High school sophomore Joy Liu’s frustration was mounting.
A few months earlier, she had approached Hack Club with an exciting idea: to run Central Pennsylvania’s first high school hackathon, bringing together hundreds of local students into a 24-hour coding festival where they’d learn to build apps, websites, and games.
She got busy assembling the parts, including a motivated, talented group of student organizers, community donors, and us: a national organization dedicated to supporting student hackers with programming and expertise. It would be the first and largest high school hackathon in the state outside Philadelphia.
Everything was finally starting to fall into place. They secured their venue, Facebook had just signed on as one of their first sponsors, and they had even launched their website for attendee registration.
But now it was starting to fall apart.
And the reason why was terrible: Joy was too young to have a bank account so she couldn’t accept sponsorship or access funds.
Joy wasn’t alone. She was one of hundreds of students calling Hack Club with their ideas and initiative about to die before getting off the ground due to being unable to open bank accounts or acquire nonprofit status, a process that can take up to 40 hours of a lawyer’s time. Too often, these calls came from students from low-income families who couldn’t reach into parents’ deep pockets or afford to hire attorneys to help them.
As the executive director of Hack Club, a nonprofit network of high school programming clubs, I had already been watching with frustration as students with the best ideas and energy failed for the pettiest reason: our financial system locks out young people. Too often, I saw students’ ideas killed by the very institutions — schools and government — meant to support and encourage them.
The underlying message from grown-ups to students was one they were all too familiar with: you aren’t mature enough to do this. Wait until you’re older. The system isn’t set up to empower you—it’s designed to block you.
Today, Hack Club is changing that. We’re launching Hack Club Bank 1.0 and opening sign-ups to the public for the first time.
Hack Club Bank: A Bank For Student Hackers
With Hack Club Bank, students running events can choose to store their money with Hack Club, meaning they get access to:
- A bank account backed by Silicon Valley Bank
- 501(c)(3) nonprofit status through our legal entity, so donations to events are tax deductible
- Invoicing software that allows sponsors to pay via debit card, credit card, wire transfer, and ACH
- Debit cards that can be issued to team members, even if they’re under 18
- G Suite accounts, so everyone gets a custom email address like firstname.lastname@example.org
- A dedicated point-of-contact with a best-effort 12-hour response window
- Custom pre-written liability and photo releases for attendees
- Automated end of year tax filings, so organizers can focus on running a great event while we take care of compliance
We are building on our first year of success. We first announced our beta of Hack Club Bank in June 2018 (see post) and have since worked with over 40 events totaling 2,000+ unique attendees, crossing $250K in transactions.
We’ve collectively spent hundreds of hours on calls with hackathon organizers learning their true needs and how Hack Club Bank can better serve them. We’ve even pulled organizers from events to be involved in building the platform, like Theo Bleier from MAHacks.
Over the past month, we’ve taken everything we’ve learned and re-designed every single page and feature of Hack Club Bank to focus on what organizers need most.
- Invoices have been drastically streamlined and now send instantly
- Organizers can now see funds from paid invoices that haven’t hit the bank account yet
- Transactions can now be searched and broken down between revenue, fiscal sponsorship fees, card transfers, and reimbursements
- Issuing debit cards is now free through our partnership with Emburse
- Team management has been completely overhauled with a new interface and new features, like canceling sent invites and removing teammates
What’s more, sign-ups are now open for every student-led high school and collegiate hackathon in the United States. Hack Club Bank previously required an invite from an existing event or staff member to apply.
We’re also opening sign-ups to our network of hundreds of high school coding clubs. Now, if you run a Hack Club, you can get a bank account through Hack Club Bank to collect sponsorship, buy food for meetings, and run events.
Go to https://hackclub.com/bank/ to learn more, sign up, and get started today.
For students like Joy, this will make all the difference. Fortunately, her hackathon, Hack Pennsylvania, had access to our beta.
She exchanged ideas on Hack Club’s Slack community, where she found co-organizers and learned from others how to raise money. The local hardware store gave $1000. The second check came from a local university.
