Why not to donate to Donor’s Choose

October 21, 2010

I’m sort of curious about those of you who don’t see the appeal in Donor’s Choose. Don’t get me wrong, I pick and choose my philanthropy efforts too-we can all only do so much. So I’m not criticizing, just wondering.
Are your philanthropy dollars being spent elsewhere? On what sorts of causes?
Are you too poor to spare $10?
Do you have a philosophical problem with having to raise funds for what should be public funded education?
Are you not seeing the value in the projects that are asking for your support?
We’re all anonymous here so be honest.

25 Responses to “Why not to donate to Donor’s Choose”

  1. DK Says:

    Do you have a philosophical problem with having to raise funds for what should be public funded education?
    Are you not seeing the value in the projects that are asking for your support?

    The two above. I already pay quite a bit to public education that I don’t use and never used. For the most part, I don’t see the steadily increasing amount spent on schools leading to any improvements in quality of education. And money and supplies are most definitely not a main problem with education in the USA. We already spend staggeringly high amount per student.
    “My students need an LCD projector for our life science class (High poverty, Richmond, CA”.
    “My students need bacterial transformation kits, DNA laboratory instruments (High poverty, Bronx, NY)”
    Sorry, this is beyond ridiculous. Science class does not require LCD projector! (My entire university studies went without it). And bacterial transformation “kits” (?) cost what – $1.00 to make? And WTF is DNA laboratory instrument?
    Science classes in high poverty schools need most and foremost one thing: separation of those who can and want to learn from those who can’t and doesn’t want. Which in the first instance requires being able to expel students from school. Something that’s effectively not possible in schools today.


  2. Yes, I am too poor. It’s hard to support a family of 4 and a make house payments on a postdoc’s salary. It involves lots of PB&J sandwiches and pasta, and not much money to spare for luxuries like donating.


  3. Bruce Says:

    The thing I find bothersome about Donors Choose is the CEO compensation of $160,000, putting him in the top 3% of income earners.
    It just doesn’t feel like a charity, it looks to me more like the grassroots teabaggers working for Koch.


  4. stripey_cat Says:

    Mostly too poor. $10 is about £6, which is 5 big loaves of bread, or 2-3 pots of veggie chilli (each batch being 6-8 servings). That’s a lot to lose out of my food budget in one lump; when I do have spare cash it tends to go to OXFAM for whom I volunteer in a shop also.


  5. nixar Says:

    I’m not American, so I’m not going to give to a US charity when there people much more deserving from my point of view.
    But beyond that, would I give if I was?
    Most likely not. These things should be funded properly, through taxes, and, unless there are specific reasons in specific instances, donating only shifts the responsibility away from where it should. In effect it eases the pain caused by reagano-thatcherism.
    I donate to Wikipedia, the local EFF and FSF-like associations, and democracynow.org, because I believe in their mission and they are counter-powers, without alternative. They cannot be funded otherwise.


  6. another young FSP Says:

    I don’t always donate through these challenges, because I don’t always like the projects that the bloggers pick out. I do donate regularly to Donors Choose. It’s one of my favorite charities.
    In Donors Choose, I look primarily for projects that leverage small donations to a large impact in schools that are blatantly not providing resources. A shed that the teacher can lock so that the donated tools/seeds for the school garden (used for biology lessons) don’t get stolen every year. Tables for the science room so the students have someplace other than the floor to do experiments. Textbooks or a reading library that can be used year after year. Instruments for a music room.
    LCD projectors won’t really change the educational setup when there is a chalkboard already present; they’ll either be only occasionally used (usually poorly), or actually distract from hands-on science in favor of watching movies. Dissection supplies are used once and gone. So your projects aren’t tremendously attractive to me.


  7. DrugMonkey Says:

    I agree that private support for things that should properly be govt responsibilities has this effect nixar. But the alternative is a game of chicken in which everybody loses. My question would be whether facing down the trickle-down liars is ever going to work via encrappening the schools.


