I’d like to start by asking each of you to consider helping under-privileged children in America get a little bit more than they have today. Sure, you can give a small amount of money. Even $10. Please. It’s better than zero.
You can combine that with supporting Fred & Joanne Wilson.
(if you click no other links on theis site click that one)
But even more valuable if you don’t have much money to give is to give your creativity or your programming time. DonorsChoose let’s you “hack their data” in creative ways to create offerings that may be relevant to helping with education projects in America. So my call-to-action is do something. Anything. Small or large.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Charles Best, the founder of DonorsChoose.org to talk about his startup. How did he get started? How did he get his initial traction (hint: Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Colbert, Fred Wilson)? Why did he choose to go the non-profit route? etc. If you want to be inspired, please watch this short interview and you’ll find out all of these answers and more.
Charles is simply amazing. I have talked often about wanting to see entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the world. That doesn’t have to be non-profit. But it means solving a bigger problem, making the world a better place or somehow “making a difference.” Charles chose all of these. DonorsChoose helps match people who want to make a difference in children’s lives by donating small amounts of money to tangible classroom projects with minimal overhead.
He started as a teacher who wanted to make life better for those in his classroom. Although not well paid, he found himself spending his own money on his students to give them more supplies. What gets lost behind the headlines is how common this is. Charles estimates that teachers spend $1 billion / year of their own money on student supplies. He started trying to create ways for his kids to be able to have more resources. Like most great entrepreneurs his project was born out of both passion and the real need to solve a problem that existed in his area of expertise.
Having had some success building an online tool for fund-raising purposes he decided he could have a bigger impact on education if he did the project full time. He quit teaching and became an entrepreneur. He set up DonorsChoose.org and has been off to the races ever since. To date more than 500,000 have funded more than 200,000 projects affecting more than 5 million children. Enough said. Awesome.
But being the innovator and 1st-class entrepreneur that Chalres is, he knew he could do more. So in addition to: building a great website, creating national awareness to donors and getting corporate sponsors signed up – he also created an open API and is encouraging third-parties to try and hack the data to produce results that benefit programs. And while this contest here is over, check it out for an example of what can be done (the winner is shown in photos with Stephen Colbert).
- Here is the discussion group for Hackers if you want to join
- Here is information on the data set. They’re OK if you use it for commercial purposes. And while the contest is over I’m sure they’d still love to have more hackers.
What am going to do?
- After watching Waiting for Superman (and literally having tears in my eyes) I wrote this post. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie, please do. It will move you. I decided the area that I would devote my time & money to was public education. Charles makes this easy for me. For that I’m grateful.
- I’ve agreed to be an advisor to the company and donate as much time as Charles would like. First up, helping with sales & marketing discussions
- I’ve agreed to be an evangelist in any way I can (he didn’t ask for this, I felt compelled)
- I’ve donated to Fred & Joanne Wilson’s 50th birthday present through DonorsChoose. What do you give to the couple that has everything they need? Help support a project they’re passionate about. You can donate to their 50 for 50 project here. I did.
- I’ll do more when asked. Oh, and I promised to have beers with Dave Puketza often In a funny twist of fate I found out that my childhood friend Dave, who also went to my undergrad before upgrading also worked at DonorsChoose. I didn’t find out until I was taking their office tour. I spoke with Dave (over aforementioned beers) and many team members. They had a common thread of wanting to both enjoy their work and make a difference. It was a wonderful antidote to the often prevalent money-quick culture in startup land. Honestly, I felt humbled by them all.