As a 25-year-old first-year social studies teacher at a public school in the Bronx, Charles Best saw firsthand the need for classroom materials for low-income students. With few technical skills, he nonetheless managed to launch DonorsChoose.org in 2000. It was an early and popular example of online crowdfunding. The site allows donors to pick an individual class or project on DonorsChoose and support it directly for as little as $1. Once a project is funded, the charity purchases the supplies and sends them to the teacher.
Since then, DonorsChoose has evolved into an education juggernaut. It has raised $225 million from some 1.2 million citizen philanthropists. Those donations have helped more than 175,000 teachers, funding more than 400,000 class projects. The number of students who have benefited is staggering: 10 million and counting.
With an impressive list of supporters–Bill and Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, and Stephen Colbert, among others–Best, the founder and CEO, is exploring other ways of tapping the power of the DonorsChoose crowd to improve public education. Funding classes in science and programming. Providing and improving students’ access to technology. Giving teachers more of a voice in the ongoing education debate, where politicians, administrators, and consultants all too often speak for them. “Teachers know how to improve education,” Best says, “but they are a voice that is consistently overlooked or ignored.”