Fundraising Strategies

If you choose to sign up for a Volunteer project, you will have to provide a major portion of the funding to participate in the project. But that does not mean that the money has to come out of your own pocket! You can pursue funding from the many Grant Providers, or you can do fundraising to cover part or all of your expenses. This page deals with the basics of fundraising.

The first resource to use is the organization that is overseeing your project. Many field organizations have fundraising resources, and some have a clearinghouse for project sponsors that make the task of fundraising more like applying for financial aid in college.

The Basics

The first rule of fundraising is: You have to ask.

How many people do you know? Make a list of them. Ask every one of them to contribute to your cause. Then ask people you don't know to contribute to your cause.

If you are new to fundraising, it may take some time to adjust to “selling” your project or cause. You may be hesitant to “hit your friends up for money.” Get over it!

Your friends and acquaintances may want to support your project, for many reasons. The chance to contribute to a worthy cause is key, especially when they personally know the provider of the worth — you! They also get to share in a slice of the adventure - to be a small part of “living on the edge.” You can provide them with more value for their charitable dollar than they can get through many other channels.

Here are some fundraising guidelines:

Design a Fundraising Program

It does not need to be formal or fancy, but have an idea in your mind of how your fundraising efforts are going to evolve.

  • What aspects of your project will you emphasize? Helping poor people? Education? Providing medical care? Participating in an adventure?
  • What are the groups of people to whom you will promote? Consider friends and family, business contacts, school contacts (current and former), religious contacts, neighbors, etc.
  • How will you promote to the different groups of people? Letter or phone or E-Mail? Will you emphasize different aspects of the project for different groups? Also consider having different approaches for people you know well and more casual acquaintances.

Build Your Network

Begin with the list of people you know, and be ready to add to the list.

You might keep a computer-based list, so you can easily add to your network. You will also have a place to record to whom you sent what, and who gave you what. But if you're not computer-savvy, don't be concerned - a stack of index cards with all the information will work just fine.

Some volunteers who start fundraising hunt for a single big sponsor. However, lots of small sponsors mean that more people get involved in your cause. Don't be surprised if some of them wind up going on an international project themselves in a few years!

Develop Your Message

Keep your message short and to the point. A letter should be no more than a page. E-Mails should be short, although using E-Mail allows the possibility of links to web pages for people who want more detail.

Explain how donating to your project will make an immediate impact. Don't say “Children in Botswana have no school.” Say “Your support will allow me to teach English to children in Botswana.”

Ask for a specific amount of support. Without a specific amount, many people will overestimate what you expect for a “contribution.” They will give nothing rather than an amount that they fear will be viewed as “inadequate.” Give them an amount that you feel they can comfortably afford to contribute, based on your best guess of their financial situation. Also take into account how well you know them. Don't be afraid to ask established contacts for $100 or $200.

Without being pushy, convey a sense of urgency. People rarely follow through if they put your request aside.

Offer Incentives

What do people want?

  • Recognition and praise are excellent incentives. A formal thank-you letter with a list of your supporters is an excellent start.
  • You could host a small reception to recognize your supporters before you leave. Include the list of supporters in the invitation.
  • Don't forget to mention that contributions may be tax-deductible.
  • Offer to keep your supporters updated on your project. If you will have E-Mail access on your project, a periodic update “from the field” adds to people's lives. Even a postcard would be welcome! Our There We Were E-Mails have ended up in school projects, magazine articles, sermons, and keep popping up all over the Web.
  • You could offer to host an educational presentation on your return. A slide show is an excellent way to secure funding from religious organizations, civic groups, educational organizations, and alumni associations. The person who organizes events for these groups is always looking to fill an events calendar. They will often aggressively promote your cause within their organization if you can offer an “event.” Not confident with public speaking? Don't worry! Take lots of photos and your trip will speak for itself.
Offering a concrete incentive also has one incentive for you: it frees you (somewhat) from the burden of pay-backs. If you don't offer an incentive, you might feel obligated to return a specific favor for every single donation, and that can quickly become a huge burden.

Make it Easy to Contribute

Provide a convenient way to (A) contribute or (B) commit.

(A) Contribute. Tell them how to make out their check and where to send it. Better, provide a return envelope. One fundraising couple established a low-cost web site, and accepted credit cards! This is a bit extreme, but the payback was huge.

(B) Commit. A specific commitment is far better than a vague promise. Include the offer “if you don't have the money right now, you can post-date a check.” You could ask them to fill out a sponsorship form, and then get back to them on a designated date.

Test Your Message

Try your message out on a few people and gauge their reaction. Watch them while they read it. See if their eyebrows raise, crinkle, or furrow.

Do they get the message? Are you asking too much (or too little)? Is it easy for them to respond? Are there typos? Use the feedback to improve your delivery.

Follow Up

Phone your contacts and emphasize that you really need their support. This can dramatically improve your response, and add a more personal touch to your fundraising effort.


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