Portraits of Leadership

DonorsChoose confronts COVID-19

Hyperakt’s new interview series hands the mic to nonprofit and cultural leaders around the nation as they guide their organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today we’re talking with Charles Best, Chief Executive Officer of DonorsChoose. Founded in 2000 by Best, at the time a Bronx high school teacher, DonorsChoose empowers public school teachers from across the country to request much-needed materials and experiences for their students.

From your vantage point, what stories are not being told about the impact of the Coronavirus?

While our attention is rightfully focused on stopping the spread of coronavirus, I’m not sure we know enough about the impact that this crisis is having on our students’ learning, particularly for our nation’s most vulnerable students.

When students cannot go to school, the resources available in their homes will define their education, which means coronavirus threatens to widen educational inequity in America.

In so many communities, educators and administrators have sprung to action to provide students with meals, work packets, and in some cases, the technology to continue learning at home. Teachers are going to heroic lengths to salvage the end of this school year, and it remains to be seen how coronavirus could impact the start of next school year.

How have you needed to change how your staff works or the way you deliver services in order to meet the new reality?

DonorsChoose is a nonprofit crowdfunding platform where teachers can request support for the classroom resources they need — books, technology, basic supplies, field trips, etc. — and donors give to the requests that inspire them.

For our entire 20 year history, we’ve intentionally shipped funded materials to teachers at their school address, to ensure accountability and transparency for our donors. Now for the first time, we’ve had to expand our model and come up with new ways to help teachers and students as they continue teaching and learning from home.

In perhaps our fastest product launch ever, we’ve created our new Keep Kids Learning program. We’re able to give teachers at America’s highest-need schools a funding credit that they can use to purchase select educational resources and have them shipped directly to their students’ homes. Donors have already given over $3 million to the program, and we’re rolling out this funding to thousands of teachers over the next few weeks.

What gives you hope in this moment?

At our organization, when we want to find hope, we look to our teachers. And they have not disappointed during this unprecedented challenge. Teachers, many of whom are distraught at the idea of not seeing their students in person for the rest of the school year, have been very inventive in finding ways to connect with their students.

From video calls, to driving to each student’s home and waving from the street, to creating care packages for them, teachers are unstoppable when it comes to ensuring every student feels supported and loved.

Get to know DonorsChoose at DonorsChoose.Org and on Twitter, and read more interviews in the Portraits of Leadership series.

Hyperakt is a purpose-driven design and innovation studio that elevates human dignity and ignites curiosity. We believe in design’s power to build a future filled with courage, optimism, and honesty.

Are you a leader in the nonprofit, cultural, or design space? Want to share your perspective on confronting COVID-19? Please fill out this Google Form.

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Hyperakt crafts transformative brands and digital storytelling experiences for clear-eyed champions of social justice and creativity.

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