You’ve corralled a group of eager students for a short-term study abroad or service trip and the first training session is about to commence. The biggest question on your mind (and your students’) is how they’re going to pay for it.

The 3 keys to fundraising are:

  • Creatively informing potential donors about the cause
  • Keeping the process simple, thoughtful, and worthwhile
  • Creating multiple avenues for donations

Posting a GoFundMe link on Facebook isn’t going to cut it. People will donate to a worthy cause if there’s a return on their investment. To successfully raise money, students need to think outside the box and tug at a few heartstrings.

Below are 10 creative fundraising ideas to help your students develop meaningful relationships with donors while raising more than enough money.

1. Host a dinner party


Have parents or friends invite 10 guests to a three-course meal at your house. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive — salad, pasta, and chocolate cake will do. You can even prepare traditional dishes from the country you’re visiting, so they can get a taste of the experience!

Dinner Party (small)
Serving food at a small dinner party.

After everyone’s made their plate, gather in the living or dining room for a short presentation about the trip. Be sure to include background information about the organization or school you’re going with and how the trip will impact your life.

Remember to thank your guests for coming and remind them of the multiple avenues for giving, including Text to Give, GoFundMe, a donation bucket at the door, or mail-in cash/checks.

Quick Tip: Send out free Evites or snail-mail invitations with the menu, RSVP info, and schedule of events for the evening. This personal approach will have people marking their calendars immediately.


Everyone loves free food. If you have a community (i.e. an organization or church) that would allow you to invite members and use their dining space, host a donation-based dinner party.

Grilling food.
Grilling food.

Find someone with a Costco or Sam’s Club membership and buy the food and supplies in bulk. Spaghetti, breakfast for dinner, and cookouts are a few surefire ways to get people in the door.

If the venue has a stage or screen, give a short presentation about the trip and mention the multiple ways to give.

Quick Tip: Advertise your dinner party through a Facebook event page, announcements, emails, flyers, and word of mouth.

2. Sell trendy t-shirts

With sites like Bonfire and Fund the Nations, you can create custom t-shirts as an incentive to give. Buy shirts in bulk and sell them at a set price, or include a “free t-shirt” with every $100 donation. 10 shirts = $1,000.

Printing custom t-shirts.
Printing custom t-shirts.

This method gives donors an instant ROI and serves as a constant reminder of the good they’ve done. It’s also a free way to advertise your trip and spread the word.

Quick Tip: Design the t-shirts for men and women or create two separate designs to add variety. You may also want to collect money before putting in an order to prevent people from backing out, leaving you with extra shirts.

3. Offer to take professional photos

We all have friends who need a new headshot for LinkedIn or know a family in need of holiday photos. If you have access to a camera, advertise your services in exchange for a donation.

Taking a photo of a friend.
Taking a photo of a friend.

This will come at virtually no cost to you and allow you to brush up on your photography skills! Other photography opportunities may include graduation, engagement, or pregnancy photos.

Quick Tip: If you’re not super great at photography, but would like to learn more, check out How to Take Great Portrait Photos and DSLR Camera Basics on YouTube.

4. Arrange a trivia night

Ask a local restaurant to host a themed trivia night. The restaurant is likely to help arrange your event and perhaps even agree to donate a percentage of the proceeds to your trip.

Utilize local restaurants or coffee shops for your trivia night.
Utilize local restaurants or coffee shops for your trivia night.

Teams can pay a fee of $5-$10 per member, which enters them to win a gift card, small prize, or wacky trophy to show off. Be sure to make multiple announcements about your trip throughout the night and thank the crowd for their support.

Quick Tip: When choosing a theme, select cult favorites like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, or Disney. You can make the night even more interesting with a costume contest!

5. Sell your stuff online

Believe it or not, you can use social media to creatively sell your gently-used clothes, furniture, or electronics. The key is to make your items look desirable.

Selling your clothes online.
Thoughtfully stage and photograph your items to draw potential customers to your page.

Start by sharing photos on your personal Facebook page. Then, check to see if your school/area has any Free and For Sale Groups you can utilize. Be sure to mention your trip and why you’re selling your belongings.

You can also make an Instagram account dedicated to your fundraising efforts. Here, you can showcase not only your items but details and updates about your trip.

Don’t forget to try popular sites like eBay, Poshmark, ThreadUp, and LetGo too.

Quick Tip: Learn to photograph your garments and gadgets with these 11 DIY Product Photography Tips.

6. Advertise lawn care services

If you have neighbors or family friends in need of a lawn care provider, send out a few emails or texts offering to rake, mow, or plant flowers. You can also knock on doors and ask for a donation in exchange for sprucing up their yard.

Garden gloves.
Garden gloves.

In addition, ask your friends if they’ll assist you at little or no cost. The more the merrier, after all!

Quick Tip: Ask the homeowner if there’s a specific way he/she wants something done around the yard. This may score you points … and extra cash.

7. Get crafty

If you’re the crafty type, create a few low-budget crafts and sell them. Home decor and jewelry are always desirable, but you want your crafts to stand out.

Henna hand tattoos.
Henna hand tattoos.

Try your hand at henna tattoos, or customize sneakers with permanent markers. This way, you’re creating a unique gift for each individual donor.

Quick Tip: When brainstorming, think about creations that you would spend money on or enjoy. When in doubt, ask your friends for feedback … or use Pinterest.

8. Put on a show

If you or a few friends have hidden talents, put on a show and sell tickets. You can also incorporate a bake sale or concession stand to generate a greater profit.

Sitting in an auditorium.
Sitting in an auditorium.

Can’t find an auditorium? Don’t sweat it. Use a gym or pavilion at a local park. Spread the word through announcements, social media, emails, and flyers.

Quick Tip: If you have stage fright, host a movie night! We suggest the classic, family-friendly films like Finding Nemo or The Parent Trap.

9. Tie up your apron and start baking

A fresh, gooey chocolate chip cookie is hard to resist. Grab a few friends, bake a couple batches of treats, and package them with care. And for those who prefer savory over sweet, try a hot dog and hamburger stand.

Chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles.
Chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles.

If you’re not great at baking or have vending restrictions, you can always sell food from big-name companies like Chick-fil-A, or buy prepackaged treats like Rice Krispies and candy bars.

Sell your items at a bake sale, outside of stores, or on campus. Go dorm to dorm or walk around the library with your goodies. Most of the time, people will give you extra cash or leave the spare change if they understand it’s for a good cause.

10. Write support letters

Write a hand-written letter to close friends and family explaining the trip and politely ask for donations. Be sure to include pictures of the places you’ll be visiting or people you’ll serve.

Writing a letter.
Writing a meaningful fundraising letter.

Also, fill them in on what’s going on in your life and take interest in what’s happening in theirs. You want to be genuine and create a conversation, not just ask for cash.

End the letter with a big “thank you” and include your email or phone number. They’ll want to hear more about the trip and catch up.

Quick Tip: Really think about who you want to send these support letters to. Don’t ask for money from someone you haven’t talked to in 6 months. For more on how to write a thoughtful support letter, visit

We wish you and your students the best in your fundraising endeavors and hope you enjoy your journey.

It’s a big world. Get out there!

Your FTI Team