Fundraising Challenge

Jessica Chai - Ecuador


August 19, 2014

“Raise twenty-five hundred dollars in the span of 3 months”

It sounded ludicrous, not to mention intimidating, particularly to an amateur like me. The extent of my fundraising experience extended to selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door in elementary school. The experience had been a blazing success, with a grand total of two subscriptions and one pity donation. To say the least, I had dreaded starting my fundraising campaign. In fact, the prospect of the summer campaign had been my primary hesitation in joining Global Citizen Year. Yet somehow, despite my apprehensions and doubts, I have managed to meet and far surpass my original goal. How? Well, revealed below are the trade secrets of this fundraiser extraordinaire:

  1. No shame no gain:
    Without much idea where to start, I decided to, well, just ask for money. Initially, I had been quite embarrassed by the idea. I dislike asking my parents for money and here I was, accosting distant friends and unfamiliar neighbors for donations. And for the first few emails and letters, the embarrassment still chafed. But after dozens of petitions and the first couple donations started trickling in, I began to feel comfortable. Towards the end of my campaign, I had boldly asked money from virtually my every acquaintance and unerringly dogged those who hadn’t yet contributed (in the face of a couple flat out rejections too). Alas, I can now say my skin is probably about as thick as a rhino’s hide. All jokes aside, it was both reassuring and humbling to be on the receiving end of so much support and generosity.
  2. Know your target:
    After having exhausted the banks and goodwill of friends and acquaintances, I began looking to draw in donations through some sort of event. I racked my brains for something lucrative and feasible. Mostly, I felt I had little talent that could draw in a crowd. My baking is atrocious, my singing and dancing skills nonexistent and there wasn’t enough valuable junk in my home for a garage sale. Stuck at $1400, I was stumped.
    That is until a family friend suggested doing a college seminar to bring in the dough. After some consideration, I realized I had hit the jackpot on this idea. My home community, Bellevue, is known for its highly rigorous school system. Academic achievement is valued by students and (especially) parents. College after high school is not demanded, but rather expected. And this kind of competitive environment is particularly fertile ground for the aspirations of tiger moms who are obsessed with getting their children into the top schools around the country (sorry mom). And I, who somehow managed to blunder in Stanford, was perfectly equipped to sell my juicy secrets to the highest bidder.
  1. No pain no gain:
    An old cliché, but undeniably true. What I also discovered is that “organizing events” is a fairly accurate synonym for pain.
    Hold a seminar—sounds easy right? Well first, I had to rustle up some graduates to serve as panelists. Moving quickly, I mobilized several of my most prestigious friends (Duke, UPenn, Brown, Yale, Stanford and Princeton) to serve as panelists for the discussion. Next was finding a venue that not only had to be spacious and well equipped, but also not exorbitantly expensive. After parsing churches, libraries and the city hall, I managed to snag a roomy community center. With about two weeks left, I began the difficult task of advertising. Initially I figured making a few phone calls and sending a couple emails, along with word of mouth, would be enough to get the ball rolling. To my dismay, the reception seemed lukewarm. Envisioning half a dozen attendees, I began blasting out flyers to a wide network of friends, classmates and even parents’ coworkers. Before long, I was making pitches to nearby Chinese schools, art studios, SAT prep classes and music instructors—hell, I even went on the radio with a couple of fellow panelists to widen my net. Eventually, the donations started rolling in and I was able to breathe easy. And after writing up some discussion questions, holding a practice session and digging up some volunteers, everything was good to go. And all the effort did pay off.  On the day of the seminar, more than 150 people showed up, racking up some 2400 dollars.

So there you have the tricks of the trade. If you ever find yourself in need of fundraising a couple grand: find your market, work hard and stay shameless.

Cheers,

Jessica

Jessica Chai