How to Crowd-Source Your College Savings

by Marilyn Gillen

How to Crowd-Source Your College Savings

Help fundraise for your future Big Man on Campus

Tap your social circle to help raise funds for your future BMOC. (No awkwardness, promise!)

Sure, designer baby duds are adorbs and a singing teddy bear will inspire a happy dance, but those gifts aren't going to help your kid score a B.A. someday. What he really needs: cold, hard cash in his college savings account. And, as the latest projections confirm, lots of it.

That's what led Katie McKinney of Cincinnati to Google “nice way to ask for college donations” when she was planning son Graham's first-birthday party last year. “He gets lots of hand-me-downs, so we didn't really need ‘stuff,’” she says. “But I wasn't totally comfortable asking for cash instead.” Enter, one of a growing number of online gift registries that take the awkwardness—and effort—out of having family and friends use birthdays, holidays, and other occasions to kick in toward college savings. “Now I just include the link to his profile (“Buckeye Bound in 2030!”) in invites, and they can donate if they want to,” McKinney says.

Turns out, people seem to want to. “We got great feedback from parents after we launched,” says Tim Harrington, CEO of College Registry from FiPath. “But what I didn't expect were e-mails from family and friends grateful for having a way to give a more meaningful gift.”

Upromise Investments CEO Jeff Howkins says each “event” (birthday, holiday) touted through its Ugift registry averages $785 in donations. That's a lot of Onesies. Of course, not everyone's going to pony up the bigtime Benjamins (“We mostly see that from the grandparents,” notes Marcos Cordero, CEO of Gradsave) and some version of that singing bear will still be the go-to gift for many occasions. But, hey, every little bit helps.

Keep in mind that many gift registries funnel funds into state-run 529 plans, so you may need to open one first (a good idea in any case—get a simple 411 on 529s at, or at least have a dedicated college savings or investment account. Here, three sites worth a look:

Upromise's UGift Program

You'll need a linked 529 plan (it works with 31 plans in 16 states) administered by Upromise Investments. Click the Ugift icon to send invites and coded gift coupons via e-mail, or print them out to stuff in invitations. Giftees send in the coupon with a check ($10 minimum).(

Create a profile for your kid, set a gifting goal and use easy e-mail templates plus Facebook and Twitter to spread the word to your social circle. Gifters donate any amount via credit card or from a checking account into a 529-linked account.