This profile was prepared when Charles Best was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
DonorsChoose allows U.S. citizens to directly fund projects initiated by enterprising public school teachers. Currently the average public school teacher spends $500 per year out-of-pocket to acquire basic classroom materials, such as rulers. Luxuries such as field trips and more creative educational projects remain out of reach for their students. Traditional philanthropy has not reached into most American classrooms. DonorsChoose is a web-based charitable marketplace where teachers post their needs and where donors can choose to invest in those that appeal to them. For example, a donor may give $250 for a microscope or $50 for colored pencils. By creating a way for private citizens to directly underwrite these materials and projects, DonorsChoose rewards teachers’ creative initiative and channels the goodwill of the public toward deserving projects. Impact is reported on the website almost immediately, and the donor receives a report from the teacher and students. DonorsChoose also opens up philanthropy to a wider audience, as donors have the option of funding all or only a fraction of a project. In addition, donors may choose to have 15 percent of their donations applied to cover DonorsChoose’s administrative costs. To date, approximately 90 percent of donors have chosen this option. Unlike the school system it is trying to improve, DonorsChoose has virtually no bureaucracy—it is entirely transparent.DonorsChoose is also effectively bridging the gap between the simple act of donation and raising awareness about the state of education today. Merely browsing the site is an eye-opening experience, revealing the truly stricken state of affairs in America’s public schools. Seventy percent of donors say it was their first donation to a public school; 20 percent of donors say that their experience with DonorsChoose raised their commitment to voting as a way to improve public policy. In addition to having the materials they need, teachers and students also benefit from this psychological boost. Three times more students “feel that others care about them” after the DonorsChoose experience. To date nearly 10,000 teachers have submitted over 20,000 proposals, funded by donations of $7 million.