I have a deep appreciation for the teachers that I interacted with during my time in Virginia Public Schools. They did as much as they could to ensure that all students had equal opportunities, though sometimes a lack of funding meant that some students would slip through the cracks because they didn’t have access to the technology or tools that they needed.
Luckily, there is a way to help educators get funding for their classrooms and buy the products that they need to run a successful classroom- a website called DonorsChoose. Today, I will be sharing resources all about DonorsChoose and how to write a successful project that will get funded. While I have some experience helping with projects, a bulk of the advice listed comes from Ms. J, an elementary school music teacher, and Mr. A, a full-time special education teacher, who both have graciously shared their wisdom with me so that other classrooms can benefit from DonorsChoose.
What is DonorsChoose?
DonorsChoose is a nonprofit platform that allows users to donate directly to public school classroom projects and requests from all over the United States. Users can search for projects to fund based on geographic location, subject area, specific items to be funded, or keywords. My family and I have met many teachers and students over the years that have benefited from DonorsChoose and are proud to support such a great organization.
Who can post a project?
To be eligible for an account on DonorsChoose, the user must be a full time employee of a school district or Office of Head Start. They must also be a “front line educator” who works directly with students at least 75% of the time at a United States public school, charter school, or Head Start Center. In some school districts, educators may need additional permission from their building administrator.
People that are eligible:
- Classroom teachers
- Guidance counselors
- School nurses
- Teachers who also act as coaches at the school where they teach
- Educators who work primarily in a single school (but no more than three schools)
People that are NOT eligible:
- Administrators, principals, or assistant principals
- Instructional coaches/teacher developers
- Parents/PTA Members
- Teacher’s assistants/paraprofessionals
- Student teachers
- Substitute teachers
- After school teachers
- Early Head Start classroom staff
Examples of common requests
When each project is funded, educators earn points (usually 3 total) that they can use to submit future projects. It’s recommended that educators start with smaller, more inexpensive projects and work their way up to requesting larger items. Here are some examples of common requests, along with links to posts on my website that list example products that I use as a student with low vision
- Musical instruments
- Craft supplies
- Classroom supplies
These aren’t the only types of things that can be requested, but projects that involve special or unique things such as class speakers, field trips, or items that are not available through authorized vendors will cost more points.
- Benefits of joining band for students with disabilities
- Choosing an iPad
- Using craft supplies to create tactile images
- How to make things on the board easier to see
- Choosing a laptop
- What’s in my backpack
A quick breakdown of points
New accounts start with 3 points so they can begin posting projects. Here are the point values for projects in ascending order:
- Materials in the vendor directory that cost $600 or less costs 1 point
- Materials in the vendor directory that cost $601 to $2000 costs 2 points
- A class visitor costs 3 points
- A class trip that costs $1200 or less costs 3 points
- Materials in the vendor directory that cost $2001 or more costs 4 points
- A class trip that costs $1201 or more costs 4 points
- Materials that are not in the vendor directory are considered a special request and costs 6 points
3 points can be earned after the completion of a successful project. Points can be lost for missing deadlines for thank you notes or for missing photo deadlines.
For best results, it’s recommended that products be purchased through DonorsChoose authorized vendors to ensure timely delivery and high quality items. Many common stores like Best Buy, Amazon Business, and Staples are on the list as well as specialty online retailers.
Timeline for getting funding
Typically, it takes a couple of months for a project to get funded. Sometimes, DonorsChoose will also run promotions that allow donations to be matched by corporate sponsors. Those projects can be funded in a couple of weeks. For example, Sonic’s “Limeades for Learning” event every October allows for several projects to be funded in a short amount of time. Fall is a great time to post projects because people are often thinking about back to school and will want to use DonorsChoose gift cards they receive during the holidays. Once a project is fully funded, educators must confirm within six days that they still want the items and ensure that project photos, impact letters, and thank-you notes are all sent out before their due date.
How to create a project that will get funded
Decide what product(s) you want and choose the vendor
It can be hard to decide what product(s) to request. It is important to ensure the products are high quality and will be able to withstand student wear and tear. If there are several products desired, it helps to break them down into smaller projects. For example, a classroom request for thirty CD players might seem overwhelming, but having six listings for five CD players will get funded more quickly. Think about what products would get the most use in the classroom, or what products would provide the largest impact on individual students.
Photos to include
I strongly recommend that teachers not use faces of students or otherwise identifying information when taking photos for a project listing. While some projects feature class photos and student faces, more and more school districts are requiring that teachers use non-identifying photos. Many projects feature photos with multiple students focusing on a task or blur out children’s faces or names. If educators want to feature individual student photos, check with the parent or guardian before posting.
Tell readers about your students
For the first part of the project listing, tell readers about your students and classroom, as well as your school in general. Here is an example:
“I run a video club for fourth and fifth graders so that they can learn basic videography skills and learn how to edit their own short videos. Several of my students have vision impairments and have trouble seeing the videos they produce because the cameras we have are producing low resolution videos. Because of this, I would like to purchase five video cameras that can produce high-resolution videos so that students can see what they are filming.”
Don’t be afraid of “negatives”
When writing for projects, don’t be afraid to mention “negative” things about your school. Use these “negatives” for the benefit of students. Here is an example of a description that shows why funding this project is important:
“Our school is a Title 1 school, so there is a large percentage of children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The school district does not disclose the exact percentage. Our school also has a significant amount of students that are homeless or that live in transient housing. Approximately 15% of our students speak a language other than English, as their primary language. In addition, the number of students with vision impairment had quadrupled over the last two years and the number is expected to continue to grow.”
Describe specifically how the product will be used
How will these specific products help students in the classroom? Share the short term and long term benefits of funding this project, and why these products are necessary. Here is an example for how the video cameras will be used:
“These cameras will help our students to create high quality videos for the video club so that the students can clearly see what they are filming. The cameras will allow students to film in various lighting conditions and produce clear, crisp videos. This helps to raise student confidence and allow them to be included in an activity that is traditionally high in visuals. Learning to shoot and edit video is an invaluable skill that will help them in middle school, high school, and beyond with various school projects and can help students not only in their academics, but with social skills- they learn to work together, act professional on camera, and get to spend time with their peers doing an activity they love.”
How to promote your DonorsChoose project
Once you post a project, share it as much as you can. Social media is a great way to do this, as Facebook shares and Twitter retweets can easily reach a lot of donors. Other great methods include email, speaking at PTA meetings, talking to volunteers, and more. Users can subscribe to updates on when requests are made for a particular school or teacher so they can receive new project alerts.
What happens when the project is funded
Hooray, the project has been fully funded! A volunteer from DonorsChoose will order the product(s) requested and mail it to the school. Educators must confirm that they want the products within six days, confirm that the product(s) has been delivered within six days, and post a thank-you note to donors. After doing this, additional points are added to the account so that more projects can be posted.
Teachers will never have enough funding to get everything they need for their students. They often work with very small budgets- a music teacher may only get $75 to spend on 500 students, a classroom teacher may only get $100 for supplies, and a special education teacher may not get any funding for assistive technology. They have to look to additional funding sources, and DonorsChoose provides a safe and secure way to get this funding. By donating to projects on DonorsChoose, you are able to help students in a tremendous way and ensuring that they are able to receive a quality education, no matter where they live or what school they go to. I highly recommend learning how to use DonorsChoose in order to help fill in funding gaps, and to ensure that students have access to the tools they need to succeed for years to come.
Again, special thanks to Ms. J and Mr. A for sharing their advice on this post, you both are awesome!