Startup Aims To Help College Grads Volunteer Their Way Out Of Student Debt

Millennials aren’t much for volunteering, but Kelli Space and Sabrina Norrie think that they’ve found a way to increase Gen Y’s philanthropic participation rate while appealing to their peers’ much maligned sense of self-interest. The two twentysomethings have founded Zero Bound – a platform that allows students and recent grads to pledge hours of service to not-for-profit organizations in exchange for donations toward reducing their debt from sponsors in their communities.

“Today’s graduates have a tremendous amount of energy, education, skill, budding expertise and perspective to offer to their communities. The problem is, for the most part, they aren’t doing so. I know firsthand that no matter how old, people volunteer for all types of reasons – some are purely altruistic – but other are motivated to get involved socially, earn credits, fulfill required hours, enhance their resumes, stay active – the reasons go on and on. But no matter what the motivations are – within reason – most nonprofits jump at the chance to access skill-based and committed volunteers. Zero Bound understands the motivations of these skilled young professionals and incentivizes their service,” says Norrie.

Zero Bound was inspired in part by the co-founders’ own struggles with student debt –  Norrie graduated with $28K in loans while Space borrowed $200K – but both women also hope that their organization and its approach will contribute to the national dialogue that they believe we should be having about the student loan system.

“Student loan debt is a national concern. With one trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt carried by over 37 million people, with more than one third of current working graduates being underemployed and the unemployment rate for 2011 grads being 8.8%, we need to not only address the root causes, but also the economic and social consequences of this,” says Space.

But it’s not only student borrowers who get to benefit from participation in Zero Bound. James Davis, Director of Program and Marketing at Vanderkamp Center, sees it as a golden opportunity for not-for-profit organizations such as his that may have difficulty attracting volunteers on their own.

“We have no shortage of work that needs to get done, but we often have a shortage of people willing to do it. We have a wide range of opportunities for potential volunteers to come and help with, many of which would likely serve them in the pursuit of other careers, but are unable to provide enough incentives to engage the helpers we need. We think Zero Bound will offer a brilliant way to bring all of these forces together to really help us get where we need to be,” he says.

Zero Bound is currently wrapping up its crowdfunding efforts at the end of the month and plans to launch with its first group of users in early 2013. Both Norrie and Space are hoping that fellow students and new grads will be eager trade their free time for a break on their borrowed bottom lines.


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