York County school districts clamp down on crowdfunding

Dover Area High School in Dover Township, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The popular use of GoFundMe campaigns and other crowdfunding sources to get a needed boost will now be regulated in some York County school districts.

Three local districts recently passed policies that prevent unauthorized use of these methods by staff or eligible student organizations for school-related purposes.

"The rise of social media has impacted school systems in many different ways, and crowdfunding is part of that," wrote Dover Area School Board President Nathan Eifert in an email.

GoFundMe, the No. 1 social fundraising platform in the world, kicked off in 2010, and since then has raised more than $5 billion for various causes. Just two years ago, Facebook also launched a personal fundraising option, for everything from medical and education expenses to social causes.

A November report in Education Week noted "four out of five public schools in the U.S. have at least one teacher who has listed a project on the teacher-crowdfunding site DonorsChoose.org, according to the nonprofit."

Eifert wrote that Dover's policy is a proactive effort in response to the uptick, to ensure the district's guidelines align with its internal financial controls — not as a response to any issues with past crowdfunding efforts.

"Our teachers care deeply about the needs of their students and are passionate about finding ways to address problems, but we also need to ensure that those ways are the most effective, efficient and compliant with our policies and procedures," he added.

More:GoFundMe page set up for scholarship in memory of ex-Penn State football player Adam Gress

More:Duped patients crowdfund for bogus medical care, study says

Eifert pointed out the potential for legal liability if the district had no guidelines.

"There are many state and federal mandates regarding student privacy," he wrote, adding that by making sure policies and procedures are in line with those mandates, the district can prevent potential lawsuits.

Both Dover Area and West Shore school district passed similar policies. 

Parameters: The bottom line is that any use of crowdfunding would have to be pre-approved in writing by a school's administration.  

Any items received, according to the policies, must be directly delivered to the administration of the building in which they will be used for proper accounting and holding.

Other requirements specify that campaigns must support classroom curriculum, food items must meet USDA-approved "smart snack" standards, and funds cannot be used for items required for a special education program.

The campaigns cannot include pictures or identifying information about students, the policies state.

Additionally, campaigns cannot be politically or religiously affiliated, for personal gain or disparaging of the district.

And a campaign will not be approved if it's contingent upon matching funds from the district or another organization.

District-affiliated organizations such as parent-teacher organizations, booster groups for the district or its foundation are not subject to the policy.

Dover's board approved the policy at its Nov. 13 board meeting, and West Shore's was approved in April.

None at all: South Western School District's board also passed a crowdfunding policy at its Dec. 19 meeting, but took it one step further by prohibiting such campaigns altogether. 

But board President Vanessa Berger echoed Eifert in saying it was not in response to any misuse.

"Thankfully, there are more and more opportunities for either school districts or other nonprofits to reach out into other funding sources," she said.

The policy is an opportunity to have guidelines so that school employees and groups will know what to do, and though it limits sources such as GoFundMe, it does not limit reaching out for grant resources, she said.

The county's remaining 13 public school districts did not have any crowdfunding policies listed on recent agendas.