Teachers often have big plans and big ideas at the beginning of the school year, but there isn’t always money to make those plans a reality. Luckily, there are options available for teachers to help fund those projects in addition to grants and teacher stores. They include one I got to see in action first hand last year, DonorsChoose.org.
DonorsChoose helps connect donors to classrooms by allowing public school teachers to post information about what they need, and letting donors choose the projects they wish to fund. The site was in the spotlight earlier this year when all of the projects were fully funded by a single $29 million donation by the company Ripple. Prior to that, the crowd sourcing site was publicized by some big names, including Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert.
Launching a project
Last year was my first year out of the classroom, but I was still working with students as a cross country coach at Humboldt High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. After another round of cuts to athletics programs, my co-coach, Charlotte Sivanich and I found ourselves without money for any supplies. We really needed to replace our old, beat up tent. The athletic tape we were using to hold the poles together wouldn’t make it another year. So, I decided to research some ways for us to get the money for a new tent, and that’s when I really looked into DonorsChoose.
I was no longer a teacher, so I was not eligible to post anything on DonorsChoose. Charlotte is a math teacher, so together, we were able to create a profile and post our project. Actually, she did most of the work. I was just one, along with all of our runners, who benefited.
Charlotte recalled the process. “I had a very positive experience using DonorsChoose,” she said. “It took us about an hour total to set up the project on the website. The cross country tent was about $560; DonorsChoose calculated that price automatically for us after we typed in exactly what type of tent we were looking for.”
Keeping track was even easier than that. “I was able to keep tabs on the progress through email and on Facebook through automatic notifications from DonorsChoose,” Charlotte said. “It was exciting to get all of the updates, and I remember staying up extra late to see all of the money come in virtually.”
DonorsChoose is connected to social media too, which gets the word out to people who might be willing to donate because they know you. Charlotte decided to post the project on Facebook.
“After posting the ‘ask’ on Facebook, I was so surprised how quickly it was funded! In less than 24 hours we had our tent! I couldn’t have imaged being successful with DonorsChoose without Facebook because Facebook definitely helped us quickly reach hundreds of potential donors,” she said. Oftentimes, even friends who don’t donate will help by sharing the post so more and more potential donors can see it.
The people who donate can leave their name or remain anonymous. “In the end, 10 donors donated to fully fund the tent for the cross country runners. I got an email from DonorsChoose to tell me the project was fully funded,” she said. We didn’t know all 10 donors either. One of the great things about the platform is that people who want to donate can just browse the website and help out any project they choose.
We launched the project at the beginning of the season and when it was funded so quickly, we were optimistic that we would have the tent before the season was over. “It took 3.5 weeks for the tent to arrive at our school,” Charlotte recalls. We were able to use it for the second half of the season.
DonorsChoose requires recipients do a few things to remain in good standing for future projects. “Afterwards, we had to submit photos online of the tent being used by students and write a detailed online thank you note to go to the donors,” Charlotte explained. The last bit was easier said than done for us though, probably because it was our first time doing it. “The hardest part for me was organizing the hand-written thank you cards when the tent had arrived. The cross country season was over by the time the thank you cards were due, so I had to find the runners during the school day to have them sign the card!” If we had realized the challenge, we would have written the thank you cards right when the tent was delivered.
Charlotte remains excited about the experience. “The best part was how relatively easy and quick the whole process was – to think that our project was fully funded in less than 24 hours! I was so impressed by the DonorsChoose website and team of professionals,” she said. We both know other teachers who have had success with DonorsChoose and recommend it to those who have an idea for their students they need a little help getting started.
“I definitely would use DonorsChoose again,” Charlotte added. “I actually want to post a project soon to try to get portable freestanding whiteboards for my new classroom!”
Money for technology
Lots of teachers have used crowdfunding to help meet technology needs. In fact, according to the data pages on DonorsChoose.org, the number of technology requests continues to rise, with the most recent dramatic increase for tablets. After classroom supplies, technology has the second largest number of requests at roughly 227,000. This is a new way of obtaining technology, but when their district IT department isn’t involved, it can lead to problems if the district isn’t equipped to offer support. DonorsChoose is now working with districts to alleviate this problem too.
To learn more about DonorsChoose, visit https://www.donorschoose.org/.