5 reasons fundraising for study abroad is more doable than you think

AFS accepted participant, Sarah, helps remove pastries from the oven at the local business she is partnering with to raise funds for her upcoming exchange program to Japan.

During the recent Whitehouse Travel Bloggers Summit, George Mason University President Angel Cabrera argued that, “it’s very expensive NOT to study abroad.”

We wholeheartedly agree with him that the benefits of studying abroad outweigh the costs. And apparently, so does the U.S. President, who invited 100 travel bloggers to the White House last week to discuss strategies for encouraging more U.S. students to go abroad.

But the prospects of a better, more fulfilling tomorrow don’t change the fact that you’re facing tuition costs today.

AFS-USA provides over $2 million in scholarships to study abroad participants each year, but you may still need some extra cushion. So here are five reasons why that extra cushion is totally within reach, along with key tips for making it happen:

1. You are your own best resource

We’re going to let you in on a little secret – nine times out of ten, if someone donates to your study abroad fundraiser, it’s not because your banana bread is really that enticing (though it may well be), or your leaf raking skills are unmatched. They give because they see how much this opportunity means to you, and they appreciate that you’re willing to work for it. Most people want to feel good about helping a deserving student make their dreams come true, so your job is to show them how deserving you actually are and why your dream matters to you.

That being the case, your campaign should help potential donors see the real you. To let your personality shine through, craft a project that draws on your unique skills or interests. Or, if your project is more general, make sure your personal story is visible in all of your outreach efforts, from printed fliers to emails to your door-to-door elevator speech.

2. Perfection is overrated

Most likely, the people who will be interested in what you have to offer aren’t going to care if you run out of blue frosting for your cupcakes and use white instead, or you have to take a week off from your project to study for finals. If they really wanted a standardized product or unwavering 24-hour service, they would turn to one of the many corporate giants out there. But they didn’t. They turned to you, and they expect a product that’s as much a reflection of your personality and circumstances as it is useful.

Make no mistake, though - you still need to be as professional, respectful and reliable as possible. It’s okay if you need to prioritize college applications for a few days, but be open about this with your customers and work to manage their expectations. And of course, do your best to anticipate time conflicts. If you know you have a big deadline coming up, or an important swim meet mid-season, avoid making any promises for that week.

3. Structure will set you free

Think about the way you set up your project. Does the structure make it easy for people to support you? Certain strategies allow people to simply opt-in, like offering services they were going to pay for anyway, or allowing people to order and pick up your products at places they already frequent. These thoughtful approaches will make it much easier for you to explain your campaign and why it’s worth someone’s time to participate.

Also consider your pricing model. Charging $5 for a bag of cookies makes it easy for people to hand you a 5-dollar bill. But if you charge $6, they’re likely to hand you a 10 and tell you to keep the change. As long as you’ve clearly conveyed your goals, many people will be happy to do this.

4. You don’t have to be the most skilled or creative person ever

You don’t need to produce something from scratch, or have 3-5 years of babysitting or dog-walking experience, to make money. You just need to identify a need in your community and try to fill it. If school spirit runs high in your town, show up at pre-game tailgating parties with festive face paint, stickers and noisemakers in your team’s colors that excited fans can purchase. (Just be sure to clear this type of activity with your school’s booster club). Or maybe team up with your booster club for a joint initiative that could benefit you both.

Take Sarah, for example. To raise money for her upcoming AFS program to Japan, she teamed up with Pasties Plus, a local business that makes special Finnish pastries. Sarah works to drum up orders for the pastries and then delivers them to members of her community for a profit.

The arrangement both helps Sarah bring in extra funds and boosts business and visibility for Pasties Plus – a win win!

5. You get more than one chance for success

Let’s be honest – fundraising can be a challenge. Most people don’t just give away money, you have to work hard to earn their support. And while there are tons of ways to do this, not every strategy is going to work in every setting. It might take some experimenting to figure out what works in your community.

The good news is that no one will hold it against you if your first (or second or third or fourth…) project falls flat. You always get to try again. In some cases you may even find that one project works well with certain community groups while a different idea resonates with others. Don’t be afraid to abandon the one-size-fits-all approach and carry out multiple targeted projects simultaneously.