DonorsChoose.org — Getting Started, Tips, and Pointers
When you teach music in a school with a seriously limited budget you have to get creative. If you’ve gone through any of my blog posts it’s likely that you’ve seen my DIY projects (and you’ll continue to see them) because I just don’t have the budget at my school to buy anything. I get $100 from my district fine arts dept. every year and I get another $100 per semester from my building. In my district, this is lucky. Most other music teachers only get the $100 from the fine arts dept. and nothing from their building administrator. The trade off is that my building provides nothing. I have to use my building budget to buy pencils, paperclips, copy paper, card stock, dry erase markers, and anything else that I might hope to use during the year. Any books, sheet music, or CDs that I use for my concerts come out of my pocket. Any professional development that I attend comes out of my pocket. Any Kleenex, hand sanitizer, or other consumables that come into my classroom come from home.
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 from the district. 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…
I have been so blessed by the way that people have given to my projects and in turn my students have been able to use new instruments and resources and have new musical experiences. Once we have the materials, I am able to write to donors about how the things they have provided have affected our classroom and show pictures of students actually benefiting from their gift. The beauty of DonorsChoose is that donors are not giving money to a nameless, faceless organization but get to actually pick their project, give money knowing what resource they’re buying, and then see that resource in action in the hands of the students that they chose to help. What a novel concept!
Getting Started with DonorsChoose.org – First Steps
DonorsChoose makes it easy for teachers from all backgrounds to set up an account and get started with a project. Anyone who teaches in a public school is eligible to post a project request for materials. DonorsChoose works on a point system and when you start you only get a few points. The more projects you submit that get funded, the more points you’ll have and the bigger projects you can try out. You start small with less expensive materials and resources and can move up to field trips, big ticket items, or paying for people to come and visit your school.
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 – Getting Projects Funded!
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.
Matching Gifts Also be aware that sometimes you can get matching grants and other helpful things if your project is small (under $350/400 or so). A matching grant means that some corporation will match any donation to your project (up to a certain amount). That way small time donors only need to give half of the actual amount of your project to get it funded. You’ll often also get access to a matching gift code which is sort of like a promo code that you’d use when shopping online. Just put in the code at checkout and your gift will be matched. These matching codes are sent out periodically, so be sure to check any emails from DonorsChoose and let your friends/relatives know about matching codes should they want to give to your project!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. Take your time and think long term. Yes, it’d be great to have all your classroom needs funded in one mega-projeect, but that’s just not likely to happen all at once. 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.
Get what you really need. I started my first project with three soprano glockenspiels and then did a separate project for one medium tubano drum. I do only about one large instrument at a time so that it seems more manageable for donors and gets funded. This process might take a little longer, but is totally worth it in the end when you have high-quality instruments at your fingertips! Also, I don’t ask for materials that are “shoot the moon” materials like a SMART board but I ask for instruments and things that I will use right away or will use with multiple grades. I’ve found that donors like donating if they think they’re buying something fun or that they have memories about. They like thinking of little kiddos with mallets in hand sitting at a xylophone. It’s nostalgic and something that they can clearly picture in their mind. The more you can tell your story about how you’ll use the instrument/resource and who it will affect, the better your donors will see what you really need.
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.
Don’t despair if your project isn’t funded in a week Sometimes your project will sit on the website for months and you won’t get any funding and then in the last few days it’ll be fully funded by a random corporation. I’ve had several corporations pay for projects completely. Starbuck of Kansas bought my classroom a metallophone, Stephen Colbert bought my students a Bass Xylophone, a group of fans of American Idol rallied and funded 27 DonorsChoose projects in honor of an Idol winner turning 27. The connections are crazy and wonderful.
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 a little more difficult 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 their customer service. One downside is that you cannot order Wenger materials from WWBW, or at least they’re not always available. You can also order from companies not on the immediate vendor list. I’ve done several projects where materials were supplied by West Music. In that case you need to contact West Music directly and ask for a quote which you will submit to DC. Tell West that you’re doing this quote for a DonorsChoose project!
Non-music Vendors You can also get some musical things through other vendors (BestBuy Corporate for electronics, Lakeshore Learning for classroom stuff, etc.). The best development in the past few years is that DonorsChoose is now using Amazon.com. You can get a lot of wonderful materials from Amazon and nearly anything marked “Amazon Prime” is available to order through DonorsChoose.
Need some ideas? See My Projects LIVE or Archived
Would you like to see some examples of music projects and/or see how this process works? Check out my personal DonorsChoose page to look through my old projects, descriptions, and the resources I’ve asked for. Just click DonorsChoose.org/MrRow to see live or archived projects.
DonorsChoose.org has been a wonderful blessing for my classroom and has allowed my students opportunities that we would NEVER have had otherwise. Often it is the the gifts of strangers that pay for instruments, materials, and resources that we desperately need. When I first started we had no drums, 3 barred percussion instruments, and few books and resources. Now we have a nearly full instrumentarium full of xylophones, metallophones, and glockenspiels. We have drums, boomwhackers, a guitar, a ton of new percussion instruments, individual student staff-lined whiteboards, an amazing classroom audio system, and so so much more.
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 MakeMomentsMatter@gmail.com, 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.
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