Graduated and working in the nonprofit world, Jack Legg and his wife took their $80,000 student loan debt online.
Still enrolled and working toward a Ph.D., Andrew Daniel Rocha did the same with his growing $37,280.65 debt.
They’re not alone. In the quest for free money to pay off student loans, many graduates turn to websites like Generosity by Indiegogo, YouCaring, and GoFundMe to find a giving audience.
“A lot of people are ashamed to ask for help; I was for a long time until I realized there are people out there that are more than happy to help,” said Rocha, who has netted almost $6,000 via his campaign. “Strangers are examples of that. Friends who give $5 are examples of that.”
Let’s go beyond the pros and cons of crowdfunding student loans by looking at what’s worked (and what hasn’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 ones they couldn’t afford, such as a Parent PLUS Loan inherited from Legg’s parents.
“It was an insanely slow crawl,” Legg said.
And it led to an offbeat idea.
Asking for money online started with picking the right place to do it. Legg considered the more widely recognized GoFundMe before learning that YouCaring would allow he and his wife to keep close to 100 percent of the proceeds. (GoFundMe charges a five percent fee; both sites work with payment processors that take 2.9 percent of funds and 30 cents of every transaction.)
Next, the Leggs decided to be “audacious” (their word) in asking for all $80,000. They went about this in a unique way: asking for $20 from 4,000 people.
“There’s a sense of taboo, talking about how much is owed and so forth,” Legg said. “I stressed that we weren’t delinquent, we just wanted to expedite the process of repayment. If folks thought we were in trouble, they’d be less likely to help.”
Although the Leggs consider their results — $2,800 raised in two-plus years — a success, they fell far short of deleting their debt.
Rocha, who also chose YouCaring to save his benefactors money, started much smaller, headlining his page, “Every little bit helps…” He only bumped up his ask to $10,000 when he learned that he wouldn’t qualify for in-state tuition at the University of Arizona.
In closer to three years, he’s 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 from the federal government. “I wasn’t trying to get all $60,000 [of college tuition] covered.”
Unlike the Leggs, whose salaries have flatlined in the nonprofit world, Rocha could be on his way to the best form of debt help: a good income. Optical engineers, the peers he hopes to eventually join, pull down a median salary of more than $85,000, according to PayScale.
If you’re pursuing a career that pays well, maybe you — like Rocha — just need a little help until your education really pays off.
2. Start with your friends, family, and expand out
When Rocha and Legg asked their inner circles to share their YouCaring links, they were requesting exposure as much as money.
Then they 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 including his YouCaring link in a mass email to colleagues.
The majority of Legg’s 42-and-counting donations came from people he knows. But some complete strangers saw a post of his on Facebook or Twitter 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 offered up $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 time-efficient strategy to spreading the word of your own campaign.
3. Create a positive conversation about debt help
In asking for aid online, Legg got every kind of response you can imagine. Some commenters 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 increased shares and endeared him to skeptics of his pleas for debt help.
Showing humility by way of humor could also be the right path for you and your fundraising efforts.
4. Share your unique story to build momentum
Both of these borrowers had a positive message. They just went about it in different ways. 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 its darker realities: drugs, poverty, and even human trafficking.
Rocha, who is now pursuing a doctorate in optical sciences, would jump right into his own story. He highlighted escaping his gang-ridden East Los Angeles neighborhood. He also mentioned 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 would also post a dozen more 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 your donors even after they donated proved to be helpful to Rocha. It got some folks to donate a second time.
5. Be as transparent as possible
There’s a common hiccup for students and graduates like Rocha and Legg who attempt crowdfunding student loans. Their initiatives sound noble, but they also sound like they could be too good to be true.
Being open about what you need and, more specifically, what you need it for can go a long way.
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, for example, lists 24 different scholarships, grants, and awards on his YouCaring page. He wanted to show his potential helpers that he wasn’t relying solely on handouts.
Rocha also 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, just to make sure people knew what kind of 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. By bugging every one of his classes’ department heads about his dire financial situation, the heads would inevitably talk about him on campus.
So by the time Rocha went to the financial aid office, they already had most of the details of his story. He said he scored $8,000 in out-of-state grants, plus an additional Perkins loan.
Whereas Rocha spent many of his waking moments exploring ways to pay for his school, Legg looked at his options for his growing student loan debt. He consolidated; he refinanced; he was even on track for loan forgiveness at one point.
Becoming “the guy who was constantly asking for money” was more of a last resort. It’s certainly wasn’t his first choice.
To help make more than the minimum on his loan payments, Legg started picking up odd side jobs. One of them was right up his alley: emceeing at comedy clubs in nearby Dayton and Columbus. A weekend of that would net him enough money to make it worthwhile.
Crowdfunding is just one way to help lighten your burden; it’s not the only way.
Need debt help? Consider crowdfunding student loans
Legg and his wife are almost done paying off a mortgage. They hope to divert that monthly payment toward their outstanding student loans. Rocha, of course, is still in the midst of his education and won’t fully confront his debt until he leaves school.
Now you know why their campaigns are still up and running.
When deciding whether to start your own, it might be good to ask why not. It would be even better to look at the math.
If you were to raise $500 by crowdfunding student loans, for example, one lump-sum payment could shave months off the length of your loan term. That’s real debt help.
Lump Sum Extra Payment Calculator
Crowdfunding Student Loans is not the same as loan forgiveness, but it could keep you enrolled like Rocha or make timely payments like Legg. Use their lessons if you give crowdfunding a go. This is their way of giving back to you.
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