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More than a loan: what Kiva means to US borrowers

Shawn used his Kiva loan to grow his business, TART! Bakery

The age-old aphorism “the customer is always right” rings true at Kiva US. Here, our “customers” are those we serve – the hardworking, talented entrepreneurs and small business owners who come to Kiva with dreams of accessing the capital that will empower them to grow their businesses. To date, we – together with more than 230,000 lenders worldwide – have facilitated the crowdfunding of more than $60M in loans to more than 8,000 individuals in the U.S.

Being able to provide vital capital to those who need it most, to those who are financially excluded, to those who may be considered “too risky”, credit-invisible, or otherwise unworthy in the eyes of traditional lenders; is an honor. And why stop at the 0%-interest, zero-fee, zero-collateral loan? At Kiva US, we’re constantly exploring how to add additional value to those we serve, how to improve and make more seamless the application and borrower experience, and how to complement the loan with wraparound services that further promote the success of small businesses. This can be through business support and financial planning advisory, mentorship and networking opportunities, marketing opportunities through Kiva, and more.

So if the customers are always right, how exactly are we at Kiva US ensuring that what we’re doing – changes we’re implementing, initiatives we’re launching, etc. – truly aligns with what our customers actually want?

We’re listening.

Throughout the entire Kiva borrower journey, from application to repayment; individuals are invited to share feedback via a brief NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey. On an ongoing basis, the team goes through the responses, coding the data to identify different themes and relationships between them. What’s going well? What’s not working? What are applicants saying about the application process – is it as simple and straightforward as it could be? What are borrowers saying about Kiva’s level of support – are we providing quality resources, tips and tricks, or could we provide additional assistance? What’s the most challenging part about the Kiva process? What are borrowers finding particularly frustrating? Particularly surprising? Particularly positive, conducive? Insights into these and other important questions can often be gleaned from the survey responses we receive. By analyzing these responses, we’re able to identify recurring themes and common sentiments and then act on these accordingly.

We’re sharing.

The gratitude-imbued responses we receive are too heartwarming and inspiring not to share. Many allude to the community-backed nature of the Kiva loan, underscoring appreciation for  lenders. Some mention how their crowdfunding campaign and exposure validates them, encourages them, and bolsters their brand visibility; referencing not only the financial support but also the moral support they received. Some express their intent to spread the word about Kiva to others whom they believe could benefit. Others emphasize the expediency of the Kiva process itself. Others highlight that their Kiva loan was indeed a lifeline for their small business during the midst of the pandemic.

Still others focus on the unique and unparalleled 0% interest of the Kiva loan – after all, we know that only about 1 in every 4 Kiva US borrowers believes they could have found a good alternative to the Kiva loan. (See this article for more insights acquired about Kiva borrowers via the Kiva US program’s first-ever independent impact evaluation study conducted in 2022).

Below are some key themes that emerged:

The Kiva team’s support

“Customer service was prompt, information in the packets received in email were thorough. Very user friendly platform making it extremely simple for borrowers.”

“Every question I had was answered and when I didn't understand something, time would be taken so I was clear on all steps of the process. When I was nervous my support person at Kiva calmed me and just explained the process and gave me the tools I needed.”

“The process to fund my Kiva loan was easy, quick, and oh sooo sweet. The staff at Kiva was very helpful in guiding me through the process. The organization is a great resource for entrepreneurs who won't typically qualify for traditional loans. Kiva has definitely given me the opportunity to advance my business to the next level.”

The intentionality involved in the Kiva process

Lyla used her loan to start a glass etching business in Pittsburgh

“The set up of Kiva provides such an opportunity to support new business owners, help us feel empowered, and provides the type of encouragement that is often so badly needed in the beginning stages. Kiva is straight forward, clear, easy to navigate.”

“I found the process helpful for reviewing my vision for my new business. The 0% financing eases the sense of repayment. What a great resource for those wanting to start a business or those who may need financing to expand or improve their existing business.”

“As an entrepreneur it made me VERY intentional about planning/preparing to ask for financial support in my endeavors. But in addition to this, it also made me VERY clear about the plan that I’m putting in place in how I’m using these funds as a seed to grow my business.”

