Is Crowdfunding a Viable Source for Study Abroad Funding?
Working two jobs during the school year and a full time job during the summer...being a dedicated college student on a budget can be exhausting. The worst part is that even with two jobs, you still might not have enough money to fund a month, a summer, or semester abroad—let alone an entire whole academic year.
Financial aid from your school, the government, and support from parents are the typical sources to look for study abroad funding—and by "study abroad" we are actually describing all forms experiential travel including volunteer service, internships, cross-cultural exchanges, and many other modes of educational travel described by Transitions Abroad since 1977. Despite the fact that study abroad is an opportunity that we believe every interested college student deserves to experience—only 10% of the whopping 50% of American college students who have expressed a strong desire for such participation have been able to do so, according to the Obama administration at the recent historic and ambitious Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship—not all programs in foreign countries are yet eligible for the many forms of school or government-funded financial aid. When parents or financial aid packages cannot fully cover the added expenses of living in a foreign country, college students have recently been turning to other sources in order to raise money for their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity abroad: crowdfunding.
In an article detailing America's first major crowdfunding project—raising the funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal when it was shipped over from France—the BBC writes:
“Collective fundraising efforts have existed for millennia—membership models for 17th Century book printing, public subscriptions to fund UK parks in the 19th Century, and collective financing of Bollywood films in the 1970s.”
With the rise of the Internet came new and larger platforms for crowdfunding, starting with ArtistShare back in 2003, which allowed the trend to gain traction in the United States, according to David M. Freedman and Matthew R. Nutting in “A Brief History of Crowdfunding.”
The success of ArtistShare led to the creation of other crowdfunding sites, including Kiva.org, Kickstarter.com, IndieGoGo.com, and GoFundMe.com. Now, study abroad students have caught on to the possibilities, and are posting their pledges for upcoming semesters abroad on crowdfunding platforms.
If you are a student looking to study abroad and lacking the funds to do so, you will inevitably ask, "Does it really work?"
Julia Good, a junior at Santa Clara University turned to Kickstarter to fund her service trip to New Orleans. “I like the idea of crowdfunding, because you can get $1 or $500 and it can still make a difference,” Julia says, “I reached my goal of $500, but I also used social media a lot to promote my campaign and word of mouth from family and friends helped a lot too.”
According to the Crowdfunding Industry Report, crowdfunding sites raised a total of $2.7 billion in 2012. However, that does not mean it works for everyone, or that everyone has heard of crowdfunding as a source of funds for study abroad. Study abroad advisors are often neither aware of the possibilities regarding crowdfunding, nor do they always know how to go about getting students involved in the process.
“We were not familiar with crowdfunding being used to fund study abroad programs. I have not heard students use this alternative before, but if they did I think it’s a good initiative,” says Dieter Roberto Kuehl, Director at the Syracuse University study abroad program in Madrid, Spain.
So how can a student take the leap and crowdfund his or her study abroad?
Step 1: Prepare Your Pitch
Essentially, the pitch is the campaign, the idea that you want to transmit when asking others to fund you. Be honest. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are you? Don’t assume that people will know who you are. Even though it is likely that you will promote the campaign to your friends and family, on the Internet, it could potentially also be seen by a generous stranger. Tell them who you are, and…
- Why should people fund you? Add a human factor to the economic pledge you are making by telling your honest and compelling story.
- What are you going to do with the money? If people are going to give you money, they will want to know why. So give them one or more good reasons. You likely do not wish to project the idea that you are just going to party while abroad. Are you going to do something useful, educational, and perhaps even unique with your funds?
- How will you give back? If you can find a way to give back—to the local community abroad or the community to which you will be returning—that will provide you with a selling point. Perhaps you will make a photo album, print or virtual, of your trip. Alternatively, perhaps you will volunteer when you return. You could even offer to publish a blog about a local NGO. Be sincere and project your thankfulness for the opportunity.
Step 2: Get Creative and Visual
Each crowdfunding platform will have a different format to post your pitch. So, before you make all the final visual materials and text, you should also have looked at Step 3.
Be creative and visual, using videos and images to tell a story. And don't forget to check your spelling and grammar before you hit the publish button, please, since that makes your pitch more polished.
Step 3: Choose the Right Crowdfunding Site for your Campaign
Each crowdfunding platform has its own mission, which will characterize the type of funding it promotes. For example, while sites such as Kickstarter promote entrepreneurial and creative project funding, sites such as GoFundMe and IndieGoGo promote what they refer to as “personal funding,” which is where college students looking to fund abroad programs can qualify. IndieGoGo, for example, welcomes “anyone, anywhere, to raise money for anything.”
