Charles Best
Gig Seeker Pro

Charles Best

Band Spoken Word



The best kept secret in music


" is Powered by Pro Bono"

Teachers at 50% of the schools in the United States rely on to solicit donations for materials they need in their classrooms. In just over 10 years, Charles Best has gone from inspired insight to being one of the most celebrated social entrepreneurs in the country. From the very beginning, pro bono service has been a critical part of his success, accounting for 20% of their budget. We recently spoke about the role pro bono service has had in the development of

For the three people in the country who don't know about, what do you do?

Sure. I was a history teacher at a high school in the Bronx for 5 years and my colleagues and I would spend a lot of our own money on copy paper and pencils and we would come up with all these ideas for projects that would bring the subject matter to life, but those ideas would never go beyond the teacher's lunchroom because we didn't have a place where we could go to get the kind of micro-funding that we needed to get our students a particular book, take them on a field trip, get the materials needed for a biology experiment.

And then I figured that there were people from all walks of life who WANTED to help improve our public schools but were getting more and more skeptical about writing a $100 check and throwing it over a wall and giving it to a large bureaucracy and wondering how their money was spent. So that was the impetus to start the site.

It's a place where public school teachers post classroom project requests and donors can choose a project they want to support, and then get really rich feedback in the form of photographs and thank you letters and a cost report showing the impact of their donation.

How well is it working?

Half of all the public schools in America have at least one teacher who has posted a project request on our site over the past few years. It's almost 800,000 citizen philanthropists who along with our corporate partners and foundation partners have given over $130 million to classroom projects reaching 6 million students overwhelmingly from low income families and yeah, those would be the top line stats.

What was the first pro bono resource you used where you had a professional donate their time to help you with the early days?

It was a lot of donated time in the beginning. Friends volunteering their time to get our organization off the ground. The original website, also, was paid for - but for a total of $2,000. We had to pay for the coding, but that's all.

How do you leverage pro bono service today?

It has become a priority to leverage our relationships with corporate partners to augment financial support with pro bono help, and there are a couple shops in New York - Agenda and Primacy (formerly Acsys) are providing us with collateral design and mobile strategy, both pro bono.

American Express and JPMorgan Chase are examples of companies that provide both financial and pro bono support. American Express, as a recent example, has provided a team of professionals who are doing a landscape analysis for us, looking at all the organizations out there that have any similarity - whether by way of education or of peer-to-peer funding - to DonorsChoose. It's something of great value that we couldn't have done ourselves, nor have paid the market rate for someone else to do it without breaking our bank.

Another example - Yahoo donated a team of six engineers and effectively put them on sabbatical for a few months to help us re-write our code base. We knew we wanted to open our site to all public schools in the country, and this project gave us that capability.

What role has your board in helping you connect with companies and to help figure out how to leverage pro bono?

The sweetest example, Steven Colbert, did to unleash pro bono help, and that was by committing to give a trophy to the web developer or data cruncher who built the most impactful app or analysis, using our open data. We have a MOUNTAIN of information which captures every aspect of each of our projects - from past funding to teacher background to community need and poverty rate - and so we used this contest to crowdsource an app developer to help us index and communicate this information in the most effective way to create discoveries. The winner created something so simple, but so important to our bottom line - an algorithm that communicates what teachers most need, in what communities and against which environmental factors, broadcasting discoveries that we believe could make government education better targeted and more responsive, raise awareness about particular needs in particular communities, identify creative teaching strategies to get reluctant learners hooked on math, the list goes on.

What would you say is the overall percentage of pro bono support in your annual budget?

Well, between our pro bono legal help, Agenda helping us not only with graphic design but also with the strategy ar - Huffington Post

"WATCH: Charles Best Speaks at Festival of Ideas"

Charles Best founded at Wings Academy, a public high school in the Bronx where he was a social studies teacher for five years. In 2000, he thought up during a lunch conversation with colleagues -- teachers like him that experienced first-hand the scarcity of learning materials in public schools -- and his students volunteered to help start the organization. collects project proposals from public school teachers across the country. The organization posts requests on their website, where potential donors can browse potential projects and contribute as much or as little as they can to fund projects that inspire them. Once a project is fully funded, delivers the materials to the school. - West Virginia University

"How Will Teachers Pay For Apple's New iBooks? Sites Like DonorsChoose.Org"

The single biggest question surrounding Apple’s Thursday announcement of its new iBooks textbooks is how teachers and schools will be able to buy enough iPads to make the initiative a success. After all, interactive, touch-friendly iPad books will only benefit students if schools can afford to make iPads widely available. While the new books will be much cheaper than regular textbooks, iPad prices remain $499 to $829, depending on connectivity options and amount of storage.

