Getting to SSDP2017 on Your University’s Dime

If you are anxiously pacing around your college campus quad wondering how you will come up with the funds to get yourself to picturesque Portland this coming March for SSDP2017, you are not alone. Even with all of the amazing CAT points and incentives that Students for Sensible Drug Policy has established to help offset these costs, it is completely possible that you are still hand wringing over the price tag. Few college students I know have expendable funds lying around and even if their folks could fork over some cash to help, I have known parents to not “see the value” in the conference (*cough* those parents are so misguided).

Fear not, there are ways to help you make up the difference. Before I share my tips, I want to preface the coming paragraphs by saying that you need (read: MUST) have “relationships” with the people of whom you ask for money. If you have never spoken to any of the people I suggest for you to approach, then I can almost guarantee that you will go home with fewer dollars than what covers your bottom line. Fundraising is hard work and it hinges upon reciprocity and confidence that you will give something (usually predetermined) back to the donor, and also serve as an outstanding representative of the donor – in this case, the University.
Undergrads, I’m happy to tell you that it is my belief that you are at a great advantage. Attending a conference as an undergrad means a lot to professors; presenting at one is even better. Submit a conference proposal now! Doing so will make all of the following bullet points much more compelling to someone who is considering giving you money. Not only are you brilliant and passionate, but you’re also serious about attending this thing because you took the time to present the conference organizers with a session.

1. Come up with a budget. Before you ask anyone for money it is critical for you to estimate your budget shortfall. Simply asking for an unquantified amount of money, or even worse, an unsubstantiated amount (see bullet 2) is not your best approach. Calculate your travel costs, hotel, estimated food costs, and a few incidentals. Be conservative, but reasonable. If you are asking your school for money, don’t expect to pop bottles of Dom Pérignon, but also take into account how much the true cost of your trip is.

2. Write a proposal. Asking for money without a proposal is like trying to get into a club without your ID. Yes, it’s possible that the bouncer will let you in, but wouldn’t it be so much easier if you had an ID? I have written a one-page proposal that you may reference and adapt if you so choose. The proposal is meant to be modified for each reader (see bullet 3) and so, it is critical that you make reasonable requests to each potential funder and outline your budget requests in the proposal. For example, it would be unwise to ask a single department within your school’s College of Social Work to fund a $1,200 trip. Rather, it would be appropriate to solicit the department for a $75 registration fee and subsequently ask another funder to help offset an additional segment of the trip (see bullet 4 for tips on this). With each proposal, outline what you hope to receive, how you will use the funds, offer alternative funding mechanisms, and create your “reciprocity” – be it a presentation to a class, assisting in the front office of the department, etc.

3. Make a list of “asks.” As I referenced in the intro, receiving funding for a conference will almost always hedge upon relationships. I know that many SSDPers incorporate the study of drug policy and advocacy work into every course and facet of campus. This is to your benefit. Start developing a list of faculty or administrative allies/supporters who you think could petition their superiors for your funding. Likely, your request has to be approved by a series of bureaucrats, so start early with discussing the conference with your professors and begin to casually and tactfully ask questions about funding. Your professor may be unwilling or unable to help, but asking inquisitively about how undergraduates should fund their attendance to a conference may help get the conversation started and lead you to additional funding streams. If you don’t have close contacts on campus, I suggest you start schmoozing right away.

4. Know where to go and how much to go for. No one is going to throw money at you. The onus is entirely on you to do research, outreach, and follow up because there is no magic bullet, sadly. Start your research by asking graduate students, professors, and your school’s undergraduate research office about conference funding. Be ready with proposal in hand with a reasonable request. Not only should you research where to ask for money, but also how much. It is important to consider and hypothesize how much money each department on campus has or is willing to give. My school’s honors college, for example, had thousands and thousands of dollars to give to students for research projects and conferences. The process required some vigor to receive the funds, but they were accessible. On the other hand, many other departments had little to no resources available for undergrads. Start where you know there is money, be sensible with your request, and then continue to other departments where you believe there is an aligned interest in your course of study, even if abundance of cash is not immediately visible. You may be surprised that a professor or department head that thinks you’re a rockstar may be willing to dig up a few hundred dollars to support your endeavors.

5. Follow up. Everyone is busy and it is very likely someone will forget you are cash strapped and anxious. Starting on your requests ASAP is essential, especially when you take into account the bureaucracy and internal processing that may have to take place. Without being pushy, if someone agrees to review your proposal, make sure you follow up with them and keep tabs on the process. Even more importantly, if you do receive some funding, it is critical to send thank you notes – hand written thank you notes. I seriously mean it when I say that this is something that is so simple, but so meaningful. Even if it’s $50, send a card to the professor/whoever helped you (see point 3 about relationships).

6. Follow through. If you say that you will present to Professor XYZ’s class on the topic of the conference (or whatever arrangement you got yourself into), do it to the best of your ability. Often when we return from conferences, life is as hectic as ever and it is easy to slack off on the commitments we made to those beforehand. Be sure to be a good steward of their investment and make good on anything that you said you would do in return for sponsorship.

7. Places to consider. Lastly, be creative. There are plenty of places on campus that are looking to use their budget. Try asking around to various student organizations for sponsorship, like Student Government or other similar campus groups. If you are part of the faith community, try reaching out to one of their organizations. I don’t recommend blindly cold calling, but leverage your network and ask around to others who have been to conferences and figure out how they financed it. Make sure you look at offices on campus that have the most relevance to SSDP and leverage your pre-existing connections to various facets of campus. If you have exhausted all options, ask your friends. Consider throwing a party and inviting your friends to attend and donate a few bucks if they can. It doesn’t have to be a bake sale; it can be as simple as a Catan tournament at $5 an entry to as elaborate as you can imagine. We have all been broke college students, but I know that if my friend was trying desperately to get to the world’s most awesome conference and my $5 pitch made the difference in their attendance, you betcha I would play Catan.