Craigslist founder Craig Newmark just donated $1 million to help teachers in low-income areas fund STEM-related projects on the public school crowdfunding platform DonorsChoose. But the contribution should be particularly useful because it was designed in part by teachers themselves, and has a matching component, nearly doubling its value.
“We’re trying to excite everyone in the country to help out,” says Newmark, who says that, in addition to being vitally important yet enormously underpaid, 94% of teachers report having to shell out their own money for school supplies. “Teachers have already earned all this. It’s just a matter of recognizing that,” he adds.
In May, DonorsChoose surveyed over 1,000 participants within its teacher-specific Facebook community in order to identify exactly what subject seemed to be in most need of funding. About 80% identified STEM, so DonorsChoose and Newmark created a formula to stretch his impact: $850,000 is available as a matching bonus for donors who choose to give to eligible projects. Another $100,000 is earmarked to put toward specifically girl-in-STEM ideas that appear to be falling short of their funding goal. And an extra $50,000 will be made available once there’s a discussion on Twitter of projects people think should be considered (with the hashtag #STEMStories); the charity says it’s not looking for a specific number of tweets, just an interesting conversation.
To be eligible for a match, each request on the site must cost $1,000 or less to implement, and affect schools where at least half of the students are from low-income households. Starting today, those projects will be shown on the “match offers” page of the site, which can be filtered even further by selecting a category called Craig Newmark Philanthropies.
Craig Newmark Philanthropies is Newmark’s personal foundation, which he used to distribute the gift. CNP’s mission is to support, connect, and drive civic engagement. More broadly, it supports causes like safeguarding journalism, voter protection, gender equity in the tech field, and supporting military veterans and their families. While the fund’s overall value is private, Newmark says he plans to continue spending aggressively now, rather than creating something that might exist in perpetuity largely by reinvesting its own wealth. (For instance, he recently donated $20 million to CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism earlier this summer.)
In fact, the DonorsChoose donation builds on a similar gift that Newmark gave through the group last year, when he put up $1 million in matching funds toward teacher projects that affected students from military families to coincide with Veteran’s Day. That sum reached 1,800 teachers working with about 320,000 kids, according to the nonprofit. Newmark sees encouraging more math, science and engineering, and tech scholars as “another way that Americans can help protect the country” by ensuring that kids grow up to have stable careers that improve the economy and hopefully help society.
DonorsChoose founder and CEO Charles Best considers the matching element particularly important because its been shown to convert more casual site visitors into donors. “A match offer creates a lot more projects that small donors can take across the finish line. That inspires them to actually open their wallet and make a gift because they’re like, ‘Oh, my 50 bucks or 100 bucks is going to make a huge difference,'” he says.
Even so, Newmark’s cash will only impact a small fraction of the more than 65,000 campaigns across all subjects that are currently available for funding. Even more remarkable is that all of these campaigns are new. In late March, DonorsChoose received a $29 million donation from Ripple, a cryptocurrency startup, to fund every open campaign. At the time, that number stood at 35,000; it has nearly doubled since Ripple cleared the board.
That’s part of the reason the new campaign has a social media element, to give attention to potentially overlooked needs. Best says 75% of the dollars given through DonorsChoose beneficiaries come from people who don’t personally know the teacher but can empathize with them. That’s different from many crowdfunding platforms, which get used as an easy way to virtually tap into an immediate network of friends and family. “We’re the place where a teacher can be discovered by donors they’ve never met before,” he says, “which is why we’re a magnet for teachers in low-income communities because you don’t have to have friends with money or students’ parents with money to bring a project to life.”
Since it was founded in 2000, the platform has empowered over 3 million people and partners to raise more than $700 million for over 1 million projects, but that’s clearly just the tip of the iceberg. One of Newmark’s goals is that as awareness and participation in the latest effort spreads, people will remember the underlying lesson. “I’m hoping that means people start reflecting that teachers and students need a lot more support,” he says.