Allyson Maiolo, an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years, has raised more than $40,000 for her students on DonorsChoose.org. Since discovering the site in 2007, Maiolo has had more than 110 classroom projects fully funded – mostly through anonymous donations – thanks to the crowdfunding platform.
“It only takes five minutes to create your account and less than 20 minutes to build your page,” says Maiolo, who currently teaches third grade in North Port, Fla. “Everyone can spare [that time] to get something amazing for their classroom that will greatly benefit their students’ lives.”
Her first fully funded project was a collection of whisper phones and lower-level reading books to help students struggling with reading comprehension build their reading skills and confidence. “From there, I got on a roll,” Maiolo says. Since then, she has raised thousands of dollars to help buy basic classroom needs, such as pencils and books, to technology, sports equipment and furniture.
That’s what’s special about DonorsChoose.org – teachers can tailor the projects to their schools and students’ top needs. “At my previous school, it was very high needs and had very few resources. I did a lot of fundraisers for furniture we didn’t have that helped my classroom feel homier,” Maiolo explains. “It really makes a difference when you have things that are new and nice, and the kids see that learning is valued.”
Volkswagen agrees that education should be cherished and is donating a total of $1 million to DonorsChoose.org to help teachers by funding classroom projects across America. Volkswagen dealers will receive DonorsChoose.org donation cards pre-loaded with funds from Volkswagen that they can share with customers during the “Drive Bigger” Summer Event.
Maiolo, a volunteer teacher ambassador for DonorsChoose.org who drives a Volkswagen GTI and Tiguan, has encouraged several teachers on her campus to develop their own pages and helped jumpstart several new school-wide programs, including a program that provides positive male role models for at-risk fifth-grade boys.
Through the DonorsChoose.org platform, the school was able to buy the male students dress shirts and ties. “They would wear the outfits on the days they had meetings,” says Maiolo. The program was so popular and successful that the school plans to expand it to additional students this upcoming year.
With the first day of school on the horizon, there’s no time like the present to create a classroom project. Here are Maiolo’s top 10 tips for getting your classroom project funded.
- Do your research. Poke around DonorsChoose.org and look at other projects that have been successfully funded by users. Get a feel for what others are doing and tailor your project accordingly.
- Start simple and small. Maiolo recommends keeping project costs low, especially early on. “I usually recommend keeping projects between $200-$300,” Maiolo says. “If you start small, your projects will fund a lot easier.”
- Create a catchy title. “Anything that draws people to your project is good,” says Maiolo. If you can come up with a play on words, or a catchy title, that’s best. Also, be as descriptive as possible. Instead of writing “tablets needed,” write “tablets needed for hands-on, STEM-based learning and activities.”
- Let your students shine. The project description is a great avenue for teachers to demonstrate how much they enjoy their job, students and classroom. “Describe what the demographics are like at your school, as far as free and reduced lunch levels, but also how your students have overcome difficult challenges and circumstances,” she says. “Make sure to demonstrate how these items can best benefit your students’ lives in the long-run.”
- Be strategic with your categories. Be sure to pick two categories that best apply to your specific project to help drive traffic to your page.
- Don’t feel limited. As noted above, Maiolo has requested a variety of classroom enhancements, ranging from basic school resources to technology and furniture. Teachers can also repeat projects every school year. “I always write a snack project at the beginning of the year so every day every child in my class gets a snack, no matter if they brought one from home or not,” Maiolo explains.
- Think beyond your community. “For the most part, my projects have been funded by strangers and random people on the internet,” Maiolo says. “You want to make sure your project is written in a way that’s going to speak to any donor who finds your page.”
- Be patient. Remember, you have four months to get your project funded, so don’t worry if the response isn’t immediate. “You can’t expect your project to be funded overnight,” says Maiolo.
- Research match offers. Your project may qualify for a match offer or funding, so make sure to scope out any offers currently available and tailor your project to their criteria. “At least half of my projects, if not more, have qualified for match offers,” says Maiolo. “It’s a great and easy way to get funding for your project.”
- Send thank-you notes. “Every time someone donates – even if it’s only a $1 donation – you have an opportunity to say thank you and it’s really important to do that,” says Maiolo. She always suggests taking photos of your students using the items you requested. “You want to make sure that you’re demonstrating the impact of those items so the donors understand the difference they have made and will be encouraged to donate in the future,” says Maiolo.