A funding platform especially for PTOs and PTAs from experienced edupreneurs.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
With millions of people who want to help schools but no single destination for them to search opportunities to help fund everything from small classroom science projects to large scale facilities projects such as playgrounds and sports courts, Gary Hensley saw a problem with traditional school fundraising that technology could solve. Gary is the CEO and founder of edbacker, an online funding platform for PTA/PTOs, schools and organizations. He has worked in the education space for 12-plus years; he sold his previous company to Pearson and has five years experience at Pearson in strategic
Critical programs are being cut and parents are rising to the occasion because they refuse to let their children fall between the cracks in the school budget.
partnerships and product management. Mary Ellen Matheson is the VP of Business Development. She’s worked in fundraising for more than 10 years and has more than 10 years experience in marketing and business development. Their advisory board includes Blackboard CEO and founder Michael Chasen and other interesting leaders. In this interview, Gary and Mary Ellen talk in more depth about the platform. “Schools have never been more in need of money, and traditional school fundraising has never been more in need of innovation,” says Gary. “We want to make it so funding never stands in the way of implementing a passionate parent’s great idea,” says Mary Ellen. Here’s more.
A lot has happened in the past year or so. Let’s back up and provide a whirlwind timeline of how things have gone since inception, with highlights.
Gary: We launched the platform about 2 years ago with our first offering that centered around fundraising because parents across the country are feeling the effects of budget deficits at their kid’s schools and needed to raise money more efficiently than ever before. After the initial release we really began to build the engagement portion of edbacker by offering email and newsletter capabilities combined with an easy way to manage all that data.
Why such rapid growth?
Gary: We are built for parents by parents and make running a parent organization easier. This market is incredibly hungry for a solution like ours that makes it easy to support your student and the local school.
What need is this filling that a Kickstarter or Indiegogo or other platform can’t fill?
Gary: Parents are raising money year over year vs. one and done. We make it easy to engage and easy to raise. Most importantly, we recognized that parents want to be involved and participate in their children’s school life — so we offer them a way to do that in person or while they are at work.
What does this say about school funding these days?
Mary Ellen: There have never been more demands on parents’ time and resources. Critical programs are being cut and parents are rising to the occasion because they refuse to let their children fall between the cracks in the school budget.
We hear of teachers spending out of pocket – have been hearing that for several years now, maybe more. What’s the state of education in the past five years where it’s come to this?
Gary: I don’t see this trend going away any time soon. Parent organizations have always been there to support teachers and we see stories of this happening all across the country. We partner with these organizations to strengthen and streamline their important work.
This is a masterful use of technology. Let’s talk about features, benefits and specifics of the platform, why the robustness of the platform is something that is so needed and why edbacker has a unique back end.
Gary: When you integrate fundraising with a communications tools some really cool data begins to emerge. You can feed this data back into the system to help it make smart decision like excluding list of people who have already given to the campaign in the next outreach. We are also helping customers solve some really practical problems like keeping track of who has paid membership and how much a parent has given for the year for tax purposes.
Mary Ellen: We have also started to partner with companies who have interest in engaging with parents and see value in freeing up capital for schools to be more successful in their efforts.
What are your thoughts on education these days? How does the need for an edbacker speak to the overall trends and shifts in funding, funding for education, and future directions? is this a case of a tectonic plate landscape with serious changes underneath?
Gary: Parents have more choices than ever before to effect change in the school and they can do it without asking for permission. K-12 funding model is a very complicated system and is inherently linked to the tax base. With the current system in place you always see ups and downs in school funding. Parents and schools are getting creative when it comes to finding ways to reach their goals and I see that happening at an accelerated pace, both in funding and supplementing their child’s education.
Everyone has a story – especially when it comes to needing funds and telling why. What sort of anecdotes can you share? Do you get heartwarming, interesting, strange, unique stories?
Mary Ellen: Yes, this is the best part! Where do I begin? The stories are as unique as the schools and parents we serve. We have had the privilege of working with an urban elementary school raise funds to create a wetlands garden outdoor classroom. So cool to see students who come from modest means and families who live primarily in apartments working side by side to use raised funds to build the gardens that teachers use for experiential learning. On the other hand we had a very tight knit school community host a secret pop-up campaign to create a scholarship in honor of their suddenly retiring principal and school founder. Funny story, we had high school students create their own campaign to travel to Quebec for an immersion program. The kids took on the project, created the videos and fueled the effort!
Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning your current success? about funding? future direction?
Mary Ellen: We’re getting great feedback from parent organizations that we are making their jobs easier and more efficient by offering a highly sophisticated technology to accomplish their most basic needs like collecting dues but also versatile enough to drop and drag a polished newsletter to raising significant revenue in capital campaigns.
Gary: If we look into our crystal ball we see the future for schools involves engagement in their entire community — local merchants, national businesses with a local presence as well as and community leadership who all have a vested interest in seeing our education systems succeed. We all know it “takes a village” to support our children but now we have the tools to pull it off.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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