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DonorsChoose.org Puts Resources in Classrooms, Seeks Support in National Contest

October 10 , 2008

A nonprofit group called DonorsChoose.org, which benefits classroom education programs, is seeking online votes in an effort to win $1.5 million in a competition sponsored by American Express. Votes in the online election need to be cast by Sunday. The entire $1.5 million award would to fund about 4,000 small projects organized through DonorsChoose.org in “high needs” public schools.

In a larger sense, DonorsChoose.org is also seeking to raise its public profile in California, and partner with more teachers here.

First, here’s a bit of background on the national nonprofit organization.  DonorsChoose.org is a 501 (c) 3 organization, initiated in The Bronx in 2000. Charles Best, then a social studies teacher (and now CEO of the nonprofit), was looking for a way to match specific classroom needs with individual donors, using the Internet.

Donors select the project they want to support from a list of teacher requests on the nonprofit’s website. When the project is fully funded, the nonprofit ships the requested materials to the teacher. Donors hear back from the classroom they chose to benefit through thank-you notes and photos.

Most of the schools that work with DonorsChoose.org are “high needs” schools, meaning that 40 percent or more of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. Many of the schools have 60 percent or more of their students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

DonorsChoose.org funds projects ranging from $60 to over $2,000. A typical project runs around $400. The organization is sometimes described as a “pioneer in the field of micro-philanthropy.”

Second, a word about the American Express contest. DonorsChoose.org was nominated by an American Express card member to compete in the American Express Members Project. After two rounds of voting, DonorsChoose.org is in the “final five” for a $1.5 million award. To vote, you must have an American Express card. A link to the Members Project is available on the nonprofit’s website, www.DonorsChoose.org. Votes need to be cast by Sunday.

“Without spending a dime, you could help us win $1.5 million from American Express,” said Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose.org. “All the funds will go to classroom requests on their site, delivering books, technology, and other learning materials to 100,000 students in need.”

Third, while winning the $1.5 million award from American Express would be a major plus, DonorsChoose.org also seeks to make more classroom teachers, principals and superintendents aware of the possibility to raise money for specific classroom programs by working with the nonprofit.

Schools do not need to have an exiting 501 (c) 3 nonprofit established to partner with DonorsChoose.org. Teachers can make a request for a project involving several hundred dollars or several thousand dollars, get local parents (as well as relatives and friends, even if they live in other cities) to pledge in small amounts, and then proceed.

As California continues to grapple with a faltering economy and confronts another multi-billion budget deficit, California’s classrooms can use all the help they can get.  If you are interested in donating to a classroom project in your community or supporting DonorsChoose.org, please go to their website – www.donorschoose.org.