Kestrel Linder and Michael Kong went to college together at Johns Hopkins University and they spent a lot of time throwing around startup ideas. Nothing stuck, though, and after graduating in 2005, both ended up working in D.C.
A few years after graduation it started. The calls, emails and literal mailers from JHU, asking Linder and Kong, as alumni, to give back. Now, it wasn’t that the duo didn’t want to or didn’t have the capacity. “We both had money … and we had the inclination to give back,” Linder told Technical.ly. But they didn’t like the way in which their alma mater was asking — it didn’t speak to them and wasn’t easy to integrate into their lives.
The duo began asking around and found they weren’t the only ones — their friends also wanted to give back to their schools but they just weren’t doing it.
Around that same time, Linder said, his wife, who’s a documentary filmmaker, was running a Kickstarter campaign for one of her films. That was the kind of lightbulb moment: could something like this work in the education fundraising space?
Something more than a 'Kickstarter for educational fundraising.'
For Kong and Linder, this was never just about creating a way that they and their friends could give back and feel good about themselves. Rather it was also a social issue — namely the rising cost of college. Sure, universities will probably get major philanthropic donations from time to time regardless of how they ask for money. But if they could more effectively tap into the smaller, repeat donors in their alumni network, that could be huge.
The chance to have a successful business that also tends to a compelling social issue was too much to pass up and in 2015 GiveCampus was born.
So “Kickstarter for educational fundraising” wasn’t a bad idea, but it turned out that there were some legitimate reasons why schools weren’t just using an existing crowdfunding platform. “They have a lot of unique needs,” Linder said.
For example? Customized data collection, a branded platform that looks just like their school website and direct transfer of funds from donor to school (as opposed to through crowdfunding site process first). “I think what we’ve done a really good job at is we’ve asked a lot of questions,” Linder said, of the company process.
So GiveCampus made a model that could work — schools subscribe to GiveCampus (that’s how the company makes money) and in return get a very personal-feeling donations site. The sales pitch they give to schools? GiveCampus is “the most efficient and the most effective way to raise money from people giving under $100,000.”
And, well, that’s potentially a lot of people.
The thing that consistently gets Linder the most excited, he said, is that (quite simply) “it’s working.” The company, which is backed by Y Combinator, has around 200 schools on board today — high schools, colleges, big universities and more. They’re across the U.S., as well as in four foreign countries including Canada, the United Kingdom and Egypt.
When it comes to sales, Linder said, “there’s a tremendous network effect.” “If we build a good product and help schools succeed with that product then it sells itself.” That’s why, in addition to on boarding new schools, the company is focused on what it calls “partner success.”
GiveCampus’ small but growing team works out of an office in Eastern Market in D.C., with some contractors based in San Francisco. And despite all the moves they’re making, Linder stays focused on the social impact potential of the company. “If we become successful it’ll be because we accomplish our mission of helping schools and in turn helping students,” he said.