Charles Best Founder, DonorsChoose

  • I was solving my own problem: I was a public school teacher in the Bronx. I faced a shortage of supplies I needed for projects for my students.

  • How did you know DonorsChoose was going to work: I didn’t have a lot of reference points. It was just gut instinct. I just figured that there must be people out there who would want to help teachers like us if they could see exactly where their money was going. 

  • How to jumpstart a two-sided marketplace: I asked my fellow teachers to make the first few classroom requests. I bribed them with a dessert my mom made. My aunt donated the money for the first project. I funded the next 9, anonymously. That made the teachers mistakenly think the website worked. That rumor spread across the Bronx. This rumor prompted hundreds of teachers to create projects on our site.

  • How to attract donors: We used a list of alumni from my high school and college. It was not strictly legal. We were forbidden to use mechanical reproduction of the addresses. I felt writing the addresses by hand was technically manual reproduction. My students volunteered after school for 4 months to help. They wrote 200 handwritten letters to tell potential donors about Donors Choose. This generated $30,000.

  • How Donors Choose ensures the integrity of each project: 1) We vet and authenticate each project before it can be posted. 2) When the project is funded we don’t give cash to the teacher. We purchase the resources and have them delivered to the classroom. 3) Every teacher publishes photos, an impact letter, and a cost report showing what the money was spent on.

  • The importance of heroes: I knew I wanted to be a teacher since high school. I had a teacher and wrestling coach that was an inspiration. I figured if anyone ever looked up to me the way I looked up to him I did my share in life.💡

  • An inflection point: Getting discovered by Oprah. There were classroom projects from schools close to ground zero shortly after 9/11. One of Oprah’s producers saw a short paragraph in Newsweek about our website. We had 17,000 people in the same half second accessing our site. This generated $250,000 in donations.

  • A great story: I spoke to an elderly woman interested in making a donation. She asked how much it would cost to fund all the active projects in California. I did the math and told her $1.3 million. She said ok and hung up. I thought that was the end of it. Three days later we received a check for $1.3 million. She passed away six weeks later.

  • Unexpected insights from the data generated by Donors Choose: When teachers use pessimistic language as opposed to optimistic language they are more likely to get funded. The pessimistic language creates a sense of urgency. 

  • Everyone understands passion: I think the best way to get people to support an effort is by being infectiously enthusiastic.

  • Full podcast here.