Yes We Can!: Using Donors Choose to Locate Additional Funding

Around our nation and even in our own state, school libraries are facing cuts in funding and personnel.  One way to face this adversity is to be overcome by a feeling of hopelessness.  However, as school librarians, we need to reign in our creative powers and look for alternatives to funding, while at the same time advocating for the restoration of funding at the national, state, and local levels.  We must be transparent about the kinds of learning that takes place in our media center walls and what resources and funding are needed to support this 21st century learning.  In this post, two librarians share a resource for obtaining additional funding in these tough times.

From Andy Plemmons:

One way that I supplement my media center budget is through grants.  In the past three years, I have received local grants from the CCSD Foundation for Excellence and the Athens Area Community Foundation.  The newest grant resource that I am exploring is Donors Choose.  This site started in 2000, when Bronx Social Studies teacher, Charles Best, sensed that the general public would like to supportive innovative classroom and school projects that couldn’t be funded with the limited resources available to schools. Oprah named Donors Choose as one of her favorite things for 2010.  Donors Choose is based on 3 easy steps:  1.  Donors give to a classroom project posted by educators  2.  Donors Choose delivers the materials to the classroom  3.  Kids learn in innovative ways and share photos, updates, and thank you letters from the project

Just a few simple steps sets up an account.  Once registered, you can begin creating projects.  Donors Choose works on a points system.  As your projects get funded and you follow through with writing thank you letters and submitting photos, you earn more points to create additional projects.

To start a project:

  • Choose your type of project and create a title
  • Shop online at Donors Choose-approved sites.  Your saved shopping cart will be imported into your project
  • Tell the story of your project.  Donors Choose walks you through each step of description and provides examples along the way.  A key to your description is explaining the need for the project and the impact it will have
  • Once you submit your project, you wait a few days for it to be approved.  Once approved, you can begin promoting your project via facebook, twitter, email, and your own personalized webpage.  You can view my page of projects here.
  • As donors contribute to your project, you can post thank you responses on your project page.  Once your project is fully funded, you will need to complete a thank you package for your donors.  Failure to do this will cause you to lose points in the Donors Choose system.

Donors Choose is user-friendly.  The site provides help on each step of project creation and offers multiple sources of tutorials.  So far, I’ve created two projects.  Transliterate students is a project that I’m hoping will kickstart my efforts to offer reading in a variety of formats for my elementary students from print materials to audio books to e-readers.  Visiting author book club is a project to support an author visit this year with author Laurel Snyder.  Students will read her books in book clubs to prepare for her visit.  These projects will remain on the Donors Choose site for up to 5 months.

I posted these 2 projects when Borders offered the Waiting for Superman promotion.  All shoppers who shopped at Borders on a particular weekend were given $15 gift cards to donate to projects on Donors Choose.  Several parents at my school received these cards and wanted to know what to do with them, so I created two projects and they donated their cards to the cause.  Since then, I received an additional donation to each project from the wonderful Kathy Schmidt of the Library Stew Blog.  I’m still awaiting full funding on either project, but I will continue to promote my Donors Choose page through social media and my monthly newsletters in the hopes of gaining the funding needed for these two projects.  If these projects are successful, I will continue to use Donors Choose as another option for library funding.

Andy Plemmons

School Librarian

David C. Barrow Elementary

Athens, GA

From Tori Jensen:

I am always looking for ways to obtain more resources for the library.  My budget is currently about $8 per student and includes all supplies, subscriptions, books, etc. for the library. Our free and reduced lunch rate is about 25% which does not qualify us for many grants. The small, local grants available to us are always aimed at new, innovative programs and the organizations behind them are usually not interested in just buying the things they believe the district should cover.  It is frustrating just trying to keep new books on the shelf to encourage reading.

Just before the holidays in December, one of my teachers made me aware of a Borders campaign. Borders would give folks that shopped in one of their stores a $15 gift certificate to give to a Donors Choose project.  I decided to create a project and see how the Donors Choose site worked.

