By: Kestrel Linder, Co-Founder and CEO of GiveCampus
We recently celebrated the 7th anniversary of the first fundraising campaign hosted on GiveCampus. This campaign was a proof of concept for the first university to take a chance on a start-up that nobody had ever heard of and a product nobody had ever used. Thankfully, it was a success: GiveCampus worked the way we’d promised it would and the campaign exceeded its fundraising goal: 30 donors gave $921.
Since that first campaign, GiveCampus has facilitated more than $2 billion in charitable giving to more than 1,000 colleges, universities, and K12 schools in 48 U.S. states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and half a dozen foreign countries. The first $921 in 2015 felt like a huge sum–we could hardly believe it! Today, GiveCampus enables an average of more than $1,000 in philanthropic giving every minute.
Reflecting on the past 7 years, we’re proud not only of how much GiveCampus has grown but also how we’ve grown. We are ambitious and we always set aggressive goals, but we’ve also prioritized efficiency and sought sustainable growth. One of our core values is to “Take the Long View,” which means never losing sight of our ultimate vision. At times, this has led us to forego tactics and opportunities that might have fueled faster short-term growth, and to instead pursue strategies that we believed would produce superior and more lasting long-term results.
Rather than building a sales and marketing team and going to the market early on, we kept our heads down and our ears open, talking to our users and building a product that delivers real, measurable value. Our theory was that if our partner schools were wildly successful, GiveCampus would be, too. This bet paid off: organic, word-of-mouth distribution propelled GiveCampus to more than $10 million in revenue in just a few years. It wasn’t until late 2020 that we hired our first VP of Sales and early 2022 that we hired our first VP of Marketing to help bring GiveCampus to more schools, more quickly.
From the outset, we wanted to know that we’d struck a nerve with our market. That we were solving a real problem and delivering real value. For us, a proxy for this was showing that we could grow without skyrocketing expenses and a huge team. So, we constrained our hiring and practiced financial discipline. We also closely managed KPIs like gross margin and retention. It’s exciting to acquire lots of new users, but if a large percentage of them are churning after a year or two, that’s not sustainable growth. Of all of the schools that have used GiveCampus since 2015, we’re proud that nearly 80% are still using GiveCampus today.
Sustainable growth has produced six consecutive years of profitability, which has enabled us to stay laser-focused on our mission, the schools we support, and the value we deliver. It also has empowered us to more directly actualize the change we wish to see in the world. In 2020, we launched The GiveCampus Social Mobility Initiative and pledged $1 million in free fundraising support for programs that help low-income students, first-generation students, and underrepresented minorities.
People often assume that “bootstrapped” companies have less ambitious growth goals, but this is not the case at GiveCampus. Yes, sustainable growth is our north star, but we aspire to transform the educational fundraising industry and, ultimately, to become synonymous with it. Over the last three years we’ve tripled our revenue, tripled the amount of philanthropy our platform facilitates, and doubled the number of schools we support. We’ve also launched at least one major new product each year, as we’ve continued to identify fundraising use cases and workflows badly in need of better technology.
The people at GiveCampus are the driving force behind our company’s impact and success. Our team has tripled in size over the last three years and is now distributed in 21 states and the District of Columbia, where we have a beautiful, 12,000sf office for use whenever people want to collaborate in-person. Of the many positive byproducts of “bootstrapping” and committing to sustainable growth, one is that we have never felt undue pressure to accelerate or rush hiring in order to achieve short-term goals. We set high standards and always prioritize making the right hire for every role, even if that means hiring more slowly and therefore having a steeper hill to climb in the near term. As a result, we have a world-class team that is passionate about our mission and committed to achieving our ambitious vision–no matter how long it takes.
While GiveCampus operates at meaningful scale, we’re still small relative to the commercial and social good opportunities in front of us. Our platform will facilitate $1 billion in charitable giving this year, but that’s barely 1% of the total amount that will be donated to schools. Part of our mission is to make that total larger over time, by helping schools bring more donors into the fold and tell a more compelling story about the vital role that educational philanthropy plays in building a more just and equitable world.
Without more effective fundraising, schools will continue to face a choice between cutting budgets and increasing tuition and fees–both of which harm students and especially students from less advantaged backgrounds. It’s our mission to counteract this: we founded GiveCampus to help advance the quality, the affordability, and the accessibility of education. We’re proud of the impact we’ve had over the last 7 years, but we’re just getting started.
(PS If you’re interested in joining us on this journey, please check out our open roles.)