Fundraising 101

Money spills out of a jar labeled "My travel fund"
Funding your dream international exchange experience can be challenging, but you don't have to go it alone!

You can build a community of support through fundraising, especially when it comes to opportunities that will advance your personal and professional goals. Family members, friends, teachers, local businesses and nonprofits can all work with you to help make your dream a reality. Kick off your fundraising efforts with these ideas.

Develop a budget that details your international exchange program expenses.

First, check with the exchange program coordinator to see if they have a list of costs and estimated expenses for the program that you can incorporate. Don’t forget to account for personal disability-related expenses like medications, batteries, etc. Use the checklist in our Related Resources.

Investigate the funding resources you already have.

If you are a student, check into whether any existing financial aid support you have at school can be applied to your international exchange experience. Or, if you receive any disability-related benefits, find out whether funding from these services can be used in an international exchange context. For example, individuals who receive vocational rehabilitation or social security benefits in the U.S. may be able to use some of their benefits towards international exchange.

If you are a U.S. citizen who receives vocational rehabilitation or social security benefits, visit the VR, SSI and SSDI links in the Table of Contents to learn more.

Apply for financial aid and scholarships from the international exchange program and/or your school.

International exchange programs often have scholarships to support the participation of diverse students in their programs. Remember, disability is one aspect of diversity and many programs actively work to include more people with disabilities. College career, disability services, or international study abroad centers and academic departments frequently have fellowship programs that grant money to students participating in innovative research projects or programs abroad, particularly if you are earning academic credit for the research.

Put together a compelling donation request letter that nobody can refuse!

Put time into perfecting this letter – make sure you explain why you are passionate about the exchange program, how your goals are related to it, the amount of money you are requesting, and why it’s important for people to donate. Oh, and did we mention? Try to keep this to a single page. Any longer and you risk losing the interest of potential donors.

Assemble a fundraising committee of local supporters.

Harness the power of family and friends who want to help you to reach your goals. They may have ideas for new resources and can use their unique skills and talents to help you gather support. Have them write letters on your behalf and distribute pledge forms to their co-workers, family and friends.

Compile a list of contacts you can reach out to for funding support.

These could include family, friends, places of worship, community organizations, local businesses (U.S. Chamber of Commerce), service clubs (Rotary Club, Lions Club, Sertoma, Kiwanis, Elks etc.), local tv/radio, etc. Take every opportunity to communicate your dreams and invite people to support them. You never know who may be willing to donate!

Jade Marshall: “For many months previous to going I wrote letters to local companies and charitable organizations. Some were not able or interested in funding me and some were very kind. My greatest help was from the local Rotary Club. In return for their donation, when I came back I gave a presentation about my trip to them.”

Set up an online fundraising platform.

Some of the more well-known sites include Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Trevolta, GoFundMe and Fundmytravel. Each site varies a bit in its approach for raising funds, but you will need to set a financial goal and deadline, write convincing content about why its important to donate, and share this link with everybody you know! For instance, on Kickstarter a project must reach its funding goal before the deadline or donors will not be charged.

When Reid Davenport, a university student with cerebral palsy, wanted to make a documentary about accessibility in Europe, he launched a campaign to raise money on Kickstarter. His documentary film, Wheelchair Diaries, has since garnered widespread attention and awards.

Consider non-financial donations.

Perhaps you know a businessperson who travels extensively for her or his job, and gets little time off for vacations. They may be willing to draw on accumulated frequent-flier miles to get you a free airline ticket. A medical supply vendor might provide you with enough supplies for your entire program. What about a local community newspaper that might like to help you reach your goal, but can't afford to give you money? Instead, ask them to do a feature article about you and your project, with a request for readers to send donations.

Get creative with your fundraising.

There's no shortage of ideas when it comes to fundraising, so don't be afraid to think outside of the box! Many past exchange participants have used unique talents, skills and local resources to drum up support. Check out some real-life examples below.

After Tanis Doe received the opportunity to volunteer at a Deaf school in Jamaica, she collected 40,000 soda and beer bottles on her college campus and returned them for the deposit. She ended up raising $2000, which was enough for her to participate.

Shannon Coe and her husband invited sixteen people to a fundraising dinner, asking for donations of $50 per plate. "We raised quite a lot of money that evening," she recalls.

Tamer Mahmoud approached the Director of Student Affairs at RIT about sponsoring his participation in a program in Thailand focused on Deaf culture. In exchange for the cost of his airfare, Tamer gave a presentation about his overseas experience to the school community when he returned.

When Frank Hernandez was raising money to pay for his participation in an arts-related exchange program, he held a musical performance. Frank recruited several other local musicians to perform with him, advertised the show and sold tickets in advance. The show was a hit, and Frank moved closer to his fundraising goal.

Got other fundraising ideas and tips? Share your ideas with us!