In 2000, Charles Best (Yale College ’98), a social studies teacher at an alternative public high school in the South Bronx, found himself frustrated because his school did not have access to many of the resources available in other New York City public schools. Best and his colleagues were able to secure basic materials, but they were unable to bring many creative classroom projects to fruition, because they lacked financial support.
Best believed that there were many people who would be willing to fund small projects that quickly improved classroom performance and educational opportunities; however, the challenge was to connect donors with appropriate projects.
In an attempt to solve this problem, Best founded DonorsChoose.org, a website that would match donors directly with New York City public school teachers who needed funding for classroom materials and activities. Simple in its conception, the DonorsChoose.org model actually required a number of systems to insure that teachers posted good projects, that donors could easily choose among projects, and that a link was forged between the donors and students. Best believed that this direct link between donors and classrooms would address “the scarcity and inequitable distribution of learning materials and experiences in our public schools.”
After an auspicious start, Best and DonorsChoose.org set their sights on growing beyond New York City. The organization received national publicity and won a prestigious non-profit strategy award. Then in 2005, a group of Silicon Valley executives agreed to provide a $14 million grant to fund national expansion. DonorsChoose.org scaled up its organization and began a step-by-step expansion into various locales. It created an ambitious outreach program to encourage teachers to design projects and donors to visit the site and commit to funding projects.
At the beginning of 2009, as the grant money was coming to an end, the organization had made great strides toward completing its expansion. However, observers wondered whether DonorsChoose.org could reach its goal of providing $100 million per year in gifts to classrooms and whether it would have an impact on the fundamental inequities within the educational system.
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Anna Blanding, Jennifer Stredler, Kim Su, Ivy Washington, Sharon Oster, Jaan Elias and Andrea R. Nagy, “DonorsChoose.org,” Yale SOM Case 09-023, May 1, 2009
- Social Enterprise