Huge thanks to Missi Davis for writing this guest blog for us. Missi comments on how hard it can be for students accessing funds whilst studying and after graduating. Here she reflects on her thoughts.
How can crowdfunding work for students?
Not everyone has access to funds. For those with a good cause, getting the message across is vital to the success of the venture, but it is a problem if you do not know enough people who can help. Even if you have a Just Giving presence where you can advertise your fund-raising and show your progress, it is still a battle to drive people to donate. Facebook and other social media can help by broadcasting your quest to everyone you know, but it is still limited to your immediate friends and family, unless you are extremely lucky and your project goes viral. For everyone else, fund raising has changed little from the days of producing a dog-eared scrap of paper and asking everyone you meet to sponsor you. Fortunately, the power of the web can now pay off by bringing fund-seekers and altruistic donors together through crowdfunding. It is so simple, a child of seven, Dylan Allman, can create a project and raise funds for their good cause.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be
In the good old days, a student’s life was a lot easier. The nice people at your local county council gave you a grant, which covered your tuition fees, and then there was a means-tested maintenance payment as well. The unspoken deal was that they paid for you to study hard and you would graduate, get a better paid job than people without a degree, and so pay a higher percentage of your earnings in income tax. Plus, you’d hopefully live in a bigger house, and so pay higher rates, and generally become a pillar of society and give back to the community which helped to start you off. Then, in 1989, the grants became loans. There was still some support for students from less privileged backgrounds, but the fiscal momentum was most definitely heading upwards. Then, in 2012, the fees cap was increased from £3,375 p.a. to a whopping £9,000.
Degree = Debt
This is bad news for students. It is one thing to be paying off a ten grand loan that is only repayable once you reach an earnings threshold; it is quite another to be saddled with nearly thirty thousand, and that is before living expenses are taken into consideration. Although other countries, such as the USA, have higher fees (a medical student in the States can expect to rack up to $250,000 of debt before completing their studies), they also have a well-established system of sponsorship and gifts that ameliorate the costs. Fortunately for the student in England (Wales and Scotland have rather more generous arrangements), there is still an earnings threshold before payback is due, and some sources suggest holding back on paying back more than you need to. The loan is cheaper than, say, a credit card debt. However, many students are panicking at the thought of starting independent life saddled with thousands of pounds worth of debt.
According to The Guardian, this resulted in an instant drop of 15 000 students who chose to do something else rather than go to university, or went abroad where the fees were on a par but the weather was better. Last year, 2013, that drop doubled. Universities are already feeling the effects of falling student numbers with budgets being squeezed, so educational trips, student projects and facilities have been slashed.
Enter the power of crowdfunding
In the USA, students are beginning to offer a percentage of their future earnings, in return for funds to pay off their student debt. While this seems like a great idea, there are doubts as to whether it is ethical to take a slice of someone’s earnings. In the UK, crowdfunding has a different focus, concentrating on raising funds for good causes and business ventures. For students, this can be a lifeline.
Whether the money is needed for an educational trip, a student society or to fund an arts project, crowdfunding allows you to put your case in front of the people who can help. Simply put, you make a video, in which you state your project and explain how funds raised will be used. You offer a reward scheme, so that donors know what they will get in return for their donation. These can be banded, so someone making a minimal payment might get a thank you postcard, while someone donating more could receive tickets to your show, or a tee-shirt. Your imagination will dictate the terms. Most importantly, the people looking to make an ex gratia donation are self-identified. They are already on the website, looking to spend their money on good causes. It is down to you and your powers of persuasion to convince them to invest in your cause.
Life after university
Your studies are completed, no more assignments, and you bid a fond farewell to the old alma mater. What now? For most graduates, the world of employment beckons, but for others, the entrepreneurial flame glows bright. Starting your own business can be done on a shoestring, depending on the industry you are in, but at some point you are going to want to grow the business, and that takes money. Student debt can make it hard to raise funds from traditional sources, like banks. Even if your business is doing well, diverting funds can have a serious effect on your cashflow, so consider crowdfunding to finance it, particularly if you are in a business that can then extend opportunities to others. Companies that employ disadvantaged people are excellent candidates for attracting the altruistic, as are those that can demonstrate a positive impact on their local area.
Better to give than to receive
At the start of your career, it may be hard to envision a time in the future when you have a healthy bank account, a family, no student debt, and all the other trappings that go with being a proper grown up. Remember that crowdfunding goes two ways. If you have been lucky enough to be successful in your career, with or without being crowdfunded yourself, take a look who you can help. A wise man (actually, it was Forrest Gump) said that there was only so much money one needed, the rest was just showing off, so become a philanthropist and invest in the next generation. It does not have to be on the scale of a Carnegie or a Bill Gates, but a small gift back to the crowd is a great way to say ‘thank you’.