Philanthropy all-star to speak on March 5

Hailed by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Colbert, world-renowned philanthropist Charles Best is coming to Montana State University. He will speak at a lecture titled “Education, Philanthropy, and Civic Engagement” on March 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the SUB ballrooms.

Best is CEO of DonorsChoose.org, an organization that uses peer-to-peer philanthropy to fund individual school projects. It furnishes basic needs of underfunded public schools, such as art supplies, field trips and lab supplies. 40 percent of American public schools have received assistance from the website, and all donors receive a personal photograph of their donation in action.

Best started DonorsChoose.org in April of 2000 while teaching history in the Bronx of New York City. Frustrated that he and fellow faculty members were paying out of pocket for school supplies, he drew up a plan for a website that allowed individuals to donate directly to classroom projects.

Due to a lack of publicity and interest, the first projects on the website failed, until Best personally funded the ten projects he and his colleagues had posted. Soon, faculty and parents were spreading the word about the success of the budding new website.

Only three years after website was launched, rumors spread to Oprah Winfrey, who featured DonorsChoose.org on her talk show. Less than a minute after airing, the website crashed after receiving over $250,000 in donations.

Stephen Colbert championed their cause in 2007 by featuring the website on “The Colbert Report.” Afterward, Colbert and NBC talk-show host Jimmy Fallon agreed to help each other raise money for DonorsChoose.org. They eventually raised over $119,000 for the site.

Since then, DonorsChoose.org has continued to grow and is becoming an even greater asset to America’s public schools. It received another spike in interest in 2011 when it was named by Fast Company magazine as one of “The 50 Most Innovative New Companies,” the first philanthropic organization to ever make the list.

The website has raised around $165 million for over six million students across the country. The foundation has helped support schools through catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina, tornadoes in Joplin, Miss., and the general state of inequality that is commonplace in American public schools.

The free lecture is sponsored in part by ASMSU, the Leadership Institute and Hopa Mountain, and organization that works to improve lives in rural and tribal areas. For more information, visit montana.edu/leadership.