Crowdfunding sites and Eagle project fundraising

These days, nearly everybody who wants funding for their gadget, movie or videogame considers the crowdfunding route.

With the help of sites like Kickstarter, crowdfunding is a painless — though not always successful —  way to get funds for a project.

The crowdfunding surge has led many Scouts to wonder whether their Eagle project could benefit from this source of money.

The short answer: Yes, boys working on their Eagle project are permitted to use these sites to raise funds for materials, equipment rental, professional services, etc.

The longer answer: An Eagle project doesn’t have to cost a lot to be meaningful. Eagle projects carried out with minimal, if any, expense are always preferred to those with high price tags. The BSA prefers there not be any fundraising at all for an Eagle project. That said, the BSA knows low-price projects aren’t always a realistic goal.

Read on for many more details about crowdfunding Eagle projects and Eagle project fundraising in general.

Crowdfunding options

Though Kickstarter gets a lot of headlines, there are hundreds of crowdfunding sites out there. (Wikipedia compares them here.)

The Boy Scouts of America won’t get into the potentially hazardous business of endorsing one over the other.

If you do choose the crowdfunding route, carefully read the fine print on any site you’re considering.

Among the questions prospective Eagle Scouts should consider:

  • What kind of financial cut will the site take?
  • Do you receive donations even if you don’t reach your stated monetary goal?
  • How long does it take to get your funds after the donating window closes?
  • Are you required to offer some sort of reward to backers? If so, what will the rewards be?
  • What will you do if you don’t reach your goal? (On Kickstarter, for example, 56 percent of projects never reach their goal.)

More specifics on Kickstarter

I spoked with Justin Kazmark, who works with Kickstarter’s communications team, about Scouts using Kickstarter for Eagle projects.

Nonprofits like Scouting can and do launch projects on Kickstarter, but only to fund a specific project, he told me.

Kickstarter would not be appropriate, for example, for the Boy Scouts of America to raise money for first-quarter expenses.

He took the example of a playground built for an Eagle project. The Kickstarter rules state:

  • Create something to share with others. Definitely fits.
  • Projects must be honest and clearly presented. “I expect anybody that’s an Eagle Scout would do that,.” he said.
  • Can’t raise money for charity. Again, that’s different from a nonprofit raising money for a project.

Here comes the catch. I asked him about how a Scout could use extra money raised beyond his goal. Traditionally, a Scout who raises more money than needed simply donates the excess funds to the project beneficiary. Kickstarter doesn’t allow that. The extra funds would need to be put back into the project.

For a playground, for example, a Scout could get more expensive see-saws.

To avoid this, a Scout could stop accepting donations once he reaches his goal.

The BSA prefers you don’t fundraise for Eagle projects

This from the BSA’s May 2012 Advancement Newsletter:

Minimizing Eagle Scout Service Project Fundraising

As part of planning, developing, and leading his project to a successful conclusion, the Eagle Scout candidate must develop the project proposal and the resources (financial, material, and labor) to accomplish it.

There are many worthy service projects that can be carried out at minimal, if any, expense. These are preferred to those with high price tags. To be clear, the BSA prefers there not be any fundraising at all; however, it is understood that this is not realistic. In those cases, all fundraising or requests for material donations should be done in a restrained manner similar to simple unit fundraising efforts. The BSA prefers little or no fundraising primarily because of legal issues relating to accounting and receipting for funds, custodial responsibilities, potential tax deduction issues, and so forth. When fundraising is kept to a minimum, similar to typical unit money-earning projects, there is less chance for problems to develop.

Large-scale fundraising efforts can add complexities in which minors should not be involved. This can be further complicated because funds are raised in the name of the beneficiary and not the BSA.

Fundraising options (if it’s necessary)

Again, from the BSA’s May 2012 Advancement Newsletter:

Once it has been determined that external fundraising may be necessary, it is up to the Scout to identify specific options to use.

Traditional approaches such as car washes, selling various products, or hosting an event such as a spaghetti dinner or a yard sale may be considered.

“Fundraising” also includes the solicitation of donations for cash or materials. (This is where crowdfunding fits in.)

Fundraising application is required

The BSA’s May 2012 Advancement Newsletter states:

Whatever is done, if it reaches beyond the Scout and his family, his unit, or the beneficiary, as described in the Guide to Advancement, an Eagle Scout Service Project Fundraising Application is required.

That application is conveniently located within the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook.

How may you use the funds raised?

Once again, the BSA’s May 2012 Advancement Newsletter:

The Guide to Advancement, topic, states: “Fundraising is permitted only for securing materials and otherwise facilitating a project.” This statement is intended to preclude projects that are primarily fundraisers, but it does not specify how funds are to be used to accomplish the project itself.

In fact, any funds collected can be used as allowed by the beneficiary for all necessary and reasonable expenses including such things as materials, equipment rental, professional services, and even food and water for volunteers as they assist with the project. An important factor here, though not required, is for the Scout to have a budget proposal that identifies all areas of expense that he has reviewed with the project beneficiary prior to beginning fundraising efforts.

Because fundraising efforts for an Eagle Scout service project are to be facilitative, and minimized insofar as practical, it is inappropriate to apply the language of the service project requirements to them. The requirements for planning, developing, and giving leadership must be met through the project itself, not through the fundraising element. For this reason, approaches such as online fundraising are acceptable.

General unit fundraising (not for projects)

Crowdfunding sites work well for project-based fundraising but aren’t the right approach for general fundraising.

Mark Moshier explains more in this post.

Kickstarter’s rules state that their projects shouldn’t be used for overall charity fundraising. You need to have a finite creative project to fund, not an ongoing organization or business.

So while it’s OK for Eagle projects, it shouldn’t be used to fill your unit’s coffers or as a substitute for selling popcorn, etc.

Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by reallyboring

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.