Valerie’s 5 Steps to Success: How to Crowdfund Your Way to a Conference

Valerie Carranza wanted to attend the SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference, but did not have money to pay for all the costs. An environmental science student at Los Angeles Valley College, Valerie initiated an online crowdfunding campaign and raised enough money to cover her registration costs and attend the SACNAS conference in San Antonio, Texas. (Crowdfunding is the practice of fundraising by raising small amounts of money from people who donate via the Internet.)

“It was all worth it!” says Valerie, of her efforts to get to the SACNAS conference. The SACNAS conference provided Valerie with great networking opportunities that are taking her across the globe for summer research, and she will be transferring this fall to UC Berkeley, UCLA, or UC Davis, majoring in Environmental Science.

We asked Valerie to share her insights on how to create a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Choose a Website/Platform

There are many crowdfunding platforms to choose from. Do your research and select the platform that works best for you. When choosing a website make sure you select a campaign that is not an all-or-nothing campaign. Valerie used GoFundMe; it is simple and the sign-up process is free. Check out her fundraising page here. With GoFundMe you keep every donation and reaching your goal is not required. GoFundMe will deduct a 5% fee from each donation received. A small processing fee of about 3% will also be deducted from each payment.

Develop Your Campaign Page

Your campaign text should be short and sweet — be as concise as possible. The challenge is to convince people to donate in as little text as you can and your story needs to be compelling.

For Valerie, this sequence was the most effective: (1) describe who you are and the goal of your fundraising efforts; (2) explain your college background and research experience; (3) explain your motivation and drive to attend the conference and what you hope to gain from the experience.

A descriptive title, catchy text and good picture(s) (or video if you have the resources) will guarantee that your campaign is enticing. Link the 2017 SACNAS: the National Diversity in STEM Conference page so potential donors learn about the conference.

Set Realistic Goals

Shooting for the moon can result in potential donors not taking your campaign seriously. Create a budget breakdown of the conference expenses. This will give you a realistic goal to aim for as well as give potential donors a clear understanding of why you need the money and exactly how you plan to use it.

Active Outreach

To get the most visibility, it is important to promote your campaign to friends, family, and relevant faculty and staff at your institution. Invite people to share your campaign with their networks. Updates through email, social media, and word of mouth are most effective. Valerie used Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter. To maximize exposure, she also told people in person, specifically family members and close friends.

It’s easy for people to forget your fundraiser if you don’t keep reminding them. Valerie recommends sending out your fundraising page through social networking sites on a weekly basis. Create buzz and excitement around your campaign and continuously give updates on your progress. People want to hear about how the campaign is going and if they know others are donating they will be more inclined to donate.

Follow Up and Thank You’s

No matter the size of the donation, a personal thank you is a must! Always thank your donors whether it’s via email, hand-written notes, on social media, by phone, or face-to-face. When Valerie reached her goal she explained to all her donors how the money was to be spent and updated everyone on her research. She also shared pictures of herself and her research poster. It’s important to stay honest and transparent. And remember, these people donated because they are genuinely interested in your professional development — stay in touch.

Making it All Worth It

Valerie had a great experience at her first SACNAS Conference. There, she learned about Penn State’s SROP/AfricaArray geophysics internship program. She has been accepted to this summer internship and will have the opportunity to conduct geophysical experiments in South Africa! She was also a recipient of the 2013 SACNAS Undergraduate Student Poster Presentation Awards in the Physical Sciences division.

Now it’s YOUR Turn!

Conference season — and 2017 SACNAS — will be here before you know it! You should start thinking about how you are going to fundraise. Now that you have learned about crowdraising campaigns, we encourage YOU to create your own campaign for 2017 SACNAS and/or other STEM conferences.

#SACNAS2017

See more recent crowdfunding examples:

Dulce Carolina Campos: SACNAS conference travel expenses

Leslie Martinez: Help Me Present at a Conference

WWU SACNAS Chapter: Support WWU Students of Color in Science

Adams State University SACNAS Chapter

Martha Arciniega: Help me go to a science conference

Valerie Brito: Aspiring for Higher Education!

Fort Lewis College SACNAS

Nina Nez: Nina’s SACNAS Travel Fund

Gaby Heyer- Gaby’s Fund: Future Career in Science

Jacqueline Graniel