Kestrel Linder and Michael Kong loved their time at John Hopkins University, but the way their alma mater tried to solicit donations from them put a bitter taste in their mouth.

They were getting letters in the mail and phone calls asking for money about dinner time at least once a week, Linder said. And when Linder and Kong started to look at the data, they noticed that at almost every school in the nation, the number of alumni giving back to their alma mater had been in decline since the mid-to-late 1990s.

So Linder and Kong started D.C.-based GiveCampus, an online crowdfunding tool designed only for colleges, universities and K-12 schools, in March 2015 to revamp how schools raise money.

“We both wanted to start a company, we both had that gene if you want to call it that,” Linder, the company’s co-founder and CEO, told DC Inno. “And here we were with this problem that we were experiencing on a social level.”

In the past two years, the startup has forged partnerships with over 200 schools, including both higher education and K-12 institutions. The platform works with schools to develop a variety of campaigns, from scholarship funds to capital campaigns to specific campus projects, such as library renovations. Most recently, a lot of schools worked with GivingCampus for their Giving Tuesday efforts, and GiveCampus works with D.C. area schools such as Georgetown University, Maryland Institute College of Art and Gonzaga College High School in NoMa.

“Over the last year, over 100,000 unique individuals have made a gift using our platform and roughly half of those people have been millennials or people born after 1980,” Linder said. “The things that younger people enjoy and the things that younger people react to, their parents and also their grandparents respond to, as well.”

Kestrel Linder
Kestrel Linder, CEO of GiveCampus

GiveCampus’s platform plays on the intuition and simplicity of Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Which is probably why Linder says that no matter what kind of campaign a school focuses on, their success comes from the same place: student participation.

“The primary thing that we see over and over again being key to success is when there are individuals involved and really driving the efforts,” he said. “And I don’t mean fundraisers (or people in development offices), but people like students who ask their friends to participate with them.”

Despite having the capabilities to also work with nonprofits, GiveCampus has made the choice to only work with schools. This way, they can tailor themselves as the only startup that can suit all of a school’s fundraising needs. Which is how they were able to decide their next upcoming product: a giving forms product, for when a donor just wants to go to a school’s site and donate a quick gift right from there.

“We get contacted by other nonprofits all the time, multiple times a week,” Linder said. “By focusing just on educational institutions, we’ve been able to build a really tailored product. It reflects exactly what schools need, and it’s highly customed for high schools and colleges and universities.”

GiveCampus is headquartered in D.C. with a team that is half engineers, but they also still have a part-time and consulting presence in the Bay Area from their early Y Combinator days in early 2015. Linder says that with most of U.S. schools being located east of the Mississippi, D.C. just makes sense as the startup’s headquarters.

“It’s really nice to be in the same timezone as them and to be able to hop on a plane or a bus or a train and be on their campus in an hour or two,” he said.

Moving forward, Linder says GiveCampus is focusing on partnering with more schools.

“My big dream is that in 25 years I will have been a successful business person, and also we can look and say that we were successful as entrepreneurs because our company helped schools ensure that they could give people an (affordable) education.”

Image used via CC BY-SA 3.0 — credit Mmw3v