How One Education Fundraising Website Is Helping Classrooms with Hurricane Recovery
After a particularly devastating hurricane season, many schools throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico are still recovering.
In August, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeastern Texas as the strongest hurricane to hit the United States in more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands of students were out of school in the Houston area for days.
Hurricane Irma struck just a few days later, making landfall in southern Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, and causing more than $50 billion in damages across Florida and Puerto Rico. Irma forced schools in the Miami area to close as well, displacing even more K-12 students.
Fortunately, there have been a number of charities and funds designed to aid in the hurricane relief over the past few months.
PledgeCents, a fundraising website dedicated to education, is one of the many sites that have been gathering support and funds for the districts that were hit the hardest.
To learn more about PledgeCents and what it does, we spoke with PledgeCents’ co-founder and CEO Andyshea Saberioon to discuss relief efforts for schools after Hurricane Harvey.
Charlie: I’m Charlie Scanlan with EdTech Times, and I’m speaking with… could you introduce yourself?
Andyshea: Yes, my name’s Andyshea Saberioon and I’m the CEO and co-founder of PledgeCents.com.
Charlie: So can you tell us a little bit about what PledgeCents does, and why was it founded, and what inspired you to create this website?
Andyshea: So PledgeCents was founded with one mission really, and that’s to help put funds back into our classrooms to provide our students with more opportunities and more resources. We are basically kind of like a GoFundMe, but specifically for education.
Andyshea: We work with over 3,000 schools nationwide, over 1.5 million dollars have been raised from different classroom and school initiatives to our platform. We work with PTAs, nonprofits, educators, administrators, students to bring their dreams to life, in the sense of whether it’s a pizza party, whether it’s a technology problem or, you know, recently a lot of relief efforts for our hometown of Houston with a number of our district partners.
Andyshea: And we started PledgeCents really as a as a call to action to tell them that we’re frustrated about. As a high school basketball coach, my players are doing fundraising in the archaic ways of knocking on doors and chocolate bars and all that. And so we were very excited to be able to help and see if we can kind of bring fundraising to the new age. And so we’ve been able to do that to provide a solution to a lot of our friends in the classroom who don’t have the funding adequately to pursue what they want for their students.
Charlie: Oh great. How long have you been doing this sort of thing?
Andyshea: With PledgeCents this will be our third full school year that we’ll be live I guess.
Charlie: And about how many fundraisers have you done so far?
Andyshea: We’ve done over about 5,000 or 6,000 fundraisers to the platform so far.
Charlie: So in your opinion what sets PledgeCents apart from other fundraising Web sites that schools might be using?
Andyshea: Yes it’s different in many ways. One of the biggest differences that we offer which is recent, to be honest, is we actually are charging 0 percent platform fees. So other websites do 10, 15, five percent fees. With PledgeCents, our educators receive 97 percent of the money, it’s only a three per cent processing fee that gets deducted for payment solutions. So that’s a big thing, because you know our mission is because every cent counts. So we’re getting a step closer to making sure that every cent raised is going back to benefit the students. That’s one big difference. The other big differences are we’re more flexible than some platforms out there. We give our educators and users more ability to raise money for the items of their choosing. If they don’t meet their goal they still keep their money as opposed to some sites where the money is refunded back to those who donated. And then more importantly for education, we take a lot of the nuances into account. So we send tax receipts to those who contribute, all the money that’s ever raised, whether it’s one of our preferred partners or for a different need, we send to the organization it never goes to the individual so it’s not liable, it’s held accountable, it’s not taxable income. So a lot of those nuances we take into account for because we deal with educational fundraising.
Charlie: It sounds great. So tell me what PledgeCents is doing to help schools in Houston that are affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Andyshea: We’re doing multiple different efforts. So myself and my co-founder Ricky, we’re both from Houston. So you know, our families were impacted by this flood. A lot of our friends still haven’t been able to go back to their homes because of the mold and the flooding damage that happened in their homes. So we partnered with two of our largest school districts in Houston, Spring Branch Independent School District and Katy Independent School District, and with those districts we’re helping them to raise money. There’s been about north of $300,000 raised from community members for both districts and it’s really been a call to action because they have families that have been displaced as students parents and employees. School bus drivers, teachers, et cetera aren’t able to go back to their homes so they have to leave probably to a different city or state to live with relatives until things settle down a little bit. I was actually on the phone today with a school in Atlanta which did their own fundraising to help our districts out. There’s been a big call from schools around the country who heard the superintendents and the principals and the teachers and their request of supporting- they’ve been doing their own fundraising efforts to be able to put back into the classroom. So we’ve been doing fundraising pages where we’re giving, we’re waiving our fees on those, so making sure all the money is going back to our friends and our families back in Houston to help rebuild.
Charlie: That sounds awesome. Have you guys done anything for Hurricane Irma too?
