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The Dos and Don’ts of Donors Choose for Teachers

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So you’ve heard whispers about Donors Choose online. Seen smiling faces across the hall as new tech or school supplies were delivered. Wished you could figure out this weird system that seems like it COULD give you just what you need if only you knew how to work the controls. 

And boy, there are things you need. A new class set of The Hate U Give. An iPad for Facetiming with a classroom partner across the world. Bright yellow stools for your dream dry-erase writing workshop bar. 

And there are things you want. Ten new YA novels for your reading library. A resource room where students whose home lives are in chaos can retreat for an hour of quiet and sit on a couch. A membership at Breakout EDU so you can reach your most apathetic students with escape room activities. 

Maybe you’ve tried to put up a project and given up. Maybe you got one partially funded but lost it. 

If you wish you could crack the code and use Donors Choose to get you all those little things that would make such a huge difference in your classroom, this post is for you.  

Did you know 1,330,612 projects have been funded for teachers at Donors Choose? Hope you’re getting excited. 

Let’s start with how the site works on a basic level, then jump into the top tips for playing this  important game successfully. 

This post is also available as a podcast.

You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher.

According to Donors Choose ((FAQ here), it should take you just thirty minutes to put up a project. You basically shop through their linked libraries of resources at places like Amazon and Lakeshore Learning and choose what you want, then title your project and explain to donors why it matters. 

Your project can then stay listed on their site for four months as you try to get it funded. Seventy percent of all projects DO get funded (not bad, eh?). When your project gets funded, they send you your shopping list and you send back photos of happy students and some thank you notes for your donors. 

If you’d like to scan an example of a successful, fully-funded project, check out Dave Stuart Jr’s “A World Class Library for World History Students.”

It IS important to be sure your school is cool with you using Donors Choose. Check in with your administration or your district before you dive in, so you can be sure no one will be upset with you for doing all this good work. 

Now, let’s dive into the top tips for how to be successful with your project.

#1 Keep your project cost low

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. Keep your project under $500. Many teachers get LOTS of projects funded, so don’t worry about asking for everything at once. For example, let’s say you think a gorgeous independent reading library would make a world of difference to your students. Do one project to get a beautiful library bookshelf and a can of marigold paint($100). Get it into your room, take pictures, and start stocking it with whatever books you have laying around. Then put up a project for the top twenty YA titles you think your students would connect to. Add them to the shelves. Next up, add some Yogibo beanbags, a lamp, and a few literary quotation prints. Just keep going! You’ll have a much better chance of building what you want one step at a time than by putting up a $3000 library project and hoping for a huge funding surge. If you want to read more about this strategy, you can get the scoop from some Donors Choose success stories here.

#2 Write your Project with DONORS in mind, not other teachers (advice from Dave Stuart Jr.)

You’ll write a relatively short blurb for Donors Choose when you submit your project. Remember that this blurb is for an audience of donors who may not know much of anything about your classroom, your students, your district. Make things easy to understand. Show them the benefits of what you want to do for your students and your school clearly and without education jargon. Also, be sure to proofread! Donors may think you aren’t too serious about your project if the description has errors in it.

#3 Write a Fabulous Title for your Project (advice from Genein Letford)

Titles are a very big deal on the internet. Write a bunch for your Donors Choose project, and then pick the best. You want it to convey the project and its benefits clearly to your potential donors. Clarity over catchiness. But a little catchiness doesn’t hurt.


#4 Be the First (Small) Donor (advice from teacher Sarah Koss)

Projects that have many donors are more likely to get highlighted by Donors Choose on the site. If you and a few of your close family and friends are willing to donate $5 right away, it can help your project get noticed.

#5 Start your own Social Media Campaign (advice from teachers Sarah Ray, Kristina Holzweiss, Ali Stewart, and Michelle Ramos)

Got Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Use the free tool Canva to upload a fun photo that goes with your project and add a clear descriptive title like “Help my students collaborate with students in the Ukraine by contributing to our Donors Choose project. We’re $100 away from a classroom iPad.” You can also use Canva later to make pretty thank you images for your donors once you get funded. Just upload pictures of your happy students using their new stuff and add your message.

Remember that most people are on social media in the evening, so that’s the time to make your post. Also, add a request for your friends and family to hit that “share” button so they can share your Donors Choose Project with their social network as well. The more people see your post, the more likely you are to reach folks who would like to help.

The social media algorithm will only show your post to some people in your network, so don’t feel bad about posting again after a while. You’ll catch some new people and remind others of their good intentions. The perfect time might just be when you hit your halfway point on funding, so you can show your project is gaining momentum and encourage people to help you get all the way there.


#6 Use E-mail to your Advantage (advice from Cassey Tien, Michelle Ramos, and the Donors Choose Site)

There are a lot of ways to use e-mail to support your project. Start by e-mailing a few people you know that you think might want to support the project, and explain why you think they might connect to it. Then e-mail your wider network (including student parents if you can) and explain the project. Let them know you know they might not be able to donate money, but they can help by sharing the image for your project and the link on their social media.

Another, more low-key option, is simply to include a short description of your current project and the link to Donors Choose as part of your e-mail signature during your campaign.

#7 Take Advantage of Matching Fund Offers (advice from teachers Sarah Ray and Jennifer Koss)

Sometimes companies and philanthropists reach out to Donors Choose and offer to support projects. You can check out the Match Offers Page here. Not only will you want to take advantage of them, but it makes sense to let your network know these offers exist, as it will make them more likely to donate if they know their donation will be doubled by someone else.

While this isn’t exactly an example of a matching fund offer, you’ll also find fun things like this on the Match Offers page. If you play a free internet safety game with your students at the time I’m publishing this post, you can get $100 towards your project. Not bad!

#8 Don’t be Shy with your Thank-Yous (advice from teachers Jennifer Koss and Amanda Profili and the Donors Choose site)

When someone donates to your project, thank them right away on Donors Choose. It shows that you are paying attention and that you care about your project and the people who support it. Thank your friends and family too, either via social media or in a quick email. The great thing about thanking them on social media is that it will also work as social proof to remind others that you have this wonderful project and people are supporting it.

So there you have it, some tips and tricks to help you get just what you’ve been wanting (and needing) for your classroom. While I hope it goes without saying that I wish your district would just BUY what you need for you and the government would just FUND schools adequately, this is a workaround that really does work.

And if you need some ideas for your next project, here’s a little list to get you thinking!

  • Art Supplies for One Pagers, Sketchnotes, etc. plus a system to organize them
  • Theater corner bookshelf and props, costumes
  • Independent Reading Library Elements
  • Flexible Seating Elements
  • Subscriptions to Education Websites like Breakout EDU
  • Escape Room Padlocks, Lockboxes, etc.
  • Cozy Classroom Elements: lamps, couch, plants, food, etc. to make students with hard lives feel safe
  • Google Garage-esque Moving Parts: whiteboard paint, chalkboard paint, butcher paper, rolling stools, etc.
  • Writing Makerspace Elements: foam board, post-its, Sharpies, legos, play doh, etc.
  • Literature Circles Book Sets
  • Class Sets of New Books
  • Money to host a school Poetry Out Loud or a grade-level poetry slam
  • Money to put on a local TedX Event
  • Money for TPT Curriculum
  • Graphic Novel Versions
  • Audiobook subscriptions
  • Apple TV
  • Class iPad 

Did you know you can learn about all your wish list ELA strategies on your daily commute or walk with The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast? Explore one-pagers, escape rooms, sketchnotes, creative annotation options, research projects, poetry workshops, and much more through over a hundred quick episodes waiting for you on your favorite podcast player!




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