For years, the media touted a “nonprofit” that promised to help college graduates volunteer their way out of student loan debt. Except it wasn’t a nonprofit, and there’s no proof it helped anyone. Now SponsorChange has disappeared and the media is silent. What happened? And why does its founder insist it’s coming back soon?
Back in February, CNBC listed four ways you can pay back your student loans “using other people’s money.” The second was an organization called SponsorChange, which “will help you pay off your student loans if you offer to do volunteer work.”
“You can search to help in fields like disaster relief or politics, and will receive payments to put toward your education debt in return,” CNBC wrote.
Just three problems with that. First, less than 11 months later, SponsorChange has been wiped off the Internet. Second, there’s no proof that the organization ever helped anyone. And third, the founder vaguely threatened Debt.com if it pursued this story.
So was SponsorChange a scam? Or just another failed startup? When Debt.com scratched the surface, it only got more mysterious.
SponsorChange: Good idea, failed mission
With 44 million Americans struggling with student loan debt – owing an average of $37,000 per person – SponsorChange seemed like a good idea at the right time.
It was launched in 2009 by a then–26-year-old named Raymar Hampshire, whose only work experience since graduating from Wittenberg University in Ohio was three years as a financial advisor at a Merrill Lynch branch in New Jersey.
“We went through a beta phase where we worked with volunteers paying down some debt and work with nonprofit organizations,” Hampshire said. “Then we kinda put it on pause.”
Hampshire touted SponsorChange as a way to “empower volunteers by creating a pathway to meaningful skill-based project opportunities at social impact organizations, while helping volunteers raise funding to pay down their student loan debt.”
What’s that mean? No one knows – not even Chelle Buffone, who’s still listed as SponsorChange’s director of community relations. In clearer English, she says the organization’s mission was to…
Get graduates the relief that they need with student loans. And pair them with opportunities to – not only utilize their skill set – but to get the experience and networking they need to get to the next level. We also help nonprofits and corporations get the talent they need.
Here’s how it was supposed to work: SponsorChange volunteers, called “change agents,” would work up to 50 hours a month for up to $1,000 that went directly to their student loan provider. That comes out to $20 per hour, although it’s not clear who was responsible for the taxes on that income.
But Buffone didn’t know why SponsorChange went dark for a few months – she couldn’t even tell Debt.com when that was, exactly. She insisted the business model was sound and SponsorChange would return this month.
Except Hampshire told Debt.com otherwise an hour later, in a tense and confusing interview that ended badly.
We went through a beta phase where we worked with volunteers paying down some debt and work with nonprofit organizations. Then we kinda put it on pause.Raymar Hampshire, founder of SponsorChange
Hampshire insists SponsorChange will be back, but he refused to say when. And he evaded all questions about what happened over the past few years. He asked Debt.com to not publish this story, and he alternated between offers of a partnership and vague threats.
“I’m not making a legal threat,” Hampshire said. “What I’m asking and saying is, I want to know that we’re acting in good faith here before I divulge more – if we’re going to have this relationship.”
Hampshire offered a vague revenue-sharing partnership – if Debt.com would hold off on publishing this story.
“One thing I don’t want is for you all to threaten me and for me to threaten you,” Hampshire said, and then repeated, “So we want to act like we’re acting in good faith now because we do want to have a partnership with you all.“
If that sounds weird, well, it seems to have worked with other media outlets.
What the media got wrong
It seems Hampshire was better at getting media attention than getting Americans out of debt.
Numerous news articles refer to SponsorChange as a nonprofit, even though Hampshire told Debt.com it never was.
A lot of the articles you’ve seen – reporters haven’t actually talked to us. I’m not quite sure where the nonprofit thing came from. I think this is where lazy reporters just kinda run with something.Raymar Hampshire, founder of SponsorChange
“A lot of the articles you’ve seen – reporters haven’t actually talked to us,” Hampshire said. “I’m not quite sure where the nonprofit thing came from. I think this is where lazy reporters just kinda run with something.”
Hampshire wouldn’t answer any other questions about SponsorChange’s corporate structure, but Debt.com found it was registered as an LLC – a private company – in Pennsylvania.
If reporters were lazy, there’s no evidence Hampshire and Buffone ever corrected them. Oddly, Hampshire said he plans to make SponsorChange a nonprofit very soon. There’s a “January 2020 strategy that I’m letting you in on early,” he told Debt.com, although he refused to elaborate.
It just gets more confusing
The 25-minute phone interview broke down when Debt.com asked Hampshire for names of satisfied customers – either volunteers or the companies that worked with them.
“It’s not that we don’t have it – it’s that it’s so dated that it doesn’t make sense to put it out now when things are going to change,” Hampshire said. “It makes sense to do it later once we’re in a better place and our strategy is set and we’re doing something.”
If you guys are going to write whatever you’re going to write, you probably shouldn’t.Raymar Hampshire, founder of SponsorChange
Finally, Hampshire just gave up.
“If you guys are going to write whatever you’re going to write, you probably shouldn’t,” Hampshire said. “And if you do, then I’m not going to give you more information.”
Is SponsorChange really dead?
In 2010, SponsorChange announced plans to recruit 1 million volunteers and raise $300,000 which Buffone refused to comment on when asked.
Over the past decade, Hampshire admits SponsorChange only helped 40 volunteers pay down student loan debt.
“This is like pilot numbers – not like, full-blown operation,” Hampshire explained. “We’re taking a pause to like, assess the data, the program, how do we scale? And like I said, at that point we’re happy to share.”
This is like pilot numbers – not like, full-blown operation. We’re taking a pause to like, assess the data, the program, how do we scale?Raymar Hampshire, founder of SponsorChange
Hampshire was equally reluctant to share details on his newest venture: a for-profit called Generation Titans, which has a mission that’s even more vague than SponsorChange’s…
We are an accelerator for entrepreneurs of color seeking to build a connected community, share powerful stories, and access creative capital.
When asked what that means, Hampshire said, “I can’t do this because it’s not productive, I don’t know what kind of story you guys are writing. I don’t know enough.”
And apparently, no one else knows either. Debt.com plans to follow up with Hampshire at the end of the month to see how that “January 2020 strategy” worked out.
Published by Debt.com, LLC