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Shine the Brightest Light on Your Students

Challenge stereotypes and encourage the public to help your students reach their goals with these tips for using asset framing in your writing.


How many of us have heard our brilliant students described as “troubled youth,” or our joy-filled classrooms described as part of “violent inner-city schools”? Hearing this type of language to describe our friends, colleagues, and communities can be painful and beg questions like, “Does the public see me and my students for who we really are?”

There’s a reason this language is so common in both news coverage of our nation’s schools and in school fundraising — conventional wisdom states that to inspire action, you need to paint a devastating and urgent picture for potential supporters. And while this language sometimes opens wallets in the short term, anyone who’s been on the receiving end of that language knows the emotional toll it can take on you and your students’ self-esteem. 

There’s another way! What if we focused on what’s possible for students, instead of what’s lacking? When creating a DonorsChoose project, you have many opportunities to tell the public about your students, from your project essay, to social media posts and emails to friends and family, to your follow-up thank you notes to donors.

By using an approach called asset-framing, we can challenge stereotypes and encourage the public to help students reach their goals and live their dreams.

“Asset framing is defining people by their aspirations and their contributions, then acknowledging the challenges that often extend beyond them, and investing in them for their continued benefit to society.”

—Trabian Shorters | DonorsChoose Board Member & Founding CEO, BMe 

Sound tricky? Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered! Here are three tips for integrating asset framing into your fundraising.

1. Start off with what makes your students special. 

When you show your donors the uniqueness of your students, you’ll help them fall in love with your classroom (and be inspired to help it shine even brighter!). This approach is also a sure-fire way to make sure your students and their families will feel proud to be represented in your fundraising messages. Here are a few examples of teachers sharing the uniqueness of their students:

“Developmental kindergarten is such an exciting group of mixed interests, abilities, and goals. Our group loves to play outside, learn new games, and boogie to a sweet tune. In this class, we build a community around what we have in common and our shared experiences.” —Ms. Ellison, Imagine Children's Museum Adventure

“Walk into my classroom and you will find 30 students eager to absorb knowledge and ideas! You will find 30 young readers. You will find 30 young authors! You will find brilliant young minds ready to accomplish great things — looking for knowledge from every source that they can find!” —Ms. Jones, See Yourself in a Book - LGBT Edition!

2. Be specific when describing the challenges your students face.

Asset framing doesn’t mean portraying the world through rose-colored glasses — it’s about giving readers an accurate view of what’s happening in your classroom. Instead of leaning on broad terms like “disadvantaged” or “underserved” to describe your students, hone in on the specific, external circumstances they face. Not only will this avoid potentially stigmatizing language, you’ll paint a clearer picture of how supporting your request will help your students thrive.

“Many students in my classroom come in saying they have difficulty completing practice assignments at home because of lack of supplies and resources. Our school is nestled in the heart of western Maine, which was once surrounded by bustling mills. Now, with many of them closed, our families often struggle to find employment and opportunity.” —Ms. Marshall, iPads and Osmo Bring Learning and Creativity to Life!

“As English language learners, books are so important to my students and are truly valued. Many of my students do not have access to books at home and rely on our school library to check out high-quality books.“ —Ms. Hlousek, The Story Continues: New Series Books for Devoted Readers

3. Connect with donors over shared values.

Remind members of your community that they have shared interests and passions with your students! Maybe you’re requesting watercolors and paint brushes, and you can remind donors of the joy of self-expression. Or maybe your project is about teaching environmental science, and you can relate over our shared responsibility to the planet. You’ll help donors feel even more connected to your classroom, and like your students are real human beings that they have something in common with.

“Curious, enthusiastic, and creative; my students are eager to immerse themselves in any kind of challenge. They are fearless when it comes to technology and, as children of the 21st century, they need to be prepared to use a variety of tools to engage their world.” —Teacher Finley, More Technology Wizards!

“Do you remember getting hooked on a series of books as a child? Think of the anticipation and excitement you felt waiting for and then finally reading the prized next installment in your favorite series. My students share that excitement and joy of waiting for and then finally devouring the newest books in their favorite series.” —Ms. Hlousek, The Story Continues: New Series Books for Devoted Readers

Ready to tell the world about your amazing students? Create a project!

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