DonorsChoose growing

By Laura Williams-Tracy

America’s public school teachers spend an average of $552 of their own money on school supplies every year, estimates say.

North Carolinians seem to think that’s too much.

Since DonorsChoose was created in North Carolina three years ago, the online nonprofit has helped public school teachers find a total of more than $1.06 million in donations to fund more than 3,000 creative teaching ideas that otherwise would have gone unrealized.

“It’s amazing how many motivated teachers there are out there,” says Katie Bisbee, who in August was named executive director of DonorsChoose for the North Carolina and South Carolina regions.

DonorsChoose began in 2000 when a public school teacher from the Bronx, N.Y., got the idea for an online marketplace that would match creative projects proposed by teachers with would-be donors via the internet.

Teachers submit project proposals for materials or other projects that help students learn, and individuals can search the website and provide full or partial funding for projects.

The group, which operates in seven states, launched its first integrated marketing campaign across all divisions this fall to drum up financial support for teacher projects.

During the six-week Back to School Challenge, the organization blitzed its email donor base and worked through local media outlets to publicize the push.

North Carolina surpassed its goal, raising $59,000 for schools across the state, while the challenge raised $1.5 million nationwide.

Almost two in three of the dollars raised through the challenge in North Carolina were contributed by individuals, and a third of those donors were first-time contributors to DonorsChoose, says Bisbee.

But as the organization’s successes have increased, so has the number of proposals submitted by teachers.

Currently, DonorsChoose in North Carolina has over 2,000 teacher proposals, and that record level of demand creates a challenge, says Bisbee.

The Connecticut native worked in social policy research at the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City before earning a master’s in business.

She then worked for Red Ventures, a Charlotte-based firm that starts direct-marketing companies, but says she was lured by the opportunity to put her business skills back to work in a nonprofit setting, especially one as entrepreneurial as DonorsChoose.

“I wanted to bring data-driven decisions to a nonprofit,” she says.

DonorsChoose doesn’t guarantee funding, says Bisbee, but relies on the marketplace ideal that the best ideas will get funded, and teachers with the most creative ideas will quickly attract money.

In North Carolina, the average project funding request is $400, and more than two in three projects costing that amount or less receive funding within 60 days, she says.

Over the course of a full school year, 93 percent of such projects in North Carolina receive funding, while two in three more-expensive projects are funded before the year is out.

DonorsChoose hopes those numbers hold true as it expands its operations nationwide next year, fueled by a $14 million fundraising campaign.

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