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The Teacher and the Nonprofit: Sparking the Desire to Learn

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For the boys in one South Carolina elementary school, the key to a successful literacy program was a necktie and a sharp navy blazer. And more books.

Former elementary school teacher Damon Qualls noticed that the boys in his classroom often fell behind the girls in reading skills, which inspired him to start the Men Who Read program, inviting local professional men, community leaders and college athletes to read to his boys monthly.

As part of the Men Who Read program, Qualls also wanted his students to “dress for success.” He saw the magic that happened when he loaned a student one of his neckties: they felt confident, successful, and worked harder. Qualls hoped that if he could give every boy in the program a blazer and their own tie to wear during Men Who Read, “Their confidence [would] soar and so [would] their motivation to read and read well.”

The challenge: blazers and ties weren’t built into the school budget. Instead, Qualls turned to, a nonprofit platform designed for public school teachers seeking funding for classroom resources and experiences.

Each school year, teachers spend an average of $500 of their own money on their students, with some spending well over $1,000. Seeking an alternative, thousands of teachers like Qualls have tried sites like, grants programs and traditional community fundraisers. Their needs vary, from basic supplies like pencil, papers and books, to enrichment opportunities like 3D printers, school gardening supplies and field trips. When students are struggling with poverty, teachers are often the first to respond, providing food for long weekends, clean clothing, and hygiene supplies so that students can feel confident and safe at school.

A little over a month after Qualls requested 35 jackets and ties from DonorsChoose, 65 people —  some from as far away as Texas, Michigan, California and Alaska — fulfilled his wish.

“It is so refreshing to know that individuals like yourselves still exist,” Qualls wrote to his donors. “The generosity of strangers is something sadly that many people do not get to encounter. I am thankful that I am no longer one of those people.”

Last year, Qualls was promoted to principal of another school, but not before having over 120 classroom projects funded on, requesting everything from books, gym equipment, art supplies, and more ties and jackets for his boys.

Now, as principal, he encourages his teachers to create their own project requests. At the end of the school year, he celebrated the $96,000 his teachers raised on DonorsChoose in just one year.

“Using DonorsChoose, we replaced 86 percent of the Title I funding we lost last year,” said Qualls. “For us, this isn’t an option; it’s a necessity.”

Chris Pearsall, DonorsChoose, [email protected]

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