Monday, January 26, 2009

Donors Choose: A Teacher’s Best Friend

A few months ago at an event for new teachers put on by the UFT, I found out about the website www.donorschoose.org It is a non-profit website for teachers to request materials they need/would like to use in their classrooms. While only teachers can post requests for materials, anyone can look on the website for projects to donate to.

The way the site works is a teacher thinks of student centered materials that will be of use in and benefit their classroom. Teachers then go “shopping” for materials in the donors choose eSchoolMall which allows access to a variety of catalogs and websites. Teachers can request anything, from pencils to a classroom computer. The main requirement is that the items requested directly benefit the students. Places teachers can shop from include Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Office Depot, Blick Art Materials, Cannon Sports, and Carolina Biological Supply Company to name a few. There are many more vendors and catalogues that teachers can search for as donors choose is very thoughtful in making sure teachers of all disciplines can benefit. You could even make a proposal requesting musical instruments for your school or classroom! After the shopping (which is my favorite part of the process) teachers then write a proposal explaining a little bit about the school they work in, the materials they are requesting, and what they will be used for.

Teachers submit their proposals to the website, and it takes about a week for donors choose to check things over making sure the materials requested would really benefit the students. Once your proposal goes up and is active on the website it will stay up for a maximum of five months. This is really excellent as it prevents loads of old proposals to be floating around the website. The website says “The vast majority of projects under $400 have been funded within 3 months,” while more expensive projects take longer to fulfill. Once your project has been funded you have to confirm with the website that you still want your materials and then they are shipped to you within about three weeks. When your materials arrive, donors choose will also send you a stamped envelope and a disposable camera. Part of what makes donors choose so special is what happens next. As you are using your materials, you take pictures of you and your students using them in the classroom. Donors Choose also asks that the teacher and students write thank you letters to the donors. Donors Choose prides itself in “thanking every donor” and donors searching the site can give tax-deductible donations as little as $1 to the proposals of their choice.

Since joining the website in August, I have had three of my projects fully funded, and a third project partially funded. I was skeptical at first, thinking "Why would anyone want to help me and my classroom?" To my surprise and the surprise of my co-workers who I told about the site, people DO care and ARE interested in helping classrooms across the country. When I told my students about what we received they all had similar reactions: of surprise and amazement that such a website exists. I am truly thankful to donors choose and of course the generous support we have been receiving. Seeing my student’s everyday classroom experiences enriched is truly rewarding.