Moneythink: College Financial Coaching

Moneythink empowers under-resourced youth to achieve college success by supporting financial decision making through coaching and technology

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  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Choose not to respond

Where are you making a difference?

Illinois: Chicago (60615) California: Pittsburg (94565)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Children & Youth
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $1m - $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL

Facebook URL

LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

As a child of parents who overcame rural poverty to pursue their college aspirations, our founder, Ted Gonder, was able to lead a privileged childhood but often struggled with school. At 14, Ted began working with a tutor from Ghana who instilled him with confidence and the motivation to achieve more, leading him to be accepted to the University of Chicago. When he reached campus, he was struck by the lack of resources and need that affected the surrounding community. Inspired by the lessons he learned from his tutor and determined to create change, he and a group of fellow undergraduates established Moneythink as a means to improve the economic health of the community by providing financial education lessons to the high schools' students.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

For low- and moderate-income students, the likelihood of earning a college degree is incredibly low: only 16% will complete their bachelors degree in 6 years. Multiple barriers to college success can be attributed to why students fail to persist to graduation, but of those students who left school, 70% cite financial concerns as the number one factor. Providing guidance through important financial decisions is key to college success.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Moneythink's College Financial Coaching program improves the economic opportunity of under-resourced students by breaking down barriers to postsecondary success and addressing the intimidating obstacle of college financial management. We implement our program through partnerships with local high schools and work alongside school counselors to provide guidance to students as they navigate the college matriculation process, filling in gaps to help them feel supported inside and outside of the classroom. Our College Coaches utilize a web-based, text-messaging platform to provide personalized support to students, and, because of our mobile form of communication, we’re able to reach students at the exact moments they need us, in real-time. They help students navigate complex situations such as understanding the FAFSA and student loans, choosing an affordable-fit college, and completing summer enrollment tasks. We increase students’ timely access to the information they need throughout the college matriculation process, and in turn increase their likelihood of successfully persisting through to graduation with minimal debt or financial burden.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Many students are left to file their FAFSA forms without the proper support they need to complete such a complex document. This leads to them submitting forms with inaccurate information, causing them to miss out on thousands of dollars in financial aid. We had one student in particular who, after having submitted her FAFSA forms, was informed that she was not eligible to receive any aid for her intended college, and she came to her Moneythink coach with concerns that she may not be able to afford to go to school anymore. However, after reviewing her Student Aid Report, her coach realized that she had added an extra zero at the end of her parents' income, drastically changing her eligibility for Pell Grants or additional aid. Her coached worked with her to correct the problem and re-submit her FAFSA, leading her to access over $6000 in financial aid and confidently enroll in college.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Moneythink's programs are designed for low to moderate income high school seniors in under-served communities where many lack access to trusted sources of guidance when navigating the intimidating obstacle of applying and paying for college. Moneythink aims to fill the gaps in students' support by reaching them at the exact moments they need it most: outside of the classroom. Our mobile form of communication allows students to easily access guidance and support wherever they are, in real-time.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

While there are many organizations that tackle the issue of financial illiteracy, Moneythink is unique in that we address immediate financial health as well as long-term financial behaviors by equipping students with the information they need right at the point of decision-making. Furthermore, unlike traditional in-person programs, our mobile form of communication not only requires minimal effort to setup, but also allows us to bring information directly to students' fingertips to support them when they need us most: outside of the classroom where they make their most important life decisions.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Moneythink currently serves 1,080 students in the Chicago and San Francisco Bay areas. On average, these students can qualify for about $11,000 in financial aid based on their families' income. However, this money remains inaccessible if they fail to successfully complete and submit their FAFSA forms on time, affecting the amount of private loans student take out or even discouraging them from enrolling in school altogether. Through our program, we help students gain access to this financial aid amount and more by assisting them with not only filling out the FAFSA form early, but also with ensuring it is accurate so students receive as much aid as possible. This year, 78% of our students submitted their FAFSA forms on time compared to the average 56% of all seniors at our partner schools who did, leading Moneythink students to be over 20% more likely to receive their financial aid.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

To achieve our goal of reaching 10,000 students by 2021, we are focused on the development and growth of our coaching staff and web-tools. Through the use of innovative student-centered design coupled with a data-analytics supported coaching system, we aim to build our technology products to not only enable our coaches to more efficiently track and monitor student data, but also deliver increasingly personalized student recommendations. This, combined with the hiring of additional coaching staff, will allow Moneythink's program to effectively scale our impact to a great number of students.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Trainings, Consultation

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

As a nonprofit organization, Moneythink is currently entirely funded by a diverse base of philanthropic giving. Through relationships with corporations, foundations, and individuals, Moneythink solicits donations that allow us to continue supporting our current programming while also investing in our staff and product creation. Our pipeline of fundraising leads indicates that we will be able to pursue this strategy safely for the next 3-5 years without sustainability concerns.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Moneythink currently consists of 12 full-time staff and 4 board members. Our coaching team is a reflection of those we serve: each one of our coaches is a first-generation college graduate, and several are also community college transfers. Additionally, our staff come from a diverse set of backgrounds, carrying multiple years of experience in the education, nonprofit management, financial, and/or product development industries. As we grow, we will seek those with complementary strengths.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Email

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 66.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 50%

Idea Originality - 100%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 50%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 50%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 50%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 100%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 100%

Potential to scale - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anna

This is a great idea! We think it's great that you hire first-generation college students to coach your students! We can imagine that this would be an effective way to help students navigate FAFSA. We were wondering what your organization does to address this issue of under-matching? Also, have you been able to establish personal connections through the use of the app? If so, you should highlight that! This would be a really powerful model to extend to rural areas, where students can benefit from college access programming. Great work!

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