COURTESY OF DONORSCHOOSE.ORG
Charles Best, and some
students helped at The
Learning Community in
Central Falls, Rhode Island.
they could be a philanthropist,” notes Best,
who was elated when $30,000 in donations
came rolling in.
In the 12 years since, about 800,000 citizen philanthropists have risen to the occasion—donating $120 million to fund 240,000
The average project costs about $500 to
fund, Best says. Many projects cost as little as
$150, but requests for bigger-ticket items—
such as playground equipment or a trip to
study abroad—can hit $30,000.
This simple yet powerful crowd-sourcing
tool has caught the attention of some of the
nation’s most famous celebrities—including
Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Colbert, Newsweek
editor Jonathan Alter and Craigslist founder
Craig Newmark—who are vocal endorsers of
Even first lady Michelle Obama gave a
brings funding and
school needs together
By Hope Katz Gibbs
EDUCATOR CHARLES BEST came up with
a big idea one day back in 1999 while eating
lunch with his fellow high school teachers in
“My colleagues and I were talking about
books that we wanted the students to read,
field trips we wanted to take them on and art
supplies that we needed—but we all knew
these ideas wouldn’t go beyond the teacher
lunchroom because of funding issues,”
explains the founder of DonorsChoose.org,
one of the nation’s first peer-to-peer philanthropic websites, which he created in 2000.
Best, a Costco member, spent $2,000 to
get the site up and running—and deployed
his colleagues to post those projects they had
only dreamed of.
Eleven teachers posted projects, and
Best—with help from his aunt—anonymously
funded them. It didn’t take long for word to
spread, and within weeks dozens of teachers
began posting everything from requests for a
library cart and dry-erase boards to clever
programs that teach desktop publishing,
metamorphosis and Western expansion.
Best’s students even got in on the action,
helping him address 2,000 letters to potential
funders. “We explained that with only $5,
thumbs-up to Best’s organization at Time
magazine’s 100 Most Influential People
awards in 2009.
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in Arlington, Virginia.
These are just a few of the hundreds
of success stories—big and small—made
possible each year by DonorsChoose.org.
Future Leaders Institute Elementary, New York City
Six donors gave $219 for a heavy-duty, commercial-grade
classroom pencil sharpener.
Phoenix Community Learning Center, Cincinnati
Thirty-six donors gave $1,101 to purchase 35 1 GB USB flash
drives, allowing students to share the two laptops per classroom.
On May 22, 2011, the town was hit by a tornado. More than 260 class-
rooms were destroyed. Over the next year, 5,272 donors gave
$574,605 toward classroom furniture, first-aid kits, technology,
musical instruments and books for 95,256 students.
AUGUST 2012 ;e Costco Connection 37