As investors, we expect (or hope for) solid returns on the money we put into a company. It's no different for the charitable donations we give each year -- in addition to the tax benefits, we also give with the expectation or hope that our contributions are going to make a difference in the lives of those the charity serves. And just as a quarterly report lets us know how well our stock is doing, getting specific feedback on what our donations helped make possible can be an excellent return -- maybe even a dividend, in that it keeps on giving.
Two households, both alike in dignity
This year, The Motley Fool is focusing its own charitable donations, through our annual Foolanthropy campaign, upon DonorsChoose.org, an organization dedicated to eliminating the scarcity of educational resources that plagues our nation's public schools. Teachers use the DonorsChoose.org website to propose the educational projects they need funded, where individual contributors -- such as you and I -- read these proposals and donate to those we're interested in. Along with other corporate sponsors such as Akamai
The Motley Fool, in accord with its own values and mission, is working with DonorsChoose.org to fund school projects specifically geared toward financial literacy, helping ensure that young people enter adulthood equipped with the basic financial education they'll need not only to survive, but to thrive. It's easy to imagine the returns all of us will gain from such an investment -- a nation much better equipped to manage its own finances and perhaps avoid much of the pain we're suffering now -- but we won't see those future earnings if we don't make the investment now.
In the fair Bronx, where we lay our scene
I first heard about DonorsChoose.org in November 2007 when my wife Liz mentioned to me that she'd run across a teacher proposal for funding I'd likely find interesting: Ms. Lowry, a middle-school English teacher at a school in a highly impoverished district in the Bronx, was looking for funds to introduce Romeo and Juliet to her sixth-graders. For her "Bringing the Bard to the Bronx" project, she sought funds enough to purchase one paperback copy of the play for each of her 64 students, specifically the Folger Shakespeare Library's "side-by-side" school edition (with the original Shakespearean text on one page, and in modern text on the other), along with some related teaching materials. As a former public middle-school teacher myself -- and a self-confessed Bardolator -- my wife knew I'd be a soft touch for this. Although I was a bit skeptical of Ms. Lowry's ambition, based on my own teaching experience -- teaching Shakespeare to high-school age students isn't easy, and middle-schoolers are even more challenging -- we made a decent-sized contribution, and assumed that would be the last we'd hear about it.
By these letters shall you know our drift
Imagine my surprise when in March 2008 we received a packet in the mail from DonorsChoose.org, containing a report on the project -- and a thick sheaf of handwritten "thank-you" letters from Ms. Lowry and her students. It's hard to find the right words to express how wonderfully overwhelming receiving this kind of expressed gratitude can be -- then again, maybe I really am just a soft touch. Getting most middle-schoolers to write anything is usually an uphill battle, and these letters were far from being a rote response to an assigned task. There was true excitement and delight in these kids' own words as they thanked us for our donation.
Jareen wrote, "I never thought I'd be reading Shakespeare in the sixth grade. I've really enjoyed it (although some of it is a little confusing). ... I feel that I have experienced many of the same problems that [Romeo and Juliet] did." Yavette wrote that "having Shakespeare's original words on the left, and the modern words on the right really helped me understand what he meant and wrote," and Brianna agreed, writing that she "was excited after reading it in current English, because then I could understand and enjoy Shakespeare's original words." "I have had so much fun reading this," Sumyia wrote: "everything was fun and interesting ... it was a blast!"
Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
One of the most interesting aspects of Ms. Lowry's lesson plan was the series of student activities associated with the play. The students were divided into two groups, the Capulets and Montagues (of course!), and they were encouraged to write their own "Barbs from the Bard," insults using Shakespearean language, and then exchange them with each other in verbal duels, (which they apparently enjoyed, as middle-schoolers would, with great gusto). For the reenactment of the Capulet masked revel scene in which Romeo and Juliet first meet and then dance, they made period masks and even learned a short Elizabethan-era dance in which, in Ms. Lowry's words, "they showed a grace and refinement I had not seen previously."
But perhaps the telling indicator of how successful the overall project was this, from Ms. Lowry's letter:
The students were continually surprised that the story was relevant to their own lives. When I told them that I wasn't sure they were ready to handle the language independently and take home the books to read scenes on their own, they protested, begging to take them home and find out what happened next.
If you don't know this already, any teacher or parent of a middle-schooler will tell you that anything that sparks this much interest in a child in reading, particularly at this age, is a stellar accomplishment. And not only just reading -- reading Shakespeare! As Ms. Lowry said (and I agree) "[knowing] that when my students encounter Shakespeare in their future, be it high school, college, or beyond, they will have had this strong, introductory experience that will put them on par or ahead of their peers educationally."
Be strong and prosperous in this resolve
The returns I earned from my investment in Ms. Lowry's DonorsChoose.org project are plentiful: These kids in the Bronx have been given a head start on literacy that they might otherwise not have had, with a dividend paid in the passion they've found for the words and plays of Shakespeare -- something that's not as common among students throughout our nation as it should be. Imagine, then, what an investment in their financial literacy will do for them, for all of us -- and if the dividend paid someday is a passion discovered for investing, all the better.
But rather than leave that to imagination, you can make it a reality by making your own contribution. Hie you and make haste, for it grows very late, as today is the last day of our Foolanthropy campaign!
Fool online editor Tom Cadorette holds no financial position in any stocks mentioned here, although his portfolio's performance of late leaves no doubt that he is indeed Fortune's fool. Akamai is a Rule Breakers recommendation, and Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy would never bite its thumb at you nor call for a plague on your house.