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A Heriot-Watt graduate has received a mysterious donation of $1 million to help with a mission to educate tens of millions of students across the United States.

Donald McKendrick, who graduated in 2011 with a Masters Degree in Chemistry at the University’s Edinburgh Campus, was stunned when he learned his company, Quill.org, had been selected for the huge payment.

We were absolutely thrilled to have received this award and it will aid us massively in our mission to help 30 million low-income students who struggle with writing.

Donald McKendrick, Co-founder & Technical Director at Quill.org

The not for profit organisation provides free online tools to help low-income students become better writers. Since being established four years ago, the company has gone from strength-to-strength with more than 700,000 elementary, middle and high school students across the US having used Quill’s free online tools to boost their written and grammatical skills.

The organisation recently received the welcome financial boost when an anonymous philanthropist donated $1 million worth of Bitcoin to help support its ongoing efforts. But due to fluctuations in Bitcoin's price, by the time Quill.org had sold all of the coins, the final cash total came to $1.2 million.

The news was unexpected, explained Donald, who is Co-Founder & Technical Director at Quill.org. He added: “We were absolutely thrilled to have received this award and it will aid us massively in our mission to help 30 million low-income students who struggle with writing.

“Strong writing is essential to success in academia and the workplace, but unfortunately the same opportunities to learn this vital skill are not open to everyone. We are working hard to change that and ensure all children, irrespective of their financial background, have the chance to hone their writing talents and set them on the right path to achieve all they want from life.

“I also wish to take this opportunity to thank the donor and assure them their money will improve the lives of millions.”

The money was gifted via the Pineapple Fund, which was set up in December with the aim of giving away $86 million worth of Bitcoin. To date, $28 million worth of the currency has been donated to 37 organisations.

On the fund’s website, the benevolent donor gives little away about their identity but does state: “Publicity has never been the point of this fund”.

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, congratulated Donald and the company, saying: “This was an exceptionally generous donation and I congratulate Donald and everyone involved at Quill.org. 

“This is a wonderful example of the transformational impact philanthropy can and does have, particularly around educational activities.” 

As well as assisting young people in the United States, Quill.org is also used in a number of schools across Scotland