Fundraising can help to make your study abroad experience more affordable or build an account for out-of-pocket expenses. Funding sources like scholarships and grants specifically meant for studying abroad are definitely well worth your time and attention. Enthusiasm, resourcefulness, and perseverance on your part can take you even further. Don't be easily discouraged as you look for alternative funding. Be creative and diligent in finding ways to fund your experience abroad!
How to ask
Where do you start? How do you ask for financial support?
When you have a worthwhile plan, people will be willing to support you. It's important to present yourself on your website, letters, or at your events so that people understand how money will be spent, they believe in your preparations for your study abroad program, and they feel invested in your plans. Here are some tips:
- Direct, informal appeals often work best.
- Be specific about how you intend to spend any funds you raise. Let people know if funds will be applied to airfare, tuition, program fees, personal travel, special projects, etc.
- Let them know what studying abroad will mean to you, why it is important to your future, and share something about yourself. Show that you understand that this will be a meaningful and transformative experience and that you are not asking them to help fund a vacation. What do you expect to learn? How do you anticipate being impacted by studying abroad? Will it make you a better leader, musician, teacher, writer, communicator, or world citizen?
- Express specific goals and achievements and not just vague, lofty desires. Don't just tell them what you will do - explain what you will accomplish. For example, saying "I want to go to Ireland" or "I want to study at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin for fall semester" doesn't give a solid sense of what you will gain. Instead, something like "I hope to further my artistic and theatrical education by spending a semester at the Gaiety School of Acting with the goals of experiencing the rich history and culture of Dublin theatre while immersing myself in an environment of rigorous training in acting and exploration of my own creativity." Don't just tell them where you want to go - tell them why.
- You want to engage people in meaningful, interesting, compelling, and fun ways.
- You may want to include a photo of yourself with your request to establish a more personal connection.
- Be courteous and respectful in your request.
- Don't forget to ask for a donation! A common mistake in fundraising is to polish your presentation but to neglect to actually ask for a donation. People won't give if they aren't asked.
(Adapted and summarized from chapter 2 of Mobility International's Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities, 2005, available here.)
Who to approach
If your off-campus study program helps you achieve your long-term goals, it will be easier to solicit funds from external sources. Keep in mind that local, regional, and national groups, as well as individuals, are all possible contributors.
Some groups you might consider approaching are:
- Civic groups (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions Club)
- Heritage groups with an interest in a specific country (Japan America Society)
- Agencies and foundations
- High school alumni associations
- Professional organizations
- Sororities and fraternities
- Charitable, ethnic, and religious organizations
- Family, neighbors, family friends, and past employers
Offer something in return
In exchange for their financial support, you should pledge to give something back. You want to show donors the impact these experiences are having and what you are learning. Consider offering different perks for different donation levels (but don't make it too complicated). This might be promising regular updates and photos while you are abroad. You could also offer to:
- Write an article for the organization's newsletter
- Show a video from your experience
- Sponsor a presentation and regional dinner when you return
- Lead a discussion or seminar on a topic of interest to the group
- Put on a concert when you return including music you worked on, were introduced to, or from the country in which you studied
- Contribute something from your experience that is relevant to their community service or outreach interests
- Talk with others who are interested in having a similar international experience
Keep careful records of who supports you and the amount. Be sure to express your appreciation for their support and follow through on how you will follow up with them.
Grassroots fundraising & personal appeals
Some ideas you might consider:
- Ask for money or a no-interest loan instead of gifts for holidays and your birthday
- Write a creative letter to your relatives asking for financial support in exchange for regular emails while abroad and a presentation and dinner when you return
- Ask friends to join you in raising money by painting, cleaning, or washing cars
- Ask your church, synagogue, or temple to sponsor a special offering, dinner, or raffle with proceeds going toward your study abroad
- See if your parents' employers have a scholarship program for their children
- Put on a concert asking for a suggested donation. Provide information about where proceeds will go.
- Organize an event where you and friends donate instruction on a skill you have (cooking, knitting, music, yoga, computer skills, dancing, sign language, gaming, scrapbooking, etc.)
- Collect used books, CDs, software, or other things to sell. Consider a yard sale.
- Sell coffee and baked goods at a school, community, or other event with information about what you are raising money for
- Ask friends and family to donate/transfer their frequent flier miles to you
- Reduce the frequency that you buy lattes, go to movies, or a different non-essential habit of yours and put the money in a fund for your out-of-pocket spending abroad
- Setup a website, blog, or Facebook page explaining your fundraising goals. Create a donation page on a crowd-source funding site (see below) so it's easy for people to make secure online donations toward your study abroad experience.
- Save, Save, Save!
Resources & Practical Advice
Here are a couple of articles that might offer helpful advice if you are considering crowdsource funding:
UNIGO has some advice on how to have a successful crowdfunding campaign.
This blog post about crowdsourcing for travel apps has good practical considerations. While not everything in the post is applicable to funding an off-campus study experience, the post offers some things to consider in terms of timing, perks, when to expect responses, and the work needed to promote a successful campaign. Here are some examples:
- Start planning early and anticipate the work you need to put in to make this successful
- Plan for your campaign to run about 30 to 40 days (you can extend it if needed)
- Consider launching your campaign on a Thursday
- Expect an initial spike and then a bump at the end.
- Think through the rewards or perks you will offer. Be creative about how these tie into your experience.
Create your own platform on an online fundraising site. This can be a good way for people to securely donate to your study abroad fund online. You can share your link though Facebook, email, or any communications you have with people about your fundraising efforts. It's important that you research the various sites to decide which is best for your efforts. Each platform is unique - some focus on travel, some require that you meet your fundraising goal to receive the money, some are free to use. This type of campaign allows you to raise money while also raising awareness of your upcoming experiences.
$2.7 billion was raised through crowdfunding in 2012* - your off-campus study experience can benefit from this growing means of fundraising.
Following are some sites you might consider:
* Massolution: 2013CF - Crowdfunding Industry Report, crowdsourcing.org