Working with a small budget can be frustrating. There’s no way for me to buy ANY Orff/Barred percussion, world drums, or most other instruments. Recording equipment, electronics, and things like “Gameplan” are right at or above my budget. Fundraising is sort of out of the question because my students live in a high poverty area. I can’t send them home to sell cookie dough, or chocolate, or other products because their parents and families and neighbors don’t have money to spend on such things. For many families it's a stretch when I ask them to pay $3 for a recorder. I have to be choosey and careful with how I spend the little money I get. And of course I can’t roll all those funds into one pot and buy a big-ticket item. Budgets in school districts don’t allow that. Sigh...
DonorsChoose provides a place for donors to learn about the needs of specific teachers, choose a classroom project that interests them, and then give any amount to their classroom of choice. I post projects on the website, asking for essential things that I need—instruments, books, technology—and donors all around the country can make tax deductible gifts of whatever amount they want to help and purchase the things that I need to make my music program excellent.
Setting up the account is super easy and so is submitting a project. You are asked to provide some information on your students and your particular teaching situation. The more information you can provide to give context about yourself and your school the better. Donors are more likely to choose your project if they can put a face to your name and understand the place that you work in. People want to know that they’re really affecting someone personal and not just donating to a nameless, faceless organization. That’s the beauty of this system. They actually get to see the materials that are purchased and the kids that they help. Don't get overwhelmed by the set-up process and give up on DonorsChoose. It's really not that bad and once you are set up the rest is a BREEZE!
I won’t go into detail about how to create a project once you’ve been signed up. The process that DonorsChoose uses to get a project up on the website is super self-explanatory. They walk you through it all: picking a name for the project, finding materials that fit your need, explaining why you need the materials and how you’ll use them, and more. The process is really, really easy to work through. The best part is that you can set up a project and let it go on the website. It might get funded (I hope it does) and it might now, but you don't lose anything in the process! You just set up the project and tell people who you'd love to have it. No selling candy, or writing long letters to donors, or pleading. It's a great system and a perfect way for people to help your kiddos!
Tips and pointers
In general, cheaper projects on our site get funded faster, so we recommend keeping project materials under $400 for the best chance of success. The vast majority of projects under $400 have been funded within 3 months, while projects costing over $1,000 have a much lower chance of receiving full funding.
First timers often shoot the moon. I know people who ask for 12 iPads with their first shot or 4 bass xylophones. Inevitably their project doesn’t get funded. Start by asking for one xylophone. If that’s funded ask for another. If that gets funded try another one. DonorsChoose says this about the subject:
If the resources you need cost over $1,000, you might consider breaking up your needs into 2-3 related projects (i.e., "Classroom Library: Nonfiction Books and "Classroom Library: Fiction Books"). If you do this, make sure your students can still benefit from the materials if just one of those projects is funded and not the other.
Speaking of donors, they’re out there. I connect my DonorsChoose account to my personal Facebook account so that any time I post a project or anytime a donor gives to my project it shows up on my Facebook wall. It’s good advertising and people realize that I need the help. A bunch of people from my church choir heard more and more about my projects and decided to all pitch in when I asked for a digital piano. Sometimes friends and family donate, but not always. Often I’ll get donations from people 12 states away or from donors who find a personal interest in my project. I asked for a classroom speaker/audio system so that I could use a microphone daily to save my voice and make instructions easier to hear for all students. Nearly the entire project was funded by a teacher who was a former teacher in my district. She said in a message to me that her son had a hearing impairment that affected his learning. She and her husband weren’t truly aware of the problem until a teacher in one of his schools used a classroom audio system and suddenly he was able to understand and stay engaged so much better. She wanted to give back to another teacher because her own son had been so blessed by a system like the one I was requesting. Donors can search by project type, school location, and by poverty level. It’s amazing the responses you’ll get.
Music Material Vendors DonorsChoose has a list of approved vendors who give special discounts and who DC uses most often. You can use vendors who are not on the approved list but it takes a little longer and is harder to do. For musical products DC uses Woodwind Brasswind (WWBW.com) for music orders. If you’re thinking about getting musical stuff surf their website and it’ll give you a good idea of what you’ll be looking at. WWBW has been amazing and fast and I LOVE them. The only downside is that you cannot order Wenger materials from WWBW, or at least they’re not always available.
Other Vendors You can also get some musical things through other vendors (BestBuy Corporate for electronics, Lakeshore Learning for classroom stuff, etc.). The best/newest development is that DonorsChoose is now using Amazon.com. I haven’t used Amazon yet but plan to in the near future. I’m excited about the things that I might be able to get on Amazon that would be significantly cheaper than from vendors that sell education materials.
If you have questions PLEASE feel free to leave comments on this post (then everyone else who has the same questions can get them answered in one place), email me at David.Row@KCKPS.org, or contact me through my Facebook page. I’d be happy to answer any question you have, give advice if I can, or help you through any problems you might be having with DonorsChoose.