Student nonprofit wins $25,000

The Elmseed staff mobilized members of the Yale community to secure a spot as the 28th most popular non-profit in a contest held by JPMorgan.
The Elmseed staff mobilized members of the Yale community to secure a spot as the 28th most popular non-profit in a contest held by JPMorgan. Photo by Jasjit Singh.

The student-run nonprofit Elmseed Enterprise Fund clinched $25,000 last week after spamming panlists and engaging students outside of dining halls in pursuit of votes in a contest conducted by banking firm JPMorgan Chase.

Elmseed, which provides microcredit and consulting services to low-income entrepreneurs in the New Haven community, attained 1,757 votes from Facebook users over eight days to attain 28th place in the fourth Chase Community Giving contest, which awarded a total of $3 million to 100 U.S. nonprofits. Elmseed CEO Jared Jones ’12 said the funding will help Elmseed continue the group’s effort this year to increase the number of loans it provides. In 2011, Elmseed has lent a total of $27,000 so far, Jones said, up from $4,000 in 2010.

“This is the largest funding we’ve ever received by far,” Jones said. “The grant will allow us to expand and improve our services. I hope Elmseed can eventually be recognized as the organization that drives economic growth in New Haven from the bottom up.”

Noah Sheinbaum ’13, Elmseed’s strategy director, said the award will provide a significant boost to Elmseed’s $8,000 annual operating budget, allowing the organization to offer more loans and attract more clients. Elmseed currently serves about 70 clients and offers loans of up to $5,000 at 10 percent interest to its borrowers.

Though Elmseed entered the two-week contest six days late, members mobilized quickly to reach out to all circles of the Yale community. Voters had to “like” and allow access to the Chase Community Giving application on their Facebook account, and then they could vote for up to 10 nonprofits. Jones said the staff allotted specific tasks to all Elmseed members: Some offered candy and explained Elmseed’s mission outside of dining halls, while others pursued votes from from alumni, clients and other local nonprofits.

Elmseed’s staff convened Nov. 16 to email panlists and send hundreds of Facebook chats and messages, Jones said, pushing Elmseed from 600 to 1,000 votes within three hours.

Though the intensity of the advertising irritated some students, he said, votes from students proved crucial since he estimated that 60 to 70 percent of Elmseed’s voters are Yalies.

“If we did could have done this again, we would have started from day one and had better coordination,” he said, “which would have reduced the number of times students got multiple messages.”

By Nov. 20, two days before the end of the competition, Elmseed had reached the top 100 contestants by just a narrow margin, so each member pledged to fulfill a certain quota of votes, Sheinbaum said. In addition to more Facebook messaging, homebound students solicited votes at their high schools, Jones said, and some members’ parents rallied their own friends to vote.

Despite the challenges of soliciting so many votes, Jones said he appreciated that the contest engaged the Yale and New Haven communities.

“There’s something special about a grassroots effort that involves people who really care about an issue, rather than a rigorous application process,” he added.

Elmseed had competed in the contest in 2009 but lost to charities including ReadySetLaunch, another student non-profit at Yale that offers college advising services to high school students. Sheinbaum said the success of ReadySetLaunch inspired Elmseed to invest more effort in the campaign this year.

Lucia Woo ’13, executive director of ReadySetLaunch, said her group’s Chase campaign allowed her team to promote awareness of the organization and its mission throughout the Yale student body.

“Our strategy was mostly to maximize our influence,” Woo said. “It was more about letting students know how we’re making a difference, and Chase gave us that opportunity.”

The United Nations-affiliated humanitarian organization United Sikhs in Service of America won first prize of $250,000 with 22,685 votes.

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