Nov. 15, 2016 9:00 am

This new giving circle funds struggling Philly schools

The Philadelphia Public School Giving Circle uses the collective giving model to make small, project-based grants for educators.

Field trip, anyone?

(Photo by Flickr user dhendrix73 used via a Creative Commons license; photo has been cropped)

Editor's note: A previous version of the story accidentally misrepresented the nature of PPSGC's interactions with the school district, as well as of the nature of Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition's relationship to PPSGC. It has been corrected. Edit 11/15 @ 12:55 p.m.
It was about a year and a half ago when Andy Toy read an article about a school in Germantown that was struggling with funds.

The principal, Toy recalled, had only $34 and couldn’t afford to purchase many amenities for his students. However, within a few days of the article being published, the school received thousands of dollars in donations and the principal was able to move forward in buying the things that his school needed.

That’s when the idea of the Philadelphia Public School Giving Circle (PPSGC) took hold.

“To me the lightbulb kind of went off and was like, if we could get everybody out there and do the same thing, people would give because people are interested in giving,” said Toy, development and communications manager of Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC). “There is a big need out there.”

With PPSGC, there is a strong focus on regular neighborhood public schools, especially those in low-income areas and have limited fundraising capacity within their communities, and on traditional neighborhood elementary schools serving the largest number of low-income children.

“For example, we see that charter schools have options. Folks in the neighborhood are really supportive, and if they need to go on a class trip, there’s money that they can find to get that to get a teacher or bus company,” said Toy, who also works with the Asian Mosaic Fund Giving Circle. “It’s the other schools that don’t have that option.”

PPSGC acts as a traditional giving circle in which anyone can become a voting member by donating a certain amount of money — in this case, $250 or more. Principals, teachers and others associated with local schools request funding for specific projects, and PPSGC members vote on which proposals to fund.

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The group’s funds are held by The Philadelphia Foundation in a donor-advised fund, to be distributed according to the wishes of the giving circle. In order to first open an account at the foundation, Toy and other members had to collectively raise $10,000 — which took a bit of time. The website for the PPSGC is still getting off the ground, too.

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“The most challenging aspect so far has been raising the money,” said Jeff Hornstein, vice-chair of the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition, the nonprofit civic group that serves as a fiscal sponsor for PPSGC. “It took us six months to raise $10,000, but everything new is hard, right? We’re also a totally volunteer-run operation and getting the back-of-the-house tech support that we needed took us some time [too] but we finally got there.”

The School District of Philadelphia “is well aware of what we’re doing” and is “supportive,” Hornstein said.

If a teacher or principal needs funding for small-scale projects, they don’t need to go through the district to get it — PPSGC can simply cut them the check.

“We don’t want to be filling in gaps where the school district really should be responsible,” Toy said. “Most of the money I think will end up being enrichment-type programming. For example, if you need art supplies to do a project with your students or have an after-school program and want to take a trip to the zoo or the Franklin Institute and somehow it’s not in the budget, we would cover that if we see that there’s a need that can’t be covered by the school district.”

The overall goal, Toy added, is to keep raising money as PPSGC is spending it.

“We all know that education is the great equalizer and holds people back is the lack of resources in some places. This is an attempt to kind of level the playing field a little bit — and to also make us feel good,” he said. “It’s not every person for themselves, it’s everyone working together.”


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