Feb 04 2016

TCEA 2016: Crowdfunding Pioneer Inspires Giving for School Projects

TCEA 2016's opening session keynote was an inspirational message from the CEO of DonorsChoose.org.

When it comes to philanthropy, Charles Best put his money where his website is.

During the opening keynote speech at the TCEA 2016 educational technology convention in Austin, Texas, Best relayed the story of how he created DonorsChoose.org in a Bronx classroom. By the end of his talk, Best offered his speaker’s fee — split into $10 gift cards — to everyone in the room to spend on the site. He encouraged the new donors to pick projects that spoke to their hearts.

“Someone with $10 can be a classroom hero,” he said.

DonorsChoose Takes the Best K-12 Ideas ‘Straight to the Public’

In 2000, Best was a social studies teacher at Wings Academy in the Bronx. There, he noticed that his public school students didn’t have access to the same supplies that he had growing up. When he was a student, his class went on field trips. Art supplies were plentiful. Graphing calculators were common in math and science classes.

But “when I started teaching in the Bronx, I saw firsthand that not all schools were created equal,” he said. “My colleagues and I spent a lot of our own money on copy paper and pencils, but we couldn’t afford the resources that would get our students excited about learning.”

Best brainstormed with other teachers and landed on the idea to start a charitable website that functioned like a gift registry. There, teachers would post classroom project requests, and donors would choose which project to support. He talked 11 teachers into posting projects, which ranged from a request for test prep books to Baby Think It Over dolls for pregnancy prevention.

His aunt, a nurse, funded the dolls project, and Best funded the rest. “Because I donated anonymously, my colleagues actually thought the website worked,” he joked.

And when new projects were posted and no one else was donating, “my students came to the rescue,” he said.

The students volunteered after school and started a letter-writing campaign that generated $30,000 in donations. Eventually, the site caught the attention of national journalists, who wrote articles describing the web-based charity as the future of philanthropy. DonorsChoose.org even became one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things.”

The site is now open to every public school in the country, and so far has earned $397 million for 17 million students, from 2 million supporters.

“Teachers go straight to the public with their best ideas for helping students learn,” Best said. “There’s nothing standing between them.”

TCEA Brings Educators Endless Options

Most of TCEA’s 983 workshops and sessions centered on the effective use of technology in the classroom. Though the projects on DonorsChoose.org are wide-ranging, Best said TCEA’s more than 9,000 attendees could request funding for tech projects. The options are endless, he said.

Jamie Gustin, a robotics teacher from Magnolia Intermediate School District said he felt inspired by Best’s talk, especially when he spoke about students and their role. “It was really wonderful to see how he involved his students in his charitable community,” Gustin said.

And how did Gustin plan to donate his $10?

“I’m going to go through the site and look for teachers with projects in my area,” Gustin said.   

EdTech is covering TCEA 2016, including articles on breakout sessions, keynotes and the pulse on social media. Keep up to date on all of our coverage by visiting our TCEA 2016 conference page.

Jena Passut

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