School fundraisers go digital

Published 9:20 pm Monday, October 6, 2014

Like a lot of non-core programs in Suffolk’s public schools, performing arts at Nansemond River High relies on student and faculty fundraising to survive.

“We are always raising money for the arts here,” Performing Arts Director Joleen Neighbours said.

But with so many groups seeking donations for worthy causes, raising the money to send kids to a theater competition or to purchase props for an upcoming show can be challenging.

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So Neighbours, along with several other educators in the local school division, have begun to turn to online campaigns like gofundme.com.

“A lot of people will not buy fundraisers,” Neighbours said, citing magazine and Papa John’s coupon sales among traditional campaigns her students have tried in the past.

“But they will click online (to) give pretty quickly.”

Also at Nansemond River, Dawn Rountree has started a gofundme page to fund the FIRST Robotics Competition team.

The team will venture to at least two events this year, perhaps more if it advances beyond the regional level, Rountree said.

“A lot of it depends on money from sponsors, whether we are able to go to more competitions,” she said. “It’s very expensive.”

Annual registration costs are $5,000. Then come extra parts used to build the robots, plus transportation and accommodation.

“We are 100-percent separate financially from the school district,” Rountree said. “Some years our school has assisted us, but the school district does not give us money. The only thing they provide is substitutes for when we are out of town.”

When a company supports the team, their name or logo is placed on robots and team T-shirts, Rountree said.

“In the past, we have been sponsored by not just local companies, but also large engineering firms,” she said. “One of my former students now works for one of our sponsors.

“We have also been sponsored not just in money, but in materials. We have also done doughnut sales. We used to sell fruit snacks. We have sold T-shirts.”

Nansemond River’s isn’t the first robotics team to utilize gofundme, Rountree said. Last year, the Franklin team used it to raise money to attend the championships after winning at the regional level.

The goal for Nansemond River is $7,000, Rountree said, which would pay for the bus to Richmond and some other travel costs besides registration.

“We started with it eight days ago,” she said Wednesday. “The second I hit the approval, I posted it on Facebook. We posted tweets — we even had people from other states retweet the information.

“So far we have received $100. That was on the first day.”

Gofundme takes 5 percent off the top of donations, making it “the highest profit margin I have seen for any fundraiser,” Rountree said.

Elise Krepcho, choral director at Lakeland High School, is using the website to raise money to attend a professional development conference.

The American Choral Directors Association 2015 National Conference, conducted over four days in February in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the only choral-specific music conferences, Krepcho said.

“To put it in nerd-speak, it’s like Comic-Con for choral people,” she said, referring to a popular entertainment and comic convention.

Krepcho said she requested funding from the district to attend, “but the funding is not available to send teachers to any of these conferences.”

“That is not to say that we aren’t supported, just that the money is going elsewhere,” she said.

Gofundme is the modern way to ask for money, Krepcho said. “In the second week, I have raised $300,” she said. “What’s really cool, most of the people who have contributed are local musicians.”

Krepcho is also willing to pony up some of her own money to attend the conference. “But if there are people willing to help because they can see this is important, I’m not going to deny that help,” she said.

“If I don’t make enough to go, I’m just going to donate it to the Lakeland High School choral program.”

Neighbours said gofundme “has become a go-to resource for a lot of nonprofit organizations.”

Fundraising, she said, also allows her theater arts students to put on free shows for elementary schools and, starting this year, middle schools.

“We are trying to raise at least $5,000 for this year,” Neighbours said, adding that students have also started a sponsorship campaign.

Ads for Parr Funeral Home and Vice Mayor Charles Brown greet visitors to the Nansemond River auditorium after Parr and Brown became the first to purchase banners.

“We will leave them up this year,” Neighbours said.