12 tips for funding classroom projects on Donors Choose

Sometimes, creating a great learning experience takes some cash. Donors Choose can help, and one teacher shares his tips for Donors Choose success. (Google Hangout screenshot)

Sometimes, creating a great learning experience takes some cash. Donors Choose can help, and one teacher shares his tips for Donors Choose success. (Google Hangout screenshot)

Serious innovation can happen in classes with free tech tools, creative thinking and inspiration, among others. But sometimes, you just need some cash to create life-changing learning experiences.

If your school is like me, you don’t have a money tree sprouting cash for the picking in the office.

There’s a resource that feels a little like that mythical money tree, and chances are good that U.S. educators can reap a nice harvest of cash for their schools with it. With some tips in this post, those schools can improve their chances.

Donors Choose (www.donorschoose.org) is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need. Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests, and donors can give any amount to the project that most inspires them. When a project reaches its funding goal, Donors Choose ships the materials to the school.

Some teachers experienced great success in gathering donations. Donors have funded more than 100 projects for the students of Jed Dearybury, a second-grade teacher in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Jed said in a Google Hangout interview with Ditch That Textbook. “Donors Choose wasn’t too good to be true. It was really legit. … It literally has changed everything in my classroom.”

With the experience of receiving tens of thousands of dollars of funding through Donors Choose, Jed offers these suggestions for maximizing your returns on Donors Choose projects:

1. Start small. He suggests projects between $100 (the Donors Choose project minimum) and $300 for your first few projects. Even though some ambitious educators want to request a class set of iPads immediately, it’s best to create projects that can reach their funding goal quickly and create momentum.

2. Be practical. Donors Choose isn’t just for enormous projects. Jed has received pencils, scissors, glue and such from Donors Choose donations. In fact, one of his most memorable projects was “A Wall of Color” that required $300 of construction paper. He wanted more than the basic “Roy G Biv” colors, requesting teal, beige, magenta and others. “I loved my iPads. Still love them dearly. But when that box of construction paper came to my classroom, it was like Christmas morning,” he said.

3. Write like a conversation. Educators don’t have to be accomplished grant writers to be funded through Donors Choose. The verbiage in their project descriptions should be more like a conversation.

4. Avoid jargon. Donors often aren’t teachers, rather doctors, lawyers, plumbers and nurses — real, everyday people, Jed said. Avoid “teacherese” and write in simple language that anyone can understand.

5. Get social. Promotion of your Donors Choose projects is an important element in success. Let your network on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram know how they can help. Some will want to!

6. Give them your card. Jed believes that, as professionals, every teacher should have a business card, and every business card should have that teacher’s Donors Choose site on it. “If there’s ever someone who says, ‘I just love teachers, I’d love to help you guys out anytime,’ I’ll be like, ‘Well, as a matter of fact, here’s what you can do,’ and I hand them that card,” Jed said. You never know who will donate or how far they will spread the word about your work.

7. Speak from your heart. Educators are passionate about what they do in the classroom. Let that passion come out as you describe your project in its description.

8. Edit closely. Donors Choose provides screeners who help educators produce quality project proposals. But screeners are human, too. To ensure that no errors slip through, check spelling, grammar and information before submission.

9. Read other projects. Start with Jed’s site and more to see how other educators are wording their projects and what they’re asking for.

10. Visit Jed’s site. Check out MrDearybury.com and, under the teacher tab and Donors Choose, you’ll find more ideas for funding successful Donors Choose projects.

11. Think beyond your own school. Jed’s project with the most funding ($13,000) came in response to Hurricane Sandy. He spearheaded a campaign to raise money for damaged or destroyed schools through Donors Choose. (Hear all about it, including how it started with a canceled marathon and ended at a swanky GQ event, in the video interview!)

12. Just start! “You will never get funding if you don’t put a project on the site,” Jed said. “You guys can do this. It’s very easy, and Donors Choose is there for you.”

Looking for more information? Check out these slides on how to submit a project.

[reminder]What would you request in a Donors Choose project? Have you created a Donors Choose project? What was your experience?[/reminder]

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