How to crowdfund your MBA

Funding is a significant barrier for many who want to attend business school. Whether you need to raise the cash to cover some or all of your course and other costs, not everyone can rely on their parents or loans.

High street banks tend not to lend internationally, and while more flexible online options exist — Prodigy Finance offers alumni-funded MBA loans, for example — there are still restrictions, such as nationality, or that finance is offered only to those attending certain business schools.

Faced with such challenges, some students are turning to crowdfunding.

Any potential business student can set themselves up on a crowdfunding website such as Indiegogo, GoFundMe or Crowdfunder. But it is a hard sell beyond close friends and family and it is tough to raise the amounts of money needed. So how can someone start a successful MBA campaign?

It is not a case of setting up your donations page with a picture and basic description of your intentions, and the money will come flooding in.

“If you put no effort into a campaign, then you’ll receive few or no contributions,” says Kelly Angood, UK director for technology, design and hardware at Indiegogo, a California-based platform.

Addis Tigabu, who is from Ethiopia and is currently doing a masters in international business at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, needed to find the €8,000 to cover his living costs in order to obtain his visa to study. After he failed to find anyone who would lend to him, he set up a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and ended up raising €6,000.

His experience highlights that to be successful you need to think of everything from how you present yourself, to social media and marketing strategies.

His advice is to make sure enough time is given to develop an appealing story. The first question any potential donor will ask is, “Why do I want to contribute to you?” says Mr Tigabu.

He appealed for funds on the basis that he wanted to be involved in Africa’s development and would also set up a platform to help others who wanted to study but struggle to raise the money.

Yacine Zerkdi, who is from Morocco but lives in France, started a campaign on GoFundMe and has so far raised €30,000 towards an MBA at Harvard Business School. He also highlights the importance of an effective personal narrative. “The statement I wrote on my page seemed to have hit the spot,” he says. “People really related to it and said they decided to invest after reading it.”

On his page he portrays himself as someone who breaks the HBS student stereotype and highlights that great things come from crowdfunding — such as Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad, which he started in 1713.

Videos and photos are also a good way to get people’s attention. Ms Angood points out that campaigns with these elements do much better.

It is also important not to underestimate the small things: Ms Angood adds that you should make sure to use correct grammar and spelling and avoid sounding sad or desperate. “Don’t write a long list of why the world has done you wrong,” she says.

When it comes to social media it is important to use various channels to spread the word. “Create a Facebook page, Twitter account and if possible even a website,” says Mr Tigabu.

Ms Angood adds it is worth trying to build an audience before a campaign is actually launched. “Once they know and trust you . . . strangers will be much more likely to give money,” she says.

Mr Zerkdi says that if he was to go through the process again, he would start by raising a specific amount through friends and family first so he could begin a campaign with a little bit of money already behind him. “I think it has a different impact psychologically when you actually come up with something already in the bag,” he says.

Once your campaign is up and running Mr Tigabu recommends updates such as facts and figures on progress, which can help keep up momentum. His partner also helped him to set up a “€3 challenge” on Facebook with the aim of creating a multiplier effect. Mr Tigabu asked people to contribute €3 and challenge three other people to do the same.

As part of his marketing plan he contacted various media outlets. The Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper picked up the story and one reader contributed €1,000. A friend also hosted an event in Frankfurt that raised €800.

Fundraising targets must be realistic — do not expect to raise enough to cover the full $200,000, or thereabouts, to attend a top school for two years. Aim to raise a proportion that covers something specific. Mr Zerkdi’s aim was to try and raise up to $100,000 to reduce the amount he would need to borrow from a bank. He has not raised anywhere near this, but “€30,000 is still great”, he says.

Crowdfunder, a UK-based platform, says the average pledge is £50, so for every £10,000 you will need an average of 200 backers for a project. Try to offer rewards, no matter how small, to those donating. Mr Zerkdi, for example, intends to pay the money back to those who pledged to his cause. Mr Tigabu offered various gestures depending on the amount given: for €1, a donor would be kept informed of progress; those giving €50 would get an individually designed and signed thank you card; and for €100 a donor would be thanked personally in a thank you video.

Whichever way you choose to run a crowdfunding campaign, it is not an easy route. “It takes time and dedication,” says Ms Angood.

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