Monday, May 10, 2010

“I am going to college. Can you pay?”

My favorite charity in the last few years has been Donors Choose. It has the shopping-mall allure of those microcredit charities where you get to choose whom you fund—the Congolese tilapia seller? the Ecuadorian photographer?—plus how can you not love the idea of sending money directly to cool classroom projects? I will say that students waste too much time writing thank-you notes to each donor even though I try to say “Don’t bother,” and you should look at each teacher’s request PDF, where you might see that “Fun math manipulatives!” are just materials for the overhead projector. 

Now there is a similar resource for funding students’ college education, called CO-Fund, out of Brown University. (The CO stands for “college opportunity.”) The project is new—there are only a few students up on the site—and intriguing. High school students who need money for college post personal pleas and tell about themselves, with video. It feels a little eerie, as if orphans made a website advertising individually and directly to prospective adoptive parents, and I am not sure why people this talented, engaging and broke can’t get enough financial aid through the regular channels. But moderated person-to-person giving seems to be the trend, and for good reason—it probably feels more satisfying to know exactly whom you are helping than to send off a check to United Negro College Fund. (Not that you shouldn’t do that too.)


  1. The money raised goes toward "closing the gap" by replacing the thousands of dollars that students would've had to take on in high-interest loans, which often deters them from going directly into four-year institutions...

    Keep on the lookout for our public launch soon! Follow us on twitter or feel free to reach out to me directly for more information and updates.

    Cody Simmons, Founder

  2. instead of trying to seek individual beggar-thy-neighbor efforts, we could have a systemic solution raise taxes and actually reduce the costs of higher education.

    if we do not pay for the education of our youth and therefore future, then our nation and economy will continue to wither.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Linda, and for mentioning COfund. They're a promising new nonprofit that we're excited to watch grow and succeed. (Also - you can now opt out of the thank you letters during the checkout process if you'd like. There's a check-box on the payment screen.)

    ceolaf: we have always had materials shipped directly to the schools, and have always included an *optional* donation to help support our expenses. At one time there was a sliding scale that made this percentage lower for higher poverty schools (15%), and higher for those that were better off (25%). We've since moved to a flat 18% optional donation that every donor has the opportunity to exclude, but it has never been higher than 25%. And again, that has always been a completely optional donation.

    Part of our mission is empowering teachers to choose exactly the items that they feel are best for their classroom. Who knows better than them, right? We also count on donors to choose wisely when it comes time to donate - only supporting those projects they feel are well thought out and fairly priced. We are a philanthropic marketplace, after all.

    Anybody with questions is encouraged to contact us via - where no question ever goes unanswered. Promise. :)