ConnectNYC Success Story: DonorsChoose.org
ConnectNYC is a NYCEDC program that provides free construction and installation of fiber internet to qualified businesses. DonorsChoose.org, a recent recipient of ConnectNYC funding, is an online charity that makes it easy to help students in need through school donations.
Crucial to DonorsChoose.org's success is the ability to connect with its national audience in a cost-efficient and seamless way.
The nonprofit recently made the cover of Fast Company's 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World issue, the first charity to ever be included in the top ten.
César Bocanegra, Chief Operating Officer of DonorsChoose [above], shared the story behind the transformational education nonprofit and how ConnectNYC helps the company to be more effective in its daily operations.
How did DonorsChoose.org get its start?
DonorsChoose.org was founded by Charles Best, a history teacher who launched the online charity from his Bronx classroom in 2000. He and his fellow teachers often chatted in the lunchroom about books, art supplies, and field trips they wanted for their students. Charles thought that people might be willing to support these projects if there was one
He designed what is now the DonorsChoose website on pencil and paper and found a developer to build the site. He then brought his mother’s pear dessert to school, telling teachers that whoever took a slice needed to post a project on his new site with a request for something they wanted for their classroom. Charles then anonymously funded the first 11 projects, giving teachers the false impression that the site worked! To jumpstart funding, Charles and his students sent out 3,000 letters, asking for support for the teacher requests on the site.central place to do so.
A few years later, Oprah heard about DonorsChoose.org and invited Charles to come on her show. It drove so much traffic to the site that it crashed. Word continued to spread and in 2007 the site opened to every public school in the United States. To date, donors have given more than $230 million to fund 400,000 projects nationwide.
How did you find out about the ConnectNYC program?
In October of 2012, Charles received an email about the program and he forwarded me the email to ask if we qualified. We immediately began to fill out the application.
What has your experience with the program been like?
The program and the vendor we chose, Stealth Communications, have been amazing to work with. I would highly recommend any non-profit to apply to the program. All our questions were answered promptly and the service we’ve received from Stealth Communications has been prompt, effective, and extremely courteous.
What were some of the connectivity issues you had before your upgrade?
Before the upgrade, we had six dedicated T1’s for both our data and voice. That’s only 9Mbps of speed. We often had to wait for files to download and for our emails to send/receive. Also, our Wi-Fi connection was very spotty. We’ve had Stealth Communications for over two months and we now have 100Mbps of dedicated bandwidth for both upload and download. Our staff has become a lot more efficient and we haven’t had any Wi-Fi connectivity issues!
What general problem is DonorsChoose.org trying to solve?
We aim to make it easy for anyone to support public schools and end inequity in American education. Students should have the same opportunities, no matter what their ZIP code is and teachers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for essential supplies and resources.
What is your company's mantra?
We believe that DonorsChoose.org makes it possible for anyone—from an individual with $5 to one of our corporate or foundation partners—to “do well by doing good.”
What is DonorsChoose.org's biggest company accomplishment?
We’ve hit a number of milestones during our growth: most recently, we helped our ten millionth student since our founding in 2000. Our “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” is for one million people to donate a total of $100 million to 100% of America’s high-poverty schools, all within one school year. This year, we will pass the halfway mark and we hope to reach that goal in the next five years.
What is the best part about working at DonorsChoose.org?
DonorsChoose.org attracts the best people from diverse professional and personal backgrounds who are united in their commitment to America’s teachers and students. Everyone has something unique to offer that strengthens our team. Our open culture also means that anyone from any corner of the organization has the opportunity—and responsibility—to submit ideas to make the site better. In short, my colleagues are the most passionate, innovative, and collaborative people I’ve ever worked with.
Why New York City?
Our site was founded in New York City and we love New York City! Charles never imagined in the early days, before crowdfunding was even a word, that DonorsChoose.org would become a national resource for teachers.
What’s your favorite place in the city to nosh?
This is the toughest question so far. I love going to Casa Nonna on 38th St. because it’s spacious, has great service, and the food is delicious!
Need faster, more reliable Internet? ConnectNYC is helping connect NYC's growing companies to high-speed internet by providing free fiber optic construction to qualifying businesses. There's still time to apply for this round of funding. The application deadline is March 12!