This summer, thousands of young people will go to camp, attend prestigious academic programs and even study filmmaking in Paris thanks to online crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Donors can help middle schoolers learn computer programming in Pennsylvania, support a leadership academy for Virginia teens or send children of incarcerated California parents to sleep-away camp.
There are no statistics for the number of children and teens whose summer activities are being financed through crowdfunding, but Kelsea Little, a spokeswoman for GoFundMe, said fundraising for summer camps is skyrocketing on the site.
Little said more than $4.3 million has been raised for campaigns that specifically mention “summer camp” since GoFundMe started in 2010 – and donations in the category more than tripled between 2013 and 2014. No 2015 numbers exist yet, she said.
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There are crowdfunding campaigns for individual youngsters, for groups and for entire programs.
Reel Works, a Brooklyn nonprofit that teaches filmmaking to teens, is using Kickstarter to send five students to Paris, where they will work on a film with five French teens chosen by a Paris-based nonprofit.
The American teens met this month to make a short video about how they imagined life in Paris – it featured a baguette and a fake cigarette – which they sent to their French counterparts in exchange for the French kids’ video about their imagined Brooklyn.
“A lot of the time the thing that gets between kids and their dreams is the amount of money they have,” said Justin Casquejo, 17, one of the filmmaking students. “And crowdfunding is a great way to get around that issue. It’s something I’m really grateful for because I don’t come from a background of a lot of money, and I would never in a million years be able to afford a plane ticket to Paris.”
A nonprofit called Wishbone, based in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, is using online fundraising to send 400 low-income high school students to summer programs including those at Brown University, Philips Exeter Academy and UCLA.
Wishbone Executive Director Beth Schmidt said the average donation is about $25, and many people donate because the students remind them of themselves. “They say, ‘I had an incredible summer opportunity that changed my life,’” she said.
Wishbone funded summer enrichment programs for 150 teens in 2014. Alondra Perez, now 18, went to ballet school in Brooklyn.
“I was so grateful, but I was also really inspired,” Perez said. “I want to be in a position where I can help other people.”
Camp Thunderbird in South Dakota raised $5,375 on Indiegogo for this year’s summer camp for children from the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations.
Kate Bartholomew, president of the Camp Thunderbird board, said Indiegogo works better as a fundraising tool than a simple “donate” button on the camp website because of the participatory aspect.
“They have that tracking mechanism, ‘We’re this close to the goal and this many people have funded,’” she said. “You feel like you’re part of something.”
Crowdfunding donors can be friends, mentors, friends of friends or strangers. Sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo require that the funds go toward the stated purpose.
Amy Sarisky contributed toward a $7,000 GoFundMe campaign for New York City high school sophomore Lissette Barretto to attend a summer program at Stanford University after being contacted by a graduate school friend who is one of Barretto’s teachers.
“If I can make an impact on a young person’s life, even if it is a relatively small one, I wanted to help out,” said Sarisky, who works in public affairs at New York University.
John Robichaux, an assistant dean who directs pre-collegiate studies at Stanford, said crowdfunding for summer programs is something the university is aware of but does not participate in.
“What we hear anecdotally is that crowdfunding platforms have provided more students an opportunity to reach more people,” he said. “We’ve had some success stories.”