Crowdfunding & Social Impact Keynote Speaker, Founder of DonorsChoose

Charles Best
Speaking Fee: $10,000 to $20,000

Travels From: LAX - Los Angeles (All Airports)

Primary Topic Category: Philanthropy

Secondary Topic Category: Education

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Charles Best At A Glance:

Charles Best is the pioneer of crowdfunding and the founder of DonorsChoose, a nonprofit organization that has inspired 5 million people to give $1.3 billion to fund 2 million classroom requests created by public school teachers. Charles launched DonorsChoose in 2000 at a Bronx high school where he taught history, and while the organization was still operating out of his classroom, it got a boost from Oprah Winfrey, who declared DonorsChoose one of her "ultimate favorite things." Charles currently serves as the CEO of Lakeshore Learning.

Charles Best is the pioneer of crowdfunding and the founder of DonorsChoose, a nonprofit organization that has inspired 5 million people to give $1.3 billion to fund 2 million classroom requests created by public school teachers. Charles launched DonorsChoose in 2000 at a Bronx high school where he taught history, and while the organization was still operating out of his classroom, it got a boost from Oprah Winfrey, who declared DonorsChoose one of her “ultimate favorite things.” To date, teachers at 85% of all U.S. public schools have created classroom requests on the site, and DonorsChoose has become an increasing force for equity in American education. Charles recently moved from crowdfunding to making the learning materials that teachers most want for their students, as the next CEO of Lakeshore Learning.

  • 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.
Charles Best represents all that you hope for in a keynote speaker. His work through DonorsChoose.org touches millions of lives - teachers, students, parents, entire communities. His message for our group of public school principals and superintendents was engaging and inspirational. Charles personalized his time with us through research on the schools in Texas and through his interaction - Q&A became planning for next steps for individuals and our organization. We left the session with a renewed sense of purpose in our work.

— N2 Learning

Charles joined us for our Spring Customer Advisory Board meeting where he partnered with our Chief Research Officer for a discussion around Generation Alpha. Charles provided real-life experience to a conversation underpinned by our audience data and it was a truly wonderful pairing. We were blown away by Charles' understanding of our needs, his charisma in the room and his insight into this extremely interesting and unique topic. Charles was great to work with, generous and extremely thoughtful in his presentation - I wish he could speak with us at every event we have coming up throughout the year!

— GWI

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