12/14/2010 09:01 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

DonorsChoose Looks Ahead: "We'll Make Sure Your Project Is Funded"

As talk around the Education Crisis heats up, the timing couldn't be better for to win Members Project. puts the power to help public school teachers in your hands, fielding requests from teacher from all over American for classroom projects. You can browse these projects on their site, and choose to donate any amount to the project that inspires you. We spoke with Thalia Theodore, the VP of Partnerships and Business Relations on the East Coast, about their involvement in a new kind of philanthropy and their future plans.

So tell us about your involvement with Members Project.
With our goals, it was the perfect timing to receive the dollars and then strategize. We want to use the money to grow citizen philanthropists supporting public schools and we want to target a couple of audiences. Since the DonorsChoose model is so much about participatory philanthropy, it went really nicely with AmEx project -- individuals get to actively participate in where the dollars go.

What are the benefits of letting individuals choose where the money goes?
People only get excited about that and feel good about that when there's choice in advance.

Everything is laid out for you before you even open your wallet. If you agree with the costs, proceed. If not, walk away. If you're excited about the direction of the project and the costs involved, proceed.

Does this remove a level of expertise for not-for-profits?
Built into our model is the idea of transparency. What works for us is that people can choose where their dollars go but that only works with a model that is super transparent.

What can other organizations learn from this model?
I think it is scaleable and people are more excited. Its tough times and you want reassurance that the money you can give is actually doing good. And I think it's ok and right that people are saying 'I want to see it and touch it prove that my 50 bucks makes the world a better place.'

What are you excited about looking ahead?
Partnerships and programs like the Members Project will help teachers to be excited and motivated. Whenever we can go back to our teachers and say don't dig into your pockets for batteries for calculators. We'll make sure your project is funded. Those who spend the time to actually think bigger and more creatively will be rewarded.

The Members Project from American Express and Take Part is an innovative new way to give back: it's an online philanthropy contest that is open to anyone and lets the public decide who wins.

If you want your favorite charity to win big, register for the Members Project, and cast your votes to help 5 charities win a total of $1,000,000.

This article is part of a series of interviews with winners of the first round to get details on their charities and how they hope to use their new funds.

And be sure to stay tuned to American Express and Take Part's Members Project, because there's new voting every three months and new winners at the end of each voting period. You're just a click away from making a difference.