Charles Best's website helps schools get what they need to do their best.
Posted in , Oct 1, 2010
A member of the dotcom generation, Charles Best knew the internet would revolutionize business. But he never expected it could revolutionize public schools as well.
After college, Charles took a job teaching at a high school in the Bronx. He and his colleagues were full of enthusiasm. "We'd get all excited around the faculty lunch table" coming up with creative ways to help kids learn. "But then we'd realize there was no extra funding to bring our ideas to life." It was like watching all the air go out of a balloon.
Charles couldn't accept that. Wasn't it a teacher's job to lift people up? He told his coworkers that if they submitted their ideas to a website he was setting up, he would find donors to fund the projects. Without telling anyone, he emptied his savings account and paid for them himself.
Soon one class had supplies to make a quilt. Another got to hear a guest speaker talk about his life in Africa. A third visited the natural history museum. The kids were thrilled. The teachers were grateful. And Charles was inspired. Sure, he'd used his own money this time, but he'd hit upon a great new model for fundraising. People like to know exactly where their donations are going. His website could accomplish that by connecting classes in need with folks who want to help.
Donors log on, browse through teacher proposals and choose the ones they want to support. They have sent smoke detectors to rural first-graders learning about fire safety, fed inner-city high-schoolers' imaginations with novels about immigration, and given a basketball team a playground for practices. Donors receive a package from the school with letters, photos and a detailed report on just how their money was used.
In six years, Donorschoose.org has raised more than four million dollars to provide resources for public schools in New York, North Carolina, Chicago and San Francisco. These days Charles is a full-time fundraiser. He oversees a staff and works with a high-flying board of directors. But he still gets most excited about teacher proposals. He says, "We're trying to get teachers to think big!" Just like he does.