Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of DonorsChoose.org, and has heard me talk and seen me post about it on Facebook, usually asking for donations for my classroom, or now, my library.  But if you’re not familiar, here’s the low-down, in their own words:

DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need. Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on our site, and you can give any amount to the project that most inspires you.

In other words, teachers ask for what they need for their classroom, and charity-minded donors select what specific teacher or project they want to help fund.  Think Kickstarter for education.

I’ve used Donors Choose plenty in the past, and particularly this year, as I’ve strived to revitalize the school library on a very limited budget, I’ve had a lot of success (thanks mostly to very generous friends and family) getting books for the library purchased through Donors Choose projects.  In fact, I’ve got one going now, if anyone would like to donate.  ::wink, wink::

So in a very real sense, I chose to donate to Donors Choose in general to pay it forward.  But there are some things I really, genuinely love about Donors Choose that would inspire me to give even if I hadn’t been helped by them in the past.

1.  They purchase supplies so teachers don’t have to.  I shudder to think what the cost would be if I added up all the money I spent on books and supplies for my classroom over the years I’ve worked in education.  With limited school budgets around the country, teachers all over the nation spend money out-of-pocket on school supplies.  Donors Choose helps take some of that burden off of teachers.

2.  They prioritize low-income schools and students.  Granted, this has worked against me a bit this year, since even though my school district has an extremely tight budget, we’re not considered low-income, which means that my projects don’t get boosted to prominence on the Donors Choose website.  But in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t really bother me, when I see the happy smiles on the faces of kids living in poverty who have gotten supplies, books and technology thanks to their teachers’ ingenuity and the generosity of Donors Choose donors.

3. As a donor, you know exactly where your money is going.  When you give to a specific project, the money really does go to that teacher and his or her students.  Each project page features a counter that shows how much has been given to the project, and as soon as it’s fully funded the materials are purchased and ship.  Earlier this school year, one of my projects fully funded on a Monday and I had the books sitting on the library shelves that Friday.   Typically 15% of your donation does go to support DonorsChoose operating costs, but that is factored into the cost of the teacher’s proposed project–and you can opt to have 100% of your donation go straight to the teacher you’ve chosen to help fund.

4.  You can choose to fund a project that’s meaningful to you.  In making my donation, I set my search criteria pretty narrow when looking through the posted projects.  As a Teach for America alumna who taught in the Rio Grande Valley, and as a lover of all things literacy related, I wanted to fund a literacy-focused project for a TFA-affiliated teacher in south Texas.  Donors Choose let me search using all of those criteria, which led me to the project I donated to: Leading the Way Through Literacy which is a proposal to help purchase books for a TFA teacher (it’s not clear if she’s an alum or a corps member) in Harlingen–one town over from where I spent most of my time teaching in the Valley.  It’s a project I very easily could have written myself when I was teaching in the RGV–and makes me feel that the donation is even more personal and meaningful.

5.  Donors are appreciated and thanked.  As a donor, yes, it’s really nice to see that teachers post a thank-you note and photos of the supplies being used by smiling kiddos.  And if you donate $50 or more, you get personalized thank you notes from the students you helped, which is also nice and makes you smile.  But as a teacher myself, there’s something else I like about the required thank-you package–it teaches kids gratitude.  Kids have to write those thank you notes to donors.  Which means teachers engage them in a conversation about what it means to show gratitude for a gift.  When I’ve had students write thank you notes, they’ve often had questions such as, “Why did they want to give us these books?” It helps kids realize that there are genuinely kind people in the world who do want them to have the skills and supplies they need to succeed–and teaches them the importance of expressing appreciation for that generosity.

So, I’ve made my weekly Lenten giving donation for $25 to Ms. Rabin’s classroom.  I encourage you to do the same–or search for another project that you find meaningful or inspiring.  You’ll be helping some kids and teachers who will really, really appreciate it.

I know, because I’m one of them.