Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Crowdfunding Your Education

Photo attribution Robert S. Donovan
 In the past few years I’ve heard a growing number of stories on the news and anecdotally of students using crowdfunding to pay for their education. As someone who works in financial aid I’m always interested in new funding opportunities, so this post was my chance to do some research and share what I found with you.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a crowdfunding expert, but I do think it’s a cool idea. If you want to try crowdfunding I encourage you to do your own research and find out if it’s right for you. Hopefully this post will help you get started.)


The Basics:

A Google search for crowdfunding comes up with this definition:
The practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.”
The idea of collecting small donations or investments from a large group of people is nothing new. However, the internet and social media allow fund raisers to connect with potential funders relatively quickly with the hopes of gaining greater traction through social sharing.

Case Studies:

It’s not hard to find a news story about a student who ran a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign. Take Toni Morgan, a 32-year-old Toronto woman who raised $50k overnight to attend Harvard. (Her current total is just over $95K.)

A more modest example is Alexis-Brianna Felix, an undergrad at Boston University who raised funds to pay for her upcoming semester. While her goal was smaller—$5,000—she’s managed to nearly double it through her campaign.

I expect stories like these two are the exception, not the norm, but it’s encouraging to know that it can be done.

Starting a Campaign:

Starting a campaign is relatively easy and can be broken into these steps:

Find a platform to host your campaign. Pay attention to fee structures. Most platforms will deduct a platform fee from every donation you receive, plus a third-party processor will deduct a transaction fee. Indiegogo Life is the only platform I’ve found that doesn’t charge a platform fee, however you still pay the transaction fee.

Tell your story. A compelling story is what makes people want to donate to your campaign. Use text, photos or a video to give your initial pitch, then update your audience throughout the campaign.

If you choose to reference RRU in your campaign, please declare that you are independently fundraising for your education. RRU is also fundraising for awards using crowdfunding so we would like to maintain some public understanding between individual and university initiatives. 

Share with your network. Typically your friends and family will be your biggest supporters, but if your campaign takes off you might get donations from people you don’t know too. Email and social media are the most common platforms to promote your campaign and sending personalized messages tends to yield more donations.

Collect your money. Different platforms handle this differently, but in general your funds will be released to you via bank deposit at the end the campaign or at another specified time (e.g., some platforms allow you to withdraw funds during the campaign).


My final thought is this…aside from being an alternative to the traditional ways to pay for school (student loans, banks loans, awards); crowdfunding could also improve your chances of succeeding in your studies academically. Think of it this way: if your friends, family and maybe even people you’ve never met before have invested in your dream, will you feel a greater accountability to succeed? Are you more likely to stay home on a Friday night and study or put in that extra bit of effort to earn bonus points on your next assignment? There’s no research on this as far as I know (a project for one of our social science students perhaps?), but its food for thought.


There are a tonne of resources available to help you start a crowdfunding campaign. Here are some that I found helpful.

Check out the National CrowdfundingAssociation of Canada for resources, training tools, news and research on crowdfunding

The two crowdfunding platforms I looked at the most when researching this post were Indiegogo Life and GoFundMe. Check out the "Education" category for examples of student's campaigns.  

This post has a list of different crowdfunding sites that have been used for funding post-secondary education. (Note that some of the sites are just for schools within the U.S.)

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