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Home » Donors Choose and Contests

The Tomato Nation/ Contest: An Overview

Submitted by on March 30, 2011 – 5:51 PM42 Comments

Newer readers may not know what’s going on with the annual contest here on Tomato Nation, so I’ve put together a brief overview so that everyone knows what’s going on, and starts getting psyched.

The contest itself started years ago, but in 2004, when many TN readers felt discouraged by Bush’s re-election and what that would mean for progressive causes, I tied the contest entries to donations to

You can read more at the link above, but in a nutshell, is an organization that puts donors together directly with projects in public schools.Teachers whose classrooms lack supplies and funding post their projects to the DC website; donors choose (see?) which one, or ones, to contribute to, and can contribute as much or as little as they like.So, if you want to make sure kids get to read Animal Farm, you can give $10 (or $100, or $1000) to an Orwell project; if you’d rather focus on a school from your hometown, or where a friend of yours teaches, you can do that too.

Since 2004, I’ve focused the contest on Donors Choose, asking my readers to raise a certain amount of money — which, once it’s raised, leads to a stunt.In 2006, I shaved my head.In 2007, I did a dance in Rockefeller Plaza while dressed as a tomato.In 2008, the tomato costume (with me in it) went to Washington, DC to see the sights; the next year, the costume and I hit the blackjack tables in Atlantic City.

The contest lasts one month — all of April, this time — and during the span of the contest, you’ll see mini-contests and prize opportunities if you donate to specific projects, or if a Giving Page you’ve added to the Tomato Nation leaderboard performs particularly well.

Donating through the Tomato Nation contest page makes you eligible for the prize drawing after it’s all over; last year I gave away everything from gift certificates to tomato earrings to tote bags to t-shirts. One year I gave away a corn hat.

It also makes you a part of something really amazing.In five years, Tomato Nation readers have raised nearly $700,000 for Donors Choose, and I’d like to note that they’ve done it in a truly grim economic environment the last two years.That’s a lot of crayons, field trips, math flash cards, dissection kits, and copies of Maus…but education funding never stops getting cut, kids never stop needing pencil sharpeners, and the knowledge that kindergarteners can make turkeys by tracing their hands thanks to you never stops warming the cold black heart.

If you have any questions, please ask.As we get closer to launch on 1 April, you’ll see a video to share with friends and enemies, more information about this year’s goal, and where I’d like to go in tomato drag.Keep an eye on Twitter or just watch this space. Contest participants from years past who think I forgot to mention something, please add it in the comments.

I hope you’ll join us this year — it’s awesome.

updated 30 March 2011




  • Margaret in CO says:

    “Tomato Nation readers have raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for Donors Choose.” Really? We did that? I’m so impressed with us!

  • KER says:

    When/where can we start making suggestions for projects?

  • ADS says:

    Sars, any thoughts on the dollar goal for this year?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @KER: Please email suggestions for projects to bunting at tomatonation dot com. I can’t guarantee that I’ll use all suggestions, but I’ve added most of the ones I’ve gotten so far. Please note that anything 1) expiring before 10/15 or 2) with misspellings in the title is right out.

    @ADS: It’s high. Heh. The exact dollar amount will be revealed in a few days.

  • Kimra says:

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or the time of year when I get teary-eyed at least once a day reading TN. Y’know, same deal.

  • tulip says:

    snif! indeed! I can’t wait for this year’s challenge. I have to say that the fun of the donations and seeing how high we can get the total is the biggest fun for me. I would do it even without your “stunt” though that is damn fun.
    Thanks and this should be fun!

  • camelama says:

    woooo! I’m savin’ my pennies so I can donate!

  • Peach says:

    Last year, we purchased our first home in October, making us unable to participate in the challenge. This year, no home buying so we’ve been looking forward to this all year so we can double-up and help make up for last year!

  • Academic says:

    I read the blog year round so I can figure out what’s going on at the absolute front end of the challenge. Looking forward to it.

  • Rebecca U says:

    This gets insane in a good way. As we get closer to the goals, I start checking incessantly, which isn’t so good since I’m usually at work at the time, but it’s a good type of obession.

    Thanks for looking at my suggestions Sars.

    And I usually end up donating more than I think I will when I come across a project (last year the AED!) I just can’t let go unfunded.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I add almost all the projects you guys suggest, so please continue submitting them to bunting at tomatonation dot com — just paste the URLs of the projects into the email.

    A reminder: I do NOT add
    1) projects that expire in the next few weeks
    2) projects with flagrant, avoidable spelling mistakes in the title or first few sentences

    We’re a little short on mathy projects at the moment, so if you can find well-written, innovative ones, please do send them my way.

  • Rachel says:

    Getting ready! Last year was SO NUTS with killing the goal and then killing the next goal and then setting a “NO WAY” sort of goal and killing THAT.

