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How to Think Like a Donor and Get Your Project Funded


Guest blogger Genein Letford is an elementary music teacher from Canoga Park, California and a member of the DonorsChoose.org Board of Directors.

Genein and her students

One of the reasons I advocate for arts education is that it forces you to view things from multiple perspectives. When you go through an experience from a new vantage point, a whole flurry of new ideas or revelations can come about.This is the way I learned to “think like a donor”.As you may know, I serve on the DonorsChoose.org Board of Directors as the teacher representative. Throughout our board meetings, I share many of the situations teachers experience in the classroom, with our students, and on the DonorsChoose.org website.At our last board meeting, Charles (the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org) decided to put on his old teacher hat and assign the board members some homework. (That’s right! Homework!) We were challenged to find a project that we felt connected to, donate to it, and share with our fellow board members at the following meeting why that project inspired us to act. Even though I had donated to teachers’ projects before, this was the first time I did so thinking like a citizen donor, as opposed to a teacher. With the donor mindset, I embarked on a mission to find a specific project that connected with my love of the arts and tech literacy. Was there another teacher out there who also loved the arts and used technology to teach it?I started my search. I didn’t sign into my teacher account but stayed “on the outside” and searched as a visitor. What stood out surprised me.

Titles Matter More Than You Think

When I give my DonorsChoose.org presentations at conferences, I encourage the teachers to really think about their titles. It’s important not to be bland or generic, but make sure you don’t go so far out there that the donor won’t have a clue as to what your project is about. While scrolling through, I realized just how little time I spent reading each title. I also realized that titles which utilized each word with intention caught my attention more. For instance, when I put in the search word “iPad” I saw some titles that just said “iPads” or “iPads for Success”. I knew the teacher was requesting iPads but I didn’t know why. The more descriptive titles — “iPads to Combine STEM with Art” or “iPads for Artists” — were more effective. I connected with those right away.

My Students Need… Something Concrete!

During my search, I noticed that the “My students need….” project section stood out as well. After the title, this is the first part of the project to greet the visiting donor. Some projects were clear about which items they were asking for; concrete information grabs the reader! For example, I saw: “My students need iPads to create stop motion movies that integrate curriculum.” I knew exactly what the teacher needed and how it was going to be used. Jackpot!

Pull-Out Sentences Have Power

Once a donor clicks on your project, the deal isn’t done yet. They want to know more, but may not be ready to commit. Those pull-out sentences — the ones that appear larger than the others on any project —have serious power! Your project is competing against all these outside distractions. As your prospective donor is scanning your project, donors will more than likely read those pull-out sentences first before they invest time to digest your entire proposal. Use that space to highlight the power of the project and the passion of your students. Those fields are prime real estate that can help your prospective supporter become that partner that brings your project to life.With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, I challenge you to search for a project by a teacher you don’t know. Search for a request that is connected to what you love. While you’re searching, monitor your reactions to the process. Get that other perspective. Take time to see what your donors see.Not all donors are the same. Some have connections with teachers and go straight to their page. Others, new to DonorsChoose.org, may stop and click on each proposal that lands in their search results. But for the most part, donors are scrolling through just like I was, trying to find that perfect proposal that touches their heart.Let it be yours!

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