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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

PLS Speaker Charles Best: 'Anyone Can Be a Philanthropist'

By Noell Saunders

Philanthropist Charles Best delivered a powerful message about perseverance in the pursuit of a mission during his speech Feb. 27 in the Old Dominion University President's Lecture Series.

While working as a high school teacher in the Bronx in 2000, Best grew frustrated about operating on a tight budget. He felt his students were being shortchanged because they lacked access to decent materials, supplies and experiences. To counter that, he founded DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform primarily for teachers in high-poverty areas.

"I was having a lunch discussion with my colleagues about what we needed, and that's when the idea came to mind," Best told the audience. "I never wanted for anything as a student, but when I became a teacher it was a different story."

Best told the crowd in the Big Blue Room at the Ted Constant Convocation Center that it was a test of faith. He believed in the potential of his plan and hoped that people outside schools would too. During the early start of DonorsChoose.org, he lived with his parents and used his salary to help fund projects.

"My students helped me lead a campaign that raised $30,000. I marketed my website to get my colleagues to sign up in exchange for a free pear dessert that my mom would make," he said.

Today, DonorsChoose.org has 100 team members with an operation center in New York. According to the site, 3 million people have given more than $640 million to help 27 million students nationwide. Best said the data is open to the public so donors can see exactly where their money is going.

"My students and I never dreamed that we would be able to share numbers a fraction of that size," Best said. "We certainly never dreamed that crowdfunding would become a movement. I never thought I'd be here speaking at a place like ODU."

At the lecture, Best donated his speaker's fee in the form of $50 gift cards for 500 audience members to use to support classroom projects on DonorsChoose.org.

"Anyone, no matter the size of their wallet, can be a patron or a philanthropist," Best said. "There should be nothing standing between your idea and potential support. DonorsChoose.org is a new kind of marketplace where gatekeepers do not stand in your way."

Also during the event, University President John R. Broderick presented Best with the Marc and Connie Jacobson Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian award in recognition of his philanthropic work and ability to make a difference by changing lives.

The annual Wallenberg Lecture is sponsored by the Marc and Connie Jacobson Philanthropic Foundation. Speakers for the Wallenberg Lecture are chosen by the University. They must be humanitarians - those who are "making the world a better place" - balanced in their philosophical beliefs and not at either extreme of the social spectrum.

Old Dominion University's President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring fascinating personalities who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, showcasing authors, educators, business innovators and political figures.

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