Lend a hand, pay a loan: Volunteering with SponsorChange.org cuts student debt

In part one of this two-part series, Money College blogger Jennifer Larson explored how students can get student loans paid or deferred through their volunteer work.Here, she reports on loan forgiveness students earn through SponsorChange.org.

When Sheena Hancock received an e-mail from Pittsburgh Cares with the subject line "Volunteer to Pay Off Student Loan Debt," she was intrigued for reasons many college grads can relate to. At the time, she was looking for ways to pay off her debt, and also genuinely enjoys giving her time to affect change in society. She responded to the e-mail, filled out an application, and was asked to come in for an interview.

The rest fell into place.

Pittsburgh Cares is a volunteer clearing house for nonprofits in Pittsburgh and an affiliate of the HandsOn Network, a national organization. It partners with SponsorChange.org, which assists in outreach and administrative efforts for the fall program.

SponsorChange.org is currently located in Pittsburgh, but plans to expand to other major cities in the U.S. The program was created to address the national student loan crisis and to also assist nonprofit organizations with their goals. Volunteers get to employ specialized skills they otherwise might not get to use in their day jobs.

As for whether the experience changed Hancock, let's just say she's now director of internal and external communications of SponsorChange.org.

"SponsorChange.org offers the ability for a [volunteer] to expand upon skill sets that they may not get to utilize during their normal working hours or during their second job," Hancock told Money College in an email. "For example, if someone has a regular 40-60 hour (work) week as an accountant, but has a talent for web design, teaching music, or online marketing, he or she can lend these skills to nonprofit organizations."

SponsorChange.org assists nonprofit organizations with their capacity building efforts. After an organization's needs are evaluated by SponsorChange, a plan of action is determined, and SponsorChange pairs the nonprofit with skilled professionals (change agents) who can provide the needed services at flexible times over the course of a four-month period.

The standard requirement is typically 50 hours over that amount of time. As per the arrangement, these change agents receive sponsorship in the form of direct student loan compensation from donors, nonprofits, or corporations. Their student loan compensation ranges from $10-$20 per hour, but volunteers are not paid this directly; it goes straight to pay off their student loan debts, so it is not like having a second job.

So far, SponsorChange has joined forces with 17 non-profit organizations in Pittsburgh, ranging from health and human services to mentoring organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of America. According to Raymar Hampshire, Co-founder and CEO of SponsorChange, the group will partner with its first faith-based organization, the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, in September.

"We are excited to build on the great work of this church, by offering an innovative approach to both reward volunteer work for their members and also assist in the congregation skill-banking process," Hampshire, said in an email, "The change agent will strengthen their skills while at the same time building connections and receiving student loan pay. We've had one of our change agents receive a generous job offer as a result of her work at a nonprofit organization."

Unlike many nonprofits that rely heavily on donations, SponsorChange is set up like a functioning business. Early in the game, they have relied on foundation support and value proposition from corporations, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations to sponsor and assist student volunteers in paying off their loan debt. However, its business model is different from most nonprofits, in that they rely on web technologies to raise funds.

SponsorChange is building momentum beyond its current program, launching a national campaign called "The Big Pay Back." "This campaign will solicit the volunteer support of individuals to take on the role of city team leaders," explained Hampshire. "Team leaders will work to develop entertaining and engaging events to spread awareness of the student loan crisis, as well as developing support for SponsorChange.org in their city. Team leaders are going be instrumental in phasing SponsorChange.org and building offline momentum."

What can people do to get involved with SponsorChange.org?

Visit the site www.sponsorchange.org and sign up. Nonprofits, donors, and change agents are all encouraged to join. Spread the word about the program among nonprofit organizations or corporate entities.

You can also follow SponsorChange.org's blog, The Philanthroteer. (They are also always looking for content to be shared.) You can also follow their Twitter @sponsorchange or join the Facebook fan page, LinkedIn, or Four Square. SponsorChange.org also welcomes any ideas that will help expand outreach efforts

Thanks to SponsorChange
director of marketing Shawn Agyeman, who set up correspondence and shared information about the organization via e-mail and Facebook.
Read Full Story