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Crowdfunding a Masters

Covering the cost of postgraduate study can be a challenge, but could the solution be as simple as just asking people for help?

It may sound strange, but crowdfunding involves doing exactly that. And it’s becoming an increasingly popular approach to Masters funding.

Put simply, crowdfunding means raising a larger amount of money through many small individual donations. It’s a bit like seeking ‘sponsorship’ for your degree.

Could your Masters degree attract this kind of support? Quite possibly.

Our guide explains how crowdfunding can work for Masters study and how you can go about raising money for your postgraduate fees. We’ve looked at some of the best crowdfunding platforms available and offered some advice on the kinds of courses (and students) most likely to receive funding.

What is postgraduate crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding turns the traditional approach to postgraduate funding on its head.

Instead of relying on a single large source of support for your Masters (such as a postgraduate student loan, bank loan or scholarship) you reach out to large numbers of supporters.

This usually involves setting a funding goal and asking for donations towards it. Individual contributions (or 'pledges') will tend to be quite small, but the idea is that they all add up. If successful, you’ll eventually raise enough money to help pay for your degree.

Various online platforms exist to help you set up a crowdfunding campaign and manage your progress. We’ve looked at some of the best ones below.

What isn’t crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding a Masters means raising money for your personal benefit.

People will support your campaign based on the case you make for it, but they won’t normally be doing so in the name of a wider cause. They also won’t normally expect to be repaid (though some platforms encourage rewards for donors).

This means you shouldn’t confuse postgraduate crowdfunding with:

  • Charitable donations – Your Masters may have potential benefits for wider society, particularly if it focusses on certain subject areas (such as healthcare or medical research), but you’re raising money to pay for your education. Be careful not to mislead people into thinking they’re donating to a charity.
  • Peer-to-peer lending – Some services allow students to borrow money from large numbers of individual lenders. This can look like crowdfunding (you’re raising money from many small contributions) but the difference is important: you’re receiving money from lenders not donators. This will need to be repaid, usually with interest.
  • Direct investment - Some crowdfunding websites allow people to raise money by offering shares or equity in project outcomes. Make sure you're clear about what you're offering - particularly if your programme has the potential to create a marketable product or intellectual property.

Crowdfunding is also slightly different to portfolio funding. This refers to the practice of combining lots of smaller grants (from charities and other sources) into one overall support package.

Crowdfunding can be a big part of a portfolio funding approach, but we’re using the term here to refer to specific campaigns designed to raise individual donations.

Crowdfunding: advantages and disadvantages

It should be obvious by now that crowdfunding is quite different to other forms of postgraduate funding.

This has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

For one thing, crowdfunding is highly flexible. There are no eligibility criteria and no deadlines, except those you set yourself. Provided you’re honest, any student can crowdfund for any Masters. And you can start whenever you like – before your course, or even during your Masters.

It’s also up to you to decide how much you want to raise. You don’t necessarily need to crowdfund the full cost of your degree. Instead you might look for smaller amounts of support to ‘top up’ a postgraduate loan or other funding.

Disadvantages

The freedom to set your own goals and organise your own campaign comes with the understanding that funding is not guaranteed.

You’ll need to work hard on your crowdfunding project, just as you would with any other funding application. But the effort won’t stop there. Crowdfunding also requires ongoing work. Success means raising awareness of your campaign and updating existing supporters.

It’s also important to recognise that some Masters degrees may simply be less suitable for crowdfunding. You might see the interest (and value) in a niche academic subject area, but that doesn’t mean strangers will see the need to help pay for it.

Weighing up the pros and cons

Attempting to crowdfund Masters will be a big commitment whether or not you succeed.

If you’re going down this route, you’ll need to have the time and energy to set up and maintain a campaign. What’s more, you’ll probably need to do this whilst managing your Masters application – and perhaps also completing your undergraduate degree.

Should you make the attempt?

We’ve tried to balance the positive and negative aspects of crowdfunding as follows:


Postgraduate crowdfunding: the pros and cons
Pros Cons
No eligibility criteria - anyone can set up a campaign. Requires you to make a case for your own project.
No deadlines - start crowdfunding whenever you want. Running a campaign requires ongoing time and effort.
Flexible funding - set your own target, according to your needs. Success is not guaranteed and some projects won't attract funding.

Ultimately, you'll need to decide whether crowdfunding is appropriate for your Masters and worth your time. The remainder of this guide will show you where to crowdfund a Masters degree - and suggest ways to do so successfully.

Postgraduate crowdfunding platforms

Most crowdfunding campaigns are hosted on specialist websites. You don’t have to use one of these, but they’ll make the process a lot easier to manage.

These website usually offer simple ways to keep track of funding goals, set incentives for backers and provide updates about your progress. They'll also make it easier to promote your crowdfunding campaign through popular social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.

