KIM: This Thanksgiving, invest in a K-12 classroom project

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INVESTING: Mickey KimBeing a public schoolteacher in the richest country on the planet is a daily struggle, even in non-pandemic times. It’s widely acknowledged there’s no profession more important to our society than teaching and preparing our children for adulthood, but at the same time there’s no profession that’s as monetarily undervalued. Insufficient government funding causes teachers to routinely dip into their own wallets to pay for basic supplies (average $500 per year), let alone classroom learning projects.

Yet nothing changes.

I’ve written about how the “K-shaped” recovery from the pandemic has widened the economic gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Unfortunately, the same phenomenon has similarly exacerbated the disparity in educational resource availability between the relatively few wealthier school districts and the far more numerous poorer districts.

Fortunately, there is something you can do to directly invest in a classroom and help bridge the gap.

In 2000, Charles Best was a 25-year-old history teacher in an impoverished Bronx high school. Standing at Kinko’s at 5 a.m. making copies of “Little House on the Prairie” for his students, he thought of applying the then-nascent concept of “crowdfunding” to help teachers get basic classroom supplies.

A son of privilege and living at home, Best funded development of a rudimentary website and persuaded 10 colleagues to post projects. Unsure of the concept, he secretly funded nine of the projects himself (a relative funded the other one). During lunch hours, he would call journalists, philanthropists and foundations trying to drum up interest and support.

Best founded DonorsChoose (, a charitable organization, on the belief that people would donate to public school classrooms if they could see exactly where their money was going. “Trust and Transparency” remain DC’s guiding principles. Indeed, DonorsChoose has earned the highest rating from charity evaluators Charity Watch, Charity Navigator and GuideStar.

After a slow launch, with education reform becoming a hot topic and DonorsChoose offering a unique way to apply technology to philanthropy, funders and the media began to embrace the concept. Oprah Winfrey named DonorsChoose one of her “ultimate favorite things” and board member Stephen Colbert asked his fans to support DonorsChoose (see his 90-second video on the website).

DonorsChoose vets each submitted project. Approved projects are posted to the website with a description and detailed cost breakdown. Donors know how every penny will be spent. DonorsChoose collects the donations, then purchases and ships the supplies (not the money) to the teacher once the project’s funding goal has been reached. Donors can screen on criteria, including type of project, age group, amount needed and geographic location. Donors receive photos of the project and hear back directly from the teachers and students they’ve helped.

Since inception, DonorsChoose has raised over $1 billion from 4.6 million donors and funded 1.8 million projects submitted by 617,260 teachers from 85,043 public schools. While those numbers are certainly impressive for a relatively young charity, they don’t convey the impact donors have on individual classrooms, teachers and students.

Here in Columbus, Indiana, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation has partnered with DonorsChoose to help in its mission to “provide innovative opportunities for teachers and students to excel.” Before, teachers would submit grant requests, which were considered according to BCSF’s grants cycle. This proved to be cumbersome. In addition, community members expressed a desire to directly impact individual classrooms.

According to BCSF Executive Director Suzi Bruin, “as we searched for ways to meet educator needs quickly and open doors for community support, DonorsChoose offered the solution to both. Teachers no longer have to wait for a specific grant cycle and donors can directly impact a classroom at any time they choose.”

BCSF has responded by maximizing charitable gifts by matching donations dollar-for-dollar (up to $500 on a project request up to $1,000 from a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. teacher). You can see these project requests by going to “Find a Classroom to Support” on the DonorsChoose website and searching on “Columbus, IN.”

Retailers have responded to the pandemic by declaring an early start to “Black Friday” sales. If you’re like me, you don’t need more stuff. In this season of giving thanks, be a champion for the power of giving back by supporting K-12 teachers and students facing the toughest learning challenges in a generation by funding a classroom project on DonorsChoose.

Do this and you will help empower the voices that will shape our tomorrow.•


Kim is Kirr Marbach & Co.’s chief operating officer and chief compliance officer. He can be reached at 812-376-9444 or

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