Charity charles best

Issue Feature: Meet Donors Choose by Cora Vasseur

Thursday, December 25, 2014 HALFSTACK MAGAZINE

Charles Best was a history teacher in Bronx, New York. He wanted his students to read Little House on the Prairie for a project, but couldn’t afford the books. He Xeroxed off chapters of the book at 5 am. In the teachers’ lounge, he heard other teachers discuss books they wanted their kids to read, projects that would help them understand a point so much better, but they were unable to do this because the budget didn’t allow it.

 In 2000, Best created, a website where teachers can post project requests and anyone can help fund them. Having success funding projects for classroom supplies, he contacted journalists, foundations and philanthropists. Most hung up on him. He kept going and proved you need one yes to create an avalanche. According to Fast Company, Best now receives over five hundred thank you notes a day. What started as crowd funding for teachers is instigating change in public school systems.

Data is one of the website’s greatest strengths. Best prides his website on its transparency, very willing to show figures because it will lead to a change in the system. Numbers also appeal to donors, investors and advocates like Stephen Colbert who says the website "combines the efficiency of data mining with the intimacy of a neighborhood. You know exactly who you're helping and how. It's the friendliest site on the web."

 There are 40,808 projects to choose from. The website estimates a teacher uses $458 of their own money for the classroom. Eighty one percent of schools are in high poverty areas. You can donate any amount, but the average donation is $55. A project can be posted up to four months, but teachers can set deadlines to be reached earlier. On average it takes twenty seven days to meet a goal.
You can look up statistics by state, but not yet by city. Illinois had 31,654 projects funded with 2,772 schools participating. Donors can select projects by several factors including subject, location, and student age.

Donors Choose takes these requests very seriously and vets each project. They ship directly to the school. They request photos of the project being completed and request a cost report, spelling out how each dollar was used.

Perusing the projects on your own shows you the great range of requests and how they will be used, from additive “Wouldn’t this be great?” projects to bare essentials some schools do not have, but teachers are expected to forge ahead. Some ask for iPads and tablets because technology is the future and kids need to learn how to use them. Some ask for iPads because they’re a special needs classroom and some of the students have communication challenges. The state hasn’t provided help, the family cannot afford a voice pad, but the child needs to learn how to communicate with their peers, much less the world.

 Some projects are fun, experience projects like “What was it like to write the Declaration of Independence?” and asking for quill pens and aged paper. Many schools are asking for paper and pencils, not for copiers or fun art projects, because they do not have these supplies. The families they work with cannot afford to help. The teachers would like to teach the elementary students to write, but they need something for them to write on and write with. Another classroom is asking for books to read. Something had to give during budget cuts and books were it.

Best and Donors Choose shows a reality some people cannot understand or believe exists. While many people have ideas how to reshape the public school system and education, Best told Fast Company he represents a third way to reform the system. "We are going to create a platform that says very explicitly what it is that teachers experience in their classrooms,” said Best. “And donors from either side of the debate—or any part of the political spectrum—can decide whether they want to fund it or agitate to change the underlying conditions that created it."

Best is creating the change he’d like to see in the world. What started small, helping local teacher receive school supplies, is now a national cause, exposing truths and creating conversations leading to solutions. He showed anyone can make a difference. A former teacher can fund a first year teacher. Bill and Melinda Gates donated 1.5 million dollars. You would think that would alleviate all the classroom needs, but projects are still up.

If you liked this article, you can read more like it in our winter issue! Check it out in its full glory at:

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