Targeting educational givingBy Donors Choose
DonorsChoose is an almighty crowdfunding site where American teachers post details of materials and experiences they want their economically disadvantaged students to have, but which the public purse won’t fund.
It has grown from a 25-year-old’s tiny experiment. He wanted to see if he could raise funds to get 10 small-scale classroom projects off the ground in the school he was teaching in, in the Bronx in 2000. It is now a national education behemoth: generating $225m overall ($58m in 2013 alone), with 1.2m donors choosing 400,000 projects listed by 175,000 teachers and supporting 10m students. High-profile supporters run from Oprah Winfrey to Pierre Omidyar.
The site is pitched as a way for ‘anyone to be a $5 philanthropist’, although individuals and corporates frequently donate in the millions to clear the classroom requests of entire states or cities in the US. It is simple, accountable and personal: each project is vetted, with supplies purchased centrally then shipped to schools, and projects documented with photographs and cost reports to show how each dollar is spent, along with personal letters of thanks from teachers and students to the donors.
70% of projects reach their fundraising targets, and the site is self-sustaining because enough donors are opting to give a 15% cut of their donation to cover its core costs. Donors can search for projects by place, theme, age of student, etc. and the site’s algorithm will also suggest similar projects on subsequent site visits.
Founder Charles Best, himself the child of a privileged education, set the site up when he found himself paying for materials for the history class he was teaching in the Bronx. He does not hold with the idea that ‘the educational achievement gap’ is down to failing schools or poor teaching: but economic disadvantage, a problem that is increasing as budgets shrink and the population of children in poor areas grows. "Teachers know how to improve education," Best says, "but they are a voice that is consistently overlooked or ignored. We want to use our site to galvanize people to give, but also to take important steps toward real change."
The site’s fundraising muscle and unique capacity to convey the needs of classrooms in areas of real disadvantage is giving it increasing clout in campaigning for ways to end educational inequity. In 2011, it became the first charity to rank on Fast Company’s annual 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World list.
Image courtesy of DonorsChoose.
Last updated: 26th of September, 2014