Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Interview with Raymar Hampshire, CEO & Co-Founder of SponsorChange

If you don't believe in significant changes that can take place at the grass-roots level, then stop reading this post now. But for those of you who believe in the power of community, then this interview will be right up your alley. Raymar Hampshire, the CEO and Co-Founder of SponsorChange.org, agreed to be interviewed for Education Matters. I've been an affiliated partner of SponsorChange for over six months (I'm a senior writer on their blog entitled, the Philanthroteer). But there is more. I'm delighted to announce a recent change in my relationship with them. I am now their Online Brand Advocate. That means I'll be helping them spread the word about their organization via Twitter, Facebook, etc. It is an honor and a privilege to be working with such a savvy, community-oriented group of people. So, without further adieu, let's hear what Raymar has to say about his organization.

CCJ: You're the CEO and Co-Founder of SponsorChange.Org. Could you tell us a little bit about your organization and why you decided to start this venture?

RH: SponsorChange.org is a program that seeks to match college graduates that have student loan debt to non-profit organizations that can utilize their skills to complete skill-based service projects. In return SponsorChange.org raises funds to reward these college graduates with student loan payments. The idea was birthed out of research on peer-to-peer lending and micro-financing. Knowing that student loan debt has become a major problem, I began to think about how we could harness the power of micro-financing to help recent grads pay back there student loans, but instead of paying back, as is the case for traditional financing, the beneficiary would pay it forward through service.

CCJ: How many employees do you currently have? Do you plan on expanding your organization? What about your affiliated partners? What roles do the latter group play for SponsorChange?

RH: SponsorChange.org currently has a volunteer based workforce. Many of the volunteers were once SponsorChange.org participants. Currently we have eight volunteer staff members. As our organization continues to grow, we will offer salaried positions. On the partner side, we have developed key relationships to push the ball forward. Cryn Johannsen, helps to inform our members of the latest Higher Education policy news. Dominique Reese, of CommuniTree, assists SponsorChange.org in offering financial education to our members, Patricia Hudak of RealWorld 101, assist with providing our members with practical tips on navigating life after college, and Chris Gray of Trackahead.com, assist us with working with current college students around getting the most out of your college experience. We are always looking to add partners – in order to solve the most challenging problems in higher education it will take many different approaches.

CCJ: How many volunteers do you currently have? What sort of work are they doing?

RH: All of our volunteers are amazing and we certainly would not be able to push the ball forward with nearly as much of intensity without them. We currently have eight tremendous volunteers, they are:

Shawn Agyeman – Director of Marketing
Sheena Hancock – Executive Assistant
Cryn Johannsen - Online Brand Advocate, Blog Contributor
Terryn Hall – Manager of the Philanthroteer
Kelsey Halling – Blog Contributor
Ashlee Boylan – Manager of Non-Profit Relations
Cacie Cunningham – Director of Development
Evan Ayasso – customer relations

CCJ: What are some of the biggest obstacles that you - as a non-profit - are facing when it comes to obtaining sponsorship? What sorts of strategies do you have in place to overcome the problem(s) related to this challenge?

RH: As a start-up it’s challenging to gain funding because of the limited brand and demonstrated impact or what we have to offer. Also, the program is not for everyone. We target to sponsors who are interested in giving directly to a cause/project/person, much in the same way as kiva.org and donorchoose.org. Some sponsors may prefer to donate to a more traditional non-profit organization.

Our strategy is to continue to demonstrate and market the impact of our program. We recently were approached by a local television network about are program and they ran a full segment highlighting our program – take a look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Moo0CZXtxcg&feature=player_embedded.

CCJ: Your work is currently dedicated to recent graduates. That's highly commendable. I think it's important that younger people get involved with SponsorChange, and for two reasons: first, your program helps people get involved with community. Second, you are teaching younger Americans valuable leadership skills. However, a reader of mine recently made this remark: "See if you can get [SponsorChange] to help us old folks too. I'd be willing to do that kind of work." Do you have any thoughts on how your organization could help out older debtors as well? Or perhaps the better question is this: is your program only geared towards helping younger debtors?

RH: SponsorChange.org is actually open to anyone with student loan debt [my emphasis]. We often get similar questions, and we encourage older adults to sign up. Our marketing message may often resonate with younger-adults, because that is who we are and marketing is reflection of that.

CCJ: When you hear people say that education should only be for a specific number of people in the U.S., what are your thoughts on that? I recently had a heated debate with a number of indentured educated citizens. It all began when I remarked on my Facebook page that I was tired of the argument that claims college degrees are useless because there aren't any jobs. Many told me that they regret obtaining their degrees. Do you think that all U.S. citizens should have equal access to a college degree (or beyond)? If so, why?

RH: Education, formally or informally should be accessible for everyone. Let me be clear, the four-year college experience may not be for everyone; perhaps someone is more interested in going to a trade school. Degrees, are certainly not the end all, but are often necessary to compete in the US marketplace.

Every study I have looked at reinforces this and the value an education has on future earnings. Higher education in all of its forms needs to be not only accessible but an affordable endeavor. The real challenging work and what I am most focused on is how can we create sound policy to achieve this. Through SponsorChange.org we are addressing this problem of college affordability on the back end – my vision is that through our work we can begin to inform policy on college affordability on the front end.

CCJ: Finally, on a personal note, what did you study in school? What degrees do you have? Why do they matter to you? Do you feel like they were a waste of time to obtain?

RH: I received my Bachelor's in Business Management, with a focus in Finance, and I am currently working on a Masters in Public Policy and Management. These degrees are all meaningful to me and the work that I want to do and are certainly not a waste of time for me.


Nando said...

This sounds promising, and I actually would like to be a part of this. I have written letters to congressmen and have not received any responses. At this point, I am fine publishing law school salaries - from IRS 990 forms. But, in the end, we need a coalition.

Demosthenes of America said...

The larger trend of "social networking" has been gaining a lot of traction, especially in the non-profit world as they rely heavily on their "market base/supporters" being on the political left which entails being far more tech savvy than those on the right (in general). It sounds like an interesting project but I'm sure it won't get the mainstream press that it deserves--unlike the very similar project entitled Jumo, which is going for a full launch this fall, by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes (one of the only ones out of the group that seems to have something resembling a soul). It is bizarre that we seem to have this whole generation of "highly educated, highly skilled, highly motivated" potential workers who can't get a chance or outlet to shine but hopefully this can help make a dent in that problem.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

D. of America - we need to change that fact, don't we?