As tuition skyrockets, students are looking for money in unlikely places.
May 28, 2015 | Jess Miller
A lot, rival crowdfunding site GoFundMe says. While the site has become a go-to for aspiring authors, actors and musicians and actors, college is as good a cause as any. GoFundMe saw 281 percent growth in education funding between 2013 and 2014 and has continued “skyrocketing in popularity,” according to its media director.
“GoFundMe is an excellent option for raising money for college costs,” says spokesperson Kelsea Little. “Starting college is one of the most expensive chapters in someone’s life, and inviting the support of friends and family is a natural response.”
How GoFundMe works
Family members, friends, and total strangers can all donate to a person’s cause. That’s the beauty of the site, Little says. But you still have to do the hard work of telling everyone and holding out your digital hat.
“Social media tools are built right into your GoFundMe Dashboard, allowing you to quickly reach out to your friends and family,” Little says. “Students are generally adept at social media already, so they are very likely to utilize the tools we have provided in order to run a successful campaign.”
TondaLaye Lasiter, an aspiring attorney from Charleston, South Carolina, is among the hundreds of college students currently using GoFundMe to raise money for college. So far, she’s raised $400 of a $10,000 goal to finish her criminal justice degree at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. She plans to apply to the Georgia College of Law after her bachelor’s, and eventually start her own law firm.
Lasiter’s page has been shared on Twitter and Facebook just 12 times. Meanwhile, Jasmine Smith of Pine Bluff, Arkansas has 94 total shares of her page — and the results to show for it.
The 21-year-old is majoring in electrical engineering at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. But to accept an internship at Goldman Sachs as an engineering business analyst, Smith needs to live in housing at New York University for the summer. That’s a $4,200 she couldn’t afford. But with the help of 143 donors, she was able to raise just over the full amount — $4,213 — in one month.
Choosing the right site
Kickstarter, the previously-mentioned site used to throw one heck of a potato-salad party, is the most popular crowdfunding site out there in terms of web traffic, with an estimated 5.5 million monthly visitors. But what might deter college students from using it is the requirement that your financial goal be met before you receive any of the funds. It’s mostly aimed at raising money for projects, like films and music albums — there’s incentive for people to donate because they get something in return besides a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Indiegogo is kind of like a cross between GoFundMe and Kickstarter, and can be used for individuals, businesses, and nonprofits. You get to choose whether you want a flexible funding option — where you can keep all the contributions no matter what happens — or a fixed funding option that only allows you to keep the cash if you meet your goals.
Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo stipulate that you must have rewards for those who contribute to your goal. That’s why GoFundMe is the best choice if you want to raise money for college — chances are, if you need tuition money, you’re not in a place to give your contributors a thank-you gift.
All three of these crowdfunding sites let you create an account for free, but take a cut of the profits raised. Kickstarter takes a 5 percent cut, Indiegogo takes 4 percent if the goal is reached and 9 percent if it is not, while GoFundMe takes out 7.9 percent + .30 per donation.
How to make GoFundMe work for you
It only takes a few minutes to set up your campaign and start accepting donations. In the “Education, Schools & Learning” category, which is GoFundMe’s most popular section, over $26 million has been raised so far, Little says.
But what compels total strangers to donate to a person’s charity case for almost nothing in return? Lasiter thinks it’s because people are motivated by her work ethic.
“Considering donations thus far have stemmed from close friends and coworkers, they have donated because they believe in me,” she says. “I would like to think I have played a positive role or motivational force in their lives which has entrusted them to take a personal stake in my future and well-being.”
One of her contributors commented that she was “sowing a seed into a positive investment.” Many of Smith’s supporters mention how proud they are of her, post an inspirational quote, or wish her luck and blessings. It’s sort of like getting a Hallmark card with money inside from your grandmother, except it’s from strangers and digital.
Smith stressed that crowd-sourcing isn’t a viable option for everyone trying to get strangers to foot their $50,000 liberal arts degree.
“Everyone struggles in college unless you come from a privileged background,” she says. “GoFundMe works best when you need money for a reasonable cause that is beyond your control.” She suggests those wanting to use GoFundMe to pay for college wait until high school graduation, then sharing the page as a place where friends and family members can donate in lieu of graduation gift.
Smith also thinks the success of a GoFundMe page depends on how well connected a person is with family and friends and how large their social media following is.
“I have had some Instagram friends that have tried to raise money on GoFundMe but failed, due to the lack of support from family and friends,” she said. “It takes everyone to post and spread the word to have a successful fundraising campaign.”
So if you want to raise money for your degree, start adding some new Facebook friends.