She saw examples of how to send emails to national companies, like Facebook and Google. In the end, they raised nearly $15,000.
The narrative was simple: we’re a group of teenagers that believe coding changes lives, and we want to bring this opportunity to our community. The local church agreed to host the gathering. After weeks of advertising, including hundreds of outreach emails, 250 people signed up.
A few days before the event launched, storm clouds gathered—literally. The biggest blizzard of the year hit. As the snow fell, Joy and others feared it would be a disaster. But people still showed nonetheless: there was a line out the door an hour before the event, and more than 100 attendees checked in, myself included.
93% of attendees had never attended a hackathon before. 45% had never written a line of code before. Nearly half the event was young women.
As the temperature dropped and the second foot of snow came down, I found myself helping a 7th grade girl building a minimalistic clone of The Sims, her favorite game, in p5.js.
It was her first time writing code and she was having a blast.
Hack Club started three years ago with the goal of empowering students disillusioned by our education system to build projects and achieve their potential.
Since then, we’ve had the privilege of seeing this crazy idea become reality. As the world’s largest nonprofit network of computer science clubs, Hack Club now spans hundreds of high schools across dozens of states and nearly 20 countries. Thousands of students attend club meetings each week and thousands more have had their lives changed by events ran by our clubs.
It just doesn’t make sense that you can’t run an event or build something awesome because there is no reliable place to put your money.
With Hack Club Bank, we’re excited to help our clubs elevate to the next level. In the near future, having a hackathon in your community — regardless of location — will no longer be the exception, it’ll be the norm.
Hackathons are a bet on the future: investing in today’s youth creates tomorrow’s founders, builders, and thinkers. In a country where less than 50% of students report being hopeful for the future, we need them more than ever.
The world may not have been built for ambitious teenagers, but they exist, and Hack Club’s mission has always been to make sure that they have the tools and support to fulfill that ambition.
We hope you’ll join us on that mission. One of the best ways to get involved is signing up for a monthly donation — every $3 given supports a student for a month.
Curious about how students are using Hack Club Bank? Read on!
“Hack Club Bank has changed how I organize hackathons. Rather than having to email someone just to check my account balance, Hack Club Bank is beautifully designed, elegant, extremely powerful, and, without exaggeration, saved Hack the Fog.
Hack Club Bank is always the first thing I recommend to other hackathon organizers. Me when I see someone not use Hack Club Bank.”
“Fiscal sponsorship is often times difficult and confusing, but when signing on with Hack Club Bank for SLO Hacks, I was blown away by the beautiful design, ease of use, and the wide range of useful features needed for a smooth experience.
Hack Club always made sure that our concerns, feedback, and questions were addressed as quickly as possible, giving us confidence that our money was in the best hands.”
“Hack Club Bank has made it incredibly easy to handle Los Altos Hacks’ funds and has provided countless tools to increase our productivity. Their partnership with Emburse makes it incredibly easy to spend our funds on-the-go, and Bank’s integration with G Suite is a lifesaver for contacting sponsors.
With Bank, we don’t need to dedicate nearly as much time to legal or finance, leaving plenty of time to focus on making our event the best it can be. We’re huge advocates.”
“Hack Club Bank removed the barriers to getting started raising money for MAHacks. In mere days, as opposed to months of nonprofit paperwork, my team was able to contact and invoice sponsors professionally and manage our finances on a clear, up-to-date dashboard.
I highly recommend using Hack Club Bank and joining the Hack Club community.”
“Seriously, between the Slack and fiscal sponsorship, us reaching out to you was the best decision we made throughout months of planning this event.”
Learn more and get started today: https://hackclub.com/bank/
Hack Club Bank has only been made possible by the tireless efforts from Michael Destefanis, Max Wofford, Lachlan Campbell, and Theo Bleier. You are all amazing.
Thanks to Christina Asquith, Clarisse Aruino, Jamsheed Mistri, Mingjie Jiang, Selynna Sun, and Zane Davis-Barrs for reading drafts of this post.