The power of community-backed capital

“There is companionship and guidance through the whole process. It's familiar, structured but most of all filled with care and potential. The access to social-financial capital – it’s like a globe family of caring people that microlend and validate your project.”

“This experience has been great. From start to finish everything went smoothly. This was my first Kiva loan so I didn't know what to expect, but the resources Kiva provided really helped my campaign. I used the [fundraising] templates, which saved me a lot of time. Being able to tap into the Kiva network of lenders has been great as well and helped a great deal in me reaching my funding goal.”

“I have tried all the traditional paths for small business funding. Each one reached a dead-end for me. I have followers, customers and partners who constantly try to support me. Kiva gave them a platform to come together and support me in a way that I truly needed. Crowd-sourcing is an amazing concept and something I am working to emulate in my business. Just as Kiva brought me this opportunity, I will work to bring others such an opportunity.”

Loans that change lives

“As a startup small business, funding is extremely hard to come by. You have to have excellent credit or already have high streams of revenue coming in. I have neither, and Kiva helped me start my business! I was fully funded 2 days before my campaign ended and paid out 5 days later! I have already placed my equipment orders so that my business can start seeing revenue as soon as next week. Within 45 days my life has just changed forever and I am extremely grateful!”

“I am extremely grateful to Kiva for this opportunity to grow my business without the worry of paying this extremely expensive interest. The process was exciting, too. I was glued to my app, watching generous people lend to me.  I can’t wait to finish paying them back and show them that I am so grateful for them trusting me. Words can’t express how grateful and uplifting this makes me feel.”

Lend to a U.S. borrower here

We’re acting.

A Kiva loan allowed Cassandra to grow her clothesmaking business

Of course, we strongly believe in the power of loans to change lives and are passionate about the work that we do every day that furthers our mission to increase financial access to underserved communities in the U.S. However, if we only focused on such uplifting messages and disregarded the constructive feedback that we receive from some applicants and borrowers alike, we’d be exhibiting confirmation bias and consequently missing out on invaluable opportunities to improve our product and program.

For that reason, we ensure to address concerns that inevitably arise in some of these responses. Some applicants believe their loan applications were unfairly turned down – we revisit their application, ensure the turndown decision was objective, and also make sure that we are as clear as possible when it comes to the turndown reason. Other borrowers may express frustration about not having additional guidance when it comes to managing their loan. Over the past year, we’ve significantly grown our business support offerings, and, thanks to collaboration with partners such as Start Small Think Big who are equally passionate about advancing equity and inclusion in entrepreneurship, we’ve been able to connect more of our borrowers with free legal services, marketing support, financial management consulting, and more.

And other borrowers have expressed a desire to be able to build their business credit through Kiva. After all, at Kiva we pride ourselves on being the first rung on the capital access ladder; but how can we make it even easier for those we serve to ascend the capital access ladder post-Kiva, i.e., access more traditional bank loans and/or other types of external financing?
Stay tuned for an upcoming post on a new partnership we recently established that allows borrowers to build their business credit via Kiva!

We’re giving thanks.

Not only for the enthusiastic, appreciative, touching responses filled with #Kivalove; not only for the responses which provide actionable feedback and which open our eyes to potential process improvement ideas; but also for the opportunity to do what we do on a daily basis. Here at Kiva US, we get to serve a vast and inspiring entrepreneurial community nationwide. We get to partner with foundations, banks, community development financial institutions, nonprofits, city governments, accelerators, Small Business Development Centers, technical assistance providers, and others (read more about our Kiva US Hub partners here) who fully believe in and rally around our mission.

We get to play a growing role in increasing financial inclusion in this country, so it’s our turn now to say: “Thank you.”

And we’re growing!

Small business owners and entrepreneurs interested in applying for a Kiva loan: apply today. Organizations interested in partnering with Kiva US: reach out to us today here.

About the author

Kaylin Lang

Kaylin Lang is Kiva’s US Operations Associate. She first learned about Kiva in college and has been interested and passionate about the organization’s work and impact ever since. She worked with a Kiva lending partner in Guatemala prior to joining Kiva to support the US program in rethinking creditworthiness and expanding access to capital in the US.