Henny Ray Abrams/AP
Charles Best of DonorsChoose.org.
Just about every public school teacher can relate: There just aren’t enough learning materials and supplies available in our schools. Ten years ago, one teacher set out to change that by creating DonorsChoose.org, a Web site that matches donors with public school teachers requesting donations for school projects.Though the program started in New York, it has since expanded around the country, first to North Carolina in 2004. According to Matthew E. Milliken, reporting for The Herald-Sun, DonorsChoose.org “has funneled $3.6 million from nearly 19,000 contributors to North Carolina educators.” Across the country, more than 195,000 donors have given almost $47.9 million. Most of the money goes to classroom supplies (41 percent of all requests, Milliken writes), books (27 percent) or technology (22 percent).
In the Durham, N.C., school district, school administrators encourage teachers to try DonorsChoose.org. At J.D. Clement Early College High School in Durham, the Web site helped fund books, calculators, a laptop for a special-needs student and a new rug.
“It’s just been a nice way for us to provide for our students in ways that we couldn’t have before,” Kendra O’Neal-Williams, the principal at J.D. Clement, told The Herald-Sun. “We didn’t have the funds to—nor did the parents have the funds to—purchase this specific technology.”
DonorsChoose.org was started in 2000 by Charles Best, a social studies teacher in a Bronx high school. According to the DonorsChoose.org Web site, Best “sensed that many people would like to help distressed public schools, but were frustrated by a lack of influence over their donations.”Best sought to change that by making a $1 donation just as appreciated and valued as a $100 donation: Regardless of the amount, every donation receives photos of the project it funded, a thank-you letter from the teacher and a report showing how every dollar was spent. In what the organization calls “citizen philanthropy,” every donor receives “the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions.”
Choice is integral to DonorsChoose.org’s mission. In a video on YouTube, Best shares the story of one donor who only wanted to contribute money that would support the preservation of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. He explains how he did a keyword search on “salmon” on the DonorsChoose.org Web site and came up with five classroom projects on saving salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
The variety of projects is impressive, making “the ability for a citizen philanthropist to express a really personal passion” and “find classroom project requests matching their passion” one of the organization’s key features, according to Best.
Best isn’t the only one who thinks DonorsChoose.org is worthwhile: Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” is a DonorsChoose.org board member. Colbert hands out $100 “philanthropic gift certificates” to every guest of “The Colbert Report.”