“We’re not trying to get into politics,” said Brian Letzter, vice president and co-founder of HowDoWe, Inc. “We simply saw a gap and decided we need to follow through for students.” July marks two years from the pang Mike Anderson felt seeing a burned down building directly across the street from a school in Chicago’s South Side. He found out later from a friend and teacher that the charred structure is what remained of their cafeteria.
The next mission for him is to help Chase Elementary, which is in need of a music room. HowDoWe is hosting the fundraising on their website, aiming to collect $5,350.
Witnessing the physical result of a school system that leaves too many needs unmet, in a city like Chicago where the word budget is historically followed by crisis, Anderson and Letzter were compelled to take action. Rather than managing a school’s GoFundMe page for them, since schools often have more than enough on their plates, the duo decided to create a simpler platform for funding school projects that works directly with school bank accounts, cutting through the bureaucracy.
“When people ask what separates HowDoWe, Inc. from other crowd-funding sites, it comes down to connection. For all the things they do well, GoFundMe has little accountability. You can create a campaign to pay for open-heart surgery bills or an overdue vacation,” Letzter said. “Our aim is to directly improve public schools by coordinating with their administration to fund specific projects. Funds go directly to school bank accounts rather than district accounts. No other company provides this kind of transparency and care.”
While the fees that are taken for operating costs from HowDoWe and GoFundMe are nearly identical (8 percent and 7.9 percent + a .30 per donation fee respectively), one of those services has costs that can add up very quickly, and their approach to projects is completely different. “Since we link directly with school accounts, we still grant all donors a tax deduction on their gifts. We are currently building a nonprofit subsidiary to accept corporate donations to stay above board,” Letzter said. “These ethics are reflected in our website, which is less about advertisement and pulling people towards further donations and more about transparency.”
I caught Letzter between meetings. Over the phone, I could hear him exiting elevators and running in and out of buildings while explaining the heart of his company. HowWeDo currently operates out of Bunker Labs, an entrepreneurial community that supports veterans involved in startups. Letzter’s passion for education actually came from his military experience in Iraq. “While on my tour of duty in Iraq, one job involved handing out school material to the children at these villages. When these kids realized we were trying to give them tools to make better decisions for their lives overall ,they trusted us, they saw us as protectors,” Letzter said. “That feeling stuck with me, and it’s something I carry with me to this day at HowDoWe.”
That’s why Letzter and Anderson have partnered with Logan Square’s own Chase Elementary to revamp their music room from top to bottom. Considering some schools don’t have a space for music, let alone funding for music programs, Chase Elementary is trying to stay ahead of the curve and give students a studio-quality experience without letting rehearsals in the room interfere with math class or the special education classroom located directly below.
“Our vision is to bridge the need we know with the action we can take, and we want to help every classroom in Chicago offer the best environment for students in this city,” Letzter said.
If considering a donation to Chase Elementary, check out all the great work HowDoWe is up to.