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4 innovative ways to support your local school

4 innovative ways to support your local school
Jolie Brouttier, an elementary school teacher from Bakersfield, found great success with Adopt a Classroom. (Courtesy Adopt a Classroom)

Cancel that bake sale -- there are many ways to raise much-needed funds for schools, including these four websites.


Available in all 50 states

Teachers spend $1 billion of their own money each year on supplies. That's the problem that DonorsChoose founder Charles Best set out to solve back in 2000.

Best was a history teacher in the Bronx, paying out-of-pocket for supplies -- and he was not alone. He set up a site where, for $5, ordinary people could become educational philanthropists. It launched with 10 projects, and he secretly funded them all himself. But the idea took hold.

With help from celebs like Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Colbert, DonorsChoose has grown into the largest education-focused crowdfunding site in the U.S. -- set up like KickStarter, where projects must meet their goals to be funded.

Genein Letford, a music teacher at NEW Academy Elementary School in Canoga Park, is a DonorsChoose super-user of sorts, with more than 40 projects funded since 2007. Her classroom is now outfitted with flutes, saxophones, trumpets, piccolos and recorders, as well as iPads, sheet music, art supplies and a music stand cart.

The overall statistics, to date, are impressive. Nationwide, DonorsChoose has created 550,000 projects worth over $315 million. They've helped 14.1 million students and over 220,000 teachers at 61,067 schools. If you've supported a DonorsChoose campaign, you're one of 1.6 million participants.

Adopt a Classroom

Like DonorsChoose, Adopt a Classroom uses crowdfunding -- except here, donors select classrooms, not projects. It's a way to make sure that even the less glamorous needs -- glue, paint, crayons -- don't go unmet. Their operation taps vendors, who typically donate an average of their sales to the organization. During Back to School 2014, the Adopt a Classroom community donated well over $1.5 million to teachers, classrooms, and students.

Jolie Brouttier, a kindergarten teacher at McKinley Elementary in Bakersfield, knows Adopt a Classroom well. "My kids get free lunch. A lot of them come from broken families. There's gangs, incarceration," she explained. "I knew they didn't have a lot at home." So three years ago she set up an account with Adopt a Classroom and asked for help filling Christmas stockings -- which she purchased herself -- not with toys but with pencils, glue, scissors and other basics. Then she promoted it all over Facebook. Donations from friends and family flowed, and then Office Depot, one of the site's partners, donated $2,500. Now, she said, "I don't have to stress."

Funding Factory

Available in the 48 contiguous United States

Per the Environmental Protection Agency, only 27% of e-waste is recycled. Each year, a staggering 350 million inkjet and laser print cartridges are thrown away and more than 35 million cell phones are simply discarded. If those outdated electronics aren't gathering dust in your office, they're sitting in the landfill -- with a huge environmental impact. But, with the site Funding Factory, they have the potential to impact your school, too.

In the Funding Factory model, schools that hold e-waste drives can turn piles of old phones, tablets, printers and cartridges for top-quality computer equipment and printers. The schools keep 100% of the profits from what's recycled. Separately, local businesses can donate outdated or used electronics and support schools directly.

In Petaluma, the Waugh Elementary School District has added the spirit of competition to e-waste recycling. Two elementary schools, Corona Creek and Meadow, compete to see who can recycle more e-waste. Last year's winning class collected almost a thousand items and, since the competition began, the district has raised $25,800. Second-graders are using a Funding Factory curriculum to better understand the impact of their actions.


Available in all 50 states

In November 2013, mom and entrepreneur Natalie Angelillo faced a problem most moms know well: She needed to unload something (her daughter's giant American Girl dollhouse) and buy something (ski boots for her son), stat. What she wanted at the time was a community-minded marketplace where buyers and sellers set their own prices, but one that was safer than Craigslist and more local than eBay, and that gave back to the community. So she built one -- SwopBoard.

With SwopBoard, it's free to list used items for sale and you can choose to donate anywhere from 10% to 100% of a sale to your school, minus fees from PayPal and SwopBoard. The site also features FundIT projects, where schools can let their community know exactly what they need.

The Seattle-based startup went national in January 2014. SwopBoard draws inspiration from Silicon Valley and Angelillo dubs it part of the "re-commerce" model.

Its many success stories range from big to small. A high school in Fresno is using SwopBoard to fund part of a $150,000 renovation project. "This allows all parents to participate," Angelillo explained, "not just those who can write a big check."

In Seattle, a special needs school was able to raise $500 in just two weeks for an emergency repair to the playground, right before school started.

--Laura Lambert, Brand Publishing Writer