The brainchild of Charles Best when he was barely out of college, DonorsChoose.org
may be a revolution in philanthropy.
It also gives the term "middle man" an unusually good name. Simply put,
DonorsChoose.org uses the Internet to link people who have only a little to give but
big hearts to school teachers who have big needs but tiny budgets. "I work real
hard. It's tough getting a dollar. I don't like to give them all away," Chris Christensen,
a carpenter in New Jersey, told ABC News. "So if I do by choice, I like to know
where it's going."
Here's how it works:
- Christensen's wife Gail goes to DonorsChoose.org and selects one of many
requests from teachers—requests for a globe...dictionaries...reading rug...a
class library...a field trip.
- The Christensens then send the money NOT to the teachers, but to
- DonorsChoose does the purchasing, often online, and sends what's needed
plus a disposable camera to the teacher, who takes snapshots of the
results—the kids on the field trip, or sitting on the bright new reading rug or
exploring the new classroom globe.
- Then the kids sit down and each write a thank you letter to the donors—by
- The photos, a teachers report, and all the thank you notes are funneled right
back to DonorsChoose's office, and on to the donors.
"The thank you cards from the children are awesome. It gets you right here",
Chris Christensen said, putting his hand over his heart. Gail Christensen, once a
school teacher herself, feels the same: "Thank yous from the children—thank you
for the book, thank you for the bus ride, whatever—so I know where my money is
The Proof is in the Repeating
The Christensens have now funded 21 classroom projects and plan to continue. It's
the sort of repeat-giving that other charities, bombarding prospective donors with
junk mail, rarely inspire.
DonorsChoose leaves the convincing to the teachers: "People on the front lines have
the best ideas for how to improve things," Charles Best told ABC News. "We really
are based on this idea that teachers have all this pent-up classroom expertise," he
said, "and that if we could just empower them to come up with micro-solutions,
they're going to come up with smarter ideas than anybody would at the top."
He knows what he's talking about partly because that's how he got the idea in
the first place: "I was a social studies teacher at a high school in the Bronx for five
years," he said, "and during my first year of teaching I found myself in the teachers'
lunchroom always having the same conversation with my colleagues about the
materials and experiences we wanted our children to have. I just figured there were
all these people that wanted to help improve our public schools and just needed a
way to give confidently," said Best.
So he invented a completely transparent "Philanthropy Marketplace" to connect
such donors—who might have as little as only $10 to give—to public school
teachers. For example, some connected to Mary Temple in rural Liberty, Miss.,
where the school gives each teacher only $250 a year for supplies for an entire
class. Now, DonorsChoose.org has created new possibilities and amazed smiles
on a classroom full of lower-income 4th graders. "DonorsChoose has funded for
each one of you to receive a recorder" said "Miss Temple" to her kids, gathered
expectantly on the rug, as she unpacked the newly arrived box and handed them
out. "These are yours to keep" she told them—to their obvious surprise. "You can
perform in front of the school. Maybe some of you would go to church to play."
Excited gasps ran through the little crowd on the rug, unexpected possibilities
dancing in their minds' eyes.
As the children began to explore which fingers go over which stops, and just how
hard they should blow—it sent up a sweet cacophony. Miss Temple told ABC News,
"We have no band, no elementary music class. The children need the opportunity to
see if they're interested."
Many of the teachers in this Mississippi public elementary school have found that, if
they keep the thank you letters coming, the return may be a cornucopia of teaching
tools. "My rug is the first thing that came in. You should have seen their faces when
they walked in—because it brightened the room!" First grade teacher Tammy May
told ABC News. "And this is a lifesaver: My own copy machine for my class—and
someone has so graciously funded this for us!"
First grade teacher Yolanda McDowell said she was as skeptical as many first-time
donors—at first. "I thought maybe it was a gimmick, and I tried it," she said. "And
when my first proposal was funded, I was like, 'Yes! It works!' And so I wrote five
more, and they all have been funded."
She's not alone, as Charles Best says, and as can be seen online at
DonorsChoose.org on his financially transparent "Impact" page.
"Today, 200,000 public school teachers from different parts of the country have
posted proposals on our site," he said, "and donors from all 50 states have fully
funded 225,000 projects on our site. And that channeled $92 million of books,
art supplies, technology, field trips to more than half-a-million students from
Best has resisted the temptation presented by many admirers who have urged him
to grow quickly beyond schools.
For now, he is focusing on how to carefully set up his next step—giving teachers
in all 50 states the chance to submit project proposals for their classroom's "microsolutions."
"Skip the Latte"
There's clearly great need out there, both in poor rural and inner city schools—like
Brooklyn's P.S. 75, where something as simple as bright new rulers brought smiles.
It's about more than just the badly needed new rulers, 4th grade teacher Patie Hart
explained to ABC News while her kids worked on their thank you letters. "It teaches
them a lot of skills—how to be thankful for the things that they're getting; that
everything in life is not free," she says. "This opens their eyes and enlightens them a
little bit to say, 'Someone is paying for it, and I need to thank them.'"
It's not only the teachers and children who are thankful, as Gail Christensen in New
Jersey made clear. "If you can use even limited resources—skip the latte this week,
or skip something, give to something greater than yourself—you get far more back
than you do from the actual dollars sent out," she said.
DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy to provide educational
opportunities for students in need. It allows public school teachers to post
classroom projects in need of funding support. The requests vary greatly: violins for
a school music program, pencils for a poetry class, microscope slides for biology
studies. Donors can browse through the requests and contribute to any they desire
to support. Once a project reaches its funding goal, DonorsChoose.org delivers the
materials to the school and sends each donor a breakdown of how each dollar was
spent, along with photos of the project taking place and thank-you letters from the
students who have benefited from your generosity.
Since its founding in 2000, DonorsChoose.org has supported the music programs of
3,043 schools nationwide, delivering instruments, songbooks, trips to the opera and
more to 1.5 million students - most living below the poverty line. The Woodwind
& Brasswind has served as DonorsChoose.org's exclusive vendor of musical
instruments and accessories since 2007, playing a vital role in fostering the talent of
young musicians from Maine to Hawaii.
You can join our efforts to get high-need students access to instruments and more
by visiting DonorsChoose.org/WWBW and giving any amount to a project that
excites you. Tuba or timpani? Bassoon or banjo? You get to choose, which is half of
the fun! Want More Information? Visit DonorsChoose.org/WWBW to learn more.