    How are we going to top ourselves this year? Start saving your change and cleaning out your significant others’ pants pockets, kids! Contest time is nigh!

  • FloridaErin says:

    I came to the site today and had two thoughts: YES! and, OMG is it that time of year already?!

    I’ll need time to prepare for so much AWESOME.

  • YaYa says:

    Hee – the new, official harbinger of Autumn.

  • Kathryn says:

    I still have fond memories of 2006 and all of Sars’ updates. “Welcome to the Contest, here’s your first list of projects. If you knock these out before the end of the day we can…okay, so those are done. Here’s a few more so maybe…wow, that was fast. Okay FINE, let’s go for a few thousand more, I dare you! I DOUBLE dare you!”

    Having Sars volunteer to shave her head was great, but getting to see the shock and delight every time we blew another goal out of the water was fantastic.

  • Kristina says:

    Wait, has it been decided what Sars is going to do when we hit what? 1 MEEEEEEEEEEEELION DOLLARS?! Because I think it could totally get done this year.

  • Clairezilla says:

    I vote hot air balloon ride for the tomato!

  • Jessica says:

    Sars — am about to email you with a list of math projects.

    Something that came up last year that I’m not sure I ever found out the answer: is it possible to buy gift certificates and count that money towards the TN total?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Jessica: I think you can donate towards the TN Challenge as a whole — but unless you buy a gift certificate that gets spent on projects within the TN contest specifically, I don’t think it counts.

  • Talix says:

    Some people look forward to football season…I look forward to the TN/DC challenge.

  • Linda says:

    CHALLENGE! I look forward to getting all indignant on behalf of folding-table shortages again.

  • Becs says:

    Aaaaalready getting sniffly! Also I can afford to donate this year, woo!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Note: Please email all project suggestions to bunting at tomatonation dot com. Thanks!

  • Susie says:

    Sars, good on you for this. I learned about DonorsChoose through your site a few years ago, got REALLY into it, and it’s now my charity of choice. I am participating in this year’s Social Media Challenge for my magazine, Mac|Life (we’re on the Tech Blogs list), and we were in it last year too — thanks to your inspiration.

    I even copied your contest idea to get our readers a little more excited about giving, and so far it’s gone over well. Nowhere near TN levels, but every bit helps.

    Anyway, thank you for inspiring me.

  • Leigh in CO says:

    Ahhh…Friday is shaping up to be perfection. The kickoff for the Tomato Nation Donors Choose challenge, and…my first trip to the ballpark for the season. Does it get any better than that? I think not.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I keep forgetting it’s opening day soon! BECAUSE I’M WEARING A SCARF INDOORS ergh fuck off winter.

  • ScottD says:

    The penultimate paragraph declares the start date to be 1 October…

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Derp. I’ll fix it.

  • Robin says:

    Let’s see…Friday…big snowstorm coming…April Fool’s Day…Oh, the TN DC contest: a reason to feel good about getting up tomorrow morning! I’ve been listening to Colbert and Fallon pushing their viewers to donate to DC: that’s all good, but let’s see how much faster and higher the TN can go!
    My giving page is set up, just waiting for me to push a few buttons and let’er rip.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    We’re going to have to show these gents how it’s done, that’s clear. 26K? Come on, Colbie, you’re not even tryin’.

  • Amy says:

    Sars – I have 5 email giftcards from DonorsChoose as a thank you from them for filling out an online survey. I have to forward them to other people to use them, so if anyone wants to donate but can’t afford to, I’d be happy to email them one of those giftcards.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Please email me directly to discuss — and thanks!

  • ferretrick says:

    I’d just like to know how I can denote that my donation is dedicated as a personal FUCK YOU to the governer of my state who is stripping teachers of their collective bargaining rights? :-)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @rick, I think there’s a comment function for that when you make your donation. Might want to rock a euphemism there, though.

  • Nik says:

    Can teachers who are also TNers submit their own project or a coworker’s project?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:


  • Brett says:

    I got the corn hat!! I love it, and it is proudly displayed above the cabinets in my kitchen. The corn hat makes a great conversation piece. I even brought it with me when I moved to Houston.

  • Kelly Pelloni says:

    Hi I am a little confused. I am a teacher in an environmental charter school in Lutz Florida. Our school has several projects on Donors Choose right now including my project “Mobile Learning Mobile World part 2” Do you select projects to fund and if so how can I get involved to help my school.

    Thank you,

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Kelly: Please check the contest FAQ (the FAQ button at the top left on each page). Then email projects you think qualify to bunting at tomatonation dot com.

  • […] But it’s no slight on the rest of Sars’s site when I say that my favorite thing by far about Tomato Nation is the Contest. […]

  • […] the writer of Tomato Nation, explains it best: In a nutshell, is an organization that puts donors together directly with […]

  • […] to raise money through since 2004.  To date, her readers have raised almost $700,000, benefiting teacher-submitted projects at public schools across the […]

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