Crowdfunding Goes Private: How People Are Bankrolling Their Personal Lives

Colleen Oakley

crowdfundWhen Kelli Space graduated from Northeastern University in 2009 with $200,000 of student loan debt, she panicked. Given that she had an entry-level office manager job that didn’t pay much, Space knew that it was going to be tough to pay back that debt on her own.

But instead of deferring her payments—or not paying them at all, like many grads end up doing—she started a crowdfund, which is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a vast pool of people online.

“In total, I received $13,000 from strangers around the world,” she says. And although that amount only made a small dent toward paying off her debt, it had a big impact on her career trajectory—the experience inspired Space and three friends to start Zero Bound, a company that helps students and graduates crowdfund their own student loan debt in exchange for community volunteering.

Space has not one but two lofty goals with Zero Bound. “We hope to use the trend of crowdfunding to not only help a generation pay off their debt, but also increase volunteerism among an age bracket that actually volunteers the least,” she says. “And, to that end, I believe that crowdfunding can be a largely beneficial way to raise the funds to make that happen.”

Crowdfunding: It’s Viral … and Personal

Space isn’t alone in her thinking. Since 2011, crowdfunding efforts have more than tripled, and current campaigns are projected to raise more than $5.1 billion worldwide in 2013.

But what started out as a way to enable businesses and individuals to raise money for creative endeavors without relying on such traditional financing sources as banks—take the indie Veronica Mars Movie Project, which raised over $5 million on Kickstarter in just 30 days—has morphed into a means for literally anyone to ask for money … for literally anything.

“Crowdfunding is definitely branching out into multiple areas, including personal causes,” says Ellen Sperling, cofounder of crowdfunding site And, by personal, we’re talking about everything from surgeries to honeymoons. Why, you ask? “It’s partly because the costs for many of these regular items have skyrocketed,” she says. “Medical fees are through the roof, and even if you have health insurance, they don’t always cover certain medications and procedures, like fertility treatments.”

The same applies to financing higher education. “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?”

  • LaJacqueReal

    This is phenomenal advice and great food for thought. Here is a realistic solution to the help we so desperately need as young professionals in this country. Thanks so much for the great info LearnVest!

  • Coffee123

    This article seems to ignore the fact that this young woman took out $200,000 in student loans for her undergraduate degree. Learnvest should feature an article exploring why in the world she made such a poor financial decision.

    • Kelli

      Hi, Coffee123, Kelli here. Unfortunately, LearnVest (and accessible personal finance advice in general) weren’t as readily available to me at the time – or perhaps I was just young and idealistic and would have ignored it anyway. I made poor choices but have luckily come out much better for it, and much more financially aware, in the end. Now I hope to help others who might be in similarly difficult circumstances.

      • LeeLee

        While the information was available at the time, it’s probably true that most college freshmen don’t consider this before signing all those loans. It’s very sad that so many 18 year olds sign their life away without fully realizing the ramifications.

        That being said, I love the idea of your charity crowd sourcing. It’s a great idea with so much merit. To me, it says, “I’m not looking for a hand out. I just want my hard work to pay off, and wouldn’t it be nice if it helped others in the process?” When I tried to go through the website, it doesn’t look like there’s a way for me to donate, though. Am I missing something?

      • gimmie dat

        “accessible personal finance advice in general weren’t as readily available to me at the time”

        Yes it was. You simply didn’t do the work. In fact, it’s all over the internet, for free. Now you’re going to pay for your laziness. No one else should subsadize your laziness. Unless of course they are dumb enough to buy into your victim mentality.

        • Marcia Visser Rogers

          *Subsidize not Sabsadize. But then if you had an education yourself you’d know that. Just saying.

      • Joanna Ruckenstein

        go girl! We all make mistakes and should not be punished for them for the rest of our lives.
        Keep learning!

  • Orly

    Crowdfunding is great, but not a magical solution. Running a crowdfunding campaign is a lot of work. It’s not as easy as posting your story on the web and hoping sympathetic souls will donate. Anyone who wants to run a campaign to cover loans, debts, or bills really needs to work on how to best present themselves and their situation, how to share their campaign, and the types of perks that both strangers and their community would be interested in receiving. The last bit of this article, the “crowdfunding 101″ section, is helpful, but really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how to make your campaign successful. Take the time to read over all of the insights and tips and guides you can find (Indiegogo has some great ones, but I’m biased because I work there) before launching your campaign. Also look over successful campaigns similar to yours, and don’t be afraid to copy that campaign’s tactics in order to make yourself successful. And good luck!

  • Aymee B

    I think this a great idea.. I’m surprised I had not heard at all of “crowdfunding” before this article. I come from a family that did not teach me anything about being financially stable. Now after a divorce and career change in later life, it is just as hard to recover as it is for a college graduate starting a new career. Harder at times actually because a lot of employers would prefer college grads to someone of my age/experience. I personally don’t have much family and not too much support emotionally or financially. I think even though campaigning is somewhat difficult (which in my opinion should be part of this process) it’s a way for people like me to get back on track, develop new and better financial skills and to also give back after they have been given to. It really does seem like it promotes a great sense of community – if used appropriately. I never want to just ask for a hand-out, but right now I could use a hand-up. :) It’s a great idea I plan to pursue… Thanks for the article!

  • Tania

    A part of me likes this idea and another part of me cringes. While you would have authenthic campaigns/causes, it’s also ripe for fraud. I already see so much questionable calls for donations and sympathy (including possible munchausen syndrome) on every social media platform I’m on including resale marketplaces. While I have personally raised money through events and community rummage sales for a friend sick with cancer or for documentarians/artists who need funds to complete an interesting project, I don’t think I’d do the same for someone with debt. It just doesn’t sit right with me. As far as education goes, I would rather contribute to a scholarship fund than an individual marketing themselves because I’d feel uncomfortable with the lack on controls to ensure the money is used as intended. Also if you give money to an individual as a gift, it will be taxable to the recipient and not deductible to the donor, a donation to a eligible NFP scholarship fund is deductible and exempt. If the crowdsourcing for personal reasons becomes a thing, I do suspect it will create a whole other venue for cons/frauds (not saying that everyone who participates are defrauding anyone).

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  • MomandwifeSP

    We are trying to crowd fund to pay for a big necessity: a roof over our heads! Want to help us? Please visit our page at:

  • Kiara

    I Kiara Hills, graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a Master’s (2009) and Bachelor’s (2008) Degree. I am in debt with the Department of Education with an estimate of $58,000. I have been seeking employment from all types of corporations and no one wants to hire me in Arizona, because I have a Master’s Degree. I have been told to take my degrees off my resume and I can get in the door somewhere. I just feel I have worked extremely hard to obtain my degrees and I will not cheat myself in such matter. I just need your HELP and GENEROSITY because I know in my heart, mind body and soul that I didn’t come this far to loose.

  • Andrew Fixhold

    Grow Feverr business my only source of income

  • Izzy Mehmet

    I created a gofundme campaign last year and raised £200 of my £4000 goal, which was lovely and all but I was hugely disillusioned, especially as not a single penny came from my family.
    My dad died recently so I’m struggling even more than I was expecting to now that I’m actually in university and I’ll have to drop out by July if I don’t get any help – my goal is much less now because I got a partial scholarship, please help me out!
    I do have a job and I’ve taken out the standardized student loans for my country (they seem to be nicer about funding higher education in the UK than the US) but the loan I’ve been given covers less than half of my tuition because of where I’m studying (coincidentally the ONLY place in the country that offers my course) – it’s a petty bureaucracy thing