Back in December, I received an odd corporate gift – a 2GB flash memory card, and a $100 DonorsChoose gift card – from Google. I suppose it isn’t that odd to get a gift of some sort when you (your employer if you want to get technical) spend over $100,000 with a vendor. Anyway, I pocketed the flash card and logged on to DonorsChoose to see what that was all about: is dedicated to addressing the scarcity and inequitable distribution of learning materials and experiences in our public schools. We believe this inequity is rooted in the following factors:

  1. Shortages of learning materials prevent thorough, engaging instruction;
  2. Top-down distribution of materials stifles our best teachers and discourages them from developing targeted solutions for their students; and
  3. Small, directed contributions have gone un-tapped as a source of funding. will improve public education by engaging citizens in an online marketplace where teachers describe and individuals can fund specific student projects. We envision a nation where students in every community have the resources they need to learn.

I poked around and found a request for a digital camera from a teacher at the William Ohrenberger Elementary School in West Roxbury, MA. The $100 from Google put the project close to completion, and I chipped in $30 more to finish it off. (Very smart marketing, BTW, reminding users of the amount needed to complete!) One of the interesting things about DonorsChoose is that you have the option of paying or not paying their overhead costs, assessed at 15%. They claim that 90% of donors choose to pay the fee, and I’m proud to be part of that group.

I didn’t think much more about the donation. My work was done.  I got some nice thank-you emails from DonorsChoose, and a tax statement after the end of the year. This week, I also got two letter-size envelopes containing some more personalized thank you letters from the teacher, and also a packet of photos and thank you notes from the students themselves.


orhenberger1.jpg ohrenberger2.jpg


It’s nice to get some acknowledgment and its nice to see that the children are being taught to acknowledge gifts, and it’s good that I was reminded of the organization and inspired to write this post that might spread the word and get more people doing similar good things.

But I’m still a little uneasy at the effort and expense going into thanking me.  I had the option to pay the overhead, I should have had the option also to put all that overhead into running the organization and none into sending me big hand-assembled packages of paper.  When I give to public radio, I make sure to check the “I don’t want your stinkin’ tote bag” box.  Additionally, I’m note sure how I feel about the schoolkids being reminded that some of their educational equipment comes at the whim of donors and that they should take time out of their day to write these notes.  I received four photos (pretty obviously film photos, I guess the digital camera wasn’t operational yet) and four crayon drawings in each of the two packets, and (Google and) I gave about a quarter of the total funds for the project, so there were probably at least six more such packets created at the school and collated at DonorsChoose HQ.

Probably, I’m just having another grumpy day, but I still think charitable gifts should be anonymous and minimally acknowledged – just enough to feel secure that the funds went to good use and to satisfy the tax man.

And one more parting rant:  If anybody at Kodak is tuned in (LKB?), these photos and crayon drawings with KODAK prominently featured are priceless.  Why does it fall to individual citizens to place your products in elementary schools?  These kids will probably never know what film is (was?), don’t you want them growing up associating Kodak with cameras?