Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Innovative Tech non-profit StudentDonate.com uses Crowdsourcing to Help Students

Innovative Tech non-profit StudentDonate.com uses Crowdsourcing to Help Students Name of Social Enterprise and URL?
StudentDonate.com at www.studentdonate.com and www.studentdonate.org

What is your product or service?
StudentDonate is a new way to help support higher education. We are a tech non-profit founded to help current college students address the crushing burden of student loan debt. We address this problem by allowing students to receive micro-donations via our online platform. Students create mini-profiles on our site to tell the story of their backgrounds, career aspirations, etc. The goal is to make donating directly to a student as quick and easy as possible. They can then use these donations to pay for tuition, books, or other school related expenses. Think Kickstarter but where our projects are college students with debt.

Date officially launched?
We officially launched in June 2012.

What came about that made them help in social change? Why was this social venture created?
It basically all started over dinner with an old friend of mine from college who I hadn’t seen in a few years. He was visiting San Francisco and we met to catch up. Earlier that day I had read an article by Peter Thiel about how the next big bubble in the US economy was student loan debt. I brought this article up over dinner and to my surprise, my friend admitted he had a ton of debt from college and was extremely stressed about it. He was worried that with the debt overhang he’d never be able to buy a house or support a family. It was so drastic, he was even thinking of changing from his dream job of teaching to one that paid a higher income, just to cope with his monthly payments. I’ve known this guy for years and trust me, he was made to be a teacher.

The fact that he was seriously considering leaving his dream job really bothered me. We had spent a good 20 minutes talking about how many other students were probably feeling the same anxiety and giving up their dreams due to their student debt. I couldn’t stop thinking about it the rest of the evening as I went to the gym that night. Literally in the middle of lifting weights it just came to me – what if you could crowdsource donations directly to needy students from all over the world with a few clicks of the mouse.

Fast forward 6 months and I’d recruited a team and raised around $10k in first round funding to get the idea off the ground. The rest they say is history.

How many years and how many people has this person helped? How many people need help?
We’ve only been live for a few months but so far have done amazingly well! To date we’ve helped over 50 students pay for higher education from dozens of Universities. I’ve received dozens of emails from students asking us to add their University to our site. We even have international students asking us to add their schools.

Arguably, all 20 million or so US college students need help considering the average American student graduates with $25,000 in debt from a 4 year degree program. We aim to help all of them.

Could others help you and how?
Certainly! Those who are more established financially should act as a donor on our site and give even $5 to a needy college student. Every little bit can make a difference! Other things they could do is spread the word about our site to students and potential donors both. Social media is great for this.

What free online or offline tools do you use?
We are big fans of twitter and Facebook since they help get our message out and build awareness. And of course Facebook is the de facto way of reaching college students. We are also currently looking into advertising on college campuses through newspapers and their websites.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?
We currently have 7 people working on this part-time. We are also recruiting student campus representatives to help spread the word about our non-profit come the Fall 2012 semester. Any students who read this article and are interested in helping, feel free to email me at [email protected]. We’d love to have you as an official representative on your campus.

Do you tweet, facebook fan page, myspace friend or use any other social media to get the word out?
We certainly do. Facebook and Twitter have been amazing tools:
https://twitter.com/studentdonate
http://www.facebook.com/pages/StudentDonate/372459149452858
What is the best advice you never got?
Worry less about knowing how to do things. If you need to do something for your business you’ll figure it out. So many people in my experience never start something because they’ve never done it before, don’t know X, never learned skill Y, etc.I have so many friends who have great ideas but then make the excuse that they don’t know how to start a company, find customers, whatever and so never go anywhere. If you have the will, you’ll figure things out and learn a ton along the way. StudentDonate.com has been one great learning experience.

What is the one thing that you did right?
Recruiting a great user interface and web designer from the get go. Our site has an amazing feel and design to it that captures the energy of our intended demographic. It’s also extremely easy to use. Never skimp on the front ends it’s your face to the world.

What’s one mistake you’ve made?
Focusing and worrying way to much on the legal side of things. We hired a high priced attorney to help us but he provided very little real help. We paid a lot of money basically for what we could have learned online with 5-8 hours of research. Even using legalzoom.com would have been a lot cheaper and more effective. Yes it is bureaucratically difficult to start a non-profit organization and achieve 501c3 status but the paperwork is not as daunting as you think when you actually sit down with it. It’s just tedious.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?
Easily the biggest has been learning how non-profits work and how to fundraise. No one on my team or myself had any experience in the non-profit space so we had to learn it all from scratch. It was a brave new world but fortunately one that isn’t so scary anymore.

What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?
Just go and do it. Don’t wait or you’ll lose the momentum. Yes, you may very easily fail but you’ll have learned a ton along the way and be proud of what you accomplished. Trust me, when you get that first thank you note from even one person that you’re organization has helped, it makes the months of work worth it.
 

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