One way to help bridge the gap: nonprofits like, which matches donors with teachers in need of supplies. The New York-based organization is already predicting a spike in teacher requests for iPads following Thursday’s news. Such a surge is “certain” to happen, said Founder and Chief Executive Charles Best in an interview.

Apple devices are already in great demand at, which lets U.S. public school teachers list classroom projects and needed resources on its site. Donors can browse the project summaries online and make contributions via credit card or PayPal. The donations are aggregated until the requested amount is raised. At that point, steps in to buy the classroom materials. The items are shipped directly to the appropriate school.

On the website, there are currently 439 listings that include iPads and iPad accessories. One typical example: a first-grade teacher in Little Rock, Ark. who wants an iPad 2 for “independent practice in reading, writing, and math [and] whole group instruction.”

“Many of my students do not have a home computer,” the teacher notes in her proposal. “[An iPad 2] will prepare them for a future of using technology.”

Such listings are proliferating on During the 2009-2010 school year, Apple products made up $50,000 or 0.2% of all the classroom supplies purchased on behalf of its registered teachers, said Best.

The following year, that amount increased 16 times. During the 2010-2011 school year, Apple products made up $800,000 or 3.2% of all the classroom supplies purchased.

Best attributes the huge year-over-year boost in Apple device requests and fulfillments to the April 2010 launch of the original iPad. ( measures school years from July 1 to June 30.) The organization is currently in the middle of its 2011-2012 school year but already sees that figure rising. So far, Apple products make up 3.3% of’s 2011-2012 classroom orders, according to Best.

Some of those products were other Apple devices, such as iPod touches and MacBook laptops but Best said the majority were iPads. “A really large number of teachers contact us offline testifying how valuable iPads are for their students,” he said. Teachers of special-needs classes have particularly found the iPad’s touchscreen and easy-to-use software makes a “monumental difference” in their students’ education, he added.

There’s a lot more teacher interest in iPads than’s statistics indicate. The site requires teachers to be proactive about listing their projects and communicating with donors. That number is growing but is far from including the majority of teachers. Best said about half of all U.S. public schools have at least one teacher who has posted a project on since the site went live in 2000. - Forbes

"Nonprofit website helps teachers buy classroom supplies"

It has long been common practice for teachers to spring for a few items for their classrooms: a pack of highlighters, a ream of paper, art supplies for a class project.

But at a time of severe budget cuts, there are more materials than ever that schools just can't provide. And sometimes, such items are relatively costly: a set of books, a sound system or an iPad.

As a result, teachers are turning increasingly to programs like the nonprofit website Donors Choose, which offers teachers a platform to make pleas for funding help for their classrooms.

"We don't have all the resources we need for our students," said Daniel Gettinger, who teaches Algebra II at Huntington Park High School. He has turned to Donors Choose to get graphing calculators and a document camera for his classroom. "I want to do everything I can to help my students achieve at every level."

In Los Angeles, more teachers are likely to see their wish lists funded after a $4-million donation to Donors Choose this month by the Wasserman Foundation, an L.A.-based philanthropic organization. The money will be used for gift cards for Donors Choose that will be sent to the families of public school children, who then can use the cards to buy gifts for schools in Los Angeles, and to match donations from others in the community.

"It's going to ensure that every household can be a microphilanthropist," said Charles Best, a former teacher in the Bronx who founded the online program 11 years ago.

L.A. Unified has encouraged each teacher to post up to two projects, totaling $800, at So far, hundreds of teachers have made their pitches: a set of theater books for a middle school class; extra computers so that elementary students won't have to wait too long for a turn; an iPad to replace a bulky, outdated computer at another elementary school; or a class trip to the Discovery Science Center to help fourth graders learn about electricity.

Patricia Miller, a transitional kindergarten teacher at Rosewood Avenue Elementary in Beverly Grove, uses wooden puzzles to help her students develop fine-motor skills and eye-hand coordination, but some had missing pieces. "I did not want to throw them away because I still considered it a valuable resource that I could not replace," she said. Through the website, she was able to get new ones.

