In 2006, Andy Kaplan was a successful executive. But — after volunteering as an after-school tutor, and seeing homeless kids — he wanted to find a non-profit organization where his financial management skills could make a difference.
DonorsChoose was perfect. Teachers post wish lists on its website. Users find a project that speaks to them, then donate part or all of the funds needed.
Teachers take photos of the finished project. Students write thank-you notes. It’s a win-win-win.
When Kaplan — a longtime Westporter — signed on as CFO, DonorsChoose had $3 million in annual revenues. Most projects were in New York City.
At the end of 2017 — when Kaplan retired — the yearly revenue was $130 million. Teachers in 70% of America’s schools have posted at least 1 project.
And, Kaplan reports proudly, DonorsChoose has channeled over $600 million directly into classrooms. Most of the money goes to things like art supplies, technology, books, musical instruments and field trips.
There’s no limit to the amount of need in America’s classrooms.
There are literally thousands of success stories. But two close to home are particularly close to Kaplan’s heart.
In one Bridgeport high school, every student got a calculator. But there was no money for batteries.
Donors provided those funds. It wasn’t a lot of money. And, says Kaplan, “it wasn’t colorful. But it was so important to those kids.”
Also in Bridgeport, an AP Physics teacher had no money for textbooks. Thanks to DonorsChoose, his students got them.
“I lived in Westport,” Kaplan says. “Less than 10 miles up the road, there are classrooms bereft of basic educational materials.”
Andy Kaplan (far left) at his retirement dinner, with his son’s Henry and Steven, his wife Meryl,, and Steven’s friend Kelly Zee.
DonorsChoose was Kaplan’s fulltime job. But he found time to mentor budding entrepreneurs through Janis Collins’ Refinery. And he worked with or helped put together groups to aid the Hole in the Wall Gang, Wakeman Town Farm, Westport Library, Positive Directions, Westport Historical Society and children with learning disabilities.
Those kinds of efforts — and folks who volunteer at the Gillespie Center, clean up the Saugatuck River and do many other things — inspire Kaplan.
He calls Westport “the gold standard for how smart, very busy people carve out time to help others. And find opportunities others don’t see, to help others.”
Kaplan loves hearing about Westporters doing amazing things. One person raised $15,000 in 24 hours for hurricane aid in Puerto Rico. After another disaster, someone else hired a truck to deliver supplies.
“You see that time and time again,” Kaplan says with awe.
Retirement from DonorsChoose included a move to Florida. But, Kaplan promises, he’s staying in touch with his longtime home town.
“It doesn’t matter if you donate $1,000, $100, $10 or $1, or if all you have to donate is time,” he says.
“You can make a difference. And you can see results.”
Just ask any of the thousands of teachers — or millions of students — whom DonorsChoose donors have chosen to help.
(DonorsChoose lists over 100 worthy projects in Fairfield County alone. Many are in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford and Danbury. Click here to see them all.)