Nonprofit Helps Students Pay for College –

Andrew Wilkinson might have never guessed that a conversation with an old friend over dinner one night would grow into his first entrepreneurial effort.

“My friend and I began talking about the student loan debt bubble at dinner one night, and he admitted he had a ton of debt when he graduated,” Wilkinson recalled. “He wanted to be a teacher, which was his passion, but was considering switching careers to make more money.”

The conversation really bothered Wilkinson – he said he thought about it at the gym that night – enough to make him do something about it.

“I thought about crowdsourcing to help students pay for school,” he said. “I took after the model of Kickstarter and just expanded upon it.”

This is how StudentDonate came into existence. Wilkinson created the nonprofit, which launched in June 2012, as an innovative way to address the issue of student debt. The greatest benefit of StudentDonate may be in its simplicity.

College students create public profiles on the StudentDonate website. Students must register using valid college e-mail addresses. They are then prompted to create their profiles with information such as the school they attend, their major, age, future plans, etc. Students are also able to upload pictures and videos. Once they’ve created their profiles, it’s up to them to market themselves.

Potential donors can view student profiles and donate as little or as much as they want via a PayPal account.

“Donations can be as little as five dollars, but we don’t put a cap on it,” Wilkinson said. “A donor can give what they are willing and what they think is appropriate. It’s entirely up to the donor. StudentDonate does not take any percentage of the donation. It goes directly to the student.”

Wilkinson said so far StudentDonate has been able to help more than 50 students pay for college expenses with an estimated several thousand dollars of donations.

“We get these amazing thank you notes from students for donations they’ve received. One student from Tuskegee University contacted me about a week ago and said she was so thankful because the donation she received through StudentDonate allowed her to buy her textbooks for school.”

Wilkinson, 25, began his career working as a Silicon Valley engineer and afterwards worked as a management consultant to Fortune 500 technology companies.

“I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, and I didn’t expect my first business to be a nonprofit. I imagined myself making a lot of money,” he said. “I was certainly very aware of the student debt crisis, but it wasn’t personal to me until I had that conversation with my friend. Passion drove me to this cause, and the more involved I get with StudentDonate, the more passionate I become about it.”

And there is definitely a demand for the organization.

“I get calls from students who wonder if they’ll be able to pay for their next semester’s tuition, and students who are already working two jobs to pay for school,” Wilkinson said. “We get emails almost daily with students asking us to add their schools to the list. Realistically it costs us nothing to add the school. If a student requests a school, we add it.”

Currently, StudentDonate is staffed with eight part-time volunteers. They’ve been using several different avenues to spread the word about StudentDonate.

“We’ve been using social media like Twitter and Facebook, which is especially effective among young college students,” Wilkinson said. “We also have volunteers who take fliers to college campuses and we’re even looking to advertise in student newspapers. So far, word of mouth seems to be very effective as well. We’ve seen a pattern where a student from one school will sign up for StudentDonate, and within a few hours, four or five more people from that school will create profiles.”

Wilkinson said he’d like for his organization to help at least 100 students by the end of 2012 and eventually he would love for StudentDonate to be well-known among college campuses nationwide.

“Ideally, we would like every college student to have a profile with us. We want it to be as common as when they update their Facebook profile, they’ll then come update their StudentDonate profile,” Wilkinson said. “The emails we receive from students that we are helping to stay in school are so inspirational and that’s really how we measure our success.”

To learn more about StudentDonate, visit the organization’s Twitter or Facebook page.

Follow Valerie Jones on Twitter @ValerieJonesCMN