Planning a successful trip is a lot of work. Anybody that has ever completed one knows that the rewards afterward more than make up for the time and energy put in at the beginning. Fundraising takes up the most time and energy for me. I teach in a rural community of roughly 7,000 people and there are less than 400 students in the high school. Many of our students come from families that struggle financially, which isn’t a surprise because honestly, who isn’t tightening the belt these days? Living in a small town that is filled with small businesses trying to survive in tough economic times also makes it a challenge to raise money to support our program. Despite all of these hurdles, I’ve still found ways to successfully raise money and help numerous students travel over the years.
The first step for me was to change my attitude about fundraising. If done properly, it can be a valuable learning lesson for students. Our students live in the 21st Century where most things they want they can have in an instant. If they want a new song or movie, they can buy it on-line and download it in seconds. If they want to communicate with someone, they can send a text message in an instant. However, some of the most important things in life aren’t immediately attainable. Some of these include completing college, finding a job, having a family, or even building a home. By teaching students that planning and fundraising are important and necessary steps to achieving the long-term goal of traveling abroad, we can help them make the connection to taking the proper steps to achieve long-term personal goals.
The next thing I do is meet with the students and their parents and we set realistic expectations for our fundraisers. Currently I already have 29 students signed up to travel with EF to Costa Rica in 2013. The cost of the trip itself is right around $2,200. Do we really expect to raise $63,800 to fully fund everybody’s trip? Absolutely not. And I don’t think we should either. I believe that fundraising should be a way to help students offset the cost of the trip. I think that it is important that the students work and earn some of the money as well. This teaches the student the true value of a dollar. It also has more personal meaning for them when they board the plane and realize that they played a vital role in making this opportunity happen for themselves instead of it just being given to them.
I also believe that it is helpful when parents are able to help cover some of the cost. The community shouldn’t have to pick up the entire tab and it can be quite challenging for young people to be able raise all the money on their own. The goal we set is for students to be able to raise 25%-40% of the cost of the trip. I do have some families that chose not to participate in fundraising. That is perfectly ok with me as long as they understand they are responsible for footing the bill themselves.
Once we’re on the same page about our fundraising goals, we start early. I like to plan my trip two years in advance so that students have more time to work, fundraise, and save money. I get ideas from parents and encourage them to lead certain fundraisers. As a teacher and advisor, I can’t run every fundraiser myself. I oversee the fundraisers that they run and make sure that we are following all school policies as well as collecting and reporting the finances appropriately. In order to ensure my fundraisers are successful, I make sure I pick good ones. We want to get the most “bang for our buck.” I hate fundraisers that involve a lot of time but yield small profits. I recall doing a concession stand once for a volleyball tournament. We worked 12 hours, donated all the food, and make less than $100 because all the teams brought their own food. I would have rather paid the money myself to not do all the prep work and have the day off. I prefer to do a few big fundraisers instead of a whole bunch of small ones. Doing fewer fundraisers saves time and also saves me from hassling the same people over and over again for money. Whenever possible, we try to sell things that are either of good quality, things people need anyway, or provide some type of entertainment. This way, people don’t feel like they are throwing their money away.
If I want the community to support my fundraisers, it is important that they understand what they are really supporting. I work very hard to promote my Spanish Club program in the community. After our trips we send a group picture to the paper with a thank-you letter to the community. We create a movie documenting our travel experiences and present it on the big screen to the community at an open house event. We sometimes even play the movie on the local public access channel. The students share their experiences, photos, and videos with friends, family, and neighbors. Whenever possible, we also try to give back. We visit assisted living homes and deliver Christmas cards in Spanish. We sing Spanish Christmas carols at school assemblies. We are visible at after school functions. A community that can easily identify a program, relate to it, and appreciate what it stands for as well as what it provides for students, will always support financial efforts that benefit the program.
When I feel that our fundraisers aren’t quite as successful as I need them to be, I turn to a few other options. Sometimes I ask our local VFW post for a donation. My students will visit the post and speak to the members about their trip and hopes for traveling abroad in order to learn more about language, culture, history, geography, and themselves. I will also seek grants from large businesses and several community foundations. I’ve made connections with influential people in the community that are always willing to anonymously help out when a student is struggling to raise enough money to travel. I only ask for their help when I absolutely need it. Finally, there are several parents of former travelers that approach me years after their children have traveled. They speak about the impact that the trip has had on their children and offer to donate money towards upcoming trips. When in need, I go to these people as well.
Fundraising doesn’t have to be a drag. It can be fun and rewarding for all involved. If done properly, they can be quite successful too. In my next post I will share a few of my favorite and most successful fundraisers.
Scott is a high school Spanish teacher and basketball coach. He began traveling with EF Tours in 2001 and has led 8 student tours to various Spanish-speaking countries. Scott strongly believes that student travel builds self-confidence and inspires students to develop and work towards long-term goals.