[Note: This is a weekly series. If your company is doing something amazing to help a charitable cause or doing some good in your community, please reach out.]
Sometimes, the right people are in the right place at the right time. For DonorsChoose.org, all of this came true. In 2003, Oprah Winfrey mentioned the non-profit on her show, calling it a “revolutionary charity”, and her viewers donated $250k to benefit projects in classrooms around the world.
Yes, DonorsChoose.org is all about helping people help teachers, who of course help teach our students. Being a teacher isn’t the easiest job in the world, and for many reasons, it’s difficult to perform all of the tasks that you want to do to teach our youth in the right way.
I spoke to DonorsChoose founder, Charles Best, about where the idea came from, what they’ve accomplished thus far, and what we can expect in the future.
How did you come up with the idea for DonorsChoose?
In 2000, as a New York City public school teacher, I spent a lot of time in the teacher’s lunchroom, talking with fellow teachers about the books they wanted their students to read, the art projects they wanted their classroom to do, and the field trips they wanted their students to take. They didn’t have the funding to do these things, so I founded DonorsChoose.org out of my classroom. In 2007, DonorsChose.org expanded to serve every public school teacher in the U.S.
How do you explain DonorsChoose to people, to grab their attention?
With DonorsChoose.org, anyone can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. We call that citizen philanthropy.
Can you provide us with some real stories and stats on what you’ve accomplished thus far?
We strongly believe in transparency – that people should be able to see exactly how every dollar is spent. The impact page of our website provide information at the national and state levels about what types of projects are being funded, how many students have been impacted, dollars raised, projects funded and more.
Check out the progress we’ve made in helping schools impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
What have you done differently that helped your program get off of the ground?
We believe teachers know best what their students really need, and we’ve dedicated a lot of time to building and supporting our teacher network. In addition to posting projects and sending us thank you notes for our donors, we have a dedicated corps of teacher volunteers who help us review project requests and compile thank you packages.
DonorsChoose.org is also different in the level of transparency our donors receive, whether they’ve donated $5 or $500. They can see the resources their donations are purchasing, and they receive a thank you letter from a student they’ve reached. We know this is something our donors value tremendously.
What are your future plans for the site and movement?
Teachers at more than half of America’s public schools have posted projects on our site. These projects reveal the resources students most need in particular communities and the activities teachers find most effective. Maybe, just maybe, such discoveries could make government education spending smarter, better targeted, and more responsive.
Our big hairy audacious goal is to inspire 1 million people to give $100 million to classroom projects from 100% of our country’s high-poverty public schools. All in one school year.
How many total people have donated so far, and how much?
To date, 1 million supporters have donated $164 million, which has funded 329,000 projects and helped 8.2 million students.
How do you want people to remember your organization when the Internet and nonprofits have evolved in 20 years?
We want to be seen as a pioneer of peer-to-peer philanthropy and as a platform that unleashed teacher innovation.
Can you imagine being able to give just a few bucks to send a few kids on a cool field trip that a school wouldn’t be able to fund otherwise? You can do it with DonorsChoose, and I think that’s great.
Mr. Daunis’s project for Cesar A. Batalla School in Bridgeport, CT is to get two Samsung Galaxy tabs to help teach his kids how to read. Maybe during this holiday season we can all kick in a bit? Helping out a classroom also makes a great gift for someone.
Daunis has this to say about his classroom request:
I want to help cultivate their love of learning. Through the use of tablets I will not only have access to a library on demand through apps such as Google books, but I will also be able to access many educational apps that can help my students learn from the comfort of their seats. Not only will my special needs students be able to access visually captivating sites, but my bi-lingual students will also benefit from this. Education through the use of this technology is the direction the modern world is heading in. By giving my students experience with manipulating this type of technology they will have a distinct advantage over peers in terms of understanding how to effectively use technology to enrich their learning.
We sure do take a lot for granted, don’t we?