Our Blog

March 31, 2016

Transparency update: Why the cost of school builds has increased

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Pencils of Promise is an organization committed to transparency. From the start, we’ve told our donors exactly where their money is going and ensured that 100% of donations made online go directly toward our work in the field. Transparency allows us to be more accountable to our supporters, and also improves our work, as we’re able to maximize our impact through robust data collection and analysis.

In the spirit of full transparency, we’re excited to announce an official shift in the cost of funding a full school with PoP. When PoP was founded in 2008, it cost $25,000 to fund a full school. Over the years that cost has increased to $35,000 due to a number of enhancements, including building larger schools on average, improving windows and foundations, incorporating a rain catchment system (Ghana & Guatemala), ceiling fans (Ghana), thermo-acoustic roofing (Guatemala) and increasing branding and signage on all schools.

As we continue to grow as an organization, there will certainly be more changes to our funding models, and we’ll continue to inform you of those shifts. That said, our mission remains the same — we are as committed, dedicated and passionate as ever to providing access to quality education to all children, no matter where they’re born or what resources they have.

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Frequently Asked Questions:


Q: Why did the cost of a school build increase from $25K to $35K?

A: Our financial team recently did a deep dive into our school build costs. The analysis revealed that our average build cost across all geographies in 2015 was $35,000. As a growing organization, we’ve expanded in the past few years and recently we’ve been building bigger schools.

Q: What fundraisers will be affected by the new school build cost? Example: “I have been actively fundraising for over two months, am I affected by the change in cost?”

A: Your campaign is not affected if you began fundraising during 2015 and you complete fundraising in 2016. All school build campaigns commenced in 2016 (and onwards) will have the new $35,000 goal.

Q: How can I travel to the field with PoP?

A: PoP holds field trips each year so that supporters have the opportunity to see the impact they’ve helped create firsthand. We invite supporters who have donated or fundraised $50K+ to attend one of these trips. As trips are limited, this threshold exists to ensure that we can continue to do what we do best: provide access to quality education for students who need it most.

Q: Have a question that wasn’t answered?

A: Please email Susie Harrison at [email protected]


Want to help provide children in the developing world with access to quality education?

GET STARTED: http://pencilspromise.wpengine.com/get-started/

*For more info, please see our PoP School Build 1-pager.

Olivia Wittels

Senior Marketing Coordinator
January 8, 2016

Q&A with PoP’s CEO, Michael G. Dougherty


Besides having 25+ years of experience in the education space, Michael is also an ultra marathoner, Bruce Springsteen fanatic and adventure motorcyclist.

Get to know MGD:



Want to see more from Michael’s trips to the field with the PoP team? Check out his Notes from the Field from Ghana, Guatemala and Laos.

Read PoP Founder Adam Braun’s blog post to learn more about our CEO and where PoP is headed.

Olivia Wittels

Senior Marketing Coordinator
June 1, 2015

A platform that’s changing the world

How using Salesforce has led to unprecedented growth in international education.


Pencils of Promise is a data driven organization. Of course, with meticulous data collection comes great analysis — since PoP works in three continents, technology has become an integral part in allowing us to collect and utilize the knowledge we’ve gained from our data into creating tangible results for students in the classroom.

PoP uses numerous technological innovations; from e-readers, to tablets, to WiFi sticks, technology has had an unparalleled significance on the effectiveness of our work. It’s difficult to choose just one piece of technology that’s created the most impact for our organization, but arguably Salesforce, a platform that allows everyone on our team real-time access to the same data, is the piece of technology most central to PoP in terms of scaling our work and growing as an organization.

Specifically, within Salesforce we’ve created an Impact app that allows us to see information from our schools in real time, straight from the ground.

We can intervene as soon as we see that a student’s attendance is dropping or if a school build is on hold — this technology allows us to assess and prepare for anything that comes up in the field.

Everyone on our team has access to that information, thus we’re able to communicate what’s going on — at all times — across four different countries within one shared platform. We’re much more connected to each other and to the work that we do, and we can grow exponentially because of the lack of delay in communication. Further, Salesforce provides our entire team with the capability to visualize what’s happening with all of the data that we collect; we can create graphs, reports and other dynamic content to share and analyze our impact.

2014 Pencils of Promise Ghana 200th

As we know too well, it’s not just the physical structure of a new school that indicates success or sustainability. Along with school builds, we provide teacher support for our schools, which includes training, materials, lesson plans and teaching methodologies. To ensure our teachers are achieving positive results in the classroom and that students are actually learning and progressing, we measure the success of these schools through extensive monitoring and evaluation; we have a Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) team on the ground in each country to test and track the progress of our students.