Best said the site was designed as a "showcase of teachers' innovation and imagination."

He said it also enables the community to invest in a school, while offering accountability. Teachers have to provide a detailed cost breakdown, and explain who their students are, what project they're working on and what, exactly, the money will be used to fund.

Because of it, teachers have had to learn how to entice would-be donors to pick their projects over thousands of others on the website. Do they go for the pun or tug at the heartstrings? Be straightforward, or try to persuade donors that they could play a role in developing the greatest collection of minds since the Manhattan Project?

"You want to personalize it, to make sure they know who and where [the students] come from and know your project will improve student achievement," Gettinger said of his strategy.

Others try different approaches. Some start with a funny headline ("Watt's Up With Electricity?") or try to sound empowering ("Emerging Writers Find Their Beat Within"). One teacher opted for the reality check: "My students are well aware that we are living in the digital era. So, why are they expected to learn in the same modalities that were used in the Victorian age?"

Some teachers have expressed concern that requests for help may make it seem as if they are seeking pity for poor students. "I don't feel comfortable with that," said Chuck Olynyk, a world history teacher at Roosevelt High School. "I won't do it."

But Best countered that it's supposed to be a direct way for teachers to allow a community to invest in education. If anything, goi - Los Angeles Times

"Charles Best on Fortune's 40 Under 40 List"

At any given moment, 20,000 project requests from public school teachers are on Best's waiting to be funded by ordinary people. Since the former history teacher launched the nonprofit 11 years ago, donors have given $70 million to 147,000 projects. Many may get a boost from this fall's documentary about the U.S. education crisis, Waiting for Superman; Best raised funds from donors like Yahoo co-founder David Filo, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and Twitter's Biz Stone so that every filmgoer would receive a $15 gift code to make a donation on the site. - CNN

" on Fast Company's List of Most Innovative Companies"

In 2010, grew to 250,000 donors, who gave roughly $30 million to support 60,000 classroom projects. Bronx science teacher Steve Oszust has successfully raised more than $125,000 with his knack for catchy headlines -- "No Bones About It!" atop a post asking for a model skeleton. Thanks to the campaigns, he has created an elective in environmental studies and started a tennis club. His students talk about what the donations have meant to them. - Fast Company

"WATCH: Charles Best sees big change afoot in how ideas come to life"

It didn't take much time teaching at an underfunded New York high school for Charles Best to realize the severity of the disparity between opportunities enjoyed by students at different schools in the U.S. "When I started teaching in the Bronx," Best said, "I saw firsthand that all schools are not created equal."

Best and his fellow teachers would chat in the lunchroom about things they longed to offer their students but lacked the funds to provide. Those conversations marked the genesis of, a nonprofit organization Best founded to provide a simple, personal and accountable way for people to address educational inequity.

Best spoke on May 11 at Big Omaha 2012 about DonorsChoose. The organization's growth, Best said, is indicative of a larger shift that's occurring. "There's a big change underway in how long you have to wait and who you have to know and how lucky you have to be to bring a new idea to life," he said. "There's a new kind of marketplace where gatekeepers do not stand in your way.

"This new kind of marketplace pushes intelligence and decision-making out to the edge."

Check out the video above, the fourth in the Big Omaha 2012 Video Series presented by Microsoft BizSpark, to hear Best discuss how DonorsChoose got its start, how it took off and how he wants "to push intelligence and decision-making out to you today." - Silicon Prairie News


Still working on that hot first release.



Charles Best leads, a nonprofit organization which provides a simple, personal, and accountable way for people to address educational inequity. At, public school teachers post classroom project requests, and donors can pick the projects they want to support. Every donor then gets photographs and thank-you letters from the classroom he or she chose to help.

Recognition of includes the Nonprofit Innovation Award, selection by Ashoka, and election by the TechCrunch community as the website “most likely to make the world a better place.” Fortune Magazine has twice featured Charles in the “40 under 40” list of “business’s hottest rising stars.”

In 2010, Oprah Winfrey announced as one of her “Ultimate Favorite Things.” In 2011, Fast Company listed as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World,” the first time a charity has received this recognition.

A portion of his speaking fee is returned to audience in the form of Donorschoose gift cards.