An innovative way of raising money for your studies is to crowdfund - asking other people, often strangers, to contribute towards your costs
What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding involves asking a large number of people to contribute to your postgraduate study costs by donating relatively small amounts of money.
Although it's extremely hard work, and you'll need to be great at marketing yourself, the rewards can be huge. Donations can quickly add up; for example, if 50 friends, family members and other small-scale philanthropists each donate £50, you'll have raised £2,500.
Anybody can crowdfund by setting up a page on one of many specialist crowdfunding websites. On this page, you must explain your cause in detail and set a fundraising goal. You can then promote this page to family and friends, and to strangers via social media, personal emails and - potentially - press exposure.
You'll also be able to offer a reward for your supporters. This can be anything, from their name being included in your dissertation acknowledgements to a professional copy of your thesis.
Which crowdfunding websites should I use?
Popular crowdfunding websites include:
What are the advantages of crowdfunding?
The most commonly cited advantage of crowdfunding is the obvious one: you achieve your postgraduate qualification without accruing debt.
However, you can also build a large network of people who are interested in your area of study - something that might prove incredibly useful both during your degree and when you're applying for jobs.
Emily-Rose Eastop turned to crowdfunding to finance her MSc in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford after her application for a Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) grant was rejected. Her fundraising target was £26,307, to cover tuition fees and living costs.
Within five weeks, Emily-Rose had raised £26,569 from around 500 donors. Even more astounding was the fact that two donations of £1,000 each came from complete strangers.
'The greatest advantage, without doubt, is the wonderful group of supporters that I now have in my life - people who decided that they wanted to help me achieve something important to me,' says Emily-Rose.
'They're all such cool, clever and diversely skilled people, and they inspire me in so many unusual ways. Whenever I feel lonely, or cynical thoughts creep into my mind, thinking of them reminds me of how beautiful human beings can really be.'
What are the disadvantages of crowdfunding?
When Emily-Rose's story hit the newspapers, some commenters responded nastily - even labelling her a 'posh brat' for appealing for funding in this manner. She warns that anybody wishing to crowdfund on such a scale must be prepared for a backlash, though it must be stressed that the chances of this happening are slim.
'Their objections, apart from being shockingly mean, were badly reasoned and hypocritical,' Emily-Rose adds. 'In any case, it backfired on them. Their hostility inspired a steady flow of donations from strangers specifically wanting to counteract it. I probably wouldn't have met my target were it not for the trolls.'
How can I succeed at crowdfunding?
Brendan Earley, community director of Hubbub, offers five steps to crowdfunding success…
- Do plenty of planning - The majority of failed projects can be attributed to a lack of planning. Crowdfunding can be extremely difficult, so you must ensure that you've figure out who you'll be asking to donate and who will help you to promote the project. You must also consider how you'll ask them.
- Research success stories - Thousands of people from around the world have used this method to fully or partially fund their education. This means that there's a massive database of case studies for you to read, and you can cherry-pick innovative and powerful ideas. Email or tweet those who've already crowdfunded their postgraduate course, asking them about the biggest challenges and for their top advice. They'll be delighted to help.
- Get creative - There are millions of students around the world who need funding for tuition fees, so you must stand out from the crowd and emphasise why you deserve it more than anyone else. This can be done by creating an engaging video, and offering inventive and personable rewards. Explain why you're doing postgraduate study and how you're going to make the world a better place. Nobody is going to support a degree that has no discernible impact.
- Market yourself - There are many free materials and platforms available for you to utilise. You can drastically increase your reach using tools such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, while automations such as CoSchedule, TweetFull, and Hootsuite can allow you to write a marketing plan well in advance. Press and blog exposure are effective, but not easy to get unless you have an interesting slant. Start warming the media to your story immediately.
- Have realistic expectations - Many project creators mistakenly believe that crowdfunding is magic, and assume that Google will automatically send philanthropists straight to your page. The reality is that the majority of your contributions will come from friends and family. The tone and style of your pitch is therefore crucial; to capture a wider audience, you must inspire people. If you don't back yourself, don't expect other people to.