Undoubtedly, technology like Salesforce plays an enormous part in the effectiveness of our M&E teams. For example, we’re currently using a test collection software called Tangerine. The software allows PoP technicians to take tablets into the field to administer literacy and numeracy tests to students, return to the office and sync that information straight to Salesforce — here in New York, we receive the information that day. We can then analyze it immediately, as well as share it on our website to demonstrate our impact and remain transparent to our donors.


Ultimately, technology allows us to automate a lot of our processes so that across countries, everyone can stay up-to-date with what needs to happen and when it needs to happen. This allows us to spend less time on the day-to-day menial tasks and focus more on our impact and effectiveness.

PoP collects an incredible amount of data across geographies, and we’ve used technology to centralize our work and better reinforce an education system for the children we impact.

Right now, we’re not just interested in creating infrastructure but additionally in changing what a learning experience can be for a child anywhere in the world. For students, introducing technology into the classroom will allow them to have access to more educational materials, which ultimately has an immeasurable impact on their learning process. In the communities that we work in, most classrooms contain few, if any, engaging books — without books, students don’t read. One e-reader provides a student with 100 books in both English and the local language. Bringing technology into our schools allows us to level the playing field by providing students with the most basic classroom needs.

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Using tools like Salesforce, we can then constantly evaluate the outcomes and ROI of our programs, which includes the innovations and technology we bring into the classroom, like e-readers. In turn, we’re consciously investing in what’s going to have the greatest impact on education outcomes, allowing us to become a leader amongst the innovative global nonprofits working toward sustainable social change.

Olivia Wittels

Senior Marketing Coordinator
April 27, 2015

Mom’s the word

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we spoke with some inspirational PoP moms who shared what an education means to them & their families.


The first PoP school was built in honor of Adam’s grandmother, Eva. She’s a Holocaust survivor and her experience was a crucial part of his upbringing; after she survived such a harrowing ordeal, Adam wanted to do the most meaningful thing he could to ensure that his grandmother’s legacy would last and that her survival would make the lives of others better. Upon building the first PoP school, Adam saw how meaningful it was to dedicate a good deed to someone else — we can bring happiness to our own lives by honoring the people we love most.

At PoP, we’re passionate about the unparalleled positive effects that stem from an education. Yet sometimes we’re so focused on our own efforts to help students receive a quality education that we forget to honor the other people who play an integral role in helping instill in our students a passion and desire to learn: their parents.

Recently, we were fortunate to have a chance to speak with some mothers of PoP students in Chicocab, Guatemala, a small agricultural community located over an hour from our southern regional office in Boca Costa. It’s one thing to hear a student discuss the impact that receiving an education has on his or her life, but talking with these women provides another perspective on how synonymous education has become with opportunity.

Just a short walk from the school, through the main part of the village, we sat down with Manuela. She greeted us warmly when we arrived at her home, offering us sodas in a bright yellow shirt that perfectly matched her sunny personality.

“When you have so little, like we do, it is so important to have an education,” said Manuela. Referring to her daughter, Manuela (the two are tocayas, meaning they share the same namesake, a fact that Manuela told our team with pride), she added, “It can’t be taken away from her. It is something that she will always have for herself, even if there is nothing else.”

Manuela’s two older sons were unable to continue with their education due to the family’s lack of financial resources. With five of her seven children gathered around her, she told our team that even though Manuela hasn’t completed secondary school yet, she’s already “seeing the changes reflected in our family. If Pencils of Promise hadn’t helped us, she would not be in school right now, but now she will be able to help our family in the future.”

While speaking with Manuela, it was apparent that discussing her dreams for her family was difficult — understandably, as it’s challenging to be forward-thinking while consumed by daily worries like maintaining a household or putting food on the table.

Yet when the subject came up, she didn’t hesitate to share her aspirations for her children: to study.

“Manuela is the first of my children who has been able to continue studying and given the opportunity to attend secondary school … I hope that she continues studying until graduating from whichever degree she chooses.”


We met Catarina, a single mother also from Chicocab, setting up chairs in a shaded spot outside her modest, one-room home constructed of wooden planks and cement block, woven textiles drying on a clothesline nearby.

Since her husband passed away some years ago, Catarina has been the sole provider for her family; her eldest son, Pascual, attends secondary school with the help of a PoP scholarship.

“As his parents, we were never given the opportunity to be able to receive an education — and now that Pascual has this opportunity, he must take advantage of it,” Catarina said. “I always remind my son how important it is to complete his schoolwork and to try his best to learn more and more every day. I see the quality of education that he is receiving and I am so thankful.”

