Every day on HuffPost, we're highlighting one 'Greatest Person' -- an exceptional individual who is confronting the country's economic and political crises with creativity, generosity and passion. Today we're talking to Charles Best of DonorsChoose.org. Charles founded DonorsChoose.org when he was a social studies teacher in the Bronx. He came up with the idea during a lunch conversation with other teachers, and his students offered to help launch the organization. To encourage the other teachers at his school, Charles bribed them with his mother's delicious pear dessert. DonorsChoose.org has since raised $64,237,979 and counting for classroom projects in public schools all across the United States.
Charles Best with DonorsChoose students.
The DonorsChoose staff with Davis Guggenheim, Academy Award-winning film director of An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for 'Superman'.
A sample project page.
Searching for a project to fund.
An example of a thank-you note with photos.
DonorsChoose founder and CEO, Charles Best.
Huffington Post: Describe your personal experience in teaching and how it prompted you to found DonorsChoose.org.
Charles Best: DonorsChoose.org was conceived at Wings Academy, a Bronx public high school where I taught social studies for the last five years. In the teachers' lunch room, my colleagues and I often lamented a problem that drained learning from students and creativity from teachers: a lack of funding for essential materials and for the activities that bring subject matter to life. We spent our own money on paper and pens, but mostly, we saw our students going without the books, art supplies, field trips, and other resources that they needed to learn. We responded by creating a web site where public school teachers describe and individuals can fund specific student needs.
HP: DonorsChoose.org offers the prospective donor a very personalized experience while making that experience available to anybody thanks to the Internet. Is this what is behind so much of DonorsChoose.org's success?
CB: Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org. Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit, to violins for a school recital, to microscope slides for a biology class.
Then, you can browse project requests and give any amount to the one that inspires you. Once a project reaches its funding goal, we deliver the materials to the school.
You'll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you'll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students.
At DonorsChoose.org, you can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. We call it citizen philanthropy.
HP: How did you develop the DonorsChoose.org experience? How did you translate your classroom experience into an Internet-based one?
CB: Committed teachers know their students' needs better than anyone in the system. Traditionally, however, teachers have little control over the purchase of student materials. As often as teachers can, they spend their own money (over $1 billion per year) to purchase supplies for their students. Much of the time, however, good ideas and effective practice disappear because funding--even in small amounts--is simply not available.
By placing a teacher's individual request for resources online, we allow anyone to view the needs first hand and involve them in the funding processes. Project requests at DonorsChoose take web site visitors directly into the classroom and expose them to a vivid message of need in our public schools.
HP: Describe the vetting process that goes into all the classroom project requests.
CB: Our team is vigilant about providing end-to-end integrity for each classroom project funded through our site. To that end, we:
* Vet every classroom project request submitted by teachers.
* Process donor transactions using the most secure and trusted technology available.
* Purchase the classroom materials, shipping items directly to the school and alerting the principal when the materials are on their way.
* Provide photos of the project taking place, teacher and student letters, and a cost report showing how every dollar was spent.
HP: Talk numbers for a minute. How much have you raised in the ten years you've been around? How many children have benefited from DonorsChoose? How many different schools have received DonorsChoose gifts?
CB: Our impact to date: Dollars raised: $64,237,979; Students helped: 3,944,820; Projects funded: 157,846; Teachers posting projects: 148,278; Schools participating: 40,285; Supporters: 294,702; Contributions: 676,073.
Project requests currently in need of funding: 20,579
Projects that get fully funded: 63%
Projects costing less than $400 that get fully funded: 75%
Teachers who said their funded projects increased their effectiveness in the classroom: 94%
HP: You recently teamed up with Stephen Colbert to have DonorsChoose named the officially charity of his "March to Keep Fear Alive". How much have you raised with his help? What does it mean to have this kind of attention brought to your organization?
CB: Stephen Colbert, a DonorsChoose board member, has been a long-time supporter of DonorsChoose.org. In addition to giving every guest on his Colbert Report a $100 DonorsChoose.org Gift Card; he has helped repeatedly mentioned the organization on his show encouraging his viewers to give.
Colbert was on a mission to raise $500,000 for DonorsChoose.org by his rally in Washington, D.C. He and the Reddit community surpassed that! Totals: Donated: $538,279; Donors: 10,981; Students Reached: 201,359.
HP: Who inspires you? Who are your heroes?
CB: I am inspired by my colleagues. My role model is my father. I am most proud of my former students who are now college graduates and killing it in the real world.
HP: How can people get involved with DonorsChoose?
CB: Visit DonorsChoose.org and find a project to support in your community and beyond.
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