  8. I’m also promoting this campaign, and I have some reservations about it.
    Many of the items that are asked for (among them, LCD projectors and laptop computers) strike me as inessential, and a poor (or at least sub-optimally impactful) use of a disproportionately large amount of money. Some other things, like dissection equipment and specimens, I think are essential to science education and are often not provided for (dissection especially, given the negative image it has due to a small but vocal minority of parents and students who are opposed to it.) When it comes down to it, though, I couldn’t justify donating to many of the projects that are posted on the site – I simply don’t think they are asking for essential enough supplies.
    To illustrate my point, let me provide an example of what I consider to be an overwhelmingly and unequivocally worthwhile-to-support non-profit education project: These two links ( http://www.ashanet.org/projects/project-view.php?p=398 http://www.ashanet.org/projects-new/documents/398/Republic_Day_Celebrations_2010.pdf ) lead, respectively, to the homepage and pictures of the Samajik Vidyalaya project by Asha for Education. This is a school in a rural part of northern India that did not exist before it had non-profit funding, and still struggles to pay teachers and provide students with supplies. They have a yearly operating budget of about $6000, which includes $6 for each student’s study materials for the year. Their single yearly field trip has a budget of less than $300. In choosing where to put donation dollars (the few that I, and other similarly poor students, can afford,) it’s hard to justify why we should put a large amount of money into helping already quite privileged students have a slightly easier time taking notes (ie. $1000 of donation money towards a classroom projector) instead of putting it into a project where each dollar can have a drastic effect on the education of truly needy children. The $50 a month that I can afford to donate will buy many more new opportunities for the kids Asha serves than it will for kids whose teacher would like a new laptop for them to do reports on.
    Not that I don’t support Donors Choose – it’s just that many of the projects there fail the cost-efficiency analysis that I do when I decide how to donate.


  9. So far this year I’ve donated a total of many hundreds of dollars to local research and care organisations (cancer foundation, MS Society, children’s hospital, children’s hospice care); Amnesty International (member since high school); Medecins Sans Frontiers (Haiti and Pakistan appeals); and assorted local schools and kids’ sports teams (when asked to contribute to fundraising campaigns by friends and relatives who have kids in those programmes). I also donated my old laptop to a university in Cuba and a bunch of pens, pencils, and paper to a primary school there. I’m kinda tapped out, especially since my husband has got less work this year than usual.
    But even if I wasn’t broke, I’ve always chosen to donate either locally or to developing countries. I think Donors Choose is a fantastic initiative – when I was a postdoc I went into local high schools and ran practical labs and judged science fairs, so I do understand the need – and if it met either of the above criteria (and I had some cash to spare) I’d donate for sure.
    I also enjoy the friendly rivalry between the bloggers that this initiative always entails. The guilt trips, not so much.


  10. Anon Says:

    Honest answer:
    Too many people asking for money for the same thing at the same time (most of the science blogs that I read) – if one person asked I might perhaps consider it, but when I see the zillionth post asking for money yet again, sorry, but it’s just not going to happen.
    Also, I am not American and I am not going to give money for something that the US state should take care of, as other countries do…


  11. oh, forgot two: local United Way, local food bank.


  12. Mostly its because I am not residing in the USA. Would I donate if something like this was available up north? Not sure. I fundamentally believe in the importance of public education and putting tax dollars into. I’ve noticed with daycare and now school cost putting alot of burden onto parents and its not fair.
    That said, there is a huge difference in the experience of white collar friends public school vs my inner city public school experience. That needs to change and I would put money toward improving the inner city experience. Children should not pay bc they were born into the wrong postal code.


  13. Mordecai Says:

    In my case it’s because I’m personally too far removed from experiments and physical demonstrations. I haven’t seen an experiment in six or seven years — my education’s come from lectures and math textbooks. Missing a personal context for all that, I’d need an understanding of primary education for this exercise to be meaningful to me, and I’m not sure how to gain that.
    More abstractly I also feel this is the government’s job. I’ll vote for taxes to fund it, but funding it ourselves isn’t a solution to the underlying problem.