Like Manuela, it was initially difficult for Catarina to open up about her dreams for her children. But when the subject was mentioned, she looked at Pascual — quietly standing beside her — and smiled brightly. She began to answer, hesitatingly at first, but beaming at her son the whole time.


“What I wish for most is that my son will be able to complete his studies. I hope that I will have the joy and happiness of knowing that he is able to finish his education, because I can see how willing and excited he is to keep learning.”

It was clear that she wasn’t used to saying these thoughts out loud, but Catarina’s confidence only grew as she continued to speak.

“Together, we do have many dreams for the future. Pascual wants to continue with his education, but I don’t know how we will be able to continue helping him. For now, we know that he will complete secondary school with the help of Pencils of Promise.”


In Pasac Palacal, a community about an hour away from PoP’s Boca Costa office, our team sat down with Isabela, whose son, Manuel, is also a PoP scholarship student. In their home, a small wooden structure about 20 minutes walking distance from the school, she told us that their family “used to worry about our lack of resources, but … now, we can pay their school fees and for their school materials … Now, I don’t worry so much anymore because I’m just happy to see them studying.”


Like Catarina, Isabela was initially hesitant to share her aspirations for her sons, as she mentioned being “conscious of the fact that beyond 3rd Básico [the equivalent of 9th grade] it will be impossible for them to continue studying.”

“Yes, there are dreams,” Isabela said. “But for the moment, I only allow myself to dream about them completing their education. It’s difficult to think farther beyond that right now.”

Yet even while appearing quite grounded (this was the only moment in our conversation that her voice seemed to falter), Isabela’s optimism couldn’t help but shine through.

“In our family, we have a goal — our goal is that my two sons that are studying now are able to complete school and are able to find good jobs. Then, we hope that they are able to help the children that are now in primary school, so that they too are able to study and that all are able to complete their education. This is our plan that we hope to accomplish, so that every one of my children will be educated … As a family, we will collaborate and work together so that all will make it through secondary school.”

Isabela was also adamant in sharing her appreciation for everyone who has played a role in sending her sons to school.

“We don’t have the resources or know how to pay back all the people who have helped us, both in my family and in Pasac Palacal. Without even knowing us or meeting us, they have given us confidence to keep moving forward and are helping so many people in our community.”


This Mother’s Day, we want to take a moment to celebrate all the PoP mothers who have dedicated and sacrificed so much to help their children attend school. On a day where we’re honoring our own supermoms in the U.S., we’re also thinking about these incredible women, who — despite having so little — instill confidence in their children to pursue their potential and promise, no matter the obstacles.

We’re relentlessly working to provide all children with access to quality education. These PoP moms are (just three of many) working tirelessly to remind their children that an education is the key to a better future. They send their sons and daughters to school every day because they believe in the power and opportunity inherent in learning, inspiring their children — and all of us — to believe that with an education, anything is possible.


Honor your mother by empowering another. Our friends at 1–800-FLOWERS.COM are offering 15% off an exclusive collection of flowers, plants and gifts, along with a $10 donation to PoP for each Mother’s Day purchase.



Olivia Wittels

Senior Marketing Coordinator
April 27, 2015

PoP welcomes new CEO Michael Dougherty


Just over a year ago we began an international search process for a seasoned leader to guide Pencils of Promise as CEO into our next stage of growth. Although more than 700 candidates applied for the role, the moment we met Michael Dougherty we knew that we had found the exact person we'd been seeking. I'm excited to announce that Michael has accepted the role of Chief Executive Officer and will officially join us starting June 1, 2015!

Many people have asked me over the past year why it felt like the right time for us to find a new CEO. As was detailed in a profile about our search in the Nonprofit Times last year, PoP is in an extraordinary place given our tremendous growth over the past 6+ years.

We all collectively recognized that if we wanted to truly have the greatest impact on the children we serve, it would be best for me to focus on the advocacy and external partnerships where I operate best as Founder while enabling another individual as CEO to lead the staff and organizational vision towards our ambitious goals ahead. Michael brings 25 years of experience in building world-class organizations, and his depth of knowledge in elevating student outcomes will be instrumental in PoP's identity evolving beyond being a school-building organization and towards a innovative learning organization.

Michael and I are extremely excited about the partnership ahead, and I couldn't be more honored to have him on board to work with our Board of Directors, Advisory Board, staff and supporters to create transformative outcomes for the students we serve. Many thanks to those of you that have been helpful in our search process, we're all extremely grateful for your support.


Adam Braun