Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 27: Donors Choose

For the free choice week, I decided to look into the website DonorsChoose.org. One of my colleagues created an account this year and has had a great deal of success with it. So far, he’s received 5 iPad minis with cases and one of those big movie projection screens. Some of his projects were fully funded in just a few days!

But, despite hearing its name a lot and seeing my colleague’s success with it, I didn’t actually know much about how Donors Choose worked so I decided to check it out and see if I couldn’t get something cool for the Maker Club we’re starting new year…

But What is It? 

First things first, what is Donors Choose? It’s a website were public school educators can create an account and request materials for their classrooms. People who want to support schools, teachers and students go to DonorsChoose.org, find a project they want to fund and make a donation in any amount they choose.

It sounded simple enough but I did find the process lengthier and more difficult than I had anticipated:

Step One: Setting up My Profile

This was actually the easiest of all the steps I needed to complete. It asks for some private/secure information (full name, phone number, dob, email address) and some public information (display name you want used, school info, grades taught). Then I hit a snag: it wanted a picture for our class profile page that “captured the spirit of our classroom”. I don’t often take pictures of the students working, I’m too busy teaching, and I wasn’t sure any of the pictures I did have captured the essence and spirit of our library. It also asked for a welcome message that would be displayed on my classroom donation page. I struggled to find a a way to summarize my program in succinct but dynamic way. As of right now, both of those are still undone on my profile page.

Step Two: Deciding on a Project

  • First, you have to tell them what your project will be, a material request, a class visit request or a field trip request. Different kinds of requests cost you different amounts of points.
  • What are these points you ask? Donors Choose is free for teachers but the points system seems to act as their accountability system that keeps things in check. Everyone starts with 3 points for creating an account. You spend points when you create projects you want funded (different types of projects cost different point amounts). You earn points by getting projects funded AND following through with student thank you notes to the donors. You lose points by missing deadlines or failing to send thank you notes in a timely fashion.
  • Then, you give your project a name. I found this weirdly intimidating. There are thousands and thousands of projects on Donors Choose and you’re suppose to find a catchy title that draws attention somehow. I ended up throwing any old title up there and changed it later.
  • But, in order to move on to the next step in the project creation process, I had to put something there. Donors Choose does not let you move on to the next step if you’ve left anything in the current step blank. It lets you save your draft to work on later but no “skipping” steps and moving on to the next one. As a brand new user who had never created a project before, I found this especially annoying. I had no idea what to expect from each step of the project creation and just wanted to have an overview of the information required but I couldn’t get it. Not without throwing at least something in each box of each step before it.

Step Three: Go Shopping

  • Donors Choose has a set list of partner vendors they work with and as a new project creator, you’re limited to shopping with those vendors (to shop for materials and supplies with a non-partner vendor you need to spend 6 of your points).
  • The list of vendors is pretty decent and covers a nice variety of commonly needed classroom supplies.
  • I chose to get my supplies through Amazon. An important thing to know before you start shopping with Amazon is that supplies you chose have to come either directly from Amazon or the supplier, 3rd party sellers are not permitted. This can be more difficult to find than it sounds on Amazon, depending on what supplies you are looking to get for your classroom.

Step Four: Summarize your Cart

  • I found this step to be a bit redundant and weird. Why do I need to summarize my cart? It’s right there, can’t people just read what is on the requested supply list???
  • For some reason, you must use a minimum of 25 characters but  a maximum of 170 characters to summarize your cart.
  • It automatically fills in the beginning lines of “My students need…” for you. I didn’t like how demanding that sounded plus, my students don’t need what I’m requesting, they would like it. So I changed it to “My students would like…”. When I hit the button to save and move on to the next step it would’ t let me. All summaries must start with the words “My students need”. Weird.

Step Five: Tell Your Story

  • Hands down, the most difficult and time consuming part of the whole process for me. I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to share, how I wanted to share it and, how to make it stand out to potential donors.
  • It asks you to fill in four different parts to your story: Introduce your Classroom, Tell us About Your Students, Describe How Your Students Will Use the Materials and, How Will the Project Make a Difference
  • This were really great things to think about and really forced me to focus on the essence of what I was asking about and what I wanted it to add to my students’ lives but, it was also really hard to do!
  • Each of these four sections have minimum and maximum character limits as well.

Step Six: Add Details

  • Definitely one of the easier steps and a welcome relief after the brain bending that was the Tell Your Story section.
  • This part asks you to what category your requests primarily fit under, the subject(s) your project falls under, the grade levels the project will be used with and, how many students will be affected by the project in a given year

Step Seven: Photo & Title

  • Once again, you are given an opportunity to give your project a dynamic, attention getting title and to pick an amazing picture to represent your project/your class. It tells you “A great photo can get your project funded”. No pressure or anything.

Step Eight: Review and Submit

  • The final step, it gives you a chance to see how it all looks put together and one last chance to make any changes before submitting your project.

Step Nine:Wait

  • After you submit your project, the Donors Choose team reviews it and gets back to you with either more questions about your project or, the green light for it to go on the site.
  • In the meantime, your encouraged to fine tune your classroom profile, create an email signature (advertising your project every time you email someone), turn on Facebook Automatic updates (these go on your FB page anytime someone donates and ups people’s awareness of your project and how much funding it still requires).
  • And this is where I’m at right now, the waiting and fine tuning stage.

Other Things to Know

  • Donors Choose keeps your project active for up to 4 months (although you can change the deadline to make it sooner-but not later).
  • If your project doesn’t receive full funding in the 4 months, donors that contributed are contacted and given the choice to apply their donation to another project or, give that amount to your classroom in a gift card.
  • Here are some articles I read on getting the most success out of your project: Getting Your Project Funded, 12 Tips for Getting Classroom Projects Funded, Getting Funded.

And finally, a link to my classroom page: find it here.

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