  14. Dveduu Says:

    I’m a grad student.. I have no money


  15. Paula Says:

    So, first off, I *do* donate to Donors Choose, at the request of a Scienceblogger who is also a personal friend, because I like to support my friends’ charitable efforts. However, if not for the personal connection, I would not give to Donors Choose because:
    1) The whole concept that scattershot private donations for equipment and classroom consumables can make up the the systemic inequalities of the U.S. public education system is ridiculous. I have never made a charitable donation that I feel is going to make *less* of a difference than the donations I make to Donors Choose.
    2) Many, many of the proposed projects strike me as poorly conceived, and not really the most effective use to which donated funds could be put, even in the area of public education. Often, the goals stated in the project descriptions could be achieved in a much more cost-effective way than what is being proposed, and so donating to those projects seems like I’m wasting money. Clearly there are a few exceptions, because I do donate, but the fact that I have to sift through so much chaff to get a few kernels of wheat does not leave me with a good impression of the charity model.
    3) The way that a project doesn’t get funding unless it racks up the required donation amount definitely makes me leery of donating small amounts. If a greater fraction of projects struck me as good “investments”, I wouldn’t mind so much, but I am not keen on having the $50 I chipped in towards e.g. updated math books in Detroit spent on an LCD projector in St. Louis. (This is why, when I donate to a DC project, I pick ones that I can bring to 100% funding.)


  16. Anonymous Says:

    Generally speaking I think I am more interested in volunteering my time rather than money.


  17. AppliedPhysicsProf Says:

    One reason I have not donated through your site is that infernal misplaced apostrophe in Donors. You are causing me pain every time you write it.
    I have donated a fair amount through PiT’s website, as her projects target high poverty areas. I think getting kids chairs and tables is more important than everyone having a microscope in 5th grade. Plenty of countries with way less money than the US produce better educated people.


  18. ginger Says:

    I’m in Australia. Sure, American schoolchildren are my responsibility, since I’m American, but I do still pay taxes. In two countries, no less.
    I contribute to charity in Australia, and I keep up with some charities I know and trust in the US.
    But I prefer to keep my donation life private or even anonymous, anyway. I really hate the annual unified charity drives I’ve had in previous workplaces, where my employer has the superlative gall not only to dictate what constitutes the most worthy charities, but to take credit for my donations. I’ve only encountered Donors Choose on the net, and it’s been the same model, where someone gets to boast, “My readers are the most generous!” and it sits wrong with me.
    I’m not a joy-killer – most people seem to think the Donors Choose drive is fun, and I wouldn’t have said boo if you hadn’t asked. But you did.
    I admit, though, there’s something to what #9 says. Eight of the blogs in my RSS feed are talking about Donors Choose right now, and it’s a little clamor-y.


  19. niepolski Says:

    Because I prefer to donate time through SWE, particularly for outreach. Or give back to the school district I attended, where my mom teaches 6th grade, in time/money/supplies. One of the biggest things I used to do, according to her, was come in and talk to classes about college, what I studied, why, etc. (and give her my old laptop). Now, I have a job far away and am just not around enough to keep it up.
    So I guess the answer is also I prefer to contribute time, or to projects closer to home (TX) or my current residence (DC metro area).


  20. yellowfish Says:

    I think it is an important cause, but honestly my main issue is I’m burnt out on hearing about it… it feels like almost the only thing any science blogs are posting about. Like one of the other posters said- if it was just one blog, I might get intrigued and donate, but there is a kind of diffusion of responsibility that happens when you get so many simultaneous solicitations- each one becomes less important, and it is just impossible to care about all of them.
    the other issue is that I actually volunteer my time to a kids and science program in our public school system, which I feel achieves close to the same thing, and also fits in better with my budget.


  21. whimple Says:

    I don’t like being told where, how and when to donate. If you ask me, I say no automatically.
    You say you got a real solution
    Well, you know
    We’d all love to see the plan
    You ask me for a contribution
    Well, you know
    We’re doing what we can


  22. neurolover Says:

