DonorsChoose.org in many ways resembles an Internet startup company more than it does a traditional charity.
“Our fate rests on software,” says Charles Best, the founder and chief executive of the organization, which raises money online to support educational projects.
Fortunately for the charity, it has become a magnet for tech-savvy trustees and advisers, who say they support the organization because they like the way it uses technology to link donors to teachers who need money for their classrooms.
Among the members of the charity’s board are well-connected Internet venture capitalists and Jeff Weiner, chief executive of the LinkedIn social network.
'Blue-Chip Board Members'
Its advisory board includes more venture capitalists and Internet entrepreneurs such as Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, and Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, and his wife, Livia. Their involvement is a way for both the donor and the charity to benefit from their knowledge, Mr. Best says.
“Instead of going and planting a tree or serving soup at a soup kitchen, which would not be a highly leveraged use of their skills and expertise, they were able to advise us,” Mr. Best says.
For example, Mr. Newmark talked with DonorsChoose.org’s staff about the customer-service lessons he learned at Craigslist and how they could apply to the charity.
Mr. Stone recently looked over proposed design improvements for the organization’s Web site and lent his advice.
The effort to recruit a tech-savvy board and advisory council is part intentional and part accidental, he says.
The organization was slow to form an established board when it began, Mr. Best says. His aunt and a fellow teacher were its first members.
But once the charity began to see some success and positive news-media coverage, it began to go after what Mr. Best calls “blue chip” board members.
The charity pursued some technology experts after reading their blogs for advice.
Others, like LinkedIn’s Mr. Weiner, sought out the charity after making donations through its Web site.
And others came to the charity through word of mouth and personal connections, Mr. Best says.
Mr. Newmark introduced the popular comedian and satirist Stephen Colbert to the charity, and he later became a board member.
Mr. Colbert then introduced Mr. Stone to the charity when he was a guest on his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report.”
“Serendipity and luck played plenty of a big role. It’s not like there was a top-down strategy to make that Colbert-Biz Stone thing happen,” Mr. Best says. “We work hard to generate that good luck.”
The charity does make a deliberate effort to appeal to a technology-savvy audience of supporters, reaching out especially to programmers and engineers.
Their income makes them ideal donors, but it’s also hard for an Internet-based charity to fill those positions, and a good reputation among those in the online world helps.
“We will employ almost every strategy and hustle in any possible way to recruit top engineers to our team,” says Mr. Best.