You’ve carefully considered getting involved with education-based philanthropy and are ready to take action. So what can you do? These are a handful of my favorite ideas.

Donate to Your Local Education Fund.

Most school districts or municipalities will have something like this in place to facilitate giving. It’s a good way to get started and maybe something you can schedule a small gift around, but in my experience, donors have little way of seeing how their gift is used and it can be hard to discern the impact you make.

Support a Teacher or Teachers.

Teachers play the most important role in education, and struggling schools have a difficult time keeping the good ones around. Unless you know a teacher, you won’t know the financial burden that can fall on them to maintain their classroom and make sure that their students have what they need to succeed. Relative to their mostly modest compensation, these costs are enormous. If you can identify a few good teachers, offer to supply them with the funding they need to create the most engaging and dynamic classroom environment as possible. If you’re able to help them succeed, there’s a greater chance their students will.

Found a Mentorship Program.

Children with positive adult influences are more likely to matriculate through the system and eventually graduate. Not every area of the country has a readily accessible Big Brother/Big Sister program. If you’re in a position to start an organization like this and connect children with positive role models, you can effect change at a profound, individual level. Sometimes that’s where we need to start. No systemic changes can advance very far without student engagement and desire to learn.

Sponsor Performance Incentives

Most struggling schools can’t afford programs like this, but it’s proven that performance incentives are strong motivators to get students interested in their education. There can be a wide range of creative options. You can sponsor individual rewards for grades on tests or quarterly report card rewards, or if the class as a whole achieves a level of success each semester you could sponsor a fun field trip for them. There have even been tests done that have given families financial kickbacks if their child performed at a certain level; this way parents are compelled to get and stay involved. Incentive structures are important to children who might not yet be able to think in critical terms about the future. If you have the opportunity to fund a program like this, talk with your local administrator about getting started.

Establish a Scholarship Fund.

One of the unfortunate aspects of our struggling education system is that some really bright kids get left behind, their minds undernourished. If you’re able to identify them early, get them started thinking about college by seeding a scholarship fund. There are ways this can work for both primary and secondary education. A gift like this can create lifelong change for brilliant students who might otherwise get left behind.

Address Immediate Needs.

It doesn’t need to be more complicated than this. There are aspects of education that get slashed drastically or eliminated entirely due to lack of funding. Arts education and music classes are typically the first to go, but there is evidence that engagement with the creative side of a child’s brain has hugely positive effects on their overall engagement with education. If you can’t re-implement the in-school program, consider starting an after-school music program that can give kids a break from their usual routine.

Athletics is another area that has hugely positive, overarching impacts but is some of the first funding to get re-allocated to core curriculum. If you can pay for field time, uniforms, equipment, etc. consider doing so. Oftentimes, these things are all athletic programs need to stay afloat. You don’t have to create a dominant, winning football program, just make it available.

And don’t forget classroom needs. If you have the means to build a school’s technological capacity by supplying students and teachers with iPads in-classroom, get the whole building on wireless, or pay for a software that can streamline communication, decision making, or performance tracking, that’s a seismic cultural shift that can change the entire attitude and outlook of a school almost instantly.

If you want to enact any of these changes and start shaping the future of our world, you’ll need some clarity about your situation and the confidence to take action with your money. My free assessment will provide both and get you on a path to shaping your legacy through education philanthropy.