Avoid debt through personal fundraising

Instead of using that credit card, solicit others to help pay for major life events

Medical bills, adoption expenses and business startup costs are just a few big-ticket items for which you may consider racking up huge credit debt. But before you whip out the plastic, you may want to consider using creative fundraising techniques to convince family, friends and even strangers to help defray your costs.

People often think of fundraising as something that charities do, but consumers can apply the same principles to their personal causes, says Marc A. Pitman, a fundraising expert and author of "Ask Without Fear: A Simple Guide to Connecting Donors With What Matters to Them Most." "People are much more generous than we know, but they need to be asked clearly and respectfully," says Pitman. Whether you're seeking to fund medical expenses, a movie project or a trip abroad, here's how to get others to foot some of the bill.

Avoid debt through personal fundraising

1. Tell potential donors a story. Don't expect people to automatically understand why your cause is important. "People aren't driven by numbers and statistics; they're driven by personal stories," Pitman says. So if you're raising money to send your mom on a retirement cruise, describe how this is the first time she's taken time for herself in 20 years. Or if you're raising money for a loved one to attend college, explain how the student has dreamed of becoming a veterinarian since his first pet became ill. However, be positive when telling your story since whining about how tough things are or trying to guilt people into helping could turn them off, Pitman adds.

2. Get loved ones involved. When Shanda Hill, a filmmaking student in San Francisco, needed to raise $2,000 to travel to Malawi to be part of a documentary film team, she called her closest friends and family members and asked them to post a link to a donation Web site on their Facebook pages. Her mother called friends and relatives and also asked them to donate. After 30 days, Hill was able to shave nearly $500 off of her costs, with some of the money coming from people she didn't personally know. Not only can you reach more people by asking others to share your plight, but you show potential donors that others have already backed your cause.

3. Look beyond yourself. One way to encourage people to give is to show how your personal plight is part of a larger issue. "If you're trying to get help with medical care, you could talk about how this disease is impacting kids all over the world," Pitman says. Not only might people recognize that they, too, could find themselves in this situation, but they may feel more moved to help you if they feel that their contribution is making a difference in society at large.

4. Make the donor the hero. People are more likely to give if they feel like they're doing a good deed, so you want to focus your request more on how they can help rather than on what you'll be doing with the money, Pitman says. For example, if you're raising money to go on a humanitarian mission in a third world country, you don't want to talk about how much good you'll do. Rather, you want to let potential donors know that by donating funds, they're helping people in that Third World country, too.

5. Cast a wide net. Everyone isn't going to be willing or able to give. In fact, if you ask 100 people and get one donation, you're doing pretty good, Pitman says. To raise your odds of getting a "yes," ask people more than once. It also helps to use multiple ways to reach people since some are more responsive to phone while others might do better hearing the message via email or social media, Pitman says. Also, start early. While Hill raised part of the $2,000 she needed in a month, "if I had started earlier I think I would have raised more," she says.

People are much more generous than we know, but they need to be asked clearly and respectfully.

-- Marc A. Pitman 
fundraising expert, author

6. Make payment convenient. The more ways you can accept funds the better, so letting people pay by cash, check, credit card or Paypal will ensure that people can easily donate. Online fundraising sites such as GoFundMe.com, GiveForward.com and Kickstarter.com provide even more options for potential donors. "Traditional fundraising campaigns -- whether it's a bake sale, car wash or direct mailers -- require a lot of physical overhead and effort," says Brad Damphousse, chief executive officer of GoFundMe.com, which has helped people raise money for such things as medical bills, educational expenses and birthday celebrations. Not only do online fundraising campaigns make it easy for people to contribute with credit or debit cards, but the campaigns can potentially go 'viral,' spreading quickly via email and social media and giving users the ability to reach more people than traditional fundraising methods, Damphousse adds.

7. Look beyond financial donations. While some will write a check, others might be able to help in other ways. For example, people might be willing to donate old furniture or clothing that you can sell at a garage sale, says Julie Gumm, author of "Adopt Without Debt," a book that provides ideas for raising money for private adoptions, which can easily cost between $20,000 and $30,000, Gumm says. Another fundraising success story Gumm saw when researching her book was a family who signed up with Amazon.com's affiliate program, which meant they received a small percentage of sales they referred to Amazon.com through a personalized Web site link. The family asked all of their friends and family members to use the link when they did their holiday shopping and ended up raising more than $1,000, Gumm says.

Too many times, people go into credit card debt to fund their desires because it's easy and convenient. However, what's not so easy is the aftermath of having to pay off debt laden with interest. Imagine not incurring any debt to achieve your goal -- with a little creativity and persistence, it would make enjoying your achievement that much more.

See related: High-tech ways to rent out your stuff, More take social lending route to consolidate debt, Managing the high costs of adoption and fertility treatments

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Updated: 11-21-2017