Submitting a project to donors choose is fairly simple. They want to know about the students you are serving and the purpose of your project.  It is sort of like a mini grant application/sales job. When preparing your project, you are asked to choose the materials you need from the Donors Choose vendors.  When I registered, they still had Barnes & Noble as one of their suppliers.  Since my project was funded, they have switched to AKG books (I have never heard of them) and they were able to buy all the books I selected.

When I put my proposal together on Donors Choose, I went a little crazy selecting books for my “Teens Read Too” project.  The organization uses retail prices when totaling the amount requested and I chose about 34 books.  The total for my proposal came to a little over $400.  One thing I found out, though, the site adds an “optional” donation to Donors Choose to the bottom line.  I have pasted a copy of the totals listed on my project here:

Vendor Shipping Charges $0.00
State Sales Tax $0.00
3rd Party Payment Processing Fee $5.58
Fulfillment Labor & Materials $35.00
Project Cost Excluding Donation to Support $412.45
Optional Donation to Support $72.79
Project Cost Including Donation to Support $485.24
8 Donors -$485.24

When people donate to your project, the default setting automatically takes part of their donation and gives it to Donors Choose unless the donor reads the small print and deselects the automatic donation. I don’t like this. It seems to me that the site is trying to “pull one over” on the folks donating.

I linked my Donors Choose project to my Facebook wall which was easy to do through Donors Choose. Any time someone donated, it posted to my Facebook page which added publicity to my project. I could also just click a button to re-post my Donors Choose project to my Facebook page for a little more advertising.  I’m not sure where each of my donors found out about my donation page, but I know at least one saw the posting on Facebook. I think it is a good way to get noticed.
One other thing about Donors Choose that I didn’t find out until after I had submitted my project; your entire project must be funded within 5 months.  If your project expires before it is fully funded, Donors Choose will contact all your donors and give them a choice of what to do with the funds they donated. I sent a message to nearly every contact on my personal email list.  This is not something I do lightly, but I didn’t want to lose any of the money folks had already given to my Teens Read Too page. When will I ever learn to read everything, even the very small print?

I think this organization can work for libraries, but I don’t like some of their practices.  If you decide to give it a try, I would love to know how it turns out for you.  You may also put my email on your possible library donors list when you get close to the end of your term 😉

Tori Jensen
Spring Lake Park High School

Information Goddess
Minnesota Educational Media Organization

Andy Plemmons is the school library media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA.  He holds a BSED in Early Childhood Education, an MED in Children’s Literature and Language Arts, and an EdS in Instructional Technology/School Library Media.  After teaching 3rd grade for 7 years, Andy Plemmons transitioned into the media center to support elementary students, teachers, and families in celebrating the joy of reading, exploring information in a variety of formats, and creating new types of information via web 2.0 technology.  Andy is the proud Dad of Alora, a curious toddler who teaches him new things every day.  Andy enjoys spending time with his wife Denise and daughter Alora going on any adventure that comes their way.  He also enjoys exploring new technology and has just ventured into the world of e-reading with a Nook Color.  All adventures and explorations usually find their way back into the media center in some way.

Tori Jensen became a school library volunteer mom at her daughter’s elementary school in 1995.  That school was her elementary school in the ‘60s and the librarian there in 1994 was HER 6th grade teacher.  She had worked as an MBA in the ‘80s and then stayed home with her kids.  While volunteering at the Snail Lake Elementary library, Tori’s 6th grade teacher told her that he would be retiring and she could have his position if she wanted to.  Tori went back to school and earned her Master’s in elementary education and her certification in media. She has been a school librarian for 12 years and has never been happier!


About plemmonsa

School librarian, connected educator,Google Certified Teacher, NSBA 20 to Watch, speaker. Expecting the miraculous every day!

Posted on January 13, 2011, in Advocacy, Ideas, Yes We CAN and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the shout out Andy! I had a project funded by Donors Choose this year and I am awaiting my books as we speak (of course, this silly snow has delayed them!) here is the link to my project that was funded,
    My students are SOO excited about the new books.
    I love that on Donors Choose I can give just a little and it will directly help students and teachers!

  1. Pingback: Yes We Can!: Using Donors Choose to Locate Additional Funding « Georgia Library Media Association « Barrow Media Center

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