As the director of the nonprofit that raises funds to support Philadelphia's public schools, it's hard not to be in awe of the San Francisco company Ripple and its $29 million donation last week to the educational crowdsourcing site DonorsChoose.org. The result? More than 35,000 teacher requests were instantly fully funded.
And more than 16,500 public schools across the country (about one in six public schools nationwide) felt the generosity in one fell swoop.
Ripple is not a first-time donor to the 18-year-old crowdfunding platform. It's been a loyal contributor and knows a lot about the mission and operation; its previous gift was $9 million. But now that Ripple is skyrocketing as the second largest company in the hot virtual currency space, the time was right to give back to what executives and staff believe is the right cause – public education. Ripple's spokesperson said in a recent New York Times interview that the company was "surrounded by people who have benefited from having great educational experiences and [they] very much recognize that's not the case across the U.S."
So what does this have to do with Philly? (Well, besides the fact that Ripple's donation brought more than $236,000 to Philadelphia public school classrooms, funding 364 projects and supporting 276 teachers.)
Our city now has a similar crowdfunding site that allows individuals and businesses to give directly to our public schools. The Fund for the Philadelphia School District's Philly FUNDamentals follows the popularity of the universal online fund-raising concepts: individual and business donors want to give to something specific and know they are making a fast impact.
The custom-designed platform is based on market research that told us Philadelphians (including alumni across the nation and around the world) and businesses want to give to improve our city's public schools, but they aren't sure where their money will go. They want to give to one specific school and contribute to something special for its students – like more books, new computers, art supplies, class trips, or gym equipment. And then they want to know when that goal has been reached, so they know they were part of providing schools what they really need the most.
And that's what Philly FUNDamentals empowers donors to do. Nearly all 225 of our Philadelphia public school principals have identified a project that will help their students achieve and improve their quality of life while at school. Each school has its own fund-raising page on the site, and donors can either search for the school of their choice or navigate a map that plots out each elementary, middle, and high school. Donations, collected directly on the site, go toward the school's project, and donors can see the progress in real time. Once a fund-raising goal is fulfilled, the school can choose another.
Across the School District, the combined total of our schools' fund-raising goals is $14 million. It's daunting, but the public has already responded in kind. Since launching Philly FUNDamentals in November, we have collected $88,100 for our schools. Ninety-six of the 225 schools have at least one donation, and 13 of our schools have already met their first fund-raising goal. Three of those schools have even met two fund-raising goals.
We're proud of those who have given in the first months since the launch — 198 individuals and seven companies, including Development Workshop, Lincoln Investment, Reanimator Coffee, Beneficial, Gotham, Federal Donuts, and Modell's — but we know we can do much better. If more individuals and businesses knew, we think they'd give through PhillyFUNDamentals. So, spread the word. Or better yet: get online today, find a school, and fund a future.
Do we think Ripple will come along and fulfill all of our 220 principals' request for the $14 million of needs listed now?
Not likely, but we do believe there is a Ripple right here in the Philadelphia region that can do the same — fulfill every Philadelphia public school's request. If not in one fell swoop, then maybe a few significant gifts from our Philadelphia businesses will create a ripple.
Donna Frisby-Greenwood is president and CEO of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.