Donors Choose: Chalk to Computers

OK, maybe chalk is a bit old-school. But kids in public schools certainly need computers, not to mention backpacks, calculators and microscopes – resources often lacking in cash-strapped school districts. If one has had the pleasure to know a public school teacher, one may be aware that these professionals often dip into their own modest pockets to provide needed materials.


Charles Best and his colleagues at a Bronx, N.Y., high school were doing just that, when Best had a brainstorm. In 2000, Best set up a website and invited 10 of his fellow teachers to post their wish-lists for classroom projects. The idea was to attract donors to kick in $5 toward whichever project they deemed most worthy- call it Kickstarter for school kids. The problem: Donors weren’t exactly lining up to contribute. So, engaging in a bit of subterfuge, Best anonymously funded each project himself. Best’s delighted colleagues spread the word – a word that somehow reached the attention of Oprah Winfrey. Following a plug on Winfrey’s TV show – and one crashed website later – Donors Choose had raised $250,000.


Donors Choose now posts projects from all corners of the U.S. In 2010, there were more than 2,000 projects posted by California teachers alone. All projects are thoroughly vetted by Donors Choose, and the organization itself purchases the supplies for successfully-funded projects and ships them to recipients.


Teachers may post projects and a funding goal for a maximum of four months. If a funding goal for a specific project falls short, all money is returned to donors in the form of credits. Donors may then choose another project to direct their credits to. There is no minimum amount, and all donations are tax deductible. About 70 percent of projects listed by Donors Choose are successfully launched.


Considering the paltry interest rates being offered by banks, an investment in the education capital of our children gives a pretty good return.


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– Steve Kilbride

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