Making the Impossible, Possible

With budget cuts galore, skip the bake sales and create a project with Donors Choose.

By Stef Durr


Teacher on laptop

Do you ever wish you had enough books to replace your worn out class set? Or a new iPad to help struggling learners work on phonemes independently? Do you wish you could take your class to an amusement park to study velocity in context? Just because you can’t personally fund your classroom wishes, it doesn’t mean they can’t happen! For over a decade, Donors Choose has helped public school teachers fund projects, buy supplies, and give students unique experiences through field trips and classroom visitors.

I first heard of this fundraising website in 2010, when several of my peers created projects for our socioeconomically disadvantaged student population in Aurora, Colorado. Our music teacher was the first to try it out. He had curriculum that spanned K-8th grade, but he needed a set of drums to get the class involved in exploring rhythm first-hand. He posted his project on Donors Choose. Before long, the school received a big package-a classroom set of beautiful, new drums! Not much time passed before other teachers hopped aboard, creating projects and providing more authentic, engaging, and interesting opportunities for our pupils.

What is Donors Choose?

In 2000, after constantly wishing for materials that he did not have in his own classroom, Charles Best created Donors Choose.  Since then, a total of 342,560 projects have been successfully funded through Best’s website. It  is making quite an impact on America’s schools. Using Donors Choose, teachers can post a project asking donors for new classroom materials (pencils, tables, books, microscopes, etc.), and donors around the world can support the projects they choose with a minimum donation of one dollar. Then, after the project is completely funded, the requested materials are sent directly to the school site.

How Do Donors Choose Projects Get Funded?

Anyone can access the website. Once on the site, donors (named or anonymous) search for projects. They can scroll pages of projects, or they can hone in on a particular location (perhaps they want to help a school in their own community),or on a particular subject area like PE equipment. After selecting a project, donors give a tax-deductible donation towards that project. However, if a chosen project doesn’t reach its goal, donations are returned.

How Do Teachers Create Their Own Projects?

With 70% of Donors Choose projects successfully funded, teachers don’t have to sacrifice their paychecks for the materials needed to drive their students toward success. After all, it’s free for a teacher to post a project! Getting started is simple:

  • Set up a teacher’s account and create a project.
  • Indicate your student population, a brief (yet powerful) description of your proposed project, and a one-liner that explains what your class specifically needs in order to accomplish their learning goals.
  • Then, total up the cost of the project (the website helps search for the lowest possible prices for the materials indicated).
  • After finishing the project proposal, spread the word! Send your project’s link via e-mail or promote it on social media sites. The more advertising you can do, the more likely your project will be funded.

Although your project can stay active for a maximum of four months, you have the option to select a shorter deadline timeframe.

What Are the Responsibilities of the Teacher?

Besides creating the project and promoting it, teachers are required to thank their donors. This entails writing a thoughtful thank you letter and including pictures of the project or field trip that was funded. For donations over fifty dollars, students must send thank you letters. As teachers, it is important to put aside the time to model letter writing with your learners (no matter their age), so they can appropriately thank contributors. To maximize the impact on your donors, have your kids detail some of the things they learned or what they gained from the project experience. For middle and high school pupils, consider having them link the donation to why it will help them be successful in the 21st century. The people who choose to donate their dollars to education want to know that our future leaders are gaining invaluable experiences.

What Are the Potential Pitfalls?

Although you’ll need to discuss this in detail with your administration, as a general rule, teachers do not get to keep the materials from the  projects funded  through Donors Choose. This is something teachers should discuss with their administration if they’re hoping to keep the materials after the project’s completion. For instance, if a teacher is funded to buy a set of microscopes for his science classroom, and he subsequently moves schools, the microscopes stay at the original campus. For this reason, teachers should make sure to consider this restriction and work out specific details before creating a project.

Would a Different Fundraising Option Be More Beneficial?

Donors Choose, while arguably the most popular fundraising website for teachers across the country, is not the only website of this sort. Adopt-A-Classroom has been around a little longer than Donors Choose (it was created in 1998), and has raised over eighteen million dollars for teachers in the United States. Unlike Donors Choose, educators do not have to post a specific project to get funding. Instead, they can describe the classroom setting/population and briefly explain what kinds of things they’re looking for (general materials, reading materials, math manipulatives, etc.). Then, as donations come in, the teacher can shop online  using the site’s vendors and spend the money as they see fit. Depending on specific classroom needs, this might be a better option for making your seemingly impossible wishes possible. 

What is your experience with funding classroom projects? Do you seek donations, contribute to it yourself, or run classroom fundraisers?