The NCAA is launching a campaign to support K-12 school districts around the country by partnering with the education-based philanthropy DonorsChoose.org.

DonorsChoose.org is a unique and innovative outreach in which primary, middle school and secondary school teachers enter their fund-raising needs online and allow prospective donors to select where to contribute.

“DonorsChoose.org is a great fit for the NCAA’s community-engagement effort because we are both committed to education,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “Addressing student educational needs at the K-12 level is essential for the success of future college students.”

The NCAA is calling its campaign “Fund the Future” (www.ncaa.org/fundthefuture). It includes public service announcements developed by the same agency that produces the Association’s image campaign (“going pro in something other than sports”). The television spots will air during NCAA championships this month, including the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships.

Since its creation in 2000, DonorsChoose.org has helped fund more than 185,000 projects to benefit more than 4.5 million students.

“This partnership allows NCAA staff and members to ‘pay it forward’ for the benefit of future students,” Emmert said. “At a time when so many school districts are struggling financially, the NCAA believes DonorsChoose.org is an outstanding way to help lighten the burden of teachers.”

Emmert already has contributed to DonorsChoose.org. “I chose a project providing non-fiction books to a local Indianapolis classroom with my first donation to DonorsChoose.org,” he said. “I received a thank you e-mail from the teacher the next day. It is very rewarding to watch great projects come to life.”

The idea, Emmert said, is to use the NCAA’s vast human resources to build a grass-roots awareness campaign for DonorsChoose.org.

DonorsChoose.org founder Charles Best said, “We are honored to partner with the NCAA to encourage sports fans and members of the public to get involved and support local public school classrooms, whether in academics or athletics. The idea of the future student-athlete resonates with DonorsChoose.org. We applaud and appreciate the NCAA’s holistic support of students and are ready to watch the Fund the Future campaign progress during March Madness.”

Best established DonorsChoose.org when he was at Wings Academy, a public high school in the Bronx where he was a social studies teacher for five years. He came up with the idea during a lunch conversation with colleagues, and his students volunteered to help start the organization.

The commitment to support DonorsChoose.org continues the NCAA’s interest in a nationally coordinated philanthropic effort. The Association rallied after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to form a three-year partnership with Habitat for Humanity supported by a lead gift of $1.5 million from Division II and a $1 million contribution from the NCAA national office.

The Association also activated resources at its championships locations and urged national, conference and campus SAACs to provide an army of volunteers throughout the year. During the length of the partnership, the NCAA helped Habitat build more than 20 homes per year.

Emmert said providing a platform of a national outreach fosters a feeling of ownership among NCAA members and creates collective awareness that benefits the cause. It also helps develop an underlying emotional connection within the local host community where the NCAA has championships, he said.