DonorsChoose.org: building a platform to crowdfund classrooms

DonorsChoose.org is a non-profit crowdfunding website connecting individual donors and teachers / classrooms in need. They successfully built a platform where 75% of gifts are from donors who don’t share ties to those making the request by building trust, transparency, and follow-up into their website.

DonorsChoose.org is crowdfunding platform designed to fund classrooms in need. The platform brings together K-12 teachers who need resources to support their classroom and individuals to help fund these projects.

To build this platform successfully, DonorsChoose.org needed to both build a supply of teacher projects and bring individual donors online who were comfortable donating to teachers and classrooms that they were not connected with.

Building teacher platform: DonorsChoose.org quickly gained virality and scale with teachers as they are incredibly resource constrained and previously could only fund these projects through their own personal finances or close friends and family. DonorsChoose.org has activated many teachers into signing up by having timed matching campaigns on their site – motivating teachers create a project within a specific timeframe to get funded.  78% of all the public schools in America have at least one teacher who has posted a project on DonorsChoose.org. (1)

Building trust and awareness with donors: DonorsChoose.org attracted and incentivized individuals funders to visit and donate through the site by building transparency, encouraging project discovery and exemplifying the results and impact of the projects. They also utilized partnerships to build awareness with individual donors.

(1) Transparency & Project Vetting: When requesting a project, teachers are required to create a detailed list of exactly what materials they need to support their project. To support this transparency and build trust from the donors that this is what the donations were being used for, DonorsChoose.org took on the role of vetting each project, purchasing the materials for projects, and coordinating delivery of materials. DonorsChoose.org can do this in a more scalable way than having every teacher procure materials – and this has enabled individual donors to trust the platform and donate to teachers and classrooms that they may not have an individual connection with. This is critical to the success of the program, as 75% of gifts are from donors who don’t share ties to those making the request. (2)

(2) Project Discovery: Because DonorsChoose.org encourages individuals to connect with teachers and classrooms that aren’t in their direct network, they have developed product innovations to encourage discovery of project. ~50% of donors give to a classroom project within 25 miles of their location and the other half look for projects on a topic that the donor is interested in. (3)

(3) Exemplifying Impact: Additionally, DonorsChoose.org has teachers send thank you notes and share photos about the impact of the donations. Teachers develop profiles that donors can see and they know their donation has been put to good use.

(4) Consumer Awareness: DonorsChoose.org has had extensive celebrity endorsements, partnerships and marketing campaigns that have built their awareness with individual funders and driven donors to the platform. For example, Stephen Colbert has been a strong proponent of the platform, sharing it with users on his show in 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2016. The site made Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2010.  (4)

As of January 2018, DonorsChoose has funded more than 1 million projects total. That represents a combined $627 million from 3 million individuals and institutions to public schools in all 50 states. The resources that were funded have reached tens of millions of students. (2)

DonorsChoose operates as a non-profit and has captured value by suggesting allocating 15% of a donor’s donation towards DonorsChoose. Donors can remove that 15% if they chose, but 85% of donors allocate 15% of their donations to support DonorsChoose.org, making the organization 100% self-sustaining. (5)

Challenges: Like many crowdfunding platforms, DonorsChoose.org struggles to have donors continue to return to the platform with donor attrition rates above 70% (6). To try to encourage ongoing donations, DonorsChoose.org has created a “monthly donation” product where a funder can create a recurring monthly donation that then can be used towards future projects for that teacher. Yet, that doesn’t seem to fit with having donors fund projects that immediately have impact. 

 

Sources:

  1. “See Our Impact Nationwide.” Impact | DonorsChoose.org, www.donorschoose.org/impact.
  2. Paynter, Ben. “DonorsChoose Just Funded Its 1 Millionth Project.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 1 Feb. 2018, www.fastcompany.com/40524322/donorschoose-just-funded-its-1-millionth-project.
  3. “What Happens When Stephen Colbert Joins Your Board: Five Questions with DonorsChoose Founder Charles Best.” Hunter Walk, 28 Mar. 2016, hunterwalk.com/2016/03/28/what-happens-when-stephen-colbert-joins-your-board-five-questions-with-donorschoose-founder-charles-best/.
  4. “Media and Select Stories.” DonorsChoose.org, help.donorschoose.org/hc/en-us/articles/202000527-Media-and-select-stories.
  5. “Financials.” Financials | DonorsChoose.org, www.donorschoose.org/about/finance.html.
  6. “Understanding Why Donors Do (Not) Return.” Data for Education, 20 Oct. 2016, data.donorschoose.org/donor_retention/.

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1 thought on “DonorsChoose.org: building a platform to crowdfund classrooms

  1. Thanks for a great post! I was shocked to learn that 78% of all the public schools in America have at least one teacher posted a project on DonorsChoose! It surprised me that there are so many public schools are not well-funded by the government and need help from the society. I think DonorsChoose do create lots of value by helping the teachers and students in need. I am wondering whether the platform worries about the fake requests? I guess some “fake teachers” with bad intentions may have their ways to counterfeit materials/photos and use the donated money for themselves. Do they verify the information beforehand or do follow-ups with the schools?

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