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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Wish List: Donated School Supplies Are Just a Click Away

The dos and don'ts of requesting supplies at DonorsChoose.org.
By Sara Ring

It's Covered: Doreen Weiss reads to her students on their donated rug.

The hardwood floor in Doreen Weiss's second-grade class was lovely to look at but uncomfortable to sit on during reading time, so Weiss covered part of it with a colorful rug decorated with a world map -- one paid for not by the school, nor by Weiss herself, but by an anonymous donor through the Web site DonorsChoose.org. "My students loved it. And they still love it. They like to sit on certain continents," Weiss notes with a laugh.

If you could use some help providing supplies or experiences for your class, you're not alone. Since 2000, more than 42,000 school projects have received funding through DonorsChoose.org, which now serves public schools in all fifty states. Donors (the site calls them citizen philanthropists) range from charitable organizations to Fortune 500 companies, but the majority of benefactors are simply individuals looking to make a difference. So far, donors have given more than $18 million to fund projects for schools in need. Yours could be next.

How It Works

To submit a proposal, you'll have to write an essay explaining which items you want and how they'll benefit your class. (Teachers have requested everything from multimedia projectors to art supplies to lab safety aprons.) Potential donors browse through thousands of proposals and may choose to contribute to, or fully pay for, the projects that interest them the most. If your project gets funded, DonorsChoose.org will purchase the items and mail them to you along with a feedback package you complete to thank your donors.

Increasing the Odds

How can you improve the chances of your proposal getting funded? Here are some helpful dos:

  • Do submit an essay that paints a picture of who your students are and how they will benefit by receiving your requested items.
  • Do give your proposal a catchy title. For example, the title "What a Knock Out!" (an actual project name) is more eye catching than, say, "Martial Arts Class Needs Free-Standing Heavy Bag."
  • Do try to keep the cost low. Most requests that cost less than $400 are funded within three months. If possible, consider breaking up an expensive project into multiple requests.
  • Do have colleagues proofread your essay, recommends Steven Slaughter, a fifth-grade teacher at Chicago's Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. Slaughter has had two projects funded through DonorsChoose.org: a rotating bookshelf filled with books, and supplies for an organic garden. "It's important to write well," he advises, but he adds that, compared to a grant proposal, the DonorsChoose.org essay is easy. Another plus is that unlike in the case of most grant-making organizations, DonorsChoose.org doesn't have specific cost or subject-matter requirements, which allows for much more flexibility in the type of items you can request. And, rather than cutting you a check, DonorsChoose.org actually purchases your items and ships them right to you.
  • Do mention if you have many students at a high level of poverty. Some donors prefer to give to schools where the need is greatest, whatever the project may be.
  • Do consider letting friends, family, and students' parents know you've submitted a request. All donations are anonymous, and the funds could start pouring in if you're comfortable spreading the word.
  • Do be patient. Proposals are kept on the site for a maximum of eight months, and it may take that long to get funded. Proposals not fully funded by their expiration date are removed from the site.

And, of course, here are some don'ts:

  • Don't be late returning your feedback package. Donor appreciation is a vital aspect of the program's success.
  • Don't be late returning emails from DonorsChoose.org. Again, a prompt response is key.
  • Don't get bogged down in academic terms. "Use layperson's language, not education lingo," suggests Linda Erlinger, the organization's vice president of teacher engagement.

Giving Back

Contributing Colleague: Teacher Kevan Truman enjoys funding other teachers' projects.

Credit: Barbara Ungar

Teachers aren't just on the receiving end of DonorsChoose.org. Kevan Truman, a third-grade teacher at Central School, in Wilmette, Illinois, has donated funds to several projects on the site over the past two years. Would he ever request materials for his own class? The answer is no. "I am blessed with so much," he explains, noting the affluence of his school district.

For those who could use some assistance, DonorsChoose.org is a great resource -- so good, in fact, that some teachers are initially skeptical. "Teachers often tell us that this seems too good to be true, but it isn't," says DonorsChoose.org's Linda Erlinger. "It works."

Sara Ring is a contributing writer for Edutopia. She lives in Los Angeles.

Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mrs Tassang Celestina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a lecturer by profession at the University of Buea in the South West Region of Cameroon. I became inspired in 2004 to open a Nursery and Primary school in Muea, a small district in this region because there was a great need for schools in this zone to bring up pupils as there was only the community school which existed at that time. That I did and I my school's name was given as ST SYLVESTER BILINGUAL SCHOOL and begins from PRE- NURSERY to PRIMARY SIX.

On my mind and on the plan I made for the school, it was supposed to be a two storrey building block and as at now, only the first floor has been constructed, pending the remaining two due to the financial hard ship I am facing as the enrollment is still low and does not permit me to go further because if I do, I fear the standards will drop too much as I will have to drop the number of my well qualified staffs I employed. This might rather cause more harm to the school and thereby not helping me.

Last year, the school was first ahead of all other schools in the zone at the public end of year exams and for the previous years, it has been recording only 100% in its public exams and equally featuring amongst the TOP SCHOOLS.

It is for the above reason that St Sylvester will be be needing assistance from you both in cash or in kind in terms of Computers, and School stationeries.