Andyshea: We’re working on doing some initiatives with Hurricane Irma with our partners who actually are in Miami. We work in a number of Miami-Dade schools and schools around the south of Florida. So we’re working on some initiatives because we’re not there. So we’re working on raising not only funds but also raising tangible items for insurers and items that people are just losing because of the wind damage and the flood damage that happened there. We’re working for Hurricane Irma and we’re also working for- doing some initiatives for the families and the schools the communities that we work with down in Puerto Rico as well. That’s where Ricky’s family is from.
Charlie: That’s good. So what progress have you guys made so far and how effective do you think it’s been?
Andyshea: I mean it’s you know it can always get better but everything… and you know in these situations anything is better than nothing right? And so you know I think the biggest thing it’s been able to do is not only financially raising, you know, north of $300,000 for these initiatives but we’re also gathering, again, people are donating items, bedposts, bed frames and mattresses, chairs and tables to help rebuild homes, we’re collecting those. We’re seeing again the community support each other in a way that has been great with you know with everything else that’s been around the country.
Andyshea: It’s been amazing to see, again, school, community, students — pictures will be sent in to us on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook saying, hey, these are our kids doing a car wash or sitting outside carpool trying to raise money with pennies and dollars for all the students in Harvey. We’re collecting actually all the funds that we’re doing a lot of schools outside of Texas that are raising money. We’re actually connecting them with our school district partners with Spring Branch and Katy, so the students can meet one another virtually. So you know, kind of like a new-age pen pal, if you will. So there’s just a lot of different ways that we’re doing that. Personally from PledgeCents, our partners that we work with, we work with about 750 companies that work with schools. And they’ve been donating themselves, they’ve been sharing, they’ve been supporting, they’ve been sending their wishes. So there’s been a lot of great initiatives happening, but a lot, a lot more that we need to continue to do.
Charlie: Great. Can you explain sort of after these fundraisers are over what are the next steps that you take to help these schools?
Andyshea: We’re working constantly with the education foundations with both those districts and with the networks for KIPP schools and YES Prep. As we’re doing fundraising for them as well. And we work closely with them to make sure that the funds not only are going directly to impacting whether it’s classroom materials that were lost, whether it’s displaced families, whether it’s helping put you know household items back into homes. We’re working with them to make sure the money is being utilized in the best way, and more importantly, that it’s being transparently messaged back to everyone who’s contributed. So you know, the 2,000 plus people who’ve contributed to these initiatives that they’re seeing exactly: I gave a hundred dollars, I know my hundred dollars went to this this and this. So we’re working very closely on making sure that’s transparently and directly visible for everybody.
Charlie: Sounds great. So what would you like to see PledgeCents do in the future, sort of where is this going?
Andyshea: Yeah, I mean for us the big focus is we really want to break down the barriers of funding of teacher voice and empowerment through our platform. So yes, we are a funding mechanism. And you know, by taking a step forward and waiving our platform fees and making it zero percent fees, that’s one step closer to ensuring that all the money is going back to our classrooms which is great. But also we want to make sure that educators, organizations, principals, students, they have specific needs that may not always be recognized by the district or by the powers that be. So we want to make sure PledgeCents is giving them that avenue to say look this is what I need. This is what my third grade classroom needs or my students need or my organization needs and give them a platform to voice that so they feel more empowered to the call to action of being a teacher. And those are kind of the underlying focuses that we have with what we’re building, not only in education but also we’re expanding to new kind of opportunities. We have a lot of teachers and principals who’ve been asking: can their churches, can their volunteer effort groups or community projects and higher ed organizations utilize PledgeCents? And we’re working to make all that available too. So it’s really bringing PledgeCents to education in all facets in our communities. That’s what we’re focusing on.
Charlie: Okay great. Are you happy with where PledgeCents is now and sort of why or why not?
Andyshea: I mean, I’m definitely, you know, fortunate and blessed. We work on, we work with great teachers every day. Obviously, you know, our job is nowhere near done. We’ve done over 1.5 million on the platform. We’ve been able to help over 600,000 students in the two and a half years we’ve been around. So you know, we’ve been able to do some amazing work. But you know, the funding is just one component of it. For us, it’s making sure that, you know, we might be changing the way our schools are funded and we might be able to play a role in the way people are thinking philanthropically about how to contribute back to education. We may be a part of that, so there’s a lot of long term goals we have not only domestic, but globally. And I think we’re on the right track to get there. I think we can continue to do better. And as you know, we do bad things. Or we’re not doing the best on some days. Our teachers definitely let us know. And so, you know, we make sure to listen and to rebuild and build the platform the way our educators and our schools want it to be built. So we have a long road ahead of us. But I think we’re on the right path so far.
Charlie: Okay great. Thanks so much for speaking with us today.
Andyshea: Thank you guys so much for taking time to talk.
For those interested in Houston’s hurricane relief, the Spring Branch ISD fundraiser is still running.
Charlie is a junior at Boston University studying journalism and Spanish. He enjoys learning new languages, listening to musical theatre, and overanalyzing television shows.