With the world increasingly and visibly under siege from a warming climate, it’s hard not to worry about our future. But at Earthwatch, empowering people to take action and save the natural world is kind of our thing.
One thing we hear from teachers all the time is that they’d love to take their students on an Earthwatch expedition, but struggle to imagine how they could raise enough money to do it — even when a matching gift scholarship from Earthwatch could lift them over the hump.
So we reached out to two educators who successfully raised enough money to meet our $5,000 threshold and secure matching funds from our donor, and asked them a simple question: How’d you do it? What kind of tips do you have for other teachers trying to host fundraisers or motivate their students to raise money?
“I definitely learned quite a lot about fundraising during the planning of this expedition,” says Bobbie Izell, whose students at Glendora High School in California will get the opportunity to track sea turtles in the Bahamas this summer.
The Matching Funds Scholarship from Earthwatch provides the best bang for the buck, Izell says, but meeting the $5,000 fundraising threshold isn’t easy.
“It takes time, especially when you have to get permission from the school board who only meets once a month,” Izell says. And it’s hard to raise money around the holidays, he added —families have a tough enough time buying gifts, let alone donating to an expedition fund.
Motivating students was another challenge. “Initially, the students don’t care,” Izell says. “In their minds, it’s a done deal, and Mom and Dad are already paying. Why should they stress about it?”
So he tried different ways to motivate the kids. “Food works well,” he says. “‘If we get to 50% of our goal by the end of next week, we’ll have a pizza party.’”
Food makes for a successful fundraiser in its own right, says Emily Hintz, a teacher at Winamac Community High School in Indiana, whose students will monitor marine life off California’s Catalina Island this spring.
In addition to hosting a meat raffle and a chili dinner, Hintz and her students sold addictive donuts from a nearby Amish bakery. “They are covered in cinnamon and sugar,” she said. “That was a successful fundraiser we did twice, and probably will do again for the hotel/ferry money.”
A lot of the work naturally falls upon parents. “They’re the ones who are paying and will be motivated to fundraise, and thus lower their Earthwatch balance,” Izell says. It’s OK to ask parents to put some fundraising pressure on their son or daughter who’s going on the trip.
“It also helps to fundraise with the students,” Izell says, to show them that you’re a dedicated part of the team, too — that you’re working hard right along with them.
And when you’re notified of a new donation, Izell says, pour on the positivity. “Find out whose family is responsible. Then send a text or email to the student telling them how awesome and how proud of them you are,” he says. “It goes a long way.”
Students might feel awkward asking family members to donate, so provide them with sample letters or emails they can customize for aunts, uncles, and grandparents, Izell says. Form thank-you letters are a good idea, too.
But while emails and letters work sometimes, “the real moneymaker is a phone call from the student,” Izell adds — or, even better, in-person visit. “Grandma won’t be able to resist.”
That personal outreach goes for teachers, too. “I also met personally with local businessmen to tell them what we were trying to do and ask for donations,” Hintz says. She scored donations of $100, $200, and $500 from local businesses. “I think they appreciated the hands-on aspect of the trip — that it wasn’t just another tour — and they liked the conservation aspect.”
However, one of them held off on donating until the students proved their investment in the trip. “He didn’t want to just send people for a vacation, but since the students and their families were paying so much money and had tried so many fundraisers, he was happy to donate to help,” Hintz says.
That points to a possible “tiered rewards” strategy that can motivate students and inspire confidence among skeptical donors: Seek upfront commitments from potential donors that are based on the students meeting certain fundraising thresholds.
But Hintz’s biggest success came from a $3,000 donation from her husband’s generous boss, given anonymously. The lesson here is to simply get the word out and show your commitment because you never know who in your network might be willing and able to help you and your students meet your goal.
Apply for a matching funds scholarship for 2021 and get ready to take your students on the experience of a lifetime.