Travels from New York, New York, USA
Charles Best's speaking fee falls
within range: $10,000 to $15,000
Living proof that one man can, if he is passionate enough, make a difference, Charles Best combines education, philanthropy and technology in all that he does; how many speakers do you know who allow the audience to choose how his fee is spent? From high school students to top-level businessmen, nobody can fail to be inspired by Charles’ endeavors.
Working as a teacher at a Bronx public high school, Charles decided to address educational inequity by launching DonorsChoose.all, a non-profit organization which allows teachers to request funding for classroom projects. To date, more than 50% of America’s public schools have created at least one classroom project request, leading to over a million people donating $200 million. This money has helped 10 million students, mainly in low-income communities, to access books, art supplies, information technology and other resources.
Fast Company nominated DonorsChoose.org as one of its “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World,” making it the first charitable organization to do so. Oprah Winfrey described the organization as one of her “Ultimate Favorite Things.” On a personal level, Charles has been included in Fortune magazine’s “40 under 40 hottest rising stars in business.”
Charles stands at the intersection of education, philanthropy and technology. His personal story demonstrates that one person can launch a movement, and his insights inspire businesspeople and students alike. Charles even puts his speaker’s fee in the hands of his audience, giving everyone a philanthropic gift card to spend on a classroom request of their choice.
In 2000, while teaching history at a Bronx public high school, Charles launched DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit organization that provides a simple way to address educational inequity. Today, half of all the public schools in America have at least one teacher who has created a classroom project request on DonorsChoose.org, and more than a million people have donated $200 million, providing books, art supplies, technology and other resources to 10 million students, overwhelmingly in low-income communities.
DonorsChoose.org is one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Ultimate Favorite Things” and was named by Fast Company as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World,” the first time a charity has received this recognition. For three years, Fortune magazine has named Charles to its “40 under 40 hottest rising stars in business.”
Charles Best brings his experience of creating the incredible DonorsChoose.org charitable institution, which has raised over $200 million for America's schoolchildren's resources, to a speech to small business owners. Asking how many people in his audience have either backed a Kickstarter project or bought something on Etsy, he tells them, “Right, so more than half of you have already participated in a person-to-person marketplace, in this movement that people now call crowd funding."
Referring to the origins of his own organization, he says, “DonorsChoose.org began years before crowd funding was even a word… I want to tell you the story because more and more small businesses and entrepreneurs are using crowd funding to raise financing and connect with their customers, and as I'm telling you the story I'm going to share the most humiliating thing I ever did, so the next time you make a mistake you can say well at least it wasn't as bad as what that guy Charles did…"
Remembering one of the most inspiring moments in his journey, Charles talks of events surrounding 9/11:
“Teachers at the schools beside ground zero started creating projects on our site to recover from the attacks on the World Trade Center. There was a math teacher whose students' calculators were sealed at the disaster site, and their classroom was relocated to a basement, so she requested a new set of calculators.
There was a high school teacher who wanted to bring in an Afghan artist, so that students could learn about Afghanistan. There was a first grade teacher whose students had been saved by a particular group of firemen, and her students wanted to thank the firemen who had saved them by doing a musical performance in front of the fire ladder company and for that they needed musical instruments. There were hundreds of these projects."
Charles tells the inspiring story of how, as a 24 year old public school teacher in the Bronx, he came up with the model of giving which The New York Times has described as “the future of philanthropy.” He tells of his mistakes, his inspirations and the many poignant stories he has encountered along the way.
Charles outlines how organizations such as his, DonorsChoose.org, along with others such as Kickstarter and Etsy, have changed the paradigms for those who have good ideas they wish to bring to life. He demonstrates how the “gatekeepers” can no longer stand in your way if you wish to innovate. An innovator himself, Charles gives every member of his audience a DonorsChoose gift card (paid for by his speaker’s fee) that allows them to become involved in helping students in need themselves.
Although DonorsChoose.org is a charitable organization, the lessons Charles has to teach concerning crowd funding, crowd sourcing, integrity insurance and data management are applicable to any company who is interested in tapping the immense resources of the Internet community.
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 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!”
“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
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