Since January 2015, I’ve received over $3,400 worth of materials for my classroom free through Donors Choose, including four laptops, dozens of books for my classroom library, and many professional development resources. Donors Choose is one of the easiest way to get the materials and supplies that are actually needed–and are literally hand-picked by you!
However, many teachers I’ve talked to about Donors Choose are reluctant to start, either because they aren’t sure how the website works or that it takes too much effort. Once you’ve successfully funded a project, you’ll realize that DC is an amazing and easy resource to use!
5 Steps for a Successful Start on Donors Choose:
1. Create an Account:
The first thing to do is set up a teacher account. Use a personal email address, not a school one, so that your DC account can easily follow you if you switch schools.
After you fill in your teaching details and select a nice profile picture, be sure to select “anonymous” when donating other projects. (This will allow you to inconspicuously contribute to your own projects to get them started, as needed.)
2. Start Small
Donors Choose gives each teacher four points to start a project, but don’t use all of them at once! Instead, shoot for a project between $100-$300, so that you have the best odds of getting it successfully funded. Once your projects are completed and your thank-you package is submitted, you’ll earn those points back. In just a year, I earned 12 points, which gave me the freedom of having several projects posted at once. For our student-led project, I was able to choose a vendor that wasn’t already in the directory (6 points).
To create a new project, you’ll need to decide what your focus will be. Don’t try to get everything!
Choose from books, supplies (whether specific to a project or general), technology, or furniture. The sky is the limit! Just make sure that all the products relate to your overall project idea. If you are requesting technology, don’t ask for an entire class set at once! Start with no more than two laptops or tablets, and as those get funded, create similar projects (read: copy-paste!) for until you have what you need.
Remember, the higher the cost is of the project, the less likely it will be funded. Even if you received enough donations for one or two of the requested items, you risk the project expiring and having to start all over. Work your way up to a class set, and you’ll be able to start using the technology right away!
Of all the suppliers, Amazon is my favorite site to use, and the shipping is quick! I’ve also purchased from Best Buy (their Chromebooks are sometimes a better price than Amazon) and Quill (do yourself a favor and order a gallon of Expo whiteboard cleaner).
Once you’ve selected the items for your project, be sure to answer all the questions carefully. You can browse projects of other classrooms that are similar to yours for ideas. Also, if grammar isn’t your strong suit, be sure to ask a colleague to look it over before submitting since the projects can’t be edited once they’re submitted.
Once the project is approved, be patient — Your first project will qualify for a match code offer, so be sure to wait for an additional email from Donors Choose that will explain how that process works before spreading the word.
3. Promote your Donors Choose Page
If you haven’t already, link your Donors Choose profile to your personal Facebook account. This helps to easily promote your projects with friends and family.
Next, add your Donors Choose link to your email signature. You can simply add a link to your teacher page, such as http://donorschoose.org/yournamehere
However, if you’d like a dynamic signature (that also works for class websites) use this website to create custom HTML code! Just select the “Teacher ID” option.
4. Create an Attractive PDF to Send to Parents
Donors Choose does a great job providing sample email templates (and even these sharable images!) to help get the word out about your project. Take it one step further, and design an attractive PDF to send home via email or to pass out to students. The first seven days are most crucial in funding a project, and as a new teacher on Donors Choose, you’ll receive a special promo code– be sure to include it in the letter and how to use it!
This is your opportunity to share with parents about what is going on in your classroom, and how the project supports the students’ learning.
I like to include photos of the products requested, along with the school logo. You can use the school letterhead, or use the tools in Word to create colorful sidebars or headers. Include hyperlinked text to make it easy for parents to click directly on the PDF for access to your project, but include the text link to your teacher page, too, just in case.
This is the PDF I emailed to parents for my first Donors Choose project:
5. Don’t Procrastinate on the Thank You Package!
Take pictures immediately when the materials arrive! You will need six pictures in order to finalize the project. If possible, take fun pictures of your students using the materials (assuming you have photo releases on record). If not, take pictures of the materials themselves, or take pictures of a student’s hands with the materials.
Some projects will require you to send thank-you notes. Before your materials even arrive, fold colored construction paper into makeshift cards. Print off the mailing address (with its unique barcode) and affix it to a large envelope.
Write down on a sticky note what needs to go in the note (i.e., donor’s name, a positive comment about the specific materials received, and signed with a first name–no last names!) Then, have students who finish early write a card until you have five or more per donor. Keep in mind that you will need to mail the cards about two weeks before the thank you component is due.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What are other ways to be successful on Donors Choose?
I recommend that you always keep a project (or two) posted on Donors Choose — you never know who might donate! Occasionally, Donors Choose will have a flash funding event, and sometimes celebrities will fund projects for an entire state! Once, a stranger from another state sought out my teacher page and donated to a project after reading my comment on an Donors Choose article!
Regularly check the Donors Choose Partner Funding page for your state and keep an eye out for match offers or codes. There are often unique opportunities for projects that you might not have thought of!
Follow Donors Choose on Facebook and Instagram, along with Caring Classrooms. You will hear about new promotions for funding this way. I also regularly search #donorschoose on social media to find out about companies who are offering match codes or contests! Earlier this year, I received a $100 donation from Advancement Courses. If you try this route, don’t just include the link to your page–tell a story that inspires them to choose your project over the others.
It’s been a few days, and no one has donated to my project yet. What can I do?
It’s okay to contribute anonymously to your own project, especially if you have a match offer code. With a match code, it will show up on your DC project as “two donors.” People are more likely to donate to a project that already has some funding, and it will appear higher on search results.
Be sure to communicate with parents about your project, and find out if there are any additional incentives from your school for parents to donate towards your projects. For example, our school gives 1 hour of volunteer time credits for every $15 donated.
Share your project on social media with your friends and family. Invite them to contribute, but don’t expect them to fully fund every project for you.
You can also seek out donations from local businesses and ask them to partner with you — You might only get a single donation for every dozen messages you send, but sometimes it’s worth it!
Who “owns” the resources I received from Donors Choose?
In most cases, the materials you’ve received will stay with you, as long as you will continue to use them in an educational setting (even if you switch schools). Check with your school leadership team to find out if they have any guidelines for materials obtained Donors Choose, and if you can, get it as a written statement.
What kinds of materials can I order?
Of all the items ordered through Donors Choose, these are a few of my favorites:
- 15″ Acer Chromebooks (the screens are big enough for two students to view comfortably)
- A gallon of Expo whiteboard cleaner, along with the spray bottle–easy refills and it works like a charm!
- Graphic novels for my classroom library — there’s never too many!
If you need more ideas, check out this great handout!
I want materials for a project or unit, but I won’t be starting it for a few months. Should I wait?
You have four months to fund a project through Donors Choose, so if you’re able to post a project early, do it! I knew I needed novel sets for a dystopian unit in February, so I posted the project in November. I had it funded pretty quickly, but posting with a few months to spare might make a difference.
What is a student-led project?
If you teach grades 7-12, you can try out a Student-Led project. This will require more work on your part, but it can be worth it to have the students involved! Basically, the students will be involved in selecting materials and wording the actual project (Donors Choose has a great worksheet for this in their Student-Led project packet). Student-led projects may have their own funding match offers, and many donors would prefer to support a student-led project if one in their area were available. Because it’s a relatively new feature, it may be more likely to fund successfully. Click here for a teacher guide!
Still Not Sure? Just Try It!
Yes, Donors Choose projects take some time and effort to figure out. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to provide awesome materials for your students!