Crowdfunding websites - things to bear in mind

Websites work in different ways, but you should pay particular attention to the following conditions:

  • Minimum funding amounts – All platforms will ask you to set funding goals, but some will only pay money to you if you reach a minimum target. This ensures that funders only donate to successful projects and money isn’t ‘wasted’.
  • Fees – Some platforms charge for using their services. This could involve an initial fee or (more likely) a small percentage of donations.
  • Backer rewards – Crowdfunders often offer rewards to donors who pledge certain amounts, encouraging more people to back their campaign. Some platforms will require you to do this, others will make it optional.

You’ll need to weigh up these factors and select the option that works best for you. The following are some of the most popular crowdfunding websites.

Hubbub

Hubbub specialises in digital fundraising for educational projects and has partnerships with a range of universities.

As such it’s an ideal platform for Masters students looking to fund tuition fees or other costs.


Masters funding on Hubbub
Minimum targets? Yes
Rewards? Yes
Fees? Paypal only

Hubbub also provides platforms for universities to organise funding for their students’ projects. These won’t be suitable for crowdfunding your degree, but they could be ideal for covering extra costs during your Masters.

Gofundme

Gofundme offers solutions for a wide range of crowdfunding goals.


Masters funding on Gofundme
Minimum targets? No
Rewards? Yes
Fees? 7.9% of donations

Gofundme also features a dedicated education section, including postgraduate funding campaigns.

Kickstarter

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Kickstarter. This platform has already funded several high-profile projects, including independent films, videogames and other media.

As these success stories suggest, Kickstarter focusses on creative projects. This means you can’t set up a Kickstarter campaign for a postgraduate degree unless your Masters will produce a clear tangible outcome.


Masters funding on Kickstarter
Minimum targets? Yes
Rewards? Yes
Fees? 5% of final total and 3.5% for processing pledges

Kickstarter’s restrictions mean it won’t be the first choice for most postgraduate crowdfunding, but this platform could be appropriate to creative degrees such as an MFA (Master of Fine Arts).

Justgiving

Justgiving is probably best-known as a platform for charitable donations, but it can also be used for postgraduate crowdfunding.


Masters funding on Justgiving
Minimum targets? Yes, but all fund released
Rewards? No
Fees? 5% of donations, plus payment processing

Because Justgiving has a strong association with charitable causes you should make extra sure that the purpose of your crowdfunding project is clear to backers.

Crowdfunder

Crowdfunder is a UK-focussed website, supporting a wide range of projects. Its university section includes postgraduate funding campaigns.


Masters funding on Crowdfunder
Minimum targets? Optional
Rewards? Recommended, but not compulsory
Fees? 6% per pledge, plus additional rates for processing payments

Despite its name, Crowfunder doesn’t just offer a crowdfunding solution.

It also provides a means for businesses, charities and other organisations to help boost successful projects through a process known as ‘extra funding’ (Crowdfunder takes a straightforward approach to naming things).

Indiegogo

Indiegogo helps raise support for entrepreneurial, creative and education projects with specific aims. This can include funding for postgraduate tuition fees.


Masters funding on Indiegogo
Minimum targets? Optional
Rewards? Yes
Fees? 5% plus additional payment-processing fees

Indiegogo also funds charitable projects through its generosity platform. This provides a fee-free solution for non-profit crowdfunding that aims to support good causes.

Other crowdfunding solutions

Our list of options for postgraduate crowdfunding isn't meant to be completely exhaustive (crowdfunding is a rapidly developing area). But it does include some of the best options for raising money towards a Masters degree.

You may also come across some of the following platforms:

  • Crowdcube focusses on public investment, rather than donation. Backers fund projects in return for part-ownership of businesses or equity. This isn’t generally suitable for postgraduate degrees, but exceptions may occur.
  • Studentfunder was a crowdfunding platform specifically for UK postgraduate students. It closed once postgraduate loans were made available. Resources that still refer to this service could be out of date.

Setting up your own crowdfunding platform

You’re unlikely to have the time, resources or expertise to build your own crowdfunding website. However, you could set up a blog describing your project and attempt to raise interest through social media and word of mouth.

This approach makes crowdfunding a Masters even more flexible. You’ll be able to set your own targets, decide whether or not to offer rewards and potentially avoid website fees.

On the other hand, building your own blog or website will take extra time and resources that might be better spent on your crowdfunding campaign.

It’s also possible that some backers may have more faith in campaigns hosted on familiar platforms.

Tips for successful postgraduate crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has a lot to recommend it. Anyone can try it, at any point, during any Masters degree. And any money you raise can – usually – be combined with any other funding.

But you shouldn’t get the impression that postgraduate crowdfunding is an ‘easy option’. You won’t simply be applying for funding. You’ll be campaigning for it. That takes sustained effort.

After all, the best way to encourage people to invest in your Masters is to invest in your own campaign. The following advice should help you do that effectively.

Think about the kind of postgraduate degrees that are more likely to get crowdfunded

In principle, any Masters degree can attract crowdfunding. In practice, some will be more suitable than others.

It’s worth being realistic about your chances before you spend time, effort (and possibly money) setting up a campaign.

Ask yourself: do you, or your course, fit one of the following profiles? If so, you may be in with a chance.

