A new online classifieds site is helping raise money for education in Falmouth, Maine, and its creator hopes to do the same for educators from coast to coast.

Classroomclassifieds.com provides free space to advertise unwanted goods for sellers who agree to donate part of their proceeds to the local education association.

“I think you are onto a great idea,” says a testimonial posted on the site and attributed to former Maine Gov. Angus King. It’s a “sort of a non-profit eBay.”

The site has been up and running for only a few weeks, so it’s too early to tell how much it will raise for the Falmouth Education Association, said the site’s creator, Carolyn Gillis. The association uses donations to support arts, academics, and athletics in the Falmouth schools, she said.

Gillis, who describes herself as a “yard-sale kind of person,” said she came up with the idea for the web site after helping with auctions and other fund-raising activities.

“I saw how hard it is to make money for the schools,” said Gillis, a Falmouth parent who was on the start-up board of the Falmouth Education Foundation. “Every time you talk to someone you hear about children’s programs getting cut,” she said, recalling a conversation she had with one woman who said her children weren’t even permitted to swim in their school’s pool due to lack of money for upkeep.

She thought that if the schools provided community members with a way to sell goods they didn’t want, they might give some of the proceeds to education. About six years ago, she tried a print version of today’s online ads carried in school newsletters. Gillis says all three editions combined raised a total of about $1,000.

Gillis believes the web-based version could spread to other towns and cities. Schools in Westbrook, Maine, have signed a year’s contract for a Classroom Classifieds site, Gillis said, and the schools in Freeport, Maine, are considering it. Gillis also is talking to the schools in Palo Alto, Calif.

Her fund-raising vision isn’t limited to education. Gillis also has approached environmental groups about the fund-raising possibilities of such a site.

To participate, schools must pay $20 a month per 100 ads to maintain the classifieds site. To offset those costs, Gillis encourages the schools to rent out advertising space on the site. She charges the education association $10 per 100 classifieds for accompanying banner space, which the educators, in turn, can sell to companies for a higher rate, she said.

Schools also have the option of paying a discounted rate of $200 per year, which includes up to 100 ads per month, she said.

To encourage community-wide participation, the education association is asked to market the classifieds through existing channels, including announcements in parent bulletins, administrative newsletters, and eMail transmissions.

Officials also can download a promotional poster from the Classroom Classifieds web site for no charge.

Classroom Classifieds works on the honor system. Those posting ads agree to donate anything from 1 percent (or less) to 100 percent of a sale to the education foundation.

Gillis asks that sellers have a connection to the school system, as teachers, other school staff members, or as town residents and their extended families and friends. Buyers can live outside the community.

Items for sale on the Falmouth site on one recent day included a 1992 Land Rover Range Rover with 84,000 miles. The asking price was $6,900, and the owner pledged 1 percent of the proceeds to the education foundation.

Visitors to the site also could buy a week at a camp on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine, with 5 percent of the $850 rental pledged to education. Ten percent of the asking price for handcrafted maple and cherry chairs, $700 and $550 respectively, was earmarked for school support.

The chairman of the Falmouth School Board, Steven Brinn, says the web site is a great idea. “With the right amount of publicity,” he said, “it could be a good way to raise some funds and for people to get rid of some stuff they don’t want.”

The concept of incentive-based advertising as an alternative funding remedy is nothing new for schools. Organizations such as Schoolpop.com, an Atlanta-based operation devoted to providing non-traditional fundraising methods to schools and other non-profits, has been pushing similar cash-back programs derived from constituents’ grocery bills and other community-wide purchases for years.

Still, schools should be careful. National School Boards Association staff attorney Tom Hutton said educational institutions interested in pursuing this type of online fundraising should approach it with the same sort of rigor and due diligence that they would any other brand of outside business venture or corporate partnership.

The key, according to Hutton, is to determine whether the time and money invested in the project can be offset by the revenues that are coming in. If members of the community are indeed willing to pledge a portion of the sales of their goods to area schools, he said, schools need to be accountable for how that money is being spent.

If school officials actively promote the site and do their part to ensure that it lives up to its promise as an alternative source of funding, Hutton said, then there’s no reason Classroom Classifieds can’t succeed on a national level.



National School Boards Association