"SEND ANNA TO SCHOOL," reads the Facebook message headline. I click on it, half expecting any number of my Teach For America friends to be asking me to sponsor their classrooms or for PeaceCorps friends to be asking the same for Senegalese school children.
No, "Anna" is Anna Gallagher from Worcester, MA, and a classmate going into her second year at Middlebury College in Vermont. She's using Facebook to reach out to her peers for tuition money, $3,500 to be exact. She writes,
I've been debating on whether or not to do this, 'cause it seems a bit low and desperate, but I need money. I am $3,500 away from going to Middlebury in the Fall. The school costs $52 grand, so I'm not too far off. I am maxed out on loans, and so are my parents, so I'm reaching out to friends and family to try and do a little fund-raising. I have 360ish friends, and if I got $10 from everyone, I could go!
Is Anna brilliant or foolish for making her case online?
Anna is taking the old idea of a letter writing campaign for sponsorship and adding social media. Through Facebook she's making her call-to-action to friends, but is also appealing to others she may not have met before. Her original appeal went out to 390 people on Facebook. It has now reached the eyes of over 2,000, mostly with help from others in the community inviting their friends to participate.
But it feels taboo to be talking about money and tuition so openly. University financial aid is designed so that you can't pick out which students are paying their own way and which students are getting help. For a student to single herself out is more than brave. Anna sees it this way:
Money should be talked about more. And education is the most important thing in the world. I want to attend the school that I love. No one should be blocked from their education with the constant worry of coming up short. I'm not ashamed, as long as I end up at Middlebury in two weeks with the money. I'm doing what it takes.
Anna doesn't have much time before the start of the Fall semester. And that's partially why she said she turned to Facebook:
E-mail seems more personal and a Facebook event is general. I need a larger impact than a few phone calls and some personal e-mails.
Raising money to get to school isn't new nor is raising money through Facebook in general. But together, Anna's plea for raising tuition via Facebook is surprisingly compelling. Consciously or not, she's effectively using social media by harnessing her online community in an authentic way.
And it works. So far she's raised $1,700 with e-mails of support and checks arriving daily. She promises poetry for her donors as her way of saying thank you.