In my last post, I spoke briefly about my interest in engaging children in philanthropy - the earlier the better. Of course, there are many effective ways to do this, but one that I find particularly intriguing given my interest in the Internet and online marketplaces is a site called DonorsChoose. Quoting from their homepage, the nutshell summary is: "Here, teachers submit ideas for materials or experiences that their students need to learn. Individuals like you can choose a project and make it a classroom reality." Really cool - a philanthropic online marketplace that matches teachers with donors to fulfill a wide variety of educational needs that would otherwise probably go unfunded.
I first heard about DonorsChoose last year when I spoke on a panel at a Kleiner Perkins venture capital event. In return for speaking, KP gave each of the panelists a coupon to DonorsChoose that could be used to fund (or partially fund) a project of our choosing. Since my own children are very involved in music and I have become very passionate about supporting programs in that area, I selected a project entitled "Piano Keyboard for Our Classroom". A kindergarten teacher in a predominantly low income school district of San Jose, California with no money for drama, art, gym or music instructors, was seeking donations to fund a digital keyboard to use in his classroom. You can view the original project proposal here. I used the KP coupon to fund a portion of the $420 request.
I was very impressed with how easy, smooth, and gratifying the whole process was. A few months later, I received a hand-written "thank-you" note from the teacher describing the impact in the classroom. Included in the thank-you packet was a set of photos showing various students playing on the new keyboard in the classroom - fantastic!
This struck me as a very simple and meaningful way to start engaging your children in philanthropy. A way that allows them to perform their own research, use their own funds, make their own decisions, and see a very tangible, near term impact.
Here's a thought: the next time you feel the need to give your child a project (they're bored, spending too much time in front of SpongeBob, too wrapped up in themselves, etc.), try the following (assuming you have set up your own account on www.donorschoose.com):
- Show them the site and the basics of how to get around
- Tell them to search for and make a list of 5-10 projects that they think are particularly meaningful to them (I prefer this to choosing just one - it overcomes the initial temptation to hastily pick any old one without getting engaged and forces a deeper critical evaluation).
- Have them sort the list from "least deserving" to "most deserving" with an explicit comment about why each is more deserving than its predecessor in their opinion (of course, they are all likely to be "deserving" projects - the point is to get them to think more deeply about what they want to donate to and why).
- After some discussion, fund the chosen project (or typically a portion thereof). Ideally, the funds would come from the child (perhaps built up in a "philanthropy account" over time by deducting a percentage of weekly allowance - you might consider matching contributions as well).
See how it goes - I'm trying this myself now.
I'm hoping to be able to create some linkage between my new venture and DonorsChoose or sites like it. We'll see if that pans out. If you know of similar sites, feel free to leave a comment - I'd be interested to hear about them.