East Bay CUE

DonorsChoose - Ideas in Place, Money Needed!

Alameda County & Contra Costa County Teachers, a funding flood is coming through starting in September!!! (http://www.fuelyourschool.com/)*

Back in 2005, I heard a radio ad for a new program called DonorsChoose. Teachers in the Bay Area were encouraged to post classroom requests to the new DonorsChoose.org website that would ultimately be funded by other people. I jumped on board, and started with a request for personal whiteboards for my fifth graders. Got 'em!

It's a very powerful experience to watch a project get funded by many people, donating all amounts from $5 on up. I have had students donate their allowances and earned money because they know exactly how the project items will be used.

The program has grown tremendously since that first request for whiteboards. Teachers all around the country are now invited to write grant requests for any number of items and services. However, many of our local teachers don't think about DonorsChoose.org as a funding source for classroom items or supplies.

How does this work?

A teacher creates an account on the DonorsChoose.org website. Once the account is established, she can create a grant request.

Successful grant requests, especially at the beginning, are not very large. Teachers earn points through the process, and actually get to choose their own deadlines.

After creating a title, the teacher goes "shopping", which means to peruse the online catalogs provided by DonorsChoose partners. (Amazon.com is a relatively new partner, which is convenient, but not all Amazon items are available).

Once the shopping cart has been completed carefully, it's saved. The grant writing process starts. The good news is that the DonorsChoose grant questionnaire has gotten shorter over the years with fewer questions and fewer maximum words per question. While the application questions have changed over the years, the purpose hasn't. DonorsChoose donors want to learn about the students who will use the items they donate and how the items will be used.

The grant can be saved and updated through the writing process. Once the teacher is finished, the grant is very easy to submit. A DonorsChoose employee or volunteer will review it and ask questions if needed. Within a few days of the submission, the grant request will go live on the DonorsChoose site. A link can be generated and shared out with potential funders through social media and e-mails to parents. Schools can create links for their websites with all their teachers' DonorsChoose pages on it, and each individual teachers can also have a link with all of her own projects listed.

Perusing the requests is an interesting journey through diverse classrooms. Some teachers request a projector or iPad, others request sets of books, and others request field trips or funding for class visitors.

Points are earned when teachers acknowledge donations and have students write thank-you notes to donors. Larger numbers of points allow a teacher to write larger grant requests.

A few years ago, Chevron partnered with DonorsChoose and started the FuelYourSchool program, where a portion of each gallon of gas sold went toward funding projects in the gas station's local community. This year, FuelYourSchool will go live again with projects submitted on or after September 1. Other companies, corporations, and individuals have been known to swoop through local donation requests and fund all those currently posted. Right now, Target is partnering and also working to fund local projects.

Each donation to DonorsChoose is tax-deductible, and donors will receive the e-mail updates on the progress of each grant to which they donate. Many corporations match employee donations, so the employee can get a DonorsChoose gift card to spend on a future project.

This is crowd-funding at its best, and I encourage all teachers who want classroom materials to start building their projects right away. It's fast, it's fun, and it's free.