Flash funding highlights online philanthropy’s role in class

March 10, 2016 GMT

Attention Mrs. Mills at Von Tobel Middle School in Las Vegas, the new library furniture your school needs is on the way! And Mr. Sutherland’s class at Hillcrest Elementary in Gillette, Wyoming, that music keyboard’s coming! Mrs. D at Public School No. 81 in Buffalo, clear a space for your new foam carpet and therapy balls!

Wish lists posted by teachers on the education philanthropy website DonorsChoose.org are being fulfilled Thursday in a “flash funding” effort involving actors, pro athletes, tech titans and others, each of whom will fund all the projects in a specific city, region or entire state.


“My head might explode. It really might explode from joy. Or my heart,” said “Community” actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who is covering DonorsChoose.org projects in her hometown of East Cleveland, Ohio, in the #BestSchoolDay initiative.

In all, 58 celebrity philanthropists — including Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson and Serena Williams — have pledged $14.2 million to fund nearly 12,000 projects in 47 states plus Washington, D.C., that were listed on the DonorsChoose.org website as of midnight Wednesday.

It is the latest effort underscoring the use of online philanthropy to bridge the gap between what school budgets provide and what teachers say they need. Educators, many of whom report spending an average of $500 from their own pockets to equip students, have secured millions of dollars for books and supplies by floating requests in cyberspace instead of before the school board.

Also this week, the crowdfunding site GoFundMe.com announced a new concentration on education fundraising, beginning with a contest that will award a needy public school with 100 computers. Like DonorsChoose.org, the site lets a teacher or school post a funding request for a specific item and then watch as donors contribute a few dollars at a time.

In the last year, GoFundMe.com took in $60 million for education campaigns from 777,000 donations, the company said.

Association of Fundraising Professionals spokesman Michael Nilsen said online philanthropy will not replace spaghetti dinners or bake sales anytime soon because of the power in the personal connections those things offer, “but it will certainly be another tool for organizations and people to use in the future.”

Before Thursday, DonorsChoose.org said more than $400 million had been raised on its site to fund nearly 700,000 education projects posted by about 280,000 teachers.


The celebrity givers in Thursday’s campaign hope to inspire others to pitch in and get all the pending projects funded. Google co-founder Sergey Brin and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton will match $3.2 million in citizen donations.

The benefactors include other actors (Ashton Kutcher, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick), athletes (Carmelo Anthony, Torrey Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, Dwight Howard), and business and foundation leaders (Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen; Bill and Melinda Gates; the chief executives of Zappos, LinkedIn and Yelp; Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg).

The idea was inspired by Stephen Colbert, “The Late Show” host and a DonorsChoose.org board member who surprised teachers in his home state of South Carolina by funding all the classroom projects in one day in May.

That led Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and his wife, Livia, to approach the website about doing the same for public schools in Boston and Contra Costa County, California, and to enlist fellow Twitter co-founders Ev Williams and Jack Dorsey to commit to fund wish lists in Nevada, San Francisco and Missouri.

That gave DonorsChoose.org Chief Executive Charles Best an idea.

“At that point, I said, all right, let’s keep this secret and let’s see if some more people would want to join you and then we’ll unleash all of these flash fundings in one unforgettable moment,” Best said. “And it grew from there.”






This story has been corrected to show the cutoff time is midnight Wednesday, not 8 a.m. Thursday.