Public school teachers got a huge boost this past August when DonorsChoose.org, a crowd-funding website focused on elementary and high schools, funded all 121 donation requests from L.A.–based teachers. In partnership with Staples, which donated $1 million to the nonprofit as part of its Staples for Students summer campaign, the organization helped citizen donors enliven learning for more than 15,500 L.A. students.
Genein Letford, music director at New Academy Elementary School in Canoga Park, received a $479 flute, six 27-note xylophones and six colorful ribbon bands. “Getting the email that your proposal’s been funded is just like it’s your birthday!” says Letford, an award-winning arts integration specialist. She’s been using the online site to raise funds since 2008.
DonorsChoose.org gives public-school teachers like Letford across the U.S. a ready-made platform to help secure funding for projects. Charles Best, a former history teacher, founded the organization in 2000 acting on a hunch that donors would fund teacher projects if they knew exactly where and how their dollars were spent. Corporate partners include the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, Kia and many others.
The donation process is simple and transparent. Each teacher’s proposal page lists materials and shipping costs, the number of students served, the school district and purpose of the project. The site allows donors to fund an entire project or make a partial donation.
Parents and families that want to make an online pledge can search for options by topic, teacher name, school name, address or ZIP code. Posting a project on DonorsChoose.org is free.
According to its website, nearly 2.5 million supporters have made pledges – some as little as $5 – to support 770,000 classroom projects proposed by more than 300,000 teachers to help educate 19
million students to date.
Letford, who discovered a rich network of like-minded teachers within the DonorsChoose.org universe, calls the site “a step ahead.” “They’re not just there to give classroom materials,” she says. “They’re really there to support us.”