Christian entrepreneur Stephen Kump, co-founder and CEO of Charityvest says that a lot of identity issues come out when you’re launching a startup:
“I need to ask myself ‘why am I doing this’ at every stage of the business. Too often the answer is pride-driven. As a good entrepreneur, I need to have a customer or user orientation, and as a Christian, I need to have an unconditional love attitude towards those we are serving, so maybe Christians have an advantage in the startup world, but it’s not easy. What I’m striving for – even in building a company – is a heart driven by love for Christ.”
Getting to that mature Christian entrepreneur’s perspective wasn’t a straight line from the church nursery to startup success for Stephen.
Strength Through Challenge
Stephen grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in Georgia. After high school, he went to Georgia Tech where he double majored in Economics and Business. While there, he briefly struggled with his faith. He had intellectual doubts and made some bad decisions.
“There was no rational basis for my belief, so I confronted God with my doubts.” He knew that the outcome of this issue was going to change the course of his life, so he sought out people with strong opinions on rationality and faith, both believers and atheists. God put a lot of people in his path. He had some deep discussions, but more than anything he developed relationships with strong believers who demonstrated the love of Christ, and it impacts on real life. God brought him back and his faith is now the strong foundation and reason for everything he does.
From Desire to Vision
In college, one of Stephen’s roommates was Jon Koon, a Computer Science major. They talked about how cool it would be to sometime start a company, with Stephen focusing on the business and Jon on the technology. But they didn’t have any ideas that were ready for prime time. Jon graduated and started doing web application development, eventually moving to San Francisco to work for Twitter, where he still works today.
In addition to his double major, Stephen was also learning leadership skills as an ROTC cadet. Today he still serves as a Captain in the Army National Guard. But between his deployments and training, he began building his career. He spent three years as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. It was [a] great experience, but he wanted to apply his consulting gifting for Kingdom impact, so in 2013 he joined Calvin Edwards & Company, a consulting firm that provides philanthropic counsel to nonprofits, foundations, high net worth families, and government agencies. Using an extensive array of proprietary tools, it helps donor clients formulate giving strategies and renders professional advice; assesses giving opportunities in nonprofit sectors; evaluates organizations, programs, and grants worldwide; and designs and administers venture philanthropy projects.
It was great to be helping organizations and wealthy individuals, including many driven by their deep Christian faith, to maximize the impact they could make in the world. But it also quickly became clear that there were inefficiencies and idiosyncrasies in the nonprofit world that could potentially be addressed through technology. It also was clear that the tools that worked well for Calvin Edwards & Co and its clients could also potentially help all kinds of people and nonprofits, not just the wealthiest and largest.
While still at Calvin Edwards & Co, Stephen began considering getting an MBA. He was accepted into Yale’s School of Management in 2015. Out of his experience helping wealthy charitable donors, he started to form a vision for a new model for online charitable giving. He bounced around ideas with Jon, with fellow students, with professors, and with the management and co-workers at Calvin Edwards & Co. In 2016, he and Charityvest were selected as one of ten ventures in the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute Fellowship. The 10-week program provided mentors, a network of peers, experts, and corporate partners, and $15,000 to start turning that vision into Charityvest.
So, what is Charityvest? Large donors often use a mechanism called a Donor Advised Fund for their charitable giving. Historically, these funds have had large minimum opening balances and annual fees that keep them out of reach of typical churchgoers, but provide efficiency and flexibility for the donors. Charityvest is a 501(c)3 non-profit and provides for anyone a no-minimum, no-fee, free “charity fund” that acts like a Donor Advised Fund. As soon as money is put into the account, it is considered a tax-deductible charitable gift. The donor can then, at any time, direct 100 percent of those funds to be given to any charity. The Charityvest database includes all 1.5 million 501(c)3 non-profits registered with the government including most established churches.
From Vision to Launch
Since that fellowship, Stephen and Jon have continued to pursue Charityvest as a “side gig.” Stephen worked to complete his MBA and fulfill his National Guard duties, and Jon has continued to be employed by Twitter. With degree in hand, Stephen now feels like the company is poised for significant growth. Stephen and Jon have worked through a number of complex issues and have created a prototype platform. The company is launching a Beta product this month and hopes to follow soon with general availability.
Charityvest covers its costs by making a little bit of money off of the funds deposited by donors, but not yet directed to a charity. Stephen says, “we don’t expect this venture to make us extremely wealthy, but we do believe it is financially sustainable, will create economic value, and will be a blessing to both donors and the organizations they support.” He goes on to describe how charitable giving is Biblically-based, how it is one element of loving our neighbor as ourselves, and how our giving “is a heart issue that is part of our relationship with God and a reflection of our love for His priorities.”
As Hebrews 13:16 directs us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”