In 2006 while waiting on a very late bus to pick up my first graders, my principal stopped by my room to tell me about this new website she had heard about from some admin colleagues. It was called donorschoose.org. “It’s what they call crowd-sourcing,” she said. What was that? I have never heard that word. Surely she is making this up,I thought. The way she described it to me was basically like Disney World for teachers. It was a magical place where all teacher dreams came true and the supply of materials that could come to my room through their mystic online portal seemed nothing short of a miracle from the Most High. It worked like this she said, “You ask for materials. Donors give money. Materials come to your room.” It sounded too good to be true… like the Publisher’s Clearing House for educators, so I figured it probably was and told her I’d check it out. How many times had I told her that before as she brought me some new tool to use. Didn’t she know I had a mountain of stuff to do already. Who had time for another new thing? She insisted that I pull up the site immediately and give it a try. Reluctantly, I typed in the address while the kids were waiting patiently on their ride home. Little did I know, that moment would change the next 10 years of my career as an educator.
That evening, I stayed at school well past dinner educating myself about the ins and outs of this teacher wonderland. The more I learned, the bigger I dreamed. The bigger I dreamed, the more items I added to my cart. Before I went home that night, I submitted my first project titled, “S.P.E.A.K.: Students Practicing English Auditorially & Kinesthetically.” I requested the materials needed for an over the top language lab to support the learning of English Language Learners. Total cost, $1500. I didn’t think much about it after that night. 3 weeks later I received an email that the project was fully funded. The next week, the materials arrived in my classroom. It was incredible. Within one month from learning about Donors Choose, my students were receiving innovative materials and I became a man obsessed with getting them even more!
Since that time, I have had over 100 projects funded, totaling over $25,000 worth of materials for my students. iPads, laptops, robotics, Hokki Stools, books, construction paper, art easels, rugs, tables, shelving, Crayolas of every kind… the list could go on and on. Donors Choose now also offers teacher professional development as an option, and you can choose from all sorts of training programs, like EdTechTeam's custom professional learning workshops and summits. Because of my success with funding, I have become known around South Carolina as a Donors Choose guru. Following these tips below will help you to become a guru too!
- Read lots of projects. Anytime I taught students writing, I provided mentor texts so they could have a better understanding of what I was asking them to do. Reading other projects gives you a feel for wording and helps you to start writing your own. Also, you get some really great ideas for projects you might want to write! Start HERE with mine.
- Collaborate with colleagues who have received funding. There isn’t a better resource for Donors Choose than the enormous field of educators who have had a project funded. Ask team members in your building, search for a facebook group, or jump into a chat on Twitter: #donorschoose Trust me, you’ll find some tips and tricks there that will help you a lot! Checkout this Facebook group!
- Peruse the Donors Choose vendors. Once you read other projects and seek guidance from your peers, your mind will be flooded with possibilities. For your first few projects, you’ll want to make sure your items are available via the site. Look HERE to see what companies have partnerships with Donors Choose.
- Keep it simple. Elaborate projects are great, and I encourage you to dream big for your students, however, most of my success came from projects that weren’t too complicated to write about. The donors who gave to my projects seem to fund those that were easiest to understand and not filled with teacher jargon and academic speak. Also, projects between $100-$400 are way more likely to be funded. Simple is definitely best.
- Write from the heart. As you write about your students and their needs, use words that communicate as if you are talking to a friend in a coffee shop. Don’t over think it. Relax and tell your story in a way that connects with the readers. People love to support a cause they can feel good about, and who better to feel good about than your students!
- Create a catchy title. I have zero evidence to support this other than my own expertise, but the projects with “punny” titles always got funded faster. Dig deep and name your project creatively and watch the funding come!
- Know about match offers. Donors Choose has a deep well of partners who seek
to help teachers secure the funds they need. Check HERE often to see what kinds of projects those partners are looking for. I checked this page often and let the ideas flow from the potential funding that was available.
- Tell everyone you know, then tell them again! This was the key to my success
with Donors Choose from day one. I emailed family and friends asking them to support my work. I shared projects on every social media platform I could. I promoted my projects on my class blog. I communicated every project need with parents of my students and invited them to partner with our class. I even asked students to share and network in their extracurricular activities so that students could learn to advocate for their own needs.
- Add your Donors Choose link to your business card. I cannot tell you how many times I dropped one of these on the counter at a local business or slipped them into the hands of folks from the business community. I received countless donations because of these inexpensive investments in the work I was doing.
- The most important advice is this… Remember that it’s not about free stuff. It’s about equipping your students with the tools they need to be successful in school. If a project leads you down any other path, ditch that one and start over. Your students are counting on you!
Development & Communications, PSTA
Hopefully my story and these tips are just the encouragement you need to jump into project writing with Donors Choose. If you need help, connect with me on Twitter: @mrdearybury1. Good luck!
Join us for a free live YouTube Live webinar on Tuesday, Dec. 13th 4pm Pacific | 7pm Eastern to learn grant-writing tips from Jed! RSVP here.