Crowdfund A Needy Kid’s Education With Conway-Backed Wishbone.org

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It’s too common a story: smart, low-income kid can’t find their academic passion, so they drop out of school. But now you can rewrite this tragic tale with the help of Wishbone.org, a philanthropy website launching today where you can crowdfund high-potential youngsters so they can afford inspiring after- and summer-school programs. Wishbone only accepts seriously motivated students and produces its own polished video interviews with them, so it’s easy to find someone who’ll really benefit from your donation.

Started by an LA teacher who saw the problem first-hand, and backed by Ron Conway and the Kaufman Foundation for entrepreneurship, Wishbone has a high-leverage, accomplishable mission. It’s not trying to start education programs, but rather bridge the gap between existing ones and the kids that need them. Years down the line it could be organizations like Wishbone that save tech from the talent crunch.

There is a crisis in education, and it’s about relevance. Many students aren’t excited about their in-school classes because they just don’t see how they lead to a fulfilling career. Wishbone explains that 7,000 kids drop out of high school every day, but 5,600 would have stayed in school if it was relevant to their lives. Unfortunately, the state-run school system is too big and inefficient for a small non-profit startup to fix.

That’s why Wishbone’s founder Beth Schmidt, a Los Angeles Teach For America teacher, looked for what could be done after the school bell rings. As a trial in 2008, she ran a marathon to raise money and asked her students to write research papers on the programs they’d like to attend. Before, only 10% of her students would turn in essays, but this time 75% did. She funded seven students to attend after-school and summer-school programs. All seven of them graduated high school and went on to college. The model worked so it was time to make it scale.

Now four years later, TechCrunch is proud to help Beth launch Wishbone.org. It’s starting with 12 hand-picked schools from low-income communities in San Francisco and New York City. Teachers there help promising students who have no record of behavior problems apply for funding to attend an approved out-of-school program. Wishbone then shoots a video interview with the student and publishes a high-quality profile for them on Wishbone.org. The kids also get guidance from a network of Wishbone mentors.

Donations come from people like you as well as foundations and corporations, while Wishbone negotiates reduced tuition and scholarships with program providers. Wishbone.org lets you browse students by interest or location, learn about their lives and the programs they want to attend, and give money to a specific student or a general fund.

For example, Victor here needs donors to give about $2000 in the next 30 days so he can attend LEAD Computer Science Institute at Stanford, pursue his interest in engineering, and become a programmer. Christina wants to become a biochemical engineer, but needs your help to go to COSMOS camp where she can learn robotics, biophysics, and chemistry.

Donors receive thank you letters and progress updates from the kids they sponsor, creating a personal connection to the impact of their generosity. To track its own performance, Wishbone closely monitors graduation rates, grade point averages, and in-school engagement of the students it funds. The whole site is powered by an internally built custom CMS designed for scalability.

Kiva.org is great for helping adults get small businesses off the ground, but kids need help too. Many of us who’ve succeeded in technology were fortunate enough to get a great education, one that made us dream big. With a donation through Wishbone, you can activate a child’s ambition and pass the love of learning on to the next generation.