At first I wanted in on the Donors Choose experience. It seemed like all the cool teachers were doing it. It didn’t start out badly. It’s pretty easy to set up an account and start a campaign. But now that I’ve done several campaigns, I see the drawbacks clearly and I’m ready to move on.
1) The prices are high
I noticed that when I did a campaign/project/request for preschool books, the prices were much higher than other places. I realize that my request was for brand new resources, but there was sticker shock. When a person donates, DonorsChoose adds an automatic fee. You can click the box and have it removed, but it could discourage people as they total up the stuff in their carts.
2) Donors Choose has a group of approved vendors
Approves vendors include Amazon and other mainstream companies, but if you want something unique, it’s hard to find it. However, if you successfully fund several projects, you earn “points” and if you have enough, you can request products from outside vendors. It takes 2-3 successfully funded projects to earn enough points for a special request from a non-approved vendor.
3) Shaking down family or friends
Donorschoose encouraged me to share my campaign on Facebook. Once I did that my family and friends donated. The big donations came from my parents, my in-laws, my sister-in-law (former teacher), and a couple friends. I felt kinda scummy asking them for money for stuff for work. I felt like I was selling Herbalife, Tupperware, or Jamberry nails — no thank you!
4) The resources are the property of your school
Even though the primary people who fund your projects are your family and friends, the resources are the property of the school. You can use them while you are working at the school, but if you move on you have to get permission from your principal to take the stuff with you. Most principals are flexible, but what a hassle!
5) Fully-funded spring campaigns won’t ship until the fall
I started a project in the spring and it was fully funded by May 1st. I thought everything would arrive before the end of the school year. But as soon as the project closed, I received an auto-response from Donors Choose saying they would ship everything for me in the fall. They were concerned the resources would get lost. At the time I was working at a school that ended on June 13th. There was plenty of time for me to get the products and use them. I emailed them and they made an exception and shipped the stuff to me.
6) My thank you notes were not sufficient
Part of the process is to post a thank you with six pictures on your campaign’s page. God forbid you don’t have six photos. Then send a package of thank yous to donors who requested thank you notes. The photo requirement and the thank you notes are problematic for me because of privacy issues with students receiving speech therapy. Many teachers show pictures of their classes, but I would never feel comfortable showing my students’ faces. I had help taking photos of the classroom materials and my students’ hands, which obscured their identities.
I hit the same roadblock when I had them write thank you notes. My students who needed the materials were special ed preschoolers. Many couldn’t write their names. I made little half sheets of paper with “Thank you” written on them with a clip art picture. Then I had the students attempt to write “Thank you” on the bottom. I guess I could have been more creative and had them put their hand prints on paper or something, but the whole point of Donors Choose is that I don’t have resources so being creative is hard. When I got the email saying my thank you notes weren’t up to snuff, that was it.
When family and friends want to give me a gift, I suggest Linguisystems (which I think is owned by ProEd) now or TeachersPayTeachers.com. One year my mother-in-law got me a $100 gift certificate to Linguisystems! It was heaven. And there were no strings attached.
What has been your experience with Donors Choose? I hope it was better than mine!