Family conferences are some of the most informative and positive experiences for anyone with a child with disabilities. I can confidently say that I have learned more from attending conferences than from any book, website or meeting with a doctor.
But unless you’re lucky enough to have a conference planned in your own hometown, the cost of attending a conference can be prohibitive! When you calculate in air travel, hotel room (even with the discounted rates offered by conference committees), time lost at work and conference fees… well, you might find yourself deciding to just stay home.
But don’t give up just yet! Even if you don’t have enough money in the bank to cover all your costs, you can find funding that will help and it is totally worth the work!
Benefits of Attending a Conference
A family conference is not a vacation; it is a learning experience. When raising funds to attend a conference it’s important to keep this in mind… you’re not asking for money so you can go play in a new city and sleep in a hotel. Nope, you’re going to be working!
Between meeting top doctors, attending informative sessions, perusing vendor tables and networking with other families, you’re going to have the opportunity to learn more about your child’s condition than you’ve ever had before! You may very well pick up some life-saving or life-enhancing information, so don’t view the trip as play time.
Of course a conference can be fun (I’ve always especially enjoyed meeting other families), but mostly they’re a whirlwind of information and resources and you’re sure to leave exhausted.
You’re also sure to leave the conference worked up and motivated! Many families who attend these conferences will share how they’ve made changes in their communities or school districts and this can be very inspiring, so don’t be surprised if you leave a conference with the determination to start something or change something at home… and that may be the most valuable thing you take away with you!
If you’ve never raised funds before, you may not know where to start. Here are some tips:
- Write a Proposal: As any good grant writer knows, you’re best bet starts with a moving and thorough proposal. Before you begin contacting anyone, first sit down and write out your reasons why you want to attend the conference and how much it will cost. This will most likely be the hardest part of the fundraising process. Check out the section below for more ideas on how to write your proposal.
- Find a Sponsor: If approaching people is not your strong suit, then it might be a good idea for you to find someone to do it for you. Actually, even if you feel perfectly comfortable calling organizations and sending letters out yourself, having someone there with you can help you make a better case. A good sponsor would be someone who knows you and your family and has worked with your child, like a teacher, therapist or maybe your child’s principal. Honestly, the higher up they are, the better. If you have a good relationship with your SPED director or a county or state official, give them a call!
- Spread Out: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (as the saying goes) because even though it can be difficult to find one organization to give you lots of money, it can sometimes be relatively easy to find lots of organizations to give you little amounts of money. I’ve also found in my own experiences that organizations are more willing to contribute to your cause if they see that you’ve contacted multiple people. They see this as tenacity and drive! Look for more help below on who to contact.
- Get Creative: Fun runs are successful because they’re fun! You can be fun, too! Get a group together to organize a fundraising event that is both fun and a money-maker. Anything from a pancake breakfast held at your church to a bake sale organized by your book club will help get you to your goal. And don’t underestimate the power of neighbors. How about a street-wide garage sale with a percentage of the proceeds going toward your trip? Wouldn’t that look fun advertised in your local newspaper?
Writing Your Proposal
Now for the hard part… writing your proposal. Most proposals are only one to two pages long (you want to be informative, not boring). You need to tell your story, explain your needs and be very clear about costs (exactly how much you need to raise and what it will be used for). And it can be a good idea to mention other fundraising efforts you’ll be pursuing so the organization sees that you are serious.
Here are some guidelines for your proposal:
- Begin with a Summary Statement: Clearly and succinctly explain what you’re doing right from the beginning: “I am asking for your financial assistance in providing travel and conference funding necessary so that I may attend the [conference name] on [conference date].”
- Tell Your Story: You know you have a story and it’s probably your biggest selling point. What is your child’s condition and what struggles have you faced since your child’s birth? What have you done to overcome those challenges? Paint a picture of who you are and who your child is. I think the most important thing here is to stay positive. You don’t want to come off like you’re complaining or asking for sympathy. Yes, you need help and yes your child is disabled, but focus on the positive and you’re more likely to get people’s attention.
- What are Your Goals? Next explain why you want to attend this conference. How will it benefit you and your family? What are your goals? You could start with something like, “By my attendance at this conference, I hope to gain valuable information in order to enrich my relationship with my visually impaired child and to find ways to help other parents of visually impaired children in my community.” But try to add something personal, too.
- Outline Your Costs: It’s important to be as specific as possible here. How much will this trip really cost? How many of you will be attending? “Our plane tickets via [Airline] will cost _____. Registration for the conference will be _____. My hotel bill will be _____ per night and I will be staying for _____ nights. Taxi fare from the airport (round trip) will be ____.”
- Share Your Knowledge: Give back to the organization in some way. “I will be collecting conference materials and taking notes during the sessions. I would be happy to speak to your group following the conference with a description of the program and to share information about visually impaired children in general. I also hope to gather other parents in the community following the conference so that I can share the many things I learned at the conference.”
- Include References: This may be a good place to include your sponsor’s name and contact info. You should also include contact info for the conference itself. I also think it’s a good idea to list other organizations you’ve contacted and whether or not you’ve raised any money up to this point. You can also tell them about any fundraising events you are planning.
Who to Contact
Sit down with a paper and pencil and start brainstorming the organizations in your area that might be willing to help. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Lions Clubs
- Schools for the Blind in your state
- Independent Order of Odd Fellows
- Active 20-30 Clubs
- Boys & Girls Clubs
- Knights of Columbus
- Area women’s clubs
- Jewish Community Centers
- Teachers’ organizations
- National Grange
- Farm Bureau
- Farmer’s Union
- Business associations
- Employee’s associations
- Chamber of Commerce
- Senior Citizen Groups
- Business and Professional Women’s Foundation
- Church groups
- Urban League
- Local colleges and universities
- Fraternities or sororities
- University alumni groups