Breanna DiGriammarino, Head of Cause at IndieGoGo says, “We originally expected mostly fundraising for artistic projects, which is still the case, but we where exited to see that people have turned to IndieGogo as a platform for all different types of fundraising, including study abroad which has been very successful so far.” She even argues that study abroad funding has helped the site grow because it contributes to its original mission.
In addition, you can also consult travel-specific crowdfunding sites, such as Fundmytravel.com. The site allows students to start a campaign and share it with friends and family who may make donations. In exchange, the company offers donations to commemorate the launch of the 50 most successful campaigns each year. Founder Christopher Frank says, “[Fundmytravel] is here for one reason and one reason only—help students fund their trip abroad.”
Fun Fact: Interestingly, even parents have turned to crowdfunding sites having educational purposes, such as, Grad Save, Give College, and Scholarmatch. Here, parents share their own projects, talents, or just quite simply their stories, with people all over the world who have a little bit of extra cash they would like to share and invest in the education of students.
For a full list of possible crowdfunding, sites see the end of the article.
Step 4: Publish and Promote
Once you published your campaign, take tireless advantage of social media to promote your campaign and spread the word. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Be creative and find future funders.
Don’t Ever Give Up
As mentioned previously, $2.7 billion dollars was raised in 2012 via crowdfunding. However, there are many honestly who did not reach their goal, or did not raise any money at all.
John Larsen, a junior in the University of Maine is one of many students who joined a website in hopes of traveling abroad to Ghana. Through Fundmytravel, John has raised 1.5% in two months; however, he also joined and created a Kickstarter profile, where he has raised 0%.
“Fundmytravel has been more beneficial for me because they focus specifically on travel funding, which means investors who look at this website know they specifically want to invest in abroad programs versus competing with all other types of campaigns out there like in Kickstarter,” John says.
So John has still only raised 1.5% of his total goal. $68 of $4,435, to be exact. And 33 days remain to reach his goal.
With no overarching statistics available about crowdfunding for study abroad, critical thinkers cannot help but wonder: How many people truly profit from such crowdfunding relative to the many students whose parents have the means to send their kids to school? Is this phenomenon all largely a form of PR or marketing?
The Diversity Network addresses some such issues and as well as the very important question of diversity in study abroad. Do students of lower income families actually have the chance to study abroad? With respect to crowdfunding, will this trend also be limited only to those coming from upper-middle-class to rich families and friends? Is it realistic for students to contact rich investors via social media and actually reach them to fund their study abroad? The Diversity Network offers grants and scholarships for minorities to study abroad to help those most in need and often least able to raise funds via social media.
If you are one of the lucky ones to receive crowdfunding for study, travel, or volunteer abroad, please keep your promise. When you set out to make your pitch, you had to convince people the money was going for a good cause. Please strive to spend the money wisely and provide your investors a return on their investment. In so doing, you are also "paying it forward" for those in need following your footsteps.
We are, after all, ultimately seeking a world where everyone who wishes to do so may study, travel, and volunteer abroad—a goal emphasized by the current Obama administration in this synopsis of the recent historic Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, an event announcing substantive new initiatives in which Transitions Abroad was pleased to be invited to participate and whose goals we will actively promote over the long-term. In tandem with other public and private sources of financial aid, crowdfunding is one option to be actively pursued given the current promise and momentum.
Crowdfunding Websites for Study Abroad
Note that crowdfunding sites will usually not be held responsible for any money collection issues, such as if a possible donor does not pay. Please read the Terms and Conditions of each such site before posting.
General Crowdfunding Websites
IndieGoGo: Anyone, anywhere, and anything with no fees added to start the campaign. The website lets you keep the money earned even if your goal is not met.
Kickstarter: Helps bring creative projects to life through an all or nothing model.
GoFundMe: A fundraising site for personal causes and life-events.
Study, Volunteer, and Travel Websites
FundMyTravel: Specifically designed to help fund study or volunteer programs abroad.
Fund for Education Abroad: "FEA is committed to increasing the opportunities for dedicated American students to participate in high-quality, rigorous education abroad programs by reducing financial restrictions through the provision of grants and scholarships."
Volunteer Forever: Provides a way to fund volunteer programs abroad.
GradSave: College saving website for parents that allows the creation of a profile for their child. Open to donations and gifts from family members and friends.
ScholarMatch: A link between students and the resources to make college possible. Use the Internet to find the resources and individuals willing to invest in a student’s academic future.
Goennouce: Create a mission, share it, and hope to be amazed.
Editor's note: Do not forget to investigate the many options for having your studies partly financed via scholarships, and some of the many student writing contests to earn money for your studies and travels, such as the yearly Transitions Abroad Student Travel Writing Contest.