Program Director

Fundraising 101 from a current Program Director

By: Kelly Teshima-McCormick, 13-month Ecuador Program Director, 2018-2019

The task of raising money can be daunting. Throw in a lack of experience and the goal of $9,100 and it can feel impossible. But with the right mindset, determination and a little creativity, attacking this task can be a little easier than you might expect.

I am by no means an expert or even a “good” fundraiser, but sharing my experience thus far with raising money for myself and for Manna Project might help those who are struggling with where to even start. Please keep in mind that the following steps, challenges, successes and suggestions are all from my personal experience with fundraising as a newbie.

Step 1

First, I created a fundraising page using the platform Mightycause, as suggested by Manna Project because it is the platform that Manna Project itself uses. Plus, