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Tales from the Board Room

Guest Article by Genein Letford (@GeneinLetford), teacher board member
Fruit, coffee, presentation folders, the little croissants with the jelly preserves in the middle: all the normal components of a typical board were present, but this was no typical board meeting.
My name is Genein Letford, and I have been honored with the first ever educator position on the Board of Directors for DonorsChoose.org.
I arrived the day before this past quarter’s board meeting to receive a thorough tour of their beautiful office on 34th street in Manhattan, NY. The environment highly resembles the overall essence of the organization: fun, yet organized, educational and colorful. Their bookshelves were adorned with items you would find in any bubbly classroom across America, including an orange trombone, soprano recorders and an AWESOME 3D printer!
Impressive Growth in 2015
Since I am an educator on the site, I have only interacted with DonorsChoose.org from that perspective – by posting projects, choosing materials and sending in thank you letters from my students. Even though this dynamic charity is highly transparent with all their financials and data, I, as with most teachers, have never really ventured into reviewing their fiscal revenue, funding goals, and marketplace giving (numbers that impressively hover in the millions of dollars – a range I don’t normally ‘hover’ in).
Mr. Peter Bloom, the jolly and whip smart chairman of the impressive board of directors, began the board meeting by energetically praising the staff and the executive team for the organization’s outstanding growth – growth that would make other non-profits and for-profits envious. It’s the tenacity of the staff that diligently keeps citizen donors giving, teachers posting and our corporate partners supporting.
A Big Hairy Audacious Goal
Some of the highlights of the four-hour meeting were the “BHAG,” how the total cost of your project HIGHLY affects the probability of it being funded, and how your students’ thank you notes are more powerful than you think.
The BHAG – the Big Hairy Audacious Goal of DonorsChoose.org – is to have a million people contribute $100 million to classroom projects at 100% of our country’s high need public schools – all in one year! Now that is a true BHAG! We voted to modify it a bit to have at least one teacher from each high need school have a funded project within the last 5 years. The board members supported this modification and discussed how to get more funds from citizen donors and corporate sponsors, to these high need areas.
Low Cost for the Win
Your posted projects are the driving engine of this whole organization. No projects = nothing for the donors to choose. So it would behoove DonorsChoose.org (and their data science advisors at Stanford) to run intensive analytics on your projects in order to clearly determine the factors that increase success. And, of course, they are already doing this..The latest insights:Even though the average cost of projects has risen over 54% since 2010 (from $571 to $862 due to various factors like more expensive technology requests, flash funding,and higher cap amounts on new teacher projects), the data clearly shows that projects costing under $1,000 have a much higher chance of being funded than projects with a total cost of over $1,000.
The board inquired if teachers were privy to this information, and the staff is preparing to officially present this data to you all (consider this a sneak peek!). As we all know, teachers are no strangers to data driven response!

Your Thank Yous Matter
The last point I wanted to share from the meeting was your students’ creative thank-you notes. Did you know that only 13% of donors ‘opt in’ to receive handwritten thank you notes? For whatever the reason (not to inconvenience the teacher, saving the trees, to avoid an overload of cuteness), when a donor actually receives student thank you notes, it ultimately increases their future giving potential.
Therefore, to capture this loss of funding, they will be running a pilot program that sends two types of scanned digital thank you letters to donors who choose not to receive handwritten letters from your kiddos!

Getting the Right People on the Bus
Being able to attend the board meeting and witness them pass around great ideas and assist one another with suggestions was like watching USA’s Dream Team play A level basketball on the court of philanthropy. I am still in awe that I have been drafted to add value to this dynamic group.
In Jim Collin’s book, Good To Great, he notes the critical importance of building a leadership team – not only having the right people on your bus, but also having them in the right seat. DonorsChoose.org has selected a top-notch board and executive team where everyone is on the right bus in the right seat taking America’s classrooms in the right direction – to greatness.What other questions do you have for Genein? What would you love to know about our team? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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