  • Good causes – You’re attracting Masters funding, not charitable donations, but your degree could still have a positive impact on the wider world. Will you be contributing to medical research? Does your work have the potential to help vulnerable groups or individuals? Are you studying to qualify for a career with social or humanitarian benefits?
  • Local interest – Some postgraduate subjects may not have obvious humanitarian benefits, but could your work still be of value to specific groups or communities? Masters with a focus on regional heritage or history could fit the bill here.
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship – Will your course lead to the creation (or improvement) of a new technology, creative product or enterprise? Is it likely to be interesting to the wider public, in and of itself? Is there a way you can make it interesting?

Of course, it’s not just about your Masters, it’s also about you, which means you should. . .

Find ways to stand out

There are plenty of other postgraduate students already looking for crowdfunding and this approach is only likely to become more popular in the future.

So, even though you won’t be competing directly for a scholarship or bursary, postgraduate crowdfunding is still competitive in a broader sense.

That’s why your project will benefit from a unique selling point (USP).

Why should people fund you? What makes your situation stand out? What’s the wider story behind your campaign?

The answers to these questions don’t have to be dramatic or detailed. It’s simply a case of finding something that people will find engaging:

  • Are you the first person in your family to go on to postgraduate study?
  • Are you travelling far for your Masters, or studying abroad?
  • Are you ineligible for other funding such as postgraduate loans?
  • Are you close to being able to pay for your Masters, but need a relatively small amount of support to get you ‘over the line’?

If you don’t think you have a particularly original USP, simply be honest. Explain why you want to take your studies to the next level and what it is you hope to achieve.

And don't forget: taking on Masters study is challenging and impressive, whatever your subject area and background. Find ways to explain this to potential backers and they may well agree.

Be organised

This may seem obvious, but it’s too vital to overlook. Crowdfunding takes time: time to plan, time to set up and time to run your campaign.

You may also have other commitments to manage – such as the final year of your undergraduate degree, or perhaps even the first part of your Masters.

Whatever your situation, make sure to assess the time required for your crowdfunding campaign in advance and start early enough to see it through. You should also think about setting aside time for updates and promotion once your project is underway (see below).

Remember: it doesn’t matter how fundable you or your project are if your campaign isn’t well put together.

Put thought into updates – and rewards

Momentum is crucial to crowdfunding.

You’re looking for lots of smaller donations, not a small number of big pledges. That means you’ll need a steady stream of backers to make progress towards your goal.

It’s unlikely that anyone is going to help pay your tuition fees just to get a photo of your campus or a copy of your dissertation (that would be a very different postgraduate funding model!). But they will appreciate the recognition and gratitude this demonstrates.

And, if you can think of more dramatic or exciting rewards related to your course or subject, go for it.

Masters degrees in subjects like Creative Arts and Design have a natural advantage here, but other disciplines can still benefit from thinking outside the box.

Do some research

Not sure if your degree is 'crowdfundable', how to go about setting up a campaign for it, or what kind of updates and rewards to offer? Learn from others.

Look for examples of previous postgraduate crowdfunding campaigns on the platforms we’ve suggested. What do the successful projects do well? What do the less successful projects do poorly?

There’s also no harm in (politely) contacting other crowdfunders and asking for advice. Would they recommend the platform they used? How much time did it take them to set up their campaign? Do they have any simple tips we haven’t covered here?

Unlike some other scholarships, crowdfunding isn’t really a competition: other students will probably be happy to share their guidance.

Be honest

The world of crowdfunding is broad and varied. People seek support for a wide range of projects, from commercial start-ups and creative products to charitable causes, personal appeals and, of course, educational appeals.

Always make sure it’s obvious what you’re fundraising for. And don’t risk misleading people into thinking they’re funding something they aren’t:

  • Your Masters may seek to benefit the wider world, but you (probably) aren’t a charity.
  • Your Masters might have a creative outcome, but you’re still studying a degree, not creating and selling a film, artwork, videogame or other media product.
  • Your Masters might lead you to set up a business, but (with some exceptions) you’re seeking donations, not investment.

You should also be sure you read the terms and conditions for crowdfunding platforms carefully. They may not be very exciting, but failing to follow them could put a successful campaign at risk further down the line.

Be realistic

Be honest with yourself, as well as your backers: remember the limits of crowdfunding as well as its potential.

Paying for postgraduate study isn’t as simple as setting up an internet campaign and watching the donations pour in. (If it was, we wouldn’t need to have so many other guides in our funding section).

People have successfully crowdfunded a Masters before, but this solution won’t work for everyone. Even if you follow all of the advice on this page, it still might not work for you.

That’s why it’s good to see crowdfunding as one part of a wider postgraduate funding portfolio. If it works for you, great. If not, have some other options in mind.

Alternatives to crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is an innovative and exciting way to approach a Masters, but it isn't for everyone. Fortunately, our guides cover a range of more 'conventional' postgraduate funding options, from government loans to our own FindAMasters scholarships.

Last updated - 05/04/2017

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