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A $29 Million Cryptocurrency Donation Just Funded Every Project On DonorsChoose.Org

The site that lets teachers request items for their classrooms got a big boost from the founders of Ripple.

A $29 Million Cryptocurrency Donation Just Funded Every Project On DonorsChoose.Org
[Photo: Hanif Mahmad/Unsplash]

Earlier this week, the public school crowdfunding platform DonorsChoose.org, which lets teachers ask for contributions to fund important classroom needs or projects, had 35,647 open campaigns. Now all of them were fulfilled by a $29 million donation from Ripple, a cryptocurrency startup, which contributed that equivalent value in XRP, the digital coin that it uses in transactions.

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Overall, that funding will reach over 28,200 teachers (some had multiple requests) at more than 16,500 schools, according to a DonorsChoose estimate. “It’s honestly the biggest day in our 18-year history,” says DonorsChoose founder and CEO Charles Best, who notes that the request being met included things like books, microscopes, butterfly cocoon and robotics kits, and funds for field trips or to bring in class visitors. “[It was] anything and everything you could ever imagine a teacher needing to engage their students.”

That donation is the largest contribution of digital currency ever to a single charity. “Ripple employees benefited from quality educations and want to pay it forward,” says Monica Long, the company’s SVP of Marketing in an email to Fast Company.

Ripple, which was founded in 2012, uses blockchain technology to allow customers at various banks or financial institutions to send money overseas without incurring heavy fees or commission rates. The company currently has a supply of 100 billion in XRP on its platform, worth about $50 billion at today’s exchange rate. To convert the XRP into cash, DonorsChoose simply contracted with an existing banking partner withdraw the money.

In a way, both Ripple and DonorsChoose are working to remove barriers to how people can access funding. Chris Larsen, Ripple’s co-founder and executive chairman, also started Prosper, a peer-to-peer lending platform, and Ripple has previously created a way to allow users to contribute currency to GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that provides direct cash transfers to people in developing countries. “I think of all of those [projects] as enabling people on the frontlines to do big things with small sums of money–and that would be a good way to describe DonorsChoose.org itself,” Best says. “We think that classroom teachers know their kids better than anybody else in the system. And if we can tap into their frontline expertise, it will unleash better-targeted, smarter micro solutions than what someone would come up with from on high in the central office or an ivory tower.”

After realizing those similarities, Best says he decided to pitch the collaboration in an email to Larsen and CEO Brad Garlinghouse, whose sister has been a longstanding supporter of DonorsChoose. “I gave myself a 1 in 10,000 chance of hearing back,” Best says “But it was that 1 in 10,000 chance. I did hear back, and we met two weeks later we talked it through and they decided to do it.”

Obviously, that’s not the same as meeting all of the school needs in America. The total schools reached by the donation represent about 16% of America’s public schools. And 12 hours after the donation was made, Best says at least 10,000 more asks had appeared on the site (all of which are vetted internally to ensure they are reasonable). The company also started a centralized #BestSchoolDay fund for donors who want to contribute to projects that are first-time requests from teachers on the site. The organization estimates that teachers will share at least 135,000 more classroom projects in need of funding before the next school year starts.

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Since being founded in 2000, DonorsChoose.org has allowed over 3 million users to donate $640 million to class projects that have reached an estimated 27 million students. In January 2017, the platform reached the milestone of over  1 million campaigns funded. At the time, Best told Fast Company that nearly 80% of teachers who use the service work in low-income school districts with many seeking basic supplies.

“I would say that there’s never been a day when more classroom dreams came to life than today in America’s public schools, thanks to this gift,” he told Fast Company after the Ripple donation was made. “At the same time, we know at DonorsChoose.org that public school teachers spend about $1.5 billion dollars every year out of their own pockets. And as an organization, we’re just scratching at that challenge and at that problem.”


Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Ripple has 100 billion units of XRP, not $100 billion worth of XRP.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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