The possibility of covering MBA expenses such as tuition fees and living and travel costs by resorting to crowdfunding campaigns has been a hot topic of late. With recent success stories from applicants who managed to raise funds in four- or five-digit numbers for their postgraduate education, the increased interest in crowdfunding websites is not difficult to explain.

What is crowdfunding?

With the proliferation of Internet services, peer-to-peer lending, and an ever-growing amount of digital solutions, crowdfunding was bound to arrive in its current form sooner or later. The concept revolves around a cause, an idea, or a campaign launched online where people can donate money to help fund it. Although even the Statue of Liberty in the US was partially funded by individual donations thanks to a fundraising campaign announced in the newspaper in 1885, today the Internet makes such efforts much more easily accessible to the public. Crowdfunding platforms that have become well-known include Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, CrowdRise, and many more.

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The actual process of setting up a campaign is typically very easy and will be well explained on any of these platforms. However, it is important that you do not underestimate the level of preparation and the amount of time you should invest in the project if you really want it to succeed. Kelly Angood, previously the UK director for technology, design, and hardware at Indiegogo, herself stresses: “If you put no effort into a campaign, then you’ll receive few or no contributions.” After all, if you will be asking for money from strangers online, you will need to be convincing and clear enough as to why you are raising these funds and how your cause is different from any other. Check the step-by-step guide provided by the platform that you intend to use in order to find out best practices and specific recommendations for establishing a successful crowdfunding campaign.

How to make the most of the opportunity

Although each case is unique, and indeed it is a good idea to try to be as distinctive as possible, there are several guidelines that seem to hold true for most of the MBA crowdfunding projects that have been reported in the media. Let us unearth the factors that must be present to create a winning online project for funding your business school studies.

Be realistic

First and foremost, define a clear goal for yourself and set realistic expectations for achieving it. It is important that you do not rely solely on the crowdfunding campaign to finance your MBA degree. Have a “plan B” in place and research the terms for taking out a loan as well as different scholarship applications. As Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, points out in an article in The Guardian, not every student will be able to make a crowdfunding success story. “If individual students can make it work, that’s fantastic. But it is almost certainly those who seem a little out of the ordinary – perhaps in what they want to study or their background – who stand to gain the most,” he says.

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Pay attention to content

Once you have outlined your plan for the campaign and have set a realistic target to pursue, it is time to launch it online. In this step, it is crucial to come up with compelling content to describe and visualise your cause – think of it as an actual marketing strategy. The way you talk about your dream MBA programme and how it will serve a more overarching and significant cause than yours will determine whether the public will care enough to donate to the project.

Take Yacine Zerkdi as an example. He started a GoFundMe campaign and had raised EUR 30,000 for an MBA at Harvard Business School at the time of his interview for the Financial Times. He specifically highlights the importance of an effective personal narrative: “The statement I wrote on my page seemed to have hit the spot. People really related to it and said they decided to invest after reading it.

Another point to remember is that content is not only about text. Crowdfunding platforms encourage you to tell your story visually with pictures that will make it much more personal or even with your own video to engage viewers.

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Engage your audiences

As with most long-term projects, the work does not stop when you launch your campaign. On the contrary, you will need to be continuously involved in engaging and updating your contributors on the progress of your work. For example, you can post video message updates to express your appreciation to the people who have become involved in the campaign. You can share facts and figures on the growth and popularity of the project – in this way, people will be able to see that you are dedicated and that their contribution will not go to waste.

Being active on social media channels is one of the most commonly recommended methods to boost your crowdfunding campaign. “Once the public knows and trusts you, they will be more likely to contribute and support you,” advises Joel Hughes from Indiegogo in a BusinessBecause article. This is more feasible to achieve if you utilise your personal and professional networks and reach them via different outlets. Blogging and reaching out to the press to cover your story may also bring you additional exposure so you may want to explore these options as well.

Remember that maintaining a crowdfunding campaign is an investment of your time and effort. Be sure to make the most of it by planning it in as much detail as possible and by turning it into a project to be proud of.