Fundraising for the Individual Student – GoFundMe is NOT enough

I do not recommend googling “fundraising ideas for choirs.” You will find yourself weeding through numerous Pintrest suggestions and ads from companies promising ways to make fundraising painless, quick, and bring in lots of money. Sound too good to be true? Why yes, it is. In general, fundraising is difficult, time-consuming work. It puts all of us on edge because usually no one wants to ask for money (and if you are from the upper Midwest, you would probably prefer not to bother anyone for things like that!). Fundraising strikes at the very heart of what is not polite conversation: religion, politics, and money. But if touring and attire are essential parts of your program and you don’t have the means to write a check for what you need to pay for, you will need to raise funds. So it’s important to recognize that fundraising is often times uncomfortable and can be a little embarrassing, but in the end, it is worth it.

As a college professor, I come in contact with many students who find themselves in the financial position where paying for school becomes difficult. I am constantly impressed with the amount of work my students are able to do along side their studies and their activities. Luther College is also an institution where students are highly encouraged to study abroad during some part of their academic career. In addition, we are a school where nearly half of the student body participates in some sort of music ensemble and many of these ensembles are touring ensembles, so students are expected to participate in tours as well. Many of the music tours cost our students a nominal fee, but several cost thousands of dollars on top of their tuition. Fundraising becomes one of the only solutions to help the student be able to afford these once in a lifetime opportunities.

Many institutions have departments to help with making the cost of these events as low as possible. If it is possible for the larger organization to take some of the fundraising off of the individual student’s hands (with large campaigns, for instance) then the organization can reach out to alumni, parents, and supporters to help bring down the cost of an event such as a tour. For the purposes of this article, let us assume that the cost is as low as it possibly can be and that the individual student is responsible for making up the difference. Let us further assume that students are not going to go door to door to sell magazines or candy bars in order to raise money. For many donors, they would simply prefer to donate the money directly to you anyway, without the gimmick of purchasing something and a percentage of it goes to you.

Professional fundraisers will tell you that the best way to raise money is by making your case compelling, personal, and specific. Why compelling? People do not like to throw money away, even if they have the means to do so. People do like to give money to causes that are of value to them. More importantly, people like to give money to people who are of value to them. Why personal? Because people in general want to help others, especially ones they know and ones that are important to them. Being contacted personally lets the potential donor know that they matter and that you thought about them. Why specific? Even the most generous person wants to know how his/her money will be used.

The steps to making a personal connection…

I believe that in order to make your case compelling and personal, one should reach back to the lost art of making a personal connection – in other words, sit down and write a handwritten letter and pick up the telephone. In order to make your case specific, make a list of reasons why this event is important to you, how it will have a positive impact on your career and why the tour costs as much as it does (detail the itinerary and experiences.)

In a high-pressure situation like this (and asking for money is high pressure,) write yourself a script. After you have finished your script, write a list of ten names and think about how the cost of your trip could be divided between these ten names. If you tour costs $2000, is it reasonable to consider that each on of these people could donate $200? If not, then what would be a reasonable amount? Consider broadening your list of names and coming up with twenty names of potential donors. I suggest trying to come up with a “suggested donation.” When people hear, “I have to raise $2000” they panic. When they hear, “I wonder if you might be able to help me with a $20 donation” they think it sounds pretty manageable.

It is important that donors see that you are also willing to work for money being donated and that you have tried to raise or earn as much of the money possible. I also recommend that you show them that you will be willing to share your experience with them after you return (after all, they are participants in your experience via the fact that they are donors.) Let donors know that you will be keeping a blog, a photo journal, and/or performing a homecoming recital for them after the tour (or performing a pre-tour recital, if that works better).

Sample script or letter….

Dear _____________________,

I am excited to announce that my choir has been invited to sing in a festival in Italy this summer. As a music education major, I see being able to participate in this kind of tour as part of my journey to becoming a better future music educator.

Our itinerary includes concerts in Florence, Rome, and Venice. We will be working with specialist in Baroque music and I will be a featured soloist in Vivaldi’s Gloria in Venice! Our tour lasts two weeks and has a cost of $3000.

I have been able to take a class about the music of the Renaissance and it has allowed me to take out additional student loan money in order to cover part of the cost of the tour; however, I still have $2000 left to pay toward the tour. I am writing friends, family, and supporters to ask if they could make a contribution of $20-$50 dollars to help me raise the final amount needed. In turn I will be providing you access to my tour blog, photo journal, and would like to personally invite you to a pre-tour recital I am giving on Saturday, May 15th.

For your convenience, I have created a GoFundMe page at: (insert address.) I will be following up with an email or Facebook invitation with my GoFundMe address as well.

I truly appreciate your willingness to help me, even if it is with well wishes.



A word about sites like GoFundMe…

I know that many of you are reading this and thinking, “Well I can just go to GoFundMe and make a page in about five minutes, copy and paste my email address book, and done!” Internet sites like GoFundMe seem like wonderful ways to raise money. It allows you to quickly and easily as your supporters to donate money from their credit or debit cards. For many students, GoFundMe seems like the best option because it looks professional and it is easy. I believe that GoFundMe is a great follow up. Many individuals hardly use cash or checks, so an online site seems like the best option, but it can miss that one, very important element of fundraising: making your case personal.

It’s important to consider where your audience is – will your GoFundMe page be easy to access by those who are not Internet savvy? Those who are not on Facebook? Use GoFundMe as a follow up. Let your donors know personally that you will be sending them the link for their convenience. Lead with a dialogue in order to establish the personal connection before you send out a GoFundMe request. It is tempting to disregard this step, but it is worth the extra effort.

Cold calling and personal conversations…. 

I have worked for non-profits in the past and was involved in commission sales in college and when I was a new teacher. Trust me, cold calling (or what we would describe as picking up the phone to ask someone for money) is difficult! I have had donors say to me, “good job – that is hard, isn’t it?” To which I replied, “yes, incredibly difficult” and we had a good laugh about it. I can say from experience that nothing yields larger amounts of dollars than either a personal phone call or a discussion face to face. It is the most uncomfortable scenario, but it well worth it.

Important – Don’t miss the follow up(s)!…

In general, you can check back with a potential donor once, maybe twice, to make sure they have received your letter, voicemail message, etc. Any more than that and you run the risk of being a nuisance. A quick email to your potential donor: “Dear Aunt Sue, I wanted to make sure you received my letter about my choir tour fundraising campaign. I appreciate your support. I hope you have a fabulous day. Here is my GoFundMe page is you are able to make any donation – every little bit counts! Best, Jennaya.” Sometimes it takes a follow up to jog their memory as this might be far down on his/her “to do list.”

Most importantly (and truly, MOST importantly,) when someone has donated money to you, immediately sit down and write a hand written thank you note. The hand written letter is a lost art. Thank you notes show that the donation and the donor are important to you. And make sure that every donation receives a handwritten note; don’t reserve this for only your top donors (and write one for your parents too if they happen to be donors.)

In short, raising money is about connecting with people…

Fundraising campaigns can be truly worthwhile when you see that you are able to accomplish your financial goals through raising money. They also are a way for you to connect with people personally. When you are on that tour to Italy, you will be able to look at St. Peter’s square and realize that it was the donation from Aunt Sue and your neighbor that made it possible for you to be there. In short, fundraising is not just about your goals, but it’s about connecting people and engaging an entire community. Connecting with people lets them show you that they support you, your dreams, and your education by putting their hard earned money behind you.

About the author

Jennaya Robison

Jennaya Robison

Jennaya Robison is assistant professor of music at Luther College.