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The School Fund Looks to Music to Crowdfund Education

   /   Jun 26th, 2012Education, Interviews, News, Uncategorized
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Palo-Alto based, The School Fund, has used crowdsourcing to finance the studies of over 200 students worldwide for the past three years.  Now, they’re partnering with 28-year-old Grammy-nominated singer Carolyn Malachi for the #IAM campaign, an effort to help raise funds to support more students in Africa.  For every view of her upcoming video of “Free the Mind,” sponsors like Chegg for Good will pay 19 cents (or the equivalent of one hour in the classroom) for every view for the next six months.

“I see myself as a member of a global family and as a leader. Self-actualization is a prevalent theme in my music. I want my fans to think of right now – not later – as the right time to become their big ideas,”  Malachi said, when asked about her alignment with the School Fund.

Dowser’s Esha Chhabra speaks with Matt Severson, founder and CEO of the School Fund, about crowdfunding education and this new campaign.

You started getting involved in philanthropy/ social enterprise as a very young person – you were barely out of high school and into college.  What would you suggest to current freshmen in college seeking a career of impact – what are some resources that they can utilize to help fund their endeavours?

The biggest thing I would say to my peers is to just get going with something. We are young, and we should use that to our advantage. Adults don’t expect young people to have all the answers to everything. I’ve found that older people are incredibly willing to offer their feedback and suggestions, especially when we as young people approach them with an open mind, and a desire to learn.

There are lots of great groups that support young people trying to get their ideas off the ground: most colleges have fellowships or social entrepreneurship programs (my school Brown had the Social Innovation Initiative out of our Swearer Center). The Dell Social Innovation Competition is another great resource. And I’m excited that one of our friends and supporters, Chegg for Good is going to start working more with young social entrepreneurs.


Point is, get going with something, and get talking about it. Talk to your friends, your classmates, your teachers, adults in your life–many of them will turn into champions and mentors for you and your work.One fun quote I like to leave my peers with is, “If you ask for money, you get advice. If you ask for advice, you get money.” So go out and ask for a bunch of people’s advice.
Matt Severson, CEO, with one the 200+ students that The School Fund supports.
When you created School Fund were there other social enterprises out there using the crowdfunding model for education?  How did you decide that crowdfunding was the right model for you?

I had followed for quite a while. Someone from the org gave a talk at Brown my sophomore year, and I was practically jumping out of my seat. I was thinking to myself, “man, if Kiva has managed to be so successful with this personal connection & crowdfunding for entrepreneurs throughout the developing world, imagine what we could if we connected people directly with students?” Students, in my opinion, oftentimes have even more compelling stories and need help year-after-year, not just once.

Where did you get your startup capital from?

Several family foundations stepped in. They believed in me and the idea, and were willing to take a risk. I also travelled to Tanzania in 2010 on a fellowship from Brown to do some of the initial research to get the idea going.

What advantages (disadvantages) have you come across being based in the Bay Area?  Easy access to capital?

The Bay Area is undoubtedly a hotbed of innovation, and a great place to meet people who aren’t afraid of getting going. I would say that being from Silicon Valley definitely instilled in me a desire to do something with my ideas, rather than just let them grow stale inside my head. I wasn’t afraid to get going even though I didn’t have all the answers. That has played to my and The School Fund’s advantage.

We definitely also have lots of smart people who are willing to lend their ideas and expertise to our work. One of our advisors Suzanne Skees has offered tons of help. My dad, an ex-Google software engineer, was on hand to help program the initial iteration of the website, and several family friends stepped up to make financial contributions to get our organization off the ground.

I suppose one disadvantage of growing up and starting a company in Silicon Valley is that you can sometimes end up a little bit out of touch with how comfortable folks are with technology. You assume that everyone is totally cool with navigating a web page, posting personal messages publicly online, etc. but that is often not the case.

As a recent grad, did you consider getting another job or were you certain that you would make School Fund your full time gig?  The underlining question: is possible to do ‘good’ and still make enough to pay for your rent/ expenses?

It’s funny you say this. I actually have a 9-5 at Google. The story that I like to tell is that it’s entirely possible for people to do good even if it is not THE thing that they spend 100% of their time on. I started The School Fund while still a student in college, and managed to juggle my school work with starting and managing a small nonprofit.

I believe that people everywhere should make “doing good” a part of their daily routine–whether it’s 1-2 hrs a week, 20-30 hrs a week (sort of like a part-time job, which is what I’m doing) or a 40+ hr a week commitment.

Personally, I am committed to seeing The School Fund succeed. As we reach our next level of growth, we are looking to hire our second full-time US staff member to continue to scale our organization.

School Fund has been in existence for 3 years.  What has been the greatest challenges for you?

There have been many challenges. One challenge has been effectively engaging a team.

What changes do you want to see in the social enterprise ecosystem?  Where do you feel like there is still room to innovate/grow/expand/ etc?

I would love to see more young social enterprises learning from and supporting one another. So many organizations learn the same lessons and make the same mistakes over and over. It would be great for the orgs who are just 6 – 12 months ahead to mentor those who are 6 – 12 months behind in their development.

We would love to be a resource for organizations just getting off the ground. And would hope that groups who are 3-4 years into their growth would do the same for us!

 How did this music partnership come about and what are you hoping to achieve with it?  Reach a different demographic etc?

Serendipity has driven so much of The School Fund’s growth. I was introduced to Joseph “JP” Pineda by a friend of a friend. JP and I quickly became friends and I learned that he was interested in using the network he had built after years at Universal Records to raise awareness for nonprofits.  JP introduced us to Grammy-nominated artist Carolyn Malachi and we instantly hit it off. Like The School Fund, Carolyn is just getting going with her career. She received one of the highest honors in the music world: a Grammy nomination.

Her music is all about positive thinking and taking your destiny into your own hands. It fit really well with our mission to send kids to school to ultimately allow them to take their own destinies into their hands.

Her songs like Beautiful Dreamer and Free Your Mind all have very positive messages.


Through our partnership with Carolyn, we hope to continue to raise awareness for our work, to help Carolyn augment her positive art with a relevant, clear call-to-action for her fans, and to show the world that music can be used to make concrete positive change in the world. We hope to raise 10,000 hours of classroom time each month for 6 months, for a total of 60,000 hours of classroom time.


You work in a number of countries around the world.  How do you select and how do you ensure donors that their every dollar is making it to the student in need? 

From the beginning, we wanted to show donors exactly where money was going, to commit that 100% of funds on the website goes straight to students’ school fees, and to show people receipts proving that the money made it to its intended destination.


We work with a network of partner NGOs around the world, who all have local staff in country. We crowdsource fundraise on, send money to these partners, and they in turn distribute it to the schools. We ask partners to gather receipts for each student to show donors that their money is used appropriately.


2 Responses

  1. beth says:

    Love partnering between School Fun and Carolyn, with a corporate partner donating based on youtube views. How much money did you raise?