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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
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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

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This program is for public school teachers only. It will not consider all school teachers and their students in its program.

mrsh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is the first year I am employed by the public school district in our community, but am stationed at the parochial school in the Auxiliary Unit providing Title 1 and Auxiliary tutoring to the students. The leveled readers I have ar more than ten years old, and most of the other items I have to work with are 15-30 years old. Would I be eligible to participate in this program?


Dianne T.Owens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am the principal of a Navajo Boarding School, Wingate Elementary School.Many of our students live at our school. They need coats, jeans, shirts, unerwear, socks and shoes, They also need notebooks, pencils, pens, rulers, notebook paper, binders, folders for work. We have had our budget cut and parents don't have the money to cloth their children. They have a hard time buying school supplies also. We try to do the best we can. Our school offers shelter and food to many Navajo children. We need help to be able to do a better job of supporting families.

Soumya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am looking to do a fundraiser for giving school supplies to a local elementary school in Camden, NJ. I am not a teacher but am organizing a community service project to help one classroom by making back to school kits. Does anyone have ideas of where I can get free school supplies even though I am not a teacher. Any help would be great. Thanks!

Jerry Hall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Check out a site we launched in 2003 called www.iLoveSchools.com where any teacher from any school can ask for anything they need. We match you with donors of new or used items. It's all at no cost to the teacher. Thanks!

Ruthenia Moses's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This letter is to introduce Vision Performing Arts Academy located in the Historical Town of Eatonville, Florida. The doors of our school were open on September 2, 2008 with 17 students and 5 staff members.
Today, we at the Vision Performing Arts Academy are experiencing financial hardship. The Teachers have worked here without any pay or remuneration and the landlord of the building in which we occupy have received no money because we have been trying desperately to get approved by the McKay and Children's First Scholarship but to no avail.
We are registered with the DOE (Department of Education for the State of Florida).
All of our furnishings desk, chairs, tables, books, printers, computers etc, have been donated from numerous sources and for this we are grateful.
Our current situation is one of uniqueness where a group of individuals came to work at this school expecting to be paid and to date no monies have come in to pay the staff or the rent on the facility. Yet, the individuals have remained committed to teach and give of their time and talents to make a difference in these children who come from many different walks of life.
Their personal families have done without many things because of their unselfish sacrifices made to this vision. Any donations we receive will be used to help the struggling staff members and pay some of the overhead in running this facility.
The Vision Performing Arts Academy is a school with an academic program that allows students to become empowered in ways that they have never been able to do before. We are foundational not traditional teaching facility. We test the student and find out what skill level they are and develop an individualized curriculum for them. We make sure the foundation in phonics, basic math skills, and basic English skills are mastered. We wet their appetite for reading by exposing them to a variety of authors and writers they can relate to. We later introduce authors that will stretch their minds and ability. We put a strong emphasis on writing and public speaking. Each student is required to learn and recite scripture and we have found that this helps with building self worth, self esteem and character.
The school was founded and started to create an atmosphere where students can feel safe to dream and become whatever their dreams dictate. They are able to pursue this in a facility where the school provides learning with a developmentally appropriate curriculum for grades K-12 grade.
The vast majority of our students were failing in the public school setting, but because of smaller classes and one on one attention the turn around has been remarkable.
Our school environment fosters hard work, moral values and respect for self and others. This Program we offer takes each student to the next level and allows them to make choices for a better life; by equipping them in the areas of financial management, technological advancement, college opportunities, vocational school placements and the arts.
We will like to thank you in advance for your help. If you have any questions or concerns about our school please contact me at the phone numbers listed below.

Ruthenia Moses
The Vision Performing Arts Academy
519 Clark Street ~ Eatonville, FL 32751
Ph (321) 972-6813~ Fax (321) 972-6814
Cell (352) 408-8273

STACY's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

hello my name is stacy i reside in kentucky with my two great children.i have a son who will be 15 come may and a daughter who will be 10 the first of march.i homeschool my daughter ,she is autistic.this has been such ajoy for me and my daughter has totally done3 a 360 degree turn just in the last six months!we do all subjects,she loves to learn.the thing is being a homeschool parent i have to provide evrything for her feild trips,books so fourth.i have found out that i do find used books at the nearest goodwill stor and they are pretty reasonable so i can purchase theam,but its not always a for sure thing.i also have been helping other homeschooling parents and children as well.i am just looking for anything at this point books,supplies,bullentine board templates etc. i am wanting to purchase a desk and chair for me to sit so my dau8ghter can kind of be independent while she does her woerk,that just donest seem to be in my budject though. another thing that i really am in need of is a computer,a used but working one would be awesome to have.any thing that any one can donate to our school will be a blessing! it a challenge to teach and on top of just teaching,teaching an autistic child is really tricky! thank you very much for your time,god bless you all:))

Belinda Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

77" SMARTBOARD needed for self-contained classroom of "exceptional students" which is located on a public high school campus. Currently, there are 13 students, most require one to one teaching. The classroom is made up of two students with Down Syndrome, three students with Autism, two students with Celebral Palsy, and all of the other are considered to be Intellectually Disabled.
Typically, children with disablities process visual information easier than auditory information. The SmartBoard technology will provide the means to give information through the strongest method of learning... visual. The visual accommodatons and representations can be brought to life on one big screen for all studnets, in their preferred learning style.
Many students with disablities are highly interested and motivated by computers. The SmartBoard will increase the interactive atmosphere in the classroom, thus absorbing more of the "lesson".
There are many, many worthwhile groups for donors to offer assistance to during this time of extreme budget cuts. THANK YOU FOR CONSIDERING US!

erneto contreras's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have a chil in need of pensols, pen backpac notebook for the buck to school in september so please try to help me whith this good one togive her a beter futare for her life . thank you for lisseing to me big dad

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