Pujan Rai ’14, DonorsChoose.org


I arrived at the Donorschoose.org headquartersat 9:30 am for the first day of my Princeternship. Andrew Protain ’06, was hosting me and another Princetern, Sejal Pachisia, for three days. Andrew is the Teacher User Experience Specialist at Donorschoose.org (DC). I am very thankful to him for preparing a highly organized schedule that allowed us to meet with people from all the departments we were interested in.

Andrew introduced us to the Chief Operating Officer at DC, Cesar Bocanegra. We went to one of the small, cozy meeting rooms for a short meeting with Mr. Bocanegra. He gave us a brief overview of the different departments at DC and their functions. I really enjoyed talking to Mr. Bocanegra. He talked to us about his career path and work experience before joining DC. I realized that it is very important for a person to follow his interest if he/she wants to enjoy his job. I met a number of people at DC who said that their interest in education was the main reason why they loved working at DC.

Then we met the Operations Associate, Diane Finkel, and joined her in her Logistics and Business Relations team check-in. It was an interesting experience. AlthoughI did not understand certain technical terms, the meeting was very insightful. I felt that the environment of discussion was quite friendly and casual. After the meeting, we had lunch with Andrew and Charlotte Weiskittel ’06, another Princeton alum at DC. We talked about Princeton and activities we were/are involved at the university. I felt glad to know that Andrew was the editor-in-chief of a Princeton student run magazine that I now work for.

Then we participated in one of my favorite experiences of the Princeternship. We helped put together Thank-You packages that would be sent to donors. I read very sweet thank-you letters and cards from the students.  The students would often describe the equipment bought with the help of the donations and how they have improved their learning abilities. I could see the impact DC was making in the lives of these students when I read their sincere gratitude. Then, we participated in the tech team meeting. We witnessed how the small tech team communicated with one another and how they managed their daily activities.

Overall, the environment at DC had a very casual atmosphere. I did not find cubicles that separated the staff. Instead, DC staff could see each other and the CEO, Charles Best, from their desk. I noticed that DC was a small, closely knit organization that was making a huge impact in the improvement of public schools in the nation. Most of the DC staff I talked to stressed that they loved working at DC because even though it is a small organization, they feel that their individual efforts make certain impact in the lives of many students and teachers.

January 11, 2012 Wednesday

Fellow Princetern Sejal, Andrew Protain, and Pujan

The second day at Donorschoose.org (DC) began with a debriefing of the first day with Andrew Protain ’08. I thanked Andrew for firstly offering to host us and secondly arranging such insightful interactions with other members of DC. Then we met the Marketing Manager of DC, Anna Doherty, followed by a meeting with Vice President of DC’s Human Capital, Thalia Theodore. Mrs. Theodore informed us about the hiring practices of DC. She also shed light on how the training and orientation of new employees are handled. It was interesting to note that not many international students, like me, apply to work at DC.

After that, we had lunch with the customer relations team. I noticed the members of the team have had diverse career backgrounds before joining DC. The team members also informed us about their roles at DC. There were many job descriptions that sounded similar but had subtle differences in operations. I also learned that employees at DC often changed their roles according to changing demands and therefore had to be quite flexible. After the lunch, we met with the Accounting Manager, Rama Louis. She had a lot of useful suggestions for us. Her most important suggestion was to work doing something we are really passionate about. She claimed that if one is passionate about his/her work, work will not feel like work. She also added that one might have to start lower down the order and gradually move up to his/her dream job. She also emphasized teamwork over smartness or efficiency as the secret to success.

After talking to Rama, we met with the Director of Partnerships and Business Development, Elaine Perez. She informed us that DC managed its operations from two types of funds: direct funds and partnerships with corporations and foundations. She informed us that DC has been doing well on its corporate partnerships but would like to increase the share of the direct donations. She told us about various incidents in which DC had unexpectedly been funded by foundations because of its focus on education.

Then we participated in a project that was the most amazing experience of the Princeternship. We wore both given DC gift cards and asked to donate to different projects using the DC website. I donated to two projectsthat dealt with purchasing equipment to help English-learning in public schools with a significant number of students who speak English as a second language. I very much identified with the projects because I myself used to listen to the BBC to learn English. It was a very rewarding experience to see the projects get completed and to receive thank you emails from the teachers.

We ended the day with a meeting with Zach Walker, the Donor Relations Manager. He informed us about the performance review exercises that DC employs to provide its employees with crucial feedback. Mr. Walker pulled up his own performance review sheet and walked us through the different sections under it. I found the exercise very helpful and constructive.

January 12, 2012 Thursday

The final day of the Princeternship began with a meeting with the Development Director of the Partnership and Business Development team, Reyna Booth. Although we had already met a representative from the department the previous day, the meeting was still helpful because Mrs. Booth gave a more general perspective where as we had received a more corporate oriented overview before. She also informed us about how different companies helped DC by distributing DC gift cards among its employees. Such initiatives have yielded good results both for DC and the companies.

Then we participated in a presentation that explored the possibility of using a program called Salesforce for improved customer service. Although there were many technical terms that I did not understand, the participants were engaged in a cost benefit analysis of switching from the present program to Salesforce. After that, we had a kype session with the Screening Manager, Alex Pruner. She informed us about different marketing strategies adopted by DC. It was very nice of Andrew to have scheduled the skype session because the other Princetern was very interested in the marketing side of DC.

Then we sat in an Operations meeting followed by a final debriefing with Andrew. We were very thankful to Andrew for putting up such a well-organized Princeternship. We managed to explore so much of DC in 3 days. The day ended with a guest speech by Carla Harris, Board Chair of Morgan Stanley Foundation and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley Investment Management. Mrs. Harris shared words of wisdom on ways to achieve success. She stressed that the term success should not be a vague concept. It should be concrete and we should develop our personality in such a way that adjectives associated with that type of success suit us. She further shed light on the importance of mentors and sponsors in furthering one’s career. She also stressed on the importance of listening and accepting positive criticism. She highlighted that academics, experience and network were all important for success. I found the talk very inspirational and a good note to end the Princeternship.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank Andrew Protain ’06 for putting up such a well-organized, insightful and helpful Princeternship. These 3 days have informed me a lot about how DC and similar nonprofits operate and has inspired me to play some part in helping them make an impact. I have also applied for an international internship at another nonprofit that deals with female literacy after the Princeternship.