The College Kid’s Guide to Planning a Fundraiser

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“You can change the world!” they said. And by “they” I mean about 90% of the cards I went through following my high school graduation party.

At the time, I cast the sentiment aside as something that would apply to my post-grad life. I thought: Thank you for your confidence, Hallmark, but I think you’re overestimating this soon-to-be broke college kid who crawls out of the library at odd hours.

Throughout the next year, however, I encountered a number of kids my age who were in fact already playing their world-changing part. While college kids can’t necessarily cure cancer or end homelessness, they are capable of using their university network and their creative, youthful spirit to help guide some awareness, resources and funds toward the people who can. I realized that meant that I was capable, too.

I’m in the wake of the first fundraiser I’ve ever executed beyond selling Girl Scout cookies. If you are struck with the inclination to do something for a cause you feel strongly about, do it. And if your college kid change-the-world moment happens to be in the form of a fundraiser, its not as daunting as you think.

Know the Specifics

First up: become an expert in all the technical details of your event’s beneficiary. Being specific about where the money collected is going will help draw awareness to your cause and bring in more donations.

When Julia Pucillo at the University of Notre Dame organized our dorm’s Totter for Water fundraiser earlier this school year, she described the exact way the donations would be used by the organization it was benefitting. “The money we raised will go towards helping fund the [Engineers Without Borders] trip to Cameroon,” Pucillo said. “They’ll be building a well at an elementary school, which will allow more children the chance to go to school rather than spending their schooldays walking several miles to fetch water for their families.”

Knowing the specifics of your cause is the difference between potential contributors seeing money or seeing tangible purchases that can help provide education, medical treatment, etc.—In short, know your facts.

Make it Personal

Mary Claire Burchett, the fundraising chair for Saint Mary’s College’s annual Dance Marathon fundraiser, said that using stories of specific children at the Riley Hospital for which they are raising money gets more people on board to help out. “This fall we had a 5K at Saint Mary’s dedicated to a Riley kid, Charlotte Terry, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor,” Burchett said. “Although we will never get to meet her, she is an inspiration and hero to us.”

Sharing stories of the individuals ultimately being helped by your efforts will humanize your cause, allowing it to resonate with your audience on a more personal level.

Plan Ahead—Very Ahead

Planning events takes months of preparation. As soon as you have an idea of what you’ll do in your fundraiser, call your Student Activities Office to get it cleared so you won’t have any problems down the road. Then, once you’re cleared, print out some blank calendar pages so you can thoroughly schedule every phase of your event in the months, weeks and days leading up it. This will include reserving your location, ordering supplies, recruiting people to help out and getting the word out in time for people to actually show up. As you schedule, always make sure you anticipate delays.

Recruit Your Team

One roadblock in my fundraising escapade was my fear of asking for help. There was no getting around the truth that a cause bigger than yourself requires a workforce bigger than yourself, too—so I got over it. And sent a lot of texts and emails.

In the early planning stages, sketch out a list of all the different tasks you need to get done to ensure smooth sailing. Then reach out to anyone you think will be willing to help. Ask your club, sports team or even your dorm community, just as Pucillo did with Totter for Water. Based on nearly all of my interviewees’ and my own experience, email trumped as the best way of going about this. Attach a Google Doc with sign-ups for jobs, follow-up as necessary and soon enough you’ll have a zealous assembly to lead into fundraising battle.

Get Those Creative Juices Flowing

As the President of the Residence Hall Association at Saint Mary’s college, McKenzie Johnson has planned her fair share of fundraisers. “Create something that is unique and will draw people toward wither buying it or partaking in the fundraiser,” Johnson said.  The Totter for Water event at the University for Notre Dame features a colorful two-person seesaw situated on the quad in front of one of the university’s dining halls. Pucillo agreed that this novelty aspect of Totter is a major component to its annual success. “People walking by are curious, so they come over to chat for a little bit and donate,” Pucillo said. “We also let donors ride the teeter totter for a couple minutes, which was also a good way to get people to pull out their wallets. What college kid doesn’t want to relive their childhood and teeter totter in the middle of the quad for a bit?”

Promote, Promote, Promote

 Once you’ve made it this far, go out and spread the word. In 2016 terms, that means it’s time to get those social media skills ready. “For every single one of our fundraising campaigns we have utilized Facebook, such as creating events and advertising our sale on class Facebook pages,” Johnson said.

Pucillo agreed that social media and email were her go-to’s to promote the event. However, she encouraged a more old-fashioned tactic as well. “I think word of mouth can make all the difference in an event like Totter. Sometimes a quick chat with someone in class can be the push you need to stop by and donate.”

Printed advertisements like strategically-hung posters (approved of course) in high traffic areas will keep your fundraiser and cause fresh on the student body’s minds. Burchett said her favorite place of promotion for Dance Marathon is in the restrooms, printed in the cleverly titled monthly “InSTALLments.” If your school or dorm offers something similar, contact its publisher and get your fundraiser information on the front page of your classmates’ porcelain throne entertainment.

And finally, when the day comes, relax and be confident that all of your efforts have been worth it.

Fundraisers may seem intimidating, but no feat is too large for something you believe strongly in. Taking the risk and putting in the work will help translate your passion into something your audience will want to be a part of. It creates a ripple effect by bringing others to the realization of their own potential to create positive change in the world. Be the ripple, fellow broke college kid, and watch as all Hallmark’s confidence in you is proven justified all along.

Sophomore English major at Notre Dame. Soulful ginger. Track runner. Located somewhere at the intersection of Disney music and Red Hot Chili Peppers. [Proverbs 3:6]

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