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Social Capitalists: DonorsChoose

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
2007 Social Capitalist Winner

DonorsChoose

New York, NY
Year founded: 2000
CEO: Charles Best
www.donorschoose.org
Make a Donation

DonorsChoose is a simple way to fulfill needs and foster innovation in our public schools. At DonorsChoose.org, teachers submit ideas for experiences and materials that their students need to learn, such as: improving vocabulary with a class set of dictionaries ($150); discouraging teen pregnancy with “Baby-Think-It-Over” dolls ($500); taking students to Washington, D.C. to see the Supreme Court consider a case ($2,000).

Any individual can search proposals by areas of interest, learn about classroom needs, and choose to fund the project she/he finds most compelling. Donors receive a feedback package of photographs, student thank-you notes, a teacher impact letter, and an expenditure report showing that their gift was spent as directed.

DonorsChoose currently serves public schools in four cities and seven states. The organization plans to open to all public schools in America.

Mission

DonorsChoose improves public education by engaging citizens in an online marketplace where teachers describe specific educational projects for their classrooms and individuals can choose which projects to fund. We envision a country where students in every community have the resources they need to learn.

Beginning

DonorsChoose was launched in the spring of 2000 by teachers and students at a public high school in the Bronx. Teachers at this school experienced first-hand the scarcity of materials in our public school classrooms and the profound impact of this scarcity on kids’ education. A social studies teacher, Charles Best, sensed that many people would like to help distressed public schools but that they were frustrated by a lack of influence over the use of their charitable donations. He created DonorsChoose so that individuals could connect directly with, and give confidently to, classrooms in need.

Challenge

At the Bronx school where DonorsChoose was conceived, teachers saw that: school system funding does not evenly distribute resources; shortages of learning materials discourage thorough, engaging instruction; and top-down distribution of materials prevents teachers from developing targeted solutions for their students. Traditionally, teachers have little control over the purchase of student materials. As often as teachers can, they spend their own money (over $1 billion per year) to purchase supplies for their students. Much of the time, however, good ideas and effective practice disappear because funding—even in small amounts—is simply not available.

Innovation

DonorsChoose is driven by “citizen philanthropy.” No matter their contribution size, donors are treated to a level of service normally reserved for established philanthropists. This includes:

*Meaningful Choice: Whether interested in pre-K literacy or science field trips, donors can select the specific project that they feel will have the biggest impact.

*Full Accountability: DonorsChoose screens each project proposal before posting it online; purchases the materials for the teacher; and compiles vivid feedback for the donor(s). Contributors can choose the project they want to fund, see the impact of their donation, and know that their dollars were spent as designated.

To ensure accountability in its marketplace, DonorsChoose has adapted best practices from the business sector. An online workflow streamlines the screening of teacher proposals and the compilation of photos, thank-you letters, and expenditure reports for each donor. Classroom materials are verified and purchased using an e-procurement system, technology that DonorsChoose pioneered in the nonprofit sector.

Business Model

Upon choosing a project to fund, the donor has two choices: restrict 100% of one’s dollars exclusively to the classroom, or include a 15% cost of fulfillment for the work performed by DonorsChoose. Ninety percent of our donors include the fulfillment fee, which sustains a significant portion of our operation. As more student projects are funded and more fulfillment revenue is generated, DonorsChoose becomes increasingly self-funding.