Charles Best | Founder, DonorsChoose

Charles Best

Founder, DonorsChoose

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Charles Best

Charles Best leads, a nonprofit organization that provides a simple way to address educational inequity. At, public school teachers create classroom project requests and donors can pick the projects they want to support. Charles launched the organization in 2000 out of a Bronx public high school where he taught history. is one of Oprah Winfrey's "ultimate favorite things" and was featured on the cover of Fast Company as one of the "50 Most Innovative Companies in the World." For three years, Fortune Magazine has named Charles to its "40 under 40 hottest rising stars in business."

Charles Best
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Current: Charles Best's Big Idea

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Charles Best
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The Birth of Crowdfunding and The Wisdom of the Front Lines

When Charles Best launched DonorsChoose out of a Bronx high school back in 2000, “crowdfunding” wasn’t even a word. Today, DonorsChoose is the most trusted way to give to public school classrooms, and crowdfunding has become the go-to vehicle for people to finance ideas, to kickstart creative projects, and to fund individual needs.

Charles shares how it all began at a Bronx public high school where he taught history, and how his fledgling nonprofit—still operating out of his classroom and staffed by his students--was catapulted by Oprah Winfrey.

He explains how he built DonorsChoose into a nonprofit platform that has inspired 5 million people—and companies of all sizes--to give $1.3 billion to fund 2 million classroom requests from teachers across America, and he shares the organization’s explicit focus on equity in American education.

Charles believes that the frontline wisdom of teachers enables them to come up with the most effective solutions for their students, and he argues that there are many more arenas—not just public schools--where the closer someone is to the front lines, the smarter their ideas will be. He shares new research from the University of Michigan showing that funding teachers’ classroom requests is a hugely effective way to lift student learning, research which indicates that organizations in all sectors can tap the wisdom of the front lines and thereby accelerate innovation.

Charles puts that credo into practice by giving DonorsChoose gift cards (underwritten by his speaker’s fee) to audience members, inviting them to choose classroom requests to support and to hear back directly from the teachers and students they choose to help.

The Art of the Ask

In 2000, Charles Best was a high school history teacher when he launched DonorsChoose as a simple way for anyone to help a classroom in need. Since then, he and his team have inspired 5 million people and partners to give $1.3 billion to fund 2 million classroom requests from teachers across America, turning DonorsChoose into the most trusted platform for giving to public schools.

To get to that scale, Charles made bold asks:
- Inspiring Oprah Winfrey to name DonorsChoose as one of her “ultimate favorite things.”

- Working with Stephen Colbert to fund all the classroom requests in his home state of South Carolina, and using that gift to inspire 50 more celebrities—from Serena Williams to Elon Musk—to fund all the classroom requests in their home towns.

–Sending a cold email to a blockchain entrepreneur asking for $29 million to fund every single classroom request on DonorsChoose, which worked

- Unlocking millions of small donations by developing algorithms that would recommend just the right classroom request to each donor—for example, by matching donors with teachers who share the same last name (which turns out to be even more powerful than geo-targeting).

- Showing companies how they could engage customers, earn media coverage, and build brand equity by supporting public school classrooms through DonorsChoose.

Before telling the stories behind each of those asks, Charles shares how he made one ask that went horribly awry. He goes on to share the principles that have enabled him to get to “yes” and how those principles can be applied by product, marketing, branding, communications, business development, and sales teams.

Finally, Charles gives DonorsChoose gift cards (underwritten by his speaker’s fee) to audience members and makes an ask of them: to choose a classroom dream to bring to life.

No More Gatekeepers

Charles shares how, as a 24-year-old teacher at a Bronx high school, he created a model of giving hailed as "the future of philanthropy" by The New York Times. His story covers the high school wrestling coach who inspired him to become a teacher, the most humiliating mistake he ever made getting off the ground, and the most poignant moments, such as the projects teachers created to recover from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Today, teachers at half of all the public schools in America have created projects on, and more than a million people have given $200 million.

Charles connects this story to the rise of Kickstarter and Etsy, sites that—like—enable anyone to go public with their originality. These sites signal a profound change in how long you have to wait, and who you have to know, and how lucky you have to be, to bring a good idea to life. They represent a new kind of marketplace where gatekeepers no longer stand in your way.

Charles enables the audience to experience this change by giving everyone a gift card (underwritten by his speaker’s fee) to spend on a classroom project of their choice, so they can directly connect with a classroom in need.

Pushing Intelligence Out to the Edge

In launching out of his Bronx classroom, Charles Best pioneered the crowd-funding movement. Today, teachers at half of all the public schools in America have created project requests on, and more than a million people have donated $200 million.

That scale of growth has spurred Charles and his team to tap the power of both crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, making the first charity ever named to Fast Company’s list of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.” Charles explains how the team has:

- Opened up a mountain of data so that people can discover what schools most need and which teaching topics are trending, inspiring hundreds of web developers to build apps that engage the public in public schools.

- Crowdsourced many aspects of integrity assurance and quality control, a shift that has delivered huge productivity gains as well as cost savings.

- Turned into a platform that companies like Google, Facebook, Starbucks, and Chevron are using to do cause marketing, to engage their customers and employees in philanthropy, and to “do well by doing good.”

Charles concludes by giving everyone a gift card (underwritten by his speaker’s fee) to spend on a classroom project of their choice.

Charles Best
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Charles Best
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Congratulations to DonorsChoose!

  On Wednesday, DonorsChoose announced San Francisco-based Ripple donated $29 million to fund every classroom project request on the nonprofit’s crowdfunding platform....
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