An online giving site is granting wishes for teachers by connecting strangers to projects in their classrooms.

Carmen Zeisler, fourth and fifth grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School, explained that Donors Choose gives her the means to purchase resources through the generosity of strangers.

“You find a classroom or a project to support, and you can give them $1 or $500, but you see what you’re donating to. Once the class receives their resources, you receive a thank-you card from the kids in that class,” Zeisler said. “Recently, my grant was funded by 66 people. It cost $607, which means these people were only giving a few dollars per person. I didn’t know any of these people, but it’s amazing to see people come together so we can have these resources in our classroom.”

Donors Choose is a site built specifically to fund projects, purchases and professional development for teachers. The site was started in 2000 by a New York City teacher looking for classroom resources.

Teachers shop for their desired project and write the grant, then volunteers review the grants for any potential problems. Once the project goes live online, anyone can visit the site and donate.

“The only challenge is really making sure that this is something we truly need. I don’t want to write grants for things that are just on my wish list, but I want them to really benefit my kids. There is some work involved, in terms of grant writing, sharing or tweeting posts through social media, and sometimes your grant won’t get funded,” Zeisler said. “If it isn’t funded during it’s time limit of a few months, then it goes into the archives. Then, those donors will get an email that the project wasn’t funded and their options are to either put that money in a gift card for that grant writer or they can put it toward another project. You can also pull that project back out and try it again with some changes.”

Now, the site has gained popularity nation-wide, even in McPherson County. There are currently 17 projects open for teachers in the county.

“Donors Choose works well with partner organizations. This summer, I had five projects funded, which all had a match with Target. Organizations will match funding for certain projects, like Target matches projects that pertain to healthy living and active learners. If you learn about those opportunities, you can maybe write a bigger grant, but in the end, you’re only raising half of it.”

With advances in education, teachers have a number of resources to choose from, but not all items may be tested by real classrooms. Crowdfunding sites like Donors Choose allow teachers to get the materials without using school funds on something that might not work out.

“I have these creative resources that I wouldn’t necessarily have. Maybe I’d have something, but I’m able to get what I need and get them into my kids hands,” Zeisler said. “A lot of the appeal is because teachers want some different kinds of resources, but we’re not sure if we want to use school money on it just yet so we can try it out first. Donors Choose works perfectly because I can put a project together relatively quickly.”

Of course, some teachers may get a surprise just by being involved with Donors Choose year-round.

“A big event they do is called #BestSchoolDayEver. They work with celebrities, business, people all across the nation to fund as many projects as possible in one state on one day,” Zeisler said. “One of the executives from Google is from Overland Park, so he funded all the projects in Kansas that day. Ashton Kutcher funded all the projects in Iowa. Through that, my friend got 30 chrome books funded that day — a whole cart. Donors Choose really reminds you to have those dream projects up because you never know when they’ll be funded.”

Gordon Mohn, interim superintendent of USD 418, explained that these donations build a culture of giving.

“The giving I see here is remarkable, it’s a marvel. Part of it is tradition — its a tradition in our community to support schools. We have many entities and foundations in our community who are consistent donors and that sets an example. Whenever we approve a gift, that might nudge someone else to see the different types of tax-deductible gifts. We’re appreciative of those things and the fact that someone who doesn’t even know us would still fund us through online fundraisers.”

Online giving also allows teachers to responsible with district funds, while still gathering new items for their classrooms.

“Our administration is so helpful. I can ask my principal for lots of things, but I also understand that money is tight. Whatever I can do to help, I want to do that. I can’t go and buy all this on my own, but I can do the work — the grant writing — to help with that,” Zeisler said. “There are plenty of projects on there for McPherson. You can donate $1 or $2 and these can get funded. What a great way to thank teachers in town.”

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.