Northwestern startup uses texting platform to help students connect with other nonprofits in Chicago

A+flyer+announcing+Connect+%26+Care%E2%80%99s+launch+of+its+texting+service.+The+non-profit+startup%E2%80%99s+research+indicated+that+texting+is+an+effective+way+to+bridge+the+gap+between+non-profits+and+students+seeking+volunteering+opportunities.%0A
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Northwestern startup uses texting platform to help students connect with other nonprofits in Chicago

A flyer announcing Connect & Care’s launch of its texting service. The non-profit startup’s research indicated that texting is an effective way to bridge the gap between non-profits and students seeking volunteering opportunities.

A flyer announcing Connect & Care’s launch of its texting service. The non-profit startup’s research indicated that texting is an effective way to bridge the gap between non-profits and students seeking volunteering opportunities.

Courtesy photo from Gabe Gamboa

A flyer announcing Connect & Care’s launch of its texting service. The non-profit startup’s research indicated that texting is an effective way to bridge the gap between non-profits and students seeking volunteering opportunities.

Courtesy photo from Gabe Gamboa

Courtesy photo from Gabe Gamboa

A flyer announcing Connect & Care’s launch of its texting service. The non-profit startup’s research indicated that texting is an effective way to bridge the gap between non-profits and students seeking volunteering opportunities.

Yunkyo Kim, Reporter

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Students interested in working with nonprofits in Evanston and Chicago can now message Connect & Care, a Northwestern startup, to learn about opportunities for civic engagement.

School of Education and Social Policy senior Matt Zients, co-founder of Connect & Care, said he’s been experimenting with different ways to encourage his classmates to connect with communities since high school with his two brothers. Seven years, a few test runs and hours of research later, he’s started the texting service — headquartered at The Garage on campus — and they sent out their first text on Sept. 23.

“We’re just trying to figure out an interesting way to present information to students so that there’s no excuse not to try out volunteering,” Zients said.

The texts include nonprofits in education, community organizing, food justice and fundraising, according to a news release from Connect & Care. The organization will focus on providing new opportunities for students to explore new interests.

Zients said his nonprofit startup is “built by students and for students.” Zients’ team consists of mostly other Northwestern students and his brothers who co-founded the organization with him in high school.

SESP junior Gabe Gamboa joined Connect & Care as the marketing coordinator in the fall of 2018. He’s also assisted with research, data analysis and social media accounts.

“We found out from user testing that there are a lot of students on campus who want to be involved with civic engagement issues,” Gamboa said. “There was a gap in how the students can access those opportunities they want.”

Both Zients and Gamboa said they hope to connect with other nonprofits in the Evanston and Chicago area and expand to other colleges in the long run to target 16- to 26-year-olds.

Gamboa said the texting service has established dozens of partnerships with nonprofits in the Chicago area. Though the group hopes to expand the service to other college campuses in the future, for now, the nonprofit is focusing on serving Northwestern, he added.

“There are people who want to volunteer but don’t necessarily have access to the opportunities,” Gamboa said. “Going forward, it’s going to be a lot of expansion, a lot of very strong, solidified partnerships.”

In high school, Zients said he initially focused on connecting nonprofits with monetary donors. Zients then changed the target of his service to student donors, but he found many young people could not maintain consistent donations to nonprofits.

“We weren’t experts on how nonprofits should manage their donors. We were more experts on how young people think about things,” Zients said.

In addition to The Garage, Zients received mentorship and research through the Engineering Design Innovation Program, where his team and graduate students at the Segal Design Institute conducted in-person interviews with 30 Northwestern students and also surveyed 100 undergraduates. They found that 59 percent of respondents wanted to volunteer with an off-campus nonprofit, and 57 percent said they did not know how to find them.

They also recently partnered with Valerie Buchanan, the assistant director of Leadership Development and Community Engagement at Northwestern.

Annie Goss, a SESP freshman, signed up for the texting service. Goss volunteered frequently in high school at the National Charity League, local food banks and theatre camps for middle school students. She said Connect & Care can introduce students to accessible volunteer opportunities in the surrounding community.

“I’m really interested in learning more about how to get involved in volunteer opportunities in and around campus,” Goss said.

She said she plans to work for organizations such as Books & Breakfast, a tutoring program in Evanston’s public schools, and I Grow Chicago, a community center in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

Connect & Care will experiment with more text methods and local nonprofits to increase engagement, Zients said.

“It’s been a whole learning experience,” Zients said. “We’re still learning. We’re students. We’re trying out things. But hopefully, students will enjoy using it.”

Email: yunkyokim2022@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @YunkyoMoonK

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