Today, DonorsChoose has won several awards as the most innovative nonprofit in the United States. Best's brainchild was to create a market in teacher proposals, which are posted on donorschoose.org in informal, non-grants-proposal language by the teachers themselves. So for example, this week a teacher in Richton, Mo., posted a request for a $392 camcorder for her kids to act out stories they're reading; a teacher in New York City asked for a rug on which to read stories to kindergarteners ($474); and a teacher in a 100 percent low-income school in Los Angeles wants a $414 telescope to teach astronomy to her students. Donors scroll through the hundreds of proposals (searchable by region, subject, level of school poverty, etc.) and fund them in whole or in part with a couple of clicks. If there's no market for the proposal, it doesn't get funded, though most eventually do. DonorsChoose handles all of the discounted purchasing from vendors, so no money goes directly to the teacher.No grants needed. No budget too small. No bureaucracy in the way.
The transaction is totally transparent: If you fund a proposal and want to see the bill of sale for the materials, you get it. A few weeks after buying something, you receive handwritten thank-you letters from the teacher and students telling you how they are using the gift. Many teachers write that it would have been impossible to obtain the materials from the district office. After years of writing checks to charities and not knowing if the money is going for the receptionist, the foundation executive's fancy lunch, or some meaningless paper-shuffling, donors find this a tremendously gratifying philanthropic experience. The recipients are poor kids—now numbering more than half a million—who are finally getting a little of the enrichment that children of the wealthy take for granted.
Feb 18, 2007
the cash goes straight to your classroom
Welcome to the future of educational philanthropy: