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The Idea

Throughout America, there are passionate teachers with ideas for better teaching, whose schools can't support them with the needed supplies and resources. Their creativity is thus limited to "standard issue" budgets and classroom materials... most often minimal and almost never with provision for extras however creative and effective. It's a formula for duller kids as well as frustrated teachers, and all too often for higher turnover among the best and brightest young teachers.

But what if these best-and-brightest teachers could ask for our help, directly, person-to-person and donor-to-classroom? "Here's my idea, what it costs, how it helps my kids; will you help us out?"  This is exactly what DonorsChoose enables. Through the power of the Internet, it allows the teacher to show his or her proposal directly to potential donors. If it's funded, DonorsChoose then buys it, delivers it to the classroom, and sends the donor an itemized receipt along with the kids' and teacher's thank you letters, and photos of the gift in use.

How it grew

In 2000 Charles Best, a social sciences teacher in a Bronx public high school, saw both the needs in the classroom and the Internet opportunity. Engaging his own students as well as other teachers, he set out to create DonorsChoose. The site went live in 2001, serving New York City alone.

Growth was rapid but controlled, as Charles took care to build a team, a process, and an infrastructure that could deliver reliably, efficiently and transparently. DonorsChoose buys and delivers every classroom donation, so there's no room for diversion. Its site design and supporting software now automate the collection and delivery of all data, so donors and teachers as well as DonorsChoose can be kept fully informed.

As of July 12, 2005, some 5,420 individuals had made 12,574 donations totaling $3,775,134, funding 7,787 classroom projects from 4560 teachers in 1,912 public schools. Three quarters of the projects funded were in high-poverty schools.

Planned expansion beyond the New York region has been careful, to assure both a fulfillment capability and a regional base of charitable and leadership support; DonorsChoose is now online in North Carolina, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area as well as New York City.

Partners of '63 Role

Charley Ellis brought DonorsChoose to our attention in mid-2002. Gary Blakely assembled a working team which helped Charles Best flesh out his business plan, on the strength of which in August, 2003 we accepted DonorsChoose as an active Program. Gary's team has provided counsel in 'pricing' the DonorsChoose contribution, in branding, in consumer research among donors, and in accounting and control. We have also funded a Marketing Director position, focused on building and maintaining the critical base of donors willing to support our creative and well-intentioned teachers. 

As we look forward, we can obviously be of help in future regional expansion, and our Program team will continue to monitor and mentor the DonorsChoose team.

And as individuals, we can of course go to to choose and fund an exciting classroom project; it's a kick!

posted july 12, 2005

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