Higher education in the U.S. is so expensive that many call it a “privilege.” However, in an economy that thrives on innovation and skilled labour, young people have no choice but to find a way to afford this privilege. As of 2014, this results in $1.16 trillion of outstanding student loans. Recognizing the gravity of this problem, earlier this year President Barack Obama announced the Student Aid Bill of Rights — a set of guiding principles behind his vision for affordable education.
Existing student debt is already affecting the lives of graduates. Donghoon Lee, research officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, says that “Student loan delinquencies and repayment problems appear to be reducing borrowers’ ability to form their own households.” SponsorChange, a young nonprofit that aims to increase volunteerism in the social sector, had another finding — student loans have a direct effect on the willingness to volunteer, since graduates cannot afford to spend time doing free work. As the founders put it, “We concluded that the ability to volunteer is a privilege that not everyone has the time and resources to afford.”
To address the issue, SponsorChange decided that it won’t be just another site that simply lists volunteering opportunities, but will develop an approach that helps both organizations and graduates with student loans, as well as involves people who want to donate money to causes.
“SponsorChange decided to reward volunteer service, because good work deserves to be rewarded, and everyone deserves the opportunity to meaningfully contribute. So we did something bold and different and went out and raised funding from citizen philanthropists. We started rewarding volunteers who completed skill-based projects at Pittsburgh nonprofits with direct student loan payments. Ever since, we’ve been helping volunteers who give back, pay back. Organizations list projects on our site and receive the talent they need. Volunteers find projects and build their skills by doing something they love. And sponsors, or what we call “philanthroteers” (philanthropist + volunteer), get to invest in human capital that fuels the social sector. It’s a win-win-win.”
Nonprofit organizations can register on the site and create skill-based volunteer projects, which should take no more than 40 hours to complete. After the project is listed, philanthroteers can donate money for the projects they like, while Change Agents can apply to be volunteers. The project is completed following a project-management framework and after it is closed with the approval of the Change Agent, SponsorChange distributes the direct student’s loan payments rewards.
SponsorChange helps graduates not only repay their student loans, but also add valuable skill-based experience to their CVs. It also provides a better way for philanthropists to donate, with their money helping both the nonprofits and graduates.