Schoolkids Get What Donors Choose

The brainchild of Charles Best when he was barely out of college, DonorsChoose may be a revolution in philanthropy.

It also gives the term "middle man" an unusually good name.

Simply put, DonorsChoose (click here for link) uses the Internet to link people who have only a little to give but big hearts to school teachers who have big needs but tiny budgets.

"I work real hard. It's tough getting a dollar. I don't like to give them all away," Chris Christensen, a carpenter in New Jersey, told ABC News. "So if I do by choice, I like to know where it's going."

This new philanthropy system is turning traditional philanthropy on its head with a soaring growth in only five years from scratch to $12 million -- distributed accountably to delighted school teachers in eight states and three metropolitan areas.

This fall it goes national.

Here's how it works:

Christensen's wife Gail goes to DonorsChoose.org and selects one of many requests from teachers -- requests for a globe ... dictionaries ... reading rug ... a class library ... a field trip.

The Christensens then send the money NOT to the teachers, but to DonorsChoose.

DonorsChoose does the purchasing, often online, and sends what's needed plus a disposable camera to the teacher, who takes snapshots of the results -- the kids on the field trip, or sitting on the bright new reading rug or exploring the new classroom globe.

Then the kids sit down and each write a thank you letter to the donors -- by name.

The photos, a teachers report, and all the thank you notes are funneled right back to DonorsChoose's office, and on to the donors.

"The thank you cards from the children are awesome. It gets you right here," Chris Christensen said, putting his hand over his heart.

Gail Christensen, once a school teacher herself, feels the same: "Thank yous from the children -- thank you for the book, thank you for the bus ride, whatever -- so I know where my money is getting used."

The Proof Is in the Repeating

The Christensens have now funded 21 classroom projects and plan to continue.

It's the sort of repeat-giving that other charities, bombarding prospective donors with junk mail, rarely inspire.

DonorsChoose leaves the convincing to the teachers:

"People on the front lines have the best ideas for how to improve things," Charles Best told ABC News.

"We really are based on this idea that teachers have all this pent-up classroom expertise," he said, "and that if we could just empower them to come up with micro-solutions, they're going to come up with smarter ideas than anybody would at the top."

He knows what he's talking about partly because that's how he got the idea in the first place:

"I was a social studies teacher at a high school in the Bronx for five years," he said, "and during my first year of teaching I found myself in the teachers' lunchroom always having the same conversation with my colleagues about the materials and experiences we wanted our children to have."

"I just figured there were all these people that wanted to help improve our public schools and just needed a way to give confidently," said Best.

So he invented a completely transparent "Philanthropy Marketplace" to connect such donors -- who might have as little as only $10 to give -- to public school teachers.

For example, some connected to Mary Temple in rural Liberty, Miss., where the school gives each teacher only $250 a year for supplies for an entire class.

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