In each case above, the personal ask was the most important tool I had, but knowing whom, how, and when to ask made all the difference.

With the Global Giving program, I had access to webinars that guided how to map my network, make specific and measurable goals, and even how to engage my Board in the fundraising effort. The Global Giving team sent me personal and timely emails, encouraged me to “step it up” and the rewarded me not only with a financial payout, but also with permanent partnership status and vetting from their organization.

The high-functioning, supportive environment created by Global Giving taught me more than just how to raise money; It also strengthened my ability to tell a story, map my network, and govern my fledgling nonprofit more effectively. It may sound like a raging success, but there were a few challenges also. For example, they charge a somewhat hefty fee for all of their services, which many many donor advised funders prefer not to pay. These donors tend to give more money, but they also prefer to donate directly (not using electronic transfers). Checks take longer to process, making it tricky to secure those in time to meet the deadline.

With Mighty Cause, I didn’t have nearly as much fundraising support, but that tool has other advantages. For example, the timing of the project was more compressed; I didn’t have to wait weeks to be accepted and then days to have my project approved. However, the platform space was also more limited. I could upload a story and a few updates, but not video, documents or multiple URLs to guide donors. This platform also did not have as wide a viewership, nor was my project “competing” with other projects like on Global Giving.

In a few weeks, I will launch a SeedMoney ( campaign. I am eager to see how this platform works because it is the only (to my knowledge) organization dedicated solely to school garden fundraising. The Founding Director & Weeder-in-Chief of SeedMoney, Roger Doiron, recently co-delivered a webinar on crowdfunding for school gardens that I highly recommend (see below in “Resources”).

I recently gave to a Kickstarter campaign for a community health initiative garden in Woodland, CA. I liked that my $50 goes toward a garden tile that will carry a visible legacy (and some inadvertent marketing). Like Go Fund Me, you need not be a registered 501(c)(3) to use this tool, which is an advantage to school garden coordinators.

In the end, the tool you use will depend on your goal or project, your audience, and your technical expertise,In addition, it helps to embed your fundraising goal into a larger strategic plan. With each tool I’ve used so far, the focus was slightly different. This helps me craft the ask more specifically to appeal to the values and beliefs of those in my social network. Compared to grant writing, I found crowdfunding to be much more personal, flexible, and community-oriented.

Remember, crowdfunding is just the start of a fundraising journey. Maintaining donors is the number one thing you can do to help your nonprofit (or school garden). According to network for good, the main reason donors stop giving is because they stop feeling connected to the cause. I already knew how I would express gratitude before I started each fundraiser and I was sure to follow up quickly with personalized thank you notes (just like my mom taught me).

Crowdfunding Resources

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