DonorsChoose sees banner donation year with help from Gates Foundation and millions of small gifts

18 August 2023

NEW YORK (AP) — Kerry Richardson likes that some of her fellow teachers at Richmond Public Schools in Virginia nicknamed her “Walmart.” Others call the second grade teacher “Boy Scout.”

Yes, Richardson says with a laugh, she is always prepared to lend fellow teachers whatever they may need. She says that’s only possible because of supplies she gets from DonorsChoose, the online platform that connects teachers seeking materials for their students and classrooms with contributors looking to support their efforts.

And Richardson is not alone.

DonorsChoose has seen a banner year for donations in 2023, setting records by collecting nearly $10 million during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. Earlier this month, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $2 million to match 50% of all DonorsChoose pledges for one day – a marked departure from the way the largest U.S. philanthropy normally makes donations, based on its own meticulous research and big-picture priorities.

DonorsChoose is also seeing plenty of engagement from donors in a time when overall giving is generally down, especially among young people.

Alix Guerrier, DonorsChoose CEO, says families with school-age children use the platform to teach their kids about generosity because the kids understand what getting sports equipment or school supplies means to students who don’t have any. He said the platform’s appeal to slightly older donors is even stronger.

“Among young adults — whether that’s Gen Z or maybe even into millennials — there is a distrust of larger institutions and a high premium placed on directness,” Guerrier said. “They actually have an interaction with the teacher right through the platform and can give a word of support. The teacher sends their thanks and gives evidence of what happened. So that kind of directness really appeals to them.”

The model — created in 2000 by Charles Best, who was teaching at a public high school in The Bronx – actually appeals to plenty of philanthropists, both big and small. Teachers go on the platform to ask for supplies that their districts do not provide. When donors fully fund the campaign, DonorsChoose sends the teachers the supplies.

On any given day, philanthropist Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, will likely boost a handful of DonorsChoose campaigns from his personal account on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter. Actress and SAG-AFTRA board member Yvette Nicole Brown does the same. As does stand-up comic and talk show host W. Kamau Bell.

“It’s one of the best days of the year: @DonorsChoose match day,” Bill Gates wrote on X, earlier this month, announcing the Gates Foundation’s match. That day, DonorsChoose raised $8 million between the Gates Foundation match and nearly 40,000 donations for 24,000 teachers.

Bob Hughes, director of K-12 Education for the Gates Foundation’s United States Program, said he considered the donation a privilege to help support teachers, especially with the current shortage following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re a strategic philanthropy and our goal is to change big levers in the world,” said Hughes. “We happen to do big things. We’re looking at math curriculum and we’re looking at assessment and we’re looking at professional learning and those are big, hairy, systemic problems. But DonorsChoose is just an opportunity to lead a little bit more with your heart.”

In 2022, the Gates Foundation donated $290 million to K-12 education in the United States to address large issues in the sector, especially around improving students’ understanding of math. However, Hughes said reaching small goals also makes a difference.

“Every bit counts and every single day in the life of a student and teacher is important,” he said. “If we can change the trajectory of those days in ways that benefit them, that’s super exciting.”

These small donations mean Richardson’s students in Richmond get to learn earth science by making “edible dirt” – a mixture of butterscotch chips, crushed Oreos and other treats representing the layers of soil – with some gummy worms on top for good measure. It’s a relatively low-cost science activity, but in a district where more than 34% of the students live in poverty, those expenses have to be subsidized by somebody.

“DonorsChoose taught me to create, that I could bring ideas in my mind to fruition,” Richardson said. “And it’s also helped me create an equitable classroom, equal when compared to classrooms in Northern Virginia or even private school classrooms that tend to be better supplied.”

Erick Odom, social studies teacher at the East Bronx Academy for the Future in New York, said DonorsChoose has helped him turn his classroom into a place where his students can feel comfortable. He is excited about getting a combination air fryer and microwave for his classroom this coming school year, so his students can make healthier meals.

“When the students see the boxes coming in, they really appreciate it,” Odom said. “Even if it’s only small things, I want them to understand that this comes from other people — doing it for them. It means a lot.”

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Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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