Meaningful Fundraising for Cultural Immersion Trips

As the Coordinator of Cross-cultural Immersions at the University of Dayton, I am always looking for new ways to help make our BreakOut and Immersion trips, domestically and abroad, more affordable. We have so many students who wish to spend time on their breaks working and learning in a new culture, community, and or country. We offer many opportunities to do so. But many students find the price tag attached to these experiences to be much too high. What is the answer?

One answer is to find fundraising opportunities for students to lower the cost of their trip. At the same time, your general run-of-the-mill fundraisers will seek out the cheapest items to sell, without paying mind to how, where, or by whom they are produced. Would it not be completely counter-intuitive to use products created through the exploitation of workers in, let’s say the Dominican Republic, to raise money to travel and be in “solidarity” with people in El Salvador? I would say so!

Enter Equal Exchange fundraising. How about using a system that ensures fair wages and dignity for those in the Dominican Republic, helps raise money for the student who wishes to travel, and allows that student to visit El Salvador, learn about its history and grow deeper in an understanding of human connectedness around the world? Sounds like a win, win, win.

Oh wait, one more win: most Equal Exchange products are grown organically and pay attention to how we treat this fragile and blessed planet of ours.

I am fortunate that I work at a university that is growing in its understanding of the importance of Fair Trade and walking gently on the earth. There continues to be room for improvement and education, which is another reason why Equal Exchange is such a fabulous partner.

In addition to providing incredibly delicious and quality products in their fundraisers, which are Fair Trade and environmentally friendly, EE offers a vast array of educational materials to help make the connections, for both the students selling the items and those purchasing them.

It doesn’t take long to convince me that fundraising through Equal Exchange is the right choice. But how do I convince our students?

Over the years, our fundraising efforts have morphed in a variety of ways. We used to participate in large group fundraisers, pooling the money and splitting it amongst all the participants. Although this is a good lesson in group bonding, collective resources and common good, I found, over time, that the students who really needed to raise money for their trips were doing most of the work, but the money raised was portioned out to all.

Something needed to change, so we moved to a more individual-styled fundraising model. Although we were already using the Equal Exchange fundraiser for the group, switching to students raising money individually was super easy. Each order is tracked individually and the percentage of money raised is indicated on the master order form. It really is a piece of cake (made with delicious Fair Trade cocoa)!

Now, I have many very motivated sellers, who are able to raise money to help alleviate some of the cost of their BreakOut or immersion experience. My office is a part of our Campus Ministry at a Catholic and Marianist University. It is in our mission to educate other on issues of social justice and equality. We are strongly guided by the pillars of Catholic Social Teaching, calling for a care for all of creation, solidarity with all peoples of the planet, and a preferential option for the poor, among others.

Photos taken by Julie Benedetto during a Cross-cultural Immersion trip with Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ) in January 2017.

About The Author

Mary Niebler

Coordinator of Cross-Cultural Immersions at the University of Dayton

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