A Helping Hand: DonorsChoose.Org Uses Email To Fund Teachers' Classroom Needs

Teachers are up against it. They often reach into their own pockets to buy pencils, notebooks and other classroom supplies.  

Enter, a nonprofit funding group that operates mostly online. Founded in the year 2000 by a Bronx teacher named Charles Best, the group raises $20 million a year through email, helping to fund many educational needs.

“Email is the most important thing we do to engage our marketplace,” says Christopher Pearsall, vice president, brand & communications,

The group sends between 4 million and 6 million emails a month — some going to donors, others teachers who request funding — using Return Path to ensure close to 100% deliverability, which is unusual in the nonprofit field. It has 1.2 million donors and teachers on its email list. 

The emails to teachers are largely transactional, notifying them when they have been funded, when materials are about to ship, and about other routine matters. However, also sends emails that may prompt teachers to make a request — it has 600,000 teachers on its email list 



The donor emails require a high degree of segmentation and personalization. “We learned donors give to projects within 20 miles of their own Zip code,” Pearsall said. “They’re interested in giving to schools in their own communities.”

In addition, many will give to schools in places they care about — i.e., their old hometowns — or to specific subject areas or disaster recovery efforts, such as those that followed last year’s hurricanes.   

“We can geo-target emails to donors individually, we can also do segment based emails,” Pearsall says. “With the top donors who give regularly, we can get more personalized in terms of motivations.”

The group also sends a monthly recommendation to donors, based on their giving history. Some emails are fun.

“For Valentine’s Day, we’ll send an email to donors who have same last name as a teacher,” Pearsall says. “We’ve done this three or four years, and we’ve had family members meet through email.”

One such email starts: 

Roses are red,

Violets are blue

Give to a teacher

With the same name as you.

There are also a few laughs in "match" emails, alerting recipients to matching offers. 

Tomorrow, starting at 7am EST, all book projects on will become eligible for matched donations, including yours! (Get the details here). We wanted to give you this night before heads-up so you can plan to let your supporters know.

Also, we wanted an excuse to write you a nerdy book match poem:

‘Twas the night before the book match, and in every state,

Teachers were preparing to email those who’d donate...  

Activity of all sorts reach a peak during the back-to-school season, and from August right through December. The last week of the year is critical, as is Giving Tuesday in November. By September, there may be 70,000 projects in need of funding, compared to 30,000 during normal times.   

Return Path’s part? “We help them reach the inbox,” says Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path. ”That’s important for any organization because most nonprofits don’t have a lot of funds — they have to be more careful about spending money.”

“Deliverability is incredibly important for us given email is by far our number one way of fundraising and providing support for the teachers and donors who use our site,” Pearsall adds. “We've been working with ReturnPath since 2008, when they first helped us with their certification program, which helps us ensure the millions of emails we send to donors and teachers each year reach the inbox.” 

A random review of the website shows that teachers need everything from wobble chairs and desktop computers to books.  

Teacher Akilian of Lemay Street Elementary School in Van Nuys, California, writes: “My students need an updated desktop computer to access the new curriculum’s digital learning platforms and the online math programs.” As of Thursday afternoon, this project still needed $59. 

And Mrs. Reynolds from Parmelee Elementary School in Oklahoma City, writes: “My students need some new high-interest books to read in our classroom. Our school library has a great selection, but with budget cuts they cannot get the newest books that kids love.” The project still needed $25.

With those kinds of minor sums, you can imagine how much good was done in March when the crytocurrency firm Ripple funded every request on the site to the tune of about $29 million. 

Two things separate from standard crowdfunding. One is that it is a nonprofit group, so donations are tax-deductible. The other is the fact that it doesn’t send cash — it purchases the supplies and ships them to the teacher.

“Donors know how dollars are being used,” says Pearsall says.

And the statistic floating around that teachers are spending $500 a year on supplies? “Some say they wish it was only $500,” Pearsall concludes.


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