Fundraising basics


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  • Fundraising starts by crafting a compelling message. Why is iGEM important to your team and why should others support you? There is no shortage of these with iGEM. A few: It promotes collaborative interaction on a near-global scale; the open sharing of biological parts and data; provides a rich, unparalleled educational experience for students; pushes the limits of synthetic biology. Each team is going to bring a slightly different perspective to this.
  • Let your team's excitement and commitment be clearly seen. Don't be afraid to show some enthusiasm for participating. It's hard to refuse giving some support to people that are eager and keen and giving up their summer to do something worthwhile.
  • Underscore why the supervisors are choosing to be involved and what they are putting into the program. People are more likely to support your team if they see that the leaders are heavily invested.
  • More than just participation, project goals that are clearly understandable (even if the technical details are not) will help. This is particulary important for genetic projects. Instead of telling people you're making mutant bacteria, it might be more effective to share an understandable application -- eg. it's towards making a new cancer cure or solving energy shortages. Even if the project is relatively simple, where might it lead in a few years? Today's bacterial thermometer could be tomorrow's natural biosensor for environmental toxins.
  • There should be a sense of urgency, that the funds are needed now. How the funds are to be used is important. People like to know where money is going. Is it to pay stipends, buy equipment or reagents, or support travel? Clearly show where there are sponsorship opportunities and for what amounts.
  • Utilize a broad range of fundraisign methods. Personally approaching and soliciting prospects, be they individuals or organizations, is by far the most successful. This may be a meeting with your team with a person or group, or by inviting sponsors to attend a formal presentation where the team makes a case for their needs. This may require leveraging personal or professional contacts, talking with other fundraising groups at your school (alumni and business development groups have a lot of experience with this sort of thing), telephone calls, or other legwork.
  • Use the media. If your team is being featured in a school newspaper, local newspaper, etc., make a part of the message about how people interested in supporting your team can do so. Do they need to contact a certain person? The department office? Go to a web site?
  • Most universities are old hands at raising money. Tap into this experience by visiting the alumni office, or the office of foundations that may reside on campus. These groups usually already have sophisticated fundraising tools and comprehensive donor lists and could be a great help if they become interested in your team.
  • Be creative! Very simple things can be very effective at raising money. Runs or other forms of sponsored sport are popular. So are lotteries (although a license is usually needed for these, so check with the alumni office). Or just
  • Take the time to thank and recognize people for the suppport they provide to your school or team. Follow up. Send thank you cards that everyone has signed. If donors agree, send them updates on your work.

An excellent example of how to go about fundraising was provided by the Cambridge 2005 team, which produced a brochure, contacted local biotechnology companies, and hosted presentations. They successfully received financial and in-kind support. Also consider speaking with various department heads (iGEM is multidisciplinary) and with companies that might one day benefit from project outputs, eg. energy companies, chemical companies, manufacturing, etc.

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