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Using Online Tools, College Students Ask 'Crowd' to Help Pay for Educational Initiatives

September 18, 2014

 

A rising junior at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, Game Design major Naomi Fambro was unsure of how she was going to pay her way through college, but she didn’t see any other option but to get the education she deserved. Despite working various work study positions, being an active peer advisor and student leader, as well as an Interactive Game Designer in the College’s Emergent Media Center to gain experience and make it by financially, it wasn’t going to be enough to cover her expected contribution for tuition. Eager and creative, Fambro thought of a way to subsidize her education through a crowd funding campaign and an ongoing project to ask friends, family, and even strangers to back her education.

 

Fambro, a self-published children’s book author from Geneseo, NY, had heard about crowd funding, but she never thought about managing a campaign herself until a friend’s band used Indiegogo to raise funds.

 

Indiegogo is an online crowd funding platform that lets individuals build a multimedia campaign to ask friends, relatives, and social media networks to back their ideas financially.

Many use short video pitches to share their story or mission. “My dad does a lot of video shooting and audio projects, so once I decided this was the route I’d take to advocate for myself, we were more than ready to make a video and start my campaign,” Fambro recalled.

 

“Everybody who goes to college is going through the same thing, so of course it felt weird to ask people for money to back my education,” she admitted, “but I knew I had something to offer the world, so I felt a little less bad.”

 

To set herself apart, she highlighted in her campaign bio that there are very few women in the world of video game design. Fambro is in fact the only female game design major in the Class of 2016 at Champlain. Beyond the context she offers about the future of women in the gaming industry, and the utilization of gaming in education, human services and science, she offers her personal strengths and interests.

 

Fambro took an authentic route, asking her prospective donors to back her self-publishing initiative so she could seek out a publisher and distributor. With that, her own personal book projects could then, in turn, generate enough revenue to finance her education. In her campaign video, Fambro does disclaim, “This is also going towards tuition, I mean, it’s a lot for tuition.”

Rob Williams, experienced crowd funder, entrepreneur and professor, advises campaigners to find a unique balance of sincerity, humor, and vision in a concise video that’s less than two minutes long. “Don’t beg, don’t be wonky or too goofy,” he notes.

 

“The rhetoric you have to put into a video to make it sound like you’re not begging for money is hard,” she said.

 

Millennials, the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, are not only more comfortable with social media networks, but are more apt to share personal information online. Hence, it’s no surprise that some creative and courageous students of this generation seek something as private as financial help on such public platforms. The tech platform may be new, but the idea—think tip jars for tuition—is not.

 

“Crowd funding can be a powerful way to fund start-up initiatives AND create community,” said Williams. “Initiatives can be entrepreneurial, artistic, nonprofit, or a combination of all three.” Williams’ suggestion is to research and select your crowd funding platform wisely. Questions to ask: what’s the focus, community/audience, and ROI tradeoffs for each platform?

 

Kickstarter is great for inventors and entrepreneurs with a lot of promise. It won’t let you keep any money unless you hit your 100 percent funding target, while Indiegogo works well for musicians and filmmakers with little or no capital because it allows you to keep a portion of the money you raise, even if you don’t hit your 100 percent goal, explains Williams.

 

Fambro isn’t alone in her endeavor to raise money for education. Many of her peers have started campaigns to raise money to study abroad or go on international service trips; others manage campaigns for class projects or try to raise funds to back their own projects.

 

Individuals utilize crowd funding pages for inventions, to fund indie film projects, support various causes, business ventures or emergencies. Other crowd sourcing web tools, like change.org, ask people to provide signatures for petitions, in addition to raising money for things like medical procedures for family members or sick pets.

 

Nathan Cholewa, a senior business major at Southern New Hampshire University, recently created a petition for his hometown of Griswold, Conn., to get registered voters to appeal the failed school budget. He noted that vital programs were cut, including language courses, music and student council that teach responsibility, leadership, time management, teamwork and are crucial extracurricular elements on résumés, important for college applications. “By depriving our students of these programs we are denying their vast potential and ability to grow and succeed in their futures,” said Cholewa, who shared the change.org page in the town’s Facebook group. “The average person’s taxes would raise just $12 a year.” Cholewa felt that as a community, the people of Griswold could spare one night of dining out to allow hundreds of the town’s youth to have the opportunities he had.