Thanks for giving me the place to write to you and hoping to hear from you soonest.
Best regards.

JULIE's picture

HELLO EVERY BODY I HAVE TWO KIDS AND AM IN NEED OF SCHOOL SUPPLIES FOR MY 2ND GRADER AND MY 3RD GRADER PLEASE HELP THANK YOU I LIVE IN CHICAGO

JULIE's picture

HELLO AM IN NEED OF SCHOOL SUPPLIES FOR MY TWO KIDS IN GRADE 2ND AND 3RD PLEASE HELP ME OUT THANK YOU I LIVE IN CHICAGO HOPE ANY BODY CAN HELP ME

Carolyn Garrison's picture
Carolyn Garrison
Teacher Educator

My husband and I taught our first two years on the Navajo reservation at Lake Valley Navajo Boarding School. Children only received two outfits and one pair of shoes a year. I agree that these children are certainly worthy of support; we witnessed it firsthand.

Carolyn Garrison's picture
Carolyn Garrison
Teacher Educator

I teach in a teacher education program at the college level in KY and am serving on a committee to sponsor a Jumpstart Read for the Record event in our community on October 7th. For the Headstart children invited, we would like to provide a copy of the book for each one. Does anyone know of resources available for such a project?

Jonah Clint's picture

It is said that children are our future. In order to ensure our future, we must make sure they get the best education possible. There are a lot of countries where children don't have access to education and that's where charity foundations do their best work. Anyone can contribute with money, clothes or food or even by making a car donation. One of the easiest ways to help these children is to donate school supplies that your children no longer use. They will be highly valued by less fortunate children.

Gina Murchison's picture
Gina Murchison
PAPA President

One of Paramount Academy's largest events during the school year is the Science Fair. The student submit their project before winter break and have till mid March to complete it. Projects range from robotics, to plants, to military based experiments. The are required to use Scientific Method throught out the experiment and to show the results. In order to better prepare the students for this we are looking for science equipment that the teachers can use in class as examples. Items for experiments that are hands on and safe for 5th thru 8th grade students with in class demonstration would definatly light the fire under their beakers. Thank you for looking.

angels with faith ministries's picture

We are Angels with Faith Ministries a 501c3 non-profit charity located in Winder,Georgia (Barrow county) & we help anywhere in Georgia (Barrow,Jackson county,Gwinnett,Athens,Hall,etc etc, EVERY county & city in Georgia). We are conducting our annual School supply & clothing donation Drive from July to August (school begins 1st week of August) to prepare underpriveleged kids grades K -12 for the new school year.Many families can barely get by & pay their household bills to keep a roof over their childrens heads & they need our help desperately. We already have over 200 children on our school supply & clothing needs list & more coming in daily.You can donate in person or by mail at 722 Chicken Lyle Rd ,Winder,GA 30680( we are a home based charity so that we have 0 overhead costs & can help more families by giving 100% of ALL donations toward helping those in true need), we also have volunteers 7 days a week to pickup donations within 30 miles of Winder,GA 30680, you can also donate online to help us purchase much needed supplies & clothing at angelswithfaithministries.beep.com & angelswithfaithministries.org via paypal(you will instantly be able to print a tax deductible donation receipt),by mail or we can use donated gift cards to purchase school supplies as well. ALL donations are tax deductible for every cent that you spend & all donations go directly to providing much needed supplies & clothing & shoes for these many many children in true need. PLEASE be an angel & help us make this year another success, there are no other programs in this area who havent already distributed school supplies to needy families & school will start soon Thank you & GOD BLESS,Lori Tuck Director of Angels with faith Ministries,Winder GA You can also help by visiting our walmart.com wishlist registry where we add each childs complete school list as they come in you can purchase1 items from the list or more as many as you prefer & they will be sent directly to our charity for distribution & you will then be bale to print your tax deductible gift receipt with all of our information listed,the list is under wishlist registry Name Lori Tuck (I am the director & our charity name wouldnt fit in the name box) Date August 7 & state Georgia the list is getting very long these students have a very long list of supplies that they must have on the 1st day of school so please help us fill every need these Georgia children who live in poverty truely need,they are our future & they are depending on angels to help them begin their new school year prepared Thank you all so much & GOD BLESS Remember school starts soon it is already August & the wishlist will remain open until all needs are filled our email is angelswithfaithministriesgeorgia@yahoo.com Phone Lori Tuck ,director 678-754-1541 Rev Michael Tuck 678-754-2337

Ambrose Ganshanga's picture
Ambrose Ganshanga
Pearl Inclusive Education Center.

Children with disabilities in a group session for empowerment. Most of them were picked from the communities while abandoned and hidden in houses. The community and parents have started to appreciate that disability is not in ability after integrating the children in activities of daily life performance. Making an Inclusive Learning center, which will act as an agent of change to the society is possible with YOU.

Ambrose Ganshanga's picture
Ambrose Ganshanga
Pearl Inclusive Education Center.

In need of financial support to start an Inclusive Education center for the neglected children with disabilities. This is possible with your support. I am using my small salary to support the already enrolled 32 children with disabilities to learn activities of daily life and social empowerment activities to include them after many years of neglect and abuse.

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