District Partnerships with DonorsChoose Promise Peace of Mind for Teachers
Most people associate DonorsChoose—a crowdfunding platform used by teachers across the United States—with teachers seeking funding for special projects or classroom equipment.
Indeed, a quick scroll through the DonorsChoose website yields the following:
An elementary school teacher in Chicago seeking money for a rug with a rainbow pattern to help create a sense of place for her young students
A teacher in New Mexico asking for classroom supplies such as pencils, paper, and headphones
A teacher in Minnesota looking for help with bus and ticket costs so a group of high-school seniors studying teen activism and theater can attend a production of Romeo and Juliet in downtown St. Paul
Traditionally, the target audience for DonorsChoose postings is composed of students' families and friends, along with other members of the school community. But as the education news source Education Dive reported several months ago, the site is now offering interested districts the chance to be partners in crowdfunding campaigns for the first time.
According to Education Dive, the partnership option is essentially a way for districts to more directly monitor and manage staff usage of the DonorsChoose platform. More specifically, districts can elect to sign in to DonorsChoose and gain greater access to every project that teachers post online.
Let's take a more detailed look at what the district partner program is all about.
A key facet of the DonorsChoose approach involves a commitment to facilitating free, secure, high-quality interactions between donors and teachers. Before any money changes hands, DonorsChoose walks all participants through a clearly outlined vetting process, stating that “only teachers at verified schools post projects on our site” and all of the projects are meticulously checked for validity. After all, any wiggle room for scams would certainly cast a shadow over the real need to create substantive learning experiences for the myriad students adversely affected by the persistent funding shortages with which many school districts are contending.
Districts will likely need similar reassurance before proceeding with DonorsChoose requests or partnerships. As administrative staff in many districts are already stretched thin, it may not be realistic for them to monitor teachers’ interactions with DonorsChoose on top of all their other responsibilities, so knowing that the organization itself deals with privacy and security concerns is key.
Moreover, increased district involvement could represent an alternative path for school systems such as Nashville's, which has banned crowdfunding platforms like DonorsChoose due to concerns about the potential for teachers’ requests to fall short of meeting district standards.
Beyond ensuring transaction security and project validity, DonorsChoose takes a leading role in managing logistics on behalf of its school district partners. According to the organization's website, this involves carefully processing orders, facilitating clear communications, and establishing a delivery plan for each request and funded project.
Moreover, teachers who use the site to raise funds are asked to provide feedback on the experience. Districts can use this feedback to track the usefulness and impact of the funded project—which they undoubtedly appreciate, given that many are required to not only track every dollar they spend but tie all expenditures to clear student outcomes.
The Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD), which enrolls close to 700,000 students and is the second largest of its kind in the nation, is among those districts that have officially partnered with DonorsChoose. Indeed, a local news station that reported on the partnership in 2019 highlighted the fundraising efforts of Diane Yokoyama, an elementary school teacher who has raised more than $160,000 through DonorsChoose since 2005.
While teachers like Yokoyama have been using DonorsChoose for years, others may only recently have ventured onto the site for the first time—many due to unprecedented funding issues that arose in connection with the COVID-19 crisis.
The bottom line
Considering that many teachers end up paying for students' basic school supplies out of their own pockets, it is easy to see why many are drawn to crowdfunding, and the partnership option offered by DonorsChoose seems ideal for districts eager to take a more hands-on approach. Until school funding streams match what teachers believe their students need, crowdfunding platforms such as DonorsChoose will likely continue to be a welcome option for educators.
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