 

The change.org campaign did have a favorable outcome, according to Cholewa. “With over 350 signatures and it spreading like wildfire over social media, the petition created both hope and awareness of what was occurring in our small town and how as citizens we could take a stand,” he said.

 

Other crowd funding sites for students, entrepreneurs, advocates and others strapped for cash include:

  • Globalinks for funding study abroad trips

  • ScholarMatch, a crowd funding platform offering services that help students complete FAFSA, receive counseling, and pay tuition.

  • Pave offers more than just financial backers; people are invested in giving back by offering career advice, resources to get through a problem and tips on personal finance.

  • GoFundMe and You’ve Got Funds are commonly used for personal fundraising.

Ellen Sperling, co-founder of YouveGotFunds.com told Forbes, “It’s partly because the costs for many of these regular items have skyrocketed.” This includes anything from surgeries to honeymoons. Today, only educational campaigns exceed the number of medical pleas on GoFundMe.

 

“Why would college students want to graduate owing $150,000-plus in loans,” Sperling says, “if they have family, friends and possibly community members who can help, enabling them to start their careers in a better place?”

 

Potential backers for crowd funding campaigns include anyone that would be interested in your mission, anyone involved in that industry, anyone associated with you through business or education, past or present, or people in your geographical community.

 

“By definition, you can’t do crowd funding alone,” states Tim Brookes, author of “First Time Publisher,” founder of the Endangered Alphabets project, and director of the professional writing program at Champlain College. “The allies you need, though, are not just your backers—they are also the people who will help you reach your backers.”

 

Having part in about seven Kickstarter campaigns, whether managing, contributing, or advising students through, Brookes is aware of the best and worst practices. He describes that to be successful you have to be efficient and maximize results in a minimal amount of time and effort, while streamlining what you’re asking of a specific target audience, whether that be a financial contribution or sharing the campaign with their network. “You want to reach out to people who themselves will reach a hundred people on your behalf, acting as a kind of hub for you.” Also, by other people recommending you and your project, it seems more selfless and the value of your project is enhanced.

 

“In every case, don’t wait until the campaign has started to begin informing people, explaining the importance of the campaign, creating buzz and dangling the rewards,” says Brookes.

 

 

Fambro didn’t launch her Indiegogo campaign, “Keep Naomi in College!!!”, until the summer before her sophomore year, allowing her time to build her network, have some great experiences and stories under her belt, and legitimize the continuation of her studies at Champlain. “My parents couldn’t support me financially, but they support me emotionally,” she said. “And they are so proud.”

 

“Having complete strangers put that much faith in you and support you is amazing,” Fambro noted, adding that she would absolutely do another campaign. “I realized, ‘wow, I’m not just a crusty teenager somewhere,’ and I got to spread awareness of what I’m doing.”

 

Fambro’s video actually helped to increase her financial aid a bit, she noted. “I think they saw I was trying, so they figured, eh, they’d help me out a bit. Why not.” In the end, Fambro was able to raise enough money to get a new computer compatible for game design programs as well as acquire a distributor for her children’s books.

 

Her tips to others looking to manage a campaign include:

  1. Be authentic, interesting, unique, relatable, and personable in your video and campaign bio. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

  2. In your campaign video, have a conversation with people, don’t read off of bullet points.

  3. Don’t get too hung up on the financial success of the campaign. It won’t be as gratifying of an experience if you’re too worried about making enough money rather than garnering support.

Fambro is off to Quebec this fall to study abroad at Champlain College’s Montreal campus. She’s tremendously excited for her first experience outside of the country, which would not have been possible without the help of her Indiegogo backers.

 

For additional tips from Rob Williams and Tim Brookes on best crowd funding practices, check out 11 Crowd Funding Tips from Seasoned Professionals.

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