As states and charities cut back on financial aid, Web entrepreneurs are developing new social networking sites that enable students to post pictures and profiles and ask for donations. Donors contribute electronically (by PayPal or credit card) and, if they wish, can have their identities kept secret from the students. Some sites also try to actively recruit donors, who can then choose which students they'd like to fund. The sites guarantee that at least 95 percent of each donation will go to students, and staffers verify that the people getting the money are indeed in school.
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"We are under no impression that this is a silver bullet" for the deepening college funding crisis, says Dave Eggers, a cofounder of ScholarMatch.org and author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What. But Facebook-style financial aid has already helped dozens of students and holds out hope for many more. As of mid-October, about a third of the 125 students who had filled out ScholarMatch profiles had received donations; 15 had collected enough to fill their entire requests, which typically range from $500 to $5,000. The largest total given to a student so far is $6,000.
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Sites to check out include:
GreenNote.com. The site charges students $20 to set up a profile and takes 5 percent of their take to cover processing fees from credit card companies and other expenses.
ScholarMatch.org. As of this fall, the free site is available only to students from the San Francisco Bay area. But Eggers hopes to eventually open it to students in other cities served by 826 Valencia, the tutoring program he operates for teens needing help with writing skills.
SponsorMyDegree.com. The company doesn't charge to post a profile, but passes on any credit card fees it incurs from donations. To cover the cost of verifying a recipient's college status, the site also charges a $5 fee when students withdraw their donations.
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Andrew Snow, a student at a community college in Visalia, Calif., who raised $2,000 using SponsorMyDegree.com, says posting a photo and a clear, detailed, well-written (and spell-checked!) description is key to success. While most postings on the site haven't yet raised a penny, Snow did well, he believes, because he promised to donate to other future teachers once he gets a job.
Lots of marketing is also crucial. Some of Snow's friends posted his appeal for aid on their Facebook pages and on Twitter. Eventually, word got to a newspaper reporter, who wrote about Snow. A reader of that article came through with a semester's tuition.
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