I started a makerspace at Stewart Middle Magnet School in 2014 with hardly any money and a lot of big ideas. I had to get creative in finding sources of funding for the activities I wanted to support. Grants were able to help with some of the bigger items, like new furniture and books to support my makers. But finding funding for smaller things, like consumable arts and craft supplies, LEDs, and batteries as well as mid-range things like robots, circuit kits, LEGOs and other supplies was a bit more challenging. My library technically has a supply budget, but it’s only around $100-250 a year, and that’s for all the envelopes, paper clips, staples, and other office supplies needed to run a library for 800 students plus the teachers. I found my funding solution in DonorsChoose.
DonorsChoose has played a huge part in creating my makerspace. It’s helped me to get my school and local community involved and invested in what we’re doing and it’s been a great advocacy tool for us as well. I’ve raised over $5,000 through DonorsChoose projects for things like our LEGO wall, whiteboard wall, Spheros, Dash and Dot, consumable arts and crafts supplies, etc.
Finding the Supplies I Need
For the most part, I’ve always been able to find pretty much any of the makerspace supplies I need through DonorsChoose. Amazon business is one of DonorsChoose’s vendors and I can almost always get everything I need there. I’ve gotten Arduinos, LEDs, coin batteries, and similar supplies through them before. There’s also Carolina, Grainger, Frey and Nasco, and lots of other fantastic vendors who carry science and engineering supplies. Blick is the vendor I usually tend to get art supplies from, and they have pretty much everything.
Occasionally, if I’m looking for a really specific part, I might not be able to find it. I just did a project for teaching sewn circuits and the sewable battery holders were out of stock, so I ended up having to supplement the project with a little book fair money. But I was able to get the LEDs, batteries, fabric, conductive thread, sewing needles and other materials with DonorsChoose.
Getting Started with DonorsChoose
Getting started isn’t too hard. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account and start creating a project. You create the wishlist of supplies you need and write up a few short essays about your students and the projects. That part only takes an hour or two. Then you promote it to help bring in donations. Once you’ve created one successful project, you can often reuse a lot of the information (like the essay about your student population) in future projects. It’s definitely MUCH less work than writing a grant.
Sharing Your Project
The main thing is sharing the projects once they’re up. I always post the new projects to our school e-mail newsletter, which a lot of our parents read. I post it on our school’s classroom management system as well where we have some Facebook-like groups that students use and check pretty frequently. For reaching those in our community, we share on our school’s Facebook page and I also share on my personal Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. This might be harder if the teacher isn’t too comfortable with social media, but they can always ask a more tech savvy teacher to help them promote it.
How Easy Is It to Get Funded?
DonorsChoose gives you an idea of the percentage chance of being funded as you make the project. Projects up to $400 have an 85% chance and projects from $401 to $800 have a 70 percent chance. It goes down pretty quickly after that, and if the entire project isn’t funded by the deadline (I think it defaults to three months) then you don’t get your supplies. I usually tend to create projects around the $500 range, and I always look for matching offers so that I only have to raise half of the cost. I’ve done a couple of $1,000 projects, but those can be more stressful and take a lot more promotion to fund.
Ideally, all educators would have substantial budgets that would cover all the supplies we need to support our students. Unfortunately, this isn’t our reality yet. Hopefully it will be one day, but until then, sites like DonorsChoose are helping to fill the gap and make amazing learning experiences possible for our students.