    “1) The whole concept that scattershot private donations for equipment and classroom consumables can make up the the systemic inequalities of the U.S. public education system is ridiculous. I have never made a charitable donation that I feel is going to make *less* of a difference than the donations I make to Donors Choose. ”
    So I agree with your first premise. I agree wholeheartedly that scattershot private donations don’t make up for the systemic inequities, and even worse, the existence of such things allow us (and particular jurisdictions) to systematically underfund education. I think initiatives like Donors Choose don’t even cure but actually contribute to the system inequities.
    So, I’m in complete theoretical agreement. But, I contribute anyway (though not always through bloggers’ challenges). Why? Because practically, it’s the only charity where I have felt like I made a difference. If you contribute at higher levels (fully fund projects, for example, which you can do for $500, within my giving budget), you get personalized letters from the students who benefited from your project. Every single one of those packages has brought tears to my eyes. One in particular, will keep me giving (even while I worry that I’m hurting public education in general). In it, a high school student (I can’t remember what I gave, it might have been a trumpet or it might have been preserved sharks for dissection) expressed surprise, and delight, that a stranger, a complete stranger should care. It might just have been a single instance, and it might not have affected anyone’s life in any long term way, but I know, that at moment, I contributed something.
    Now, I don’t give to beggars on the street (where my theories win over the surprise and delight the beggar might feel if I handed him a 20). But, Donors Choose works for me.
    There’s another practical reason. This form of giving has been very effective for my children, who actually read the descriptions of the classes, and pick something that they think they would want if they were in that class. They feel connected in the giving. And, unlike charities like Heifer, they really are giving the thing they’re reading about: real sharks or quilt materials rather than theoretical chickens or sheep.


  23. The projects I chose for this year’s DonorsChoose extravaganza were those that were asking for basic school supplies that would normally be supplied by the parents or school, neither of whom are able to afford to do so … simple things like pencils, chairs, carpet, bats and balls. If kindergarten and elementary school kids don’t even have something to sit on and something to write with, they’re not going to get very far.
    I’m angry and disgusted that funding for schools is at the point where these types of things aren’t available when parents simply can’t afford them … and that teachers are having to pay for this stuff out of their own pockets.
    And yes, I donated a chunk of my own money to these projects … I wouldn’t ask my readers to donate if I hadn’t done so first.


  24. Anonymous Says:

    As a public school teacher who has had students benefit from grants through Donors Choose, I think some points need to be made. No, public schools are not funded properly; I think we all know that. Saying that one should not donate because taxes should provide those materials is pointless. The fact is that right now, they ARE NOT providing the needed materials in many schools. Donors Choose is a way for teachers to address a lack of materials RIGHT NOW for the students they teach RIGHT NOW. Even if the problems with funding are solved, the state will not be able to go back and give the students who didn’t have them what they missed out on.
    Another main point people are making on here is that some of the materials are not what they would consider to be necessary. That’s right. Some teachers are applying to receive basic materials that they need; some are applying to receive enrichment materials. This is a website that lets teachers say, “What is my wildest dream for this classroom?” and find someone that’s willing to make that happen. Should we tell teachers to stop thinking big, to stop asking for what could make their classroom above and beyond what is minimally adequate?
    Let me also mention the fact that the large majority of teachers spend thousands of dollars of their own money buying supplies for their classroom each year. The state of South Carolina, where I teach, gives teachers up to $275 per year to purchase supplies. In many schools that includes any copy paper they need to use, tissues for runny noses, markers, scissors, books to fill out a classroom library, hands-on materials, and much more.
    To give you a very personal example, one of the first grants I had funded was a set of notebooks, dividers, pencil cases, and pencils for my inner-city, high poverty students. These kids did not have parents at home helping them with their homework, or even asking if they had any. The pleasure of receiving those notebooks, and the sense of responsibility they felt by owning them, caused my homework completion rate to go from about 10% to 90%. This means more students were getting practice in the math and reading skills they needed. True, in an ideal situation, I wouldn’t have had to get those materials donated, but we don’t live in an ideal world. In an ideal home, the parents would look for the homework and help their child complete it. These kids don’t live in an ideal world, and their teachers don’t teach in one. The generosity of donors makes a difference in a lot of little ways that add up.
    If for no other reason, think of it as karma. You do something small for someone, somewhere, and it’s just a little bit of good you sent into the world.


  25. Ms. Stanford Says:

    If you’re looking for a specific class to help check us out!
    http://www.donorschoose.org/mrs.stanford 🙂


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