Donors Choose has been the best thing that has happened to me as a teacher since I was introduced to it three years ago. If you are not familiar, it is a free, non-profit website for public school teachers. You get to request materials for your classroom and people from all over the country can donate to your project and make it happen.
In three years, I have had 36 projects funded through Donors Choose in every imaginable subject area. It amounts to roughly $15,000 worth of materials for my classroom and I have seen a tremendous impact on my students because of it.
Many teachers have expressed to me that they want to use Donors Choose, but they don't know how to get started. So I thought I would walk you through the process and share some tips I feel are helpful to getting your projects funded.
Tips For Getting Started and Getting FUNDED:
1. Go to http://www.donorschoose.org/teachers and start your account. Make sure you start as a teacher and not a donor. (You will still be able to donate to your own or others' projects if you want to.) I recommend using a personal email and not your school one so that you can monitor your account year-round. You will need to upload a photo for your account. Make sure you have signed permission slips for any students in any photos you upload to the site. (Permission slips are available and will be a part of your sign-up process.) If you don't have permission slips signed yet, simply upload a generic photo of your empty classroom or a box of crayons so that you can proceed with the registration process.
2. Decide what type of materials you need most and develop your project around that. (You wouldn't want to mix art supplies with a request for microscopes.) There are certain vendors used by Donors Choose. Using another vendor will cost you a lot of points and frankly, isn't worth it most of the time in my opinion. You will be given three points to start with. I recommend keeping your projects to one point at first until you earn more points (I will get to that in a minute). A one point project simply has to be under $400 in requested materials. After you decide on a title, you will be taken to the vendor page to select a vendor and start "shopping."
3. Come up with a catchy title for your project. There are thousands of projects to choose from, so yours has to immediately stand out in some way. Your title should let potential donors know what you are requesting, but should also make them want to click on it and read about your project. So if you are requesting books for your classroom library, instead of "Books For Our Class Library" I would suggest something like "Books For Hungry 3rd Grade Bookworms." Sometimes, I'll admit, I struggle to come up with a catchy title and go with something generic....and these projects always seem harder to get funded.
4. Writing your proposal is quite simple. The site provides you with instructions about what to say in each paragraph. In the first paragraph you need to say something to hook your readers, so that they will want to read the rest of your proposal. I like to use a funny anecdote about my students or a quote about children or the subject matter I am focusing on, like Math or Science. I like http://quotegarden.com/ for good quotes, but you can find quotes all over the internet by simply searching on Google. ("Quotes about books" for example).
5. KEEP IT POSITIVE! When writing your proposal, keep the tone positive. Donors are there because they already know we struggle in public schools to provide everything our students need. Don't whine about the budget here. Talk about how great your students are, how hard they work despite their obstacles, and how wonderful it would be to have these materials so that they will have even more opportunities for academic success! Keep your essay student-centered; this is about kids, not teachers. At the end of your proposal, tell your potential donors how their generosity will impact your students and thank them in advance for supporting education.
6. BE PATIENT. WAIT. DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED. It may take awhile before you get a donation, or your project may not get funded. DO NOT GIVE UP. If this happens, write another proposal and start over. I have had many teachers tell me they did a project, it didn't get funded, so they are not going to bother. What?! I have probably submitted 60+ proposals. 36 have been funded. Yes, some projects will expire (you have 5 months). So what? Try again.
7. Share your projects on Facebook, Twitter, with your email contacts, with your class/school families, everywhere! You can even include a link to your teacher page in your email signature. You will also receive a monthly newsletter from Donors Choose and sometimes there will be matching opportunities for your donors. Share these opportunities and matching codes to encourage people to donate to your project. (I have just learned that if donors enter the code "SAVINGS" at checkout, http://www.savings.com/ will match the donation up to $100!)
8. SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION. Every time you receive a donation you will get an email saying so. You should ALWAYS thank your donor right away. (Follow the link provided in the email.) After your project is funded, follow the thank you package instructions and get everything done on time. You will receive one point for each part of your thank you package and your thank you punctuality is posted publicly on all of your project pages. Obviously, someone would be less likely to donate to a teacher with a poor thank you record. The thank you process involves 1) Teacher-impact letter. You write a quick piece about how the materials have helped your students and express your gratitude. 2) Uploading photos. Obtain permission slips and upload 6 photos of your students using the materials. and 3) Student thank you letters. Your students will thank the donors and tell them why they like the new materials. You will print the free mailing label and mail the student letters in by the due date. (You will select the due date when you confirm you still need your materials when the project is funded.) You get one point for each of the three parts of the thank you process. So a one-point project can earn you three points for more projects!
Here is the link to my teacher page if you would like to see how my proposals are written. You can also look at some completed projects and check out the photos and Teacher Impact letters I've done.
If you have trouble, ask questions! Ask a teacher with experience with Donors Choose or email the Donors Choose staff. They are extremely helpful.
Have fun with it! There is nothing more inspiring and gratifying than receiving donations from people you know and especially strangers. Your faith in humanity will be renewed! It is so exciting when your projects get funded and the boxes arrive in the office. It is even better when you show your students what they get to use and explain that they were given to your classroom by people who want to see them succeed!
Go to http://www.donorschoose.org/teachers and get started.