I had the opportunity to take the best study break of my first Reading Period at Princeton University with a visit to the New York office of DonorsChoose.org this past January. I shadowed Princeton alum Andrew Protain ’08 and also met members of several departments at DonorsChoose.org. DonorsChoose.org is one of the most innovative nonprofits today. It is an online charity that encourages peer-to-peer philanthropy by connecting teachers in need with donors across the United States and teachers from 56 percent of public schools in the United States who have posted a project on DonorsChoose.org. What makes DonorsChoose.org so unique is its transparency. People can see exactly where the funds will be spent as well as receive verification from teachers through the form of thank you emails and photos. In addition, donors who give over $50 to any project also receive handwritten thank you letters from the students.
DonorsChoose.org has been so successful because it forges connections in a way few other charities do. I was given a $50 gift card prior to visiting the office so I could see what the donation process was like and it was incredibly fun navigating the site, which could display projects based on geographic region, subject area, and approaching funding deadlines, amongst other filters, and reading through the wide variety of projects posted. I donated to a teacher who wanted new books to teach her special needs students in a high poverty New York neighborhood about the Arctic and how the actions of students could impact the environment on a global scale. My donation provided the remaining funds required for this teacher’s project to reach its goal and I received an email less than an hour later from the thrilled teacher telling me how her commute to work that morning had been the best one she’s ever had because she learned about my donation. Another teacher I donated to wanted to buy graphing calculators for her high school students with learning disabilities so they could complete their high school math requirements and fulfill their dreams of pursuing a college education. Again, it was only a matter of hours before I received a thank you email.
After going through the donation process, I was even more excited to arrive at the Princeternship site, and I was not disappointed. The new office of DonorsChoose.org is bright, airy, and quirky—a perfect reflection of the focused, yet fun, atmosphere of DonorsChoose.org. Throughout my day, I met with representatives from the Data Science, Operations, Customer Relations, Logistics and Business Relations, and Partnerships and Business Development departments of DonorsChoose.org.
I was also able to sit in on a Data Innovation Symposium Brainstorm session, where I learned the significance of data collection at DonorsChoose.org. Because DonorsChoose.org has connected people from such varied backgrounds (socioeconomic, geographic, etc.), it has a wealth of data that can be used for a variety of purposes. The three main uses for the DonorsChoose.org data outlined in the brainstorming session were:
- To improve the internal structure of DonorsChoose.org to make it more efficient.
- To provide information about nonprofits who want to use a model similar to that of DonorsChoose.org
- To make the data open t.o the public so that it can provide information to policy makers.
I had never considered data analysis as a path for me to consider prior to my Princeternship, but during the day, I realized the potential of the field to directly improve society. It was inspiring to see the ability to affect change for good the way that DonorsChoose.org is able to do. Through the various team meetings I sat in on, it was evident that all the team members of DonorsChoose.org are passionate about their cause, innovative in their approach, and bold in their future goals.
I also visited “Donor Appreciation Land,” where the Thank You Packages for donors are assembled. Seeing the handmade thank you cards from students drove home why DonorsChoose.org is so successful. Simply put, DonorsChoose.org forges connections—and that is what keeps teachers and donors, alike, returning to DonorsChoose.org.
It was a privilege to be able to gain insight into the model of such an innovative nonprofit and I thank Mr. Protain and all at the office of DonorsChoose.org for this eye-opening, enjoyable, and rewarding Princeternship experience!