The most recent numbers show Americans donate almost $200 billion a year to various causes. Most of the time, it is hard to actually see where that money goes, but ABC's Bill Blakemore found an innovative program that is connecting donors and the children they help in a very personal way.
DonorsChoose is the brainchild of Charles Best and it is a revolution in philanthropy. It uses the Internet to link people who have only a little to give but big hearts to school teachers who have big needs but tiny budgets.
"I work real hard. It's tough getting a dollar. I don't like to give them all away, so if I do by choice, I like to know where it's going," Carpenter Chris Christensen said.
Christensen's wife, Gail, goes to DonorsChoose.org. The purchasing is often done online, and then needed items are sent to the classroom, plus a disposable camera. The teacher, who snaps the results, send pictures with letters of thanks written by the kids right back to the donors:
"Thank yous from the children are awesome. It gets you right there," Christensen said.
The Christensens have funded 21 projects so far, the sort of repeat-giving traditional charities rarely inspire. Here, the convincing is done by the teachers.
"People on the front lines have the best ideas for how to improve things," Best said.
Like Mary Temple in rural Liberty, Mississippi, where the school gives each teacher only $250 a year for supplies for an entire class. DonorsChoose is creating new possibilities.
"These are yours to keep. You can perform in front of the school," Temple told her kids.
Teachers have found a cornucopia of teaching tools
"Today 23,000 public school teachers from different parts of the country have posted proposals on our site and that channeled $12 million of books, art supplies, technology and field trips to more than half-a million students from low income families," Best said.
DonorsChoose has had soaring growth in only six years and eight states, but this fall they go national.
"Thanks for the thesaurus you gave us. It makes me not write the same words over and over and over again," wrote one kid.
There's clearly a need out there for thesauruses and much more in rural and inner city schools, like Brooklyn's P.S. 75, where something as simple as bright new rulers brought smiles.
"This opens their eyes and enlightens them a little bit to say, um, someone is paying for it, and I need to thank them," Teacher Patie Hart said.
Not only the kids are thankful, but also donors who have found a connection they can trust.
Bill Blakemore, ABC News, New York