Jack Legg and his wife, graduated and working in the nonprofit world, took their $80,000 student loan debt online and collected donations to help pay it off.
Andrew Daniel Rocha, who’s working toward a doctorate’s degree in optical sciences, did the same with his growing $37,280.65 debt.
They’re not alone. In the quest for money to pay off student loans, many college graduates turn to websites like GoFundMe and Fundly to find an audience who can help get rid of their debt.
“A lot of people are ashamed to ask for help,” said Rocha, who received thousands through his campaign. “I was for a long time, until I realized there are people out there that are more than happy to help.”
Here’s what worked, and what didn’t, for Legg and Rocha.
1. Choose the right website and dollar amount
Legg and his wife found themselves in a familiar situation: budgeting for and making student loan payments every month without being able to make much progress on their debt. They refinanced the loans they could and made minimum payments on the others, such as a parent PLUS loan Legg’s parents took out and that he paid back.
“It was an insanely slow crawl,” Legg said. It led to their decision to crowdfund.
Asking for money online started with picking the right place to do it. Legg considered the more widely recognized GoFundMe before learning that YouCaring, which is now a part of GoFundMe, would allow him and his wife to keep close to 100% of the proceeds. There’s currently no fee to post a campaign on GoFundMe, but the platform takes 2.9% plus 30 cents of every transaction.
The Leggs decided to be “audacious,” they said, in asking for all $80,000. They asked for $20 from 4,000 people.
“I stressed that we weren’t delinquent; we just wanted to expedite the process of repayment,” Legg said. Although the Leggs consider their results — $2,800 raised in two-plus years — a success, they fell far short of paying off their debt.
Rocha, who also chose YouCaring, started much smaller, headlining his page, “Every little bit helps…” In close to three years, he collected more than $5,600.
“I was working as hard as possible, so this was me asking for a little bit of help,” said Rocha, a 2017 graduate who holds subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans as well as Perkins loans. “I wasn’t trying to get all $60,000 [of college tuition] covered.”
Whichever route you take, message that to your potential funders and explain why you’re looking for help.
2. Start with your friends and family
When Rocha and Legg asked their inner circles to share their YouCaring links, they were requesting exposure as much as money.
They then branched out to acquaintances, friends of friends and professional contacts. Rocha got his community college to share his link with the school’s bigger audience. Legg found success by including his YouCaring link in a mass email to colleagues.
The majority of Legg’s donations came from people he knows. But other people he did not know saw his posts on social media and clicked through to support.
Rocha, meanwhile, estimated that a third of his donations have come from people he’s never met, including a friend of a Facebook friend who donated $100. Another stranger, identified as “Santa,” gave $500 in December 2014 before following up with a second $500 gift in January 2015.
Employing your existing social media network might be the most effective strategy in spreading the word about your campaign.
3. Create a positive conversation about debt help
In asking for aid online, Legg got every kind of response you can imagine. Some told him he was “what’s wrong with America” because he had an “entitled mindset.” Others asked why he deserved their charity considering that children in other countries are starving.
“I made a real point of not being defensive about it,” Legg said. “Being in a combative relationship shoots the thing in the foot from the outset.”
Instead, Legg tried to strike a lighter tone with each weekly or biweekly post he’d share on social media. He created comedic memes using online generators. The self-deprecating style may have increased shares and endeared him to skeptics of his pleas for debt help.
4. Share your unique story to build momentum
Both of these borrowers had a positive message. Legg used his jokes as a jumping-off point to talk about how his work as a family counselor would help his community deal with issues such as drugs, poverty and human trafficking.
Rocha shared his own story about leaving his East Los Angeles neighborhood and living in his car while enrolled in community college.
“Maybe this is my own recipe, but the format of how I wrote the [YouCaring] introduction was much like a personal statement for a scholarship,” Rocha said. “I made sure every time I made an update and shared it, it was as positive as possible and that I [was] grateful.”
He also posted a dozen fundraising updates on YouCaring to keep his donors engaged in his progress. He wanted donors to turn into fans who’d cheer him on as he sought debt help.
Engaging donors even after they donated proved to be helpful to Rocha, and encouraged some to give a second time.
5. Be as transparent as possible
Be open about what you need and, more specifically, why you need it. Legg stopped short of providing his tax returns, as one would-be donor requested. But he and Rocha took opportunities to share what information they could.
Rocha included images of himself in school, at the lab and on the receiving end of framed certificates. He even posted a screenshot of his GPA to make sure people knew the investment they were making.
6. Don’t solely rely on crowdfunding for debt help
Rocha developed a strategy for securing as much in-school gift aid as possible. Rocha shared his financial situation with department heads on campus, who then shared it with others.
By the time Rocha went to the financial aid office for additional help, the office already knew most of the details of his story. He said he scored $8,000 in out-of-state grants and an additional Perkins loan.
Whereas Rocha spent many of his waking moments exploring ways to pay for school, Legg looked at options for repaying his growing student loan debt. He consolidated; he refinanced; he was even on track for loan forgiveness at one point.
To help make more than the minimum on his loan payments, Legg started picking up side jobs, including emceeing at comedy clubs in nearby Dayton and Columbus. Crowdfunding is just one way to help lighten your burden; it’s not the only way.
Need debt help? Consider crowdfunding your student loans
When deciding whether to start your own crowdfunding campaign, assess how much in loans you need to repay and how much closer to debt freedom asking for help could get you.
If you raised $500 by crowdfunding your student loans, for example, one lump-sum payment could shave months off the length of your loan term. It’s not for everyone, but use Legg and Rocha’s lessons if you give crowdfunding a go, and know that even a small amount of help can make a difference.
Anna Baluch contributed to this report.