Scholastic found that in 2014, the average teacher spent $750 a year on his or her classroom during the previous school year. I read this number and laughed. While I am blessed with a pocket of classroom money (from our PTO) my classroom investment is definitely more than $750 a year. In the past few years, I have been blessed to turn to Donors Choose to help fund some larger classroom wants and needs.
What is Donors Choose?
Donors Choose is a crowd-funding hub that allows public-schools to request classroom materials, and for people across the world to fulfill those requests. Donors Choose helps connect the public to schools and helps lessen teacher spending by providing materials that students need to learn- making connections, and helping to fill the gap in unfunded school programs.
Donors Choose in My Classroom
I began using Donors Choose my first year of teaching. I was entering a 5th grade ELA classroom that had ZERO books published before 1990 and my 5th graders never went to the school library! Posting a project through Donors Choose, we had over 40 graphic novels donated to our classroom. Throughout the next three years, we’ve been blessed with two classroom iPads, materials for learning about money (magnetic money, fake money, books about money), two iPod touches for Listening to Reading, a class set of Scholastic News and Science Spin magazines, 3 Hokki stools, and an awesome set of math board games. In three years, my classroom has been blessed with over $2,000 in learning materials.
How Does it Work?
Before creating a Donors Choose account, make sure to check with your Principal about getting started. Some districts only allow certain items to be requested, while other districts don’t allow it at all. My district requires pre-approval before projects are posted on the site.
Once you create an account, you’ll be connected with your school (even if you’re the first person at your school to use Donors Choose). You’ll definitely want to add a profile picture as this helps personalize your classroom for a potential donor. Once your account is verified, you’ll have 3 credits to post projects. Credits are earned by having projects funded, meeting thank-you deadlines, and posting photos of your completed project. After you click, “Create a Project!” the website will walk you through the process. (This is when I always have multiple tabs open to look for similar projects!)
Different types of projects require different numbers of credits. Taking a school field trip requires 6 credits; while choosing a $400 or less from one of the Donors Choose vendors only requires 1-2 credits. For your first project, you’ll want to choose a smaller project. Projects under $400 are more likely to be funded. Even as someone who has had lots of projects funded, I still try to keep my projects small or break my larger projects into smaller chunks. Donors Choose has this great guide for commonly requested materials and where to request them from.
May I Ask for Anything?
Short answer – yes! Longer answer – it depends on the number of account credits you have. Currently Donors Choose works with ___ vendors. These are the easiest projects to make and require less time to approve. Once you have ___ credits, you can begin requesting materials from outside vendors, bring in guest speakers to your school, and take field trips!
Before posting a project, you’ll always want to check the match page here. This page highlights companies that are offering special match codes and opportunities for 50% funding. If you write a project that follows the directions of these special matches, your project will automatically be 50% funded!! This is how I had my set of money math books and graphic novels funded!
I’m Not Sure What To Ask For…
If you are unsure what to ask for, take a look around the site and read already posted projects. While your shouldn’t copy projects or descriptions verbatim, it’s a great place to get a feel for projects! You also might consider “extras” that are no longer funded by schools – art supplies, flexible seating options, book bags, science materials, etc. The more specific your description and your reason for needing the materials, the more likely a donor is to choose your project! Below are some ideas-
- Materials to get your Listening Center running smoothly
- Pocket charts and math manipulatives to get Guided Math going
- Hokki or Wobble stools for some flexible seating options (Amazon affliate links)
- Watercolors and Paper to integrate more art into your day
- Sturdy Book Bins for Daily 5
- Materials to mix-up your Work on Writing area – paper trays, highlighters, snazzy pencils, writing prompts, magnetic hooks, writing folders
Tips for Setting Up My Project
Be specific. When writing your description and explanation, be specific and make it real. Personalizing your classroom and your students is critical. You want donors to feel connected and feel moved to give.
Be realistic. While Donors Choose is an AMAZING resource, we don’t want to be greedy or unrealistic. Posting a $10,000 project might not be the best use of your time. Plus, do you need all the supplies right now? What do you need for ___________
Plan Ahead. Although most funded projects are funded within ___ weeks, you’ll want to work 2ish months ahead of time. It takes time for your project to be approved, for you to promote it, for it to be funded, and for the supplies to arrive.
$1 matters. The more individual donors, the higher your project will rank. So, even if your friends/families/random strangers donate $1, it helps your project!
My Project is Live…Now What?
Promote your project on Twitter and social media. Spread the word!
- Make sure to use #donorschoose and #bestschoolday hashtags when you share.
- Look at Match Funding BEFORE you decide on a project. It’s an easy way to get 50% of your project funded!
- If comfortable, share on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites. If you’re really brave (I’m not) and have permission from your Principal share your project with your families.
- Donors Choose gift cards make awesome Teacher Appreciation Gifts. If your PTO does anything for teachers around this time of year, possibly suggest a Donors Choose gift card as a gift!
- Become a member of the many Donors Choose communities. Through these communities you’ll learn about special match codes, funding opportunities, and have the opportunity to learn from other Donors Choose pros. My favorite online community is Caring Classrooms on Facebook. This group (run by Laura and Francie) offer weekly funding opportunities, tips on maximizing your project request, and leaves you with a warm-fuzzy teacher feeling.
My Project Has Been Funded!
Woohoo – now it’s time to celebrate and share the great news. You’ll need to confirm that you still need the materials and Donors Choose will send a fax to your school, sharing that your project has been funded! Typically the materials arrive within a few days/weeks. After the materials arrive, your classroom will have the opportunity to say “Thank you!” You’ll be asked to post 5-6 photos of the donations in action, as well as, make thank-you cards for the donors. Although thank-you cards aren’t required in every case, I would always encourage you to write them. Even if you don’t have an address to mail them to, you can send them to the Donors Choose offices in New York. Practicing appreciation is such an important life skill and it’s the perfect time to model this for students!
Before you post any pictures of your students using the donated resources or experience, make sure you have families fill out a permission form. While your district form *might* cover you, I like to be careful so I send home the form Donors Choose provides for families to complete.
What If My Project Isn’t Funded?
- You expected magic. You posted your project and then, didn’t touch it again. You didn’t share it with friends/families/social media.
- The project description needed tweaking. Copy matters and sometimes we need an outsider’s perspective. Did you use too much education jargon? Does your project make sense to someone outside of the classroom? Is your project actually a need or just a want?
- The rules weren’t followed. Teachers love giving directions but sometimes we’re not so great at following them. Donors Choose has a great blog and Q&A with many tips, tricks, and suggestions.