In 2016, I met Ross Sylvester. A young edtech entrepreneur here in the Phoenix area, he reached out to me for mentorship. Ross’s innovative fundraising technology was in action nationwide, helping student organizations raise money for trips, projects, and community causes. Our chats often turned to the “Why?” behind our technologies—inevitably leading into discussion about student financial success as a key component of overall student success. The more we talked, the more it became obvious that Ross’s technology could help solve a much bigger problem: many students drop out of higher education because they have small (think $500) funding gaps they can’t cover. Ross’s technology could help students tap into their personal networks as a new funding source to help them pay for their higher education. It’s a technology approach that no one else was doing—with real implications for improving retention and completion.
CampusLogic acquired Funderbolt in 2019, and our award-winning development team has reworked the experience. It relaunched this month as SponsoredScholar, a powerful piece of our ever-expanding student financial success platform. Higher ed institutions with SponsoredScholar empower their students to start crowdfunding campaigns, backed by the school, to fill the critical gaps that stop so many students from completing their education. I sat down with Ross to talk about SponsoredScholar, what it solves, and the future of fundraising.
Gregg: Ross, thrilled to have you and the former Funderbolt team as part of CampusLogic.
Ross: So excited to be here. Who would have thought that one call a few years ago would lead here?
Gregg: What most inspired you to join CampusLogic’s movement to drive student financial success?
Ross: When you told me about the data showing that millions of students are dropping out every year because they can’t pay a bill or afford books—often as little as $500 could have kept them on-track to their degrees. Small dollar amounts can have a great impact on students, as well as affect schools and society. It’s something I saw first-hand as my college roommate dropped out for financial reasons.
Gregg: Students are struggling to bridge small financial gaps that, for them, feel like insurmountable voids. Emergency aid programs and micro grants are in place at many schools we work with, where they’re trying to identify students at risk of dropping out due to small amounts owed.
Ross: It’s a huge problem, for everyone. Bills and emergencies come up, but many students are just unequipped to deal with them. And in the moment, applying for a scholarship often won’t help due to timing. It’s my hope with SponsoredScholar that we’ll be able to get more funds directly into those students’ accounts and into those emergency programs through crowdfunding.
Gregg: Your technology has been used by 7,000 students to fundraise more than $7 million dollars. Those are amazing results.
Ross: They are. SponsoredScholar helps each student write—and use—their personal story to tap into a whole new world of funding through their personal connections. Your vision that it could help students fill the holes left by financial aid and scholarships really made sense.
Gregg: You mentioned that only 1% of millennials give to their alma matter. Why do you think there’s such a different reaction to personalized fundraising efforts?
Ross: It’s true that millennials give differently. They want to know their contribution will make a difference in a person’s life, and with institutional giving they can sometimes feel they’re giving to a business’s bottom line and not to real people.
Gregg: SponsoredScholar empowers everyone to give to that real person. To a student whose story they find a connection with.
Ross: Exactly. We feel that the personal connection to giving will resonate across generational lines.
Gregg: I love that it empowers the student to own the fundraising campaign, backed by the credibility of the school.
Ross: Again, exactly. Tie the school’s brand to the student’s goal, and make setting up, running the campaign, and handling the funding distribution easy, and it’s a win-win-win.
Ross: Win for the student, win for the supporter, win for the institution.
Gregg: You officially joined us in March. What’s your biggest takeaway so far?
Ross: Aside from the fact that the acquisition was the best decision ever? Honestly, it’s the fact that students definitely needed a new mechanism to help them pay for bills, books, and tuition expenses.
We’ve been talking a lot with higher education leaders and students, and we have yet to meet one that hasn’t encountered the problem of needing help to pay a bill related to school.
Gregg: I am the biggest advocate on the planet for how sustained investment in analytics, advising, and automation can help schools change lives.
Ross: And I’m the biggest advocate for a world where every student can afford to stay in school. That CampusLogic’s culture, clarity of mission, and actionable core values drive to these things is all amazing. The exponential growth the company has experienced, the funding investment, the technology awards all spoke to me in terms of how CampusLogic is really solving problems for schools. That every person sees how they connect to the mission of helping schools change lives is truly inspiring.
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