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Like Crowdfunding, Only Better: How Classrooms Get Resources Through DonorsChoose.org

A teacher and her students use resources

This has been a record-breaking year for DonorsChoose.org teachers, donors, and partners. With that in mind, I thought it seemed like a great moment to write a little something about how classroom funding works on the site.If you’re a teacher, hopefully this gives you a big-picture sense of how classroom projects get funded, and helps you bring some of that funding to your own room. If you’re a donor or partner (or if you’re thinking of giving), I hope you come away with how darn important you are to the classrooms you choose to support.This’ll also give you a breakdown of funding so far this year, if you’re curious.


A quick overview for the uninitiated: DonorsChoose.org is a nonprofit website where anyone can contribute to a public school classroom that needs resources. Teachers post requests (“projects”) for specific materials and experiences — pencils, books, a trip to the science museum — and a donor gives any amount to help the teacher get the exact things they need. Once a project is funded, our team handles all the fulfillment. The resources requested are shipped directly from our vendors (Amazon, Lakeshore Learning, Best Buy Education among them) to the classroom.Since history teacher Charles Best launched DonorsChoose.org in 2000, the site has brought over $600 million in resources to public school classrooms nationwide. Teachers in 78% of public schools have used it to get what they need. (If you’re nerdy like us, you can peruse more of our impact stats here.) A quick scroll through the projects teachers are posting right now yields a display of dedication, creativity, compassion, frustration, and triumph that fills my heart up like a water balloon. I used to be a teacher, I know a lot of wonderful teachers, my life was changed by a teacher (Hi, Mrs. Burns!), and I work here… so I may be biased. But, for my money, these teachers and the folks who support them make for one of the best partnerships the internet’s got going these days.

The breakdown

So how does it work? Who exactly is providing funding for all of these resources? For starters, let’s break our supporters down into three basic categories:

  • Corporate and foundation partners
  • Citizen donors who give regularly to a multitude of teachers on the site (Let's call them "DonorsChoose.org community donors")
  • Donors brought to the site by teachers they know(For convenience, let's call them "teacher friends and family")

As of this writing — 10:56 am on June 1, 2018 — these three groups have given a combined $138,165,162.46 to projects this school year alone. (Yowzers.) Here’s a breakdown of the amount each group has given so far this year:

Teacher Friends and Family (21.0%), DonorsChoose.org Community Donors (26.3%), Corporate and Foundation Partners (52.7%)

Partners give a little more than half of the funding. DonorsChoose.org community donors give just over a quarter. Teachers themselves bring in friends to fund the rest. (All together, I’m inclined to call these groups “the magical mix”, but I haven’t gotten a consensus from the team on that.) The majority of projects receive funding from at least two of these groups.

Teachers, their friends, and other 21st century heroes

Just under 1/4 of total classroom funding comes from donors that teachers already know. This piece of the pie is where our site most resembles traditional crowdfunding.Once teachers have posted their project, they reach out to let friends and family know about it. (Sometimes they reach out to community organizations, local businesses, and a myriad of other folks too.) These supporters help spread the word or, if they can, give the project a boost with a donation.[caption id="attachment_13775" align="aligncenter" width="776"]

Karen Oliva "I gave because Ms. Dowling is one of the best people I know and always wants to help her students!"

Donation comment from a teacher's friend[/caption]

Community donors, including K.J.

We’re fortunate to have a dedicated community of donors who return to the site often and give what they can. Donors come to our site for many reasons, but they’re united by one thing: They believe in the power of teachers.Says longtime donor K.J. from California: "I think there's no more powerful force for developing a conscious next generation than a committed teacher with the right tools."Our team keeps in contact with donors like K.J. to let them know about projects they might like and special campaigns we’re running. And we’re always adding to this amazing crew of supporters. Folks find out about DonorsChoose.org and its amazing teachers through social media, television and print news stories, partnerships (more on those later), gift cards, and good ole word-of-mouth.

Howdy, partners

Over the years, we’ve worked with hundreds of partners who are keen to help educators teach without limits. Recent partners include Ripple, Google.org, Chevron, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Staples, and many, many others. We have a team dedicated to working with partners to bring funding to classrooms. This partnerships team is filled with dedicated, passionate people. Also, they’re super nice. A few of them let us grab this photo in the middle of a project:[caption id="attachment_13781" align="aligncenter" width="3248"]

Seba, Sterling, and Lucia in our offices

Seba, Sterling, and Lucia in our New York office[/caption]There have been occasions in which a partner has simply funded large swaths of projects on our site. (For example, The Herb Kohl Educational Foundation recently funded a project for every teacher in Wisconsin.) But this type of funding is rare, and usually a surprise. Instead, funding most often takes the form of match offers, where a partner matches donations made to projects dollar-for-dollar. Thanks to our partnerships team, we’ve always got quite a few of these running on the site, making for a steady stream of extra funding for classrooms throughout the year.Donors can double their donation every single day by giving to projects with match offers. Teachers can most easily benefit by checking out the match offers currently available and posting a qualifying project.

The illusion of separateness

Here’s my favorite thing about these groups of classroom supporters: They depend on each other, and give — in part, anyway — because of one another. Teachers’ friends and family give to support the teachers they love and because those early donations can bring a project to the attention of community donors beyond the teacher’s network. Partners tell us they give through our site in part because they love to see their gifts inspire citizen donors through matching donations and other initiatives. And no donor, whether a teacher friend or DonorsChoose.org community donor, can resist when a partner matches their donation.

Where is this going?

So what does all this support mean, and why is it cause for celebration? Why is it so key that friends, citizens, and partners help teachers? Here are three of the things we strive to do:

  1. Help every public school teacher in the United States get the resources they need to teach RIGHT NOW
  2. Raise awareness about public school teachers' extraordinary resourcefulness, courage, and dedication (often in the face of adversity)
  3. Share our teachers' insights and our data to help folks in charge of policy make good decisions

The result, we hope, will be this: Every student has access to the tools they need to succeed.I’ve written a lot of sentences like the above since I started working here. It sounds like a line, you know? A cliché. But it’s also a goal as worthy as any on earth, and something that should be happening right now. Thanks to our teachers, partners, and donors, we’re on our way.

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