All Articles Tagged "sponsorchange"
By Demetria Irwin
On graduation day, when students cross the stage in stately robes and wide grins, most are handed not only a degree, but tens of thousands of dollars of debt. According to FinAid.org, two-thirds of students who graduate from a four-year college leave with loan debt — $27,803 worth of it on average. SponsorChange.org, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit started by two brothers, has a surprising and innovative way to help graduates pay down debt: volunteering.
SponsorChange.org matches nonprofit organizations with college-educated professionals who have a passion for community service and an armload of loans to repay. The volunteers fulfill a pre-determined number of hours required to complete the nonprofit’s project; their work is rewarded by sponsors who pay off a portion of their loans. The sponsors essentially provide money that enables community service, hence sponsoring change.
Raymar Hampshire, the 27-year-old CEO and co-founder of SponsorChange.org, explained how the idea developed. “My brother (Robert Hampshire) is a professor and a lot of his research involves peer to peer lending. We were talking about organizations like Prosper and Lending Club and trying to figure out how to put community service into that equation,” said Hampshire. “At the time, this was in 2007, there were a lot of people defaulting on student loans. Who better to utilize a service like that than college-educated professionals? Interestingly enough, we were driving through Tennessee, the volunteer state, when we came up with the basic idea for SponsorChange.org.”
While conducting research, Hampshire came across the work of Jesse Rothstein whose study of Princeton graduates found that the anticipation of student loan debt impacted the majors and career choices of the students. Those free of the burden of student loans tended to go for riskier or lower-paying careers such as entrepreneurship or social work. Hampshire seeks to offer that freedom to his organization’s participants.
The group is in its early stages. The first volunteers started in the spring of 2009. With only $44,000 invested so far, the SponsorChange.org is fueled more by energy, ambition and resourcefulness than dollars. None of the seven staffers draws a salary. Hampshire, who is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, says he puts in about 60 hours of work a week.
The director of marketing, Shawn Agyeman, manages to work six to seven hours a day on the organization’s behalf, while also maintaining his part-time job as a life skills instructor for kids. Agyeman, a former program participant, is the Hampshire brothers’ right hand man. He is the person who spends the most time in the office and though he does not have a salary now, he plans to receive a portion of future revenue from ad sales.
“I treat this like a full-time job,” said Agyeman. “The more time you invest in doing something, the better you become at doing that thing. Being here has taught me a lot of things. I’ve learned about search engine optimization, public relations and just being resourceful. I arranged for us to get donated office space and I got us a mention in Businessweek. It’s an interesting job and we have an awesome staff.”
For Hampshire to make this work while not drawing a salary he’s had to rely on savings. “I used to work at Merrill Lynch and more recently I took a job as a census enumerator, so I managed to save some money,” he said. “Plus, I’m a frugal guy. I don’t own a car. I take the bus everywhere. In Pittsburgh there’s no stigma to taking the bus. Everybody rides it.”