July 14, 2020 - Elizabeth Rose Zwierzynski
Dance ED Tip #105: How to Maximize Donors Choose:
Supporting the “New Normal”
Can you believe all of this was funded by Donors Choose?! Even the Shelf!
What is Donors Choose?
Need Barres? Mirrors? Costumes? or other necessities that your school can't provide yet. DonorsChoose.org can help you get what you need quickly! Many K-12 dance educators face challenges in securing funding for dance classroom equipment, costumes, field trips, guest artist experiences, and professional development. These needs are oftentimes complicated by restrictive district budgets, vendor and fundraising limitations, and administrative support. Donors Choose is a crowdfunding platform that provides a means to mitigate these limitations. This teacher-only site is a transparent platform to propose needed materials and educational experiences. Through Donors Choose, I have raised +$30,000 to transform my classroom from a space with four walls, to the resource-rich classroom of my dreams. This is especially important for me when I began my teaching career as my school did not have a dedicated budget for dance. In full transparency, Donors Choose is a resource exclusively for K-12 educators, librarians, guidance counselors or coaches, so this does not include the potential DET audience of dance studios, higher education institutions, or arts organizations.
What can I fund on Donors Choose?
Donors Choose can be used to fund anything from classroom basics, furniture, somatic materials, technology, dance attire, costumes, to professional development or guest artists. Once teachers set up their profile on the site, they can begin drafting a project. Projects consist of a description of your students, requested materials, and project rationale. For classroom materials, teachers can request resources from the vendor directory (including retailers: Amazon, School Specialty, Best Buy, or Dicks Sporting Goods). Once a teacher successfully posts and funds two or more materials projects on the site, you can aim for more ambitious goals like writing requests for guest artists, professional development, field trips, and any instructional material not found in the vendor directory. Imagine the possibilities here: attend an online professional development course (hint: like those offered from DET), draft a field trip to bring your class to a visit a local cultural organization or performing arts center (virtual field trips are a Covid-safe option), or expand the scope of your dance curriculum by bringing in a guest artist (virtually or in person).
Summer is always a great time to draft a project as we gear up for back to school. The Donors Choose platform sees the highest volume of visitors now- September. Using Donors Choose to fundraise feels more relevant than ever as educators enter unknown teaching environments in the fall. Are we teaching in new socially distanced spaces? in a hybrid learning environment? or completely remote? All could be true! To help navigate the possibilities for the fall, Donors Choose created a new project type, Distance Learning Projects. This empowers teachers to ship essential learning materials directly to the location of their choice. If your school is closed and you can’t ship to your district office, this option is for you! I am thinking about requesting materials to help prepare me for any learning environment. My next project will include painters tape and poly spots to create a clear procedure for entering and exiting a social-distanced classroom or an ipad, tripod, and light ring to support creating high quality instructional videos and screen recordings. The essential question to ask is, what do you need to be successful for the various teaching environments in the fall? I challenge you to post your first or next project, by July 31st!
Tips for first time users:
If you are new to using Donors Choose, here are some first steps to get you started.
- Set up your account: The sign up process should take 10-15 minutes. Be prepared with your school name, a profile photo of yourself, a classroom photo of your students. You will be asked to describe your classroom and create a custom url for your page. Tip: I created mine using the acronym for my program, DanceTCHS.
- Dream up your first ask: Think about what you and your students need most. What do you need to prepare for the fall? Consider the necessary or wished curricular innovation. Then consider how you can explain that in a vivid, compelling, and inspiring way for potential donors. For inspiration you can check out my project page or search for other dance projects on the site.
- Keep your initial project under $600: Smaller requests are likely to get funded quickly. In fact, projects under $200 have a 90% chance of being funded. There are some ways to lower your project cost, while still getting everything you need. Check out Donors Choose’s tips and tricks for keeping costs low.
- Share strategically: Once you create your project, be active in sharing it! I suggest emailing friends, family, and professional contacts to share the work that you are doing with your students. A little positive personal PR never hurt anyone and more likely than not, people are happy to share your work and accomplishments! Then share your project to your community! Donors Choose suggests organizations like rotary clubs, small businesses, local media, and school PTA.
- Thank generously: One of the things I love about Donors Choose is that it takes the guesswork out of how to thank and appreciate your donors. Follow the steps that Donors Choose outlines. You will be prompted to submit a thank you for each gift, when your project funds, and submit an impact letter after your materials arrive. Increased donor appreciation leads to future gifts, so be mindful and take the time to thank each donor individually.
Tips for returning users:
If you have used Donors Choose before, here are a few steps you can take to prepare for your next project.
- Refine your Profile: Reread and revise your classroom profile. Select up to date images of you and your students in action! Make sure your images and language reflect the vibrant classroom you teach in. When writing about your students, focus on their interests, strengths, and aspirations — not just their struggles. As educators I find we are very analytical and make strong claims to illustrate the need for resources. Be careful to not let that be the only information you share about your students. Ask yourself if your students and their parents would feel proud of themselves after reading your essay
- Challenge yourself to write for a match offer: Check out the current funding opportunities for your state on Donors Choose. Corporate sponsors often offer matches for certain student populations, geographic regions, or subject areas. Most matches double each gift to your project. Think of this as a 50% off sale! It greatly helps in expediting the funding process.
- Step up your sharing: Refine to whom and how you share your projects. Consider using social media to your advantage. When requesting materials from a certain manufacturer, author, or arts organization, tag those people when you share on social media. This will connect your cause with a larger audience or even inspire a donation from the tagged party. I have seen this happen with various authors whose texts are requested in your classroom.
How to learn more?
I have created a self-guided presentation to support this blog post. For more information, please visit the slides here: Google Doc Self Guided Presentation
As part of my role as a Teacher Ambassador for Donors Choose and a loyal user, I am happy to assist you in writing your first or next project on Donors Choose. If you are new to the site, please use my referral link. As an ambassador, I can help support your first project with a modest gift. If you need a peer to bounce ideas off of and help refine your language feel free to contact me. I cannot wait to see your new projects on Donors Choose.
Elizabeth Rose Zwierzynski (EdM, BFA) is the founding dance educator at the Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Trenton Central High School, a Title I school, in New Jersey. Within her district, she serves as a curriculum writer, professional development leader, mentor teacher, and a dance education advocate on Trenton’s Community Arts Team in partnership with the Kennedy Center's Ensuring Arts For Any Given Child. Elizabeth holds an EdM in Dance Education and a BFA in Dance from Rutgers University, where she served as a part time lecturer (2018-2020). She was awarded the New Jersey Department of Education's Distinguished Student Teacher Award and the ABT® Project Plié Teacher Training Scholarship. Elizabeth leads professional development workshops as a Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) Facilitator. She proudly serves as a Donors Choose Teacher Ambassador, committed to helping teachers in their community get access to the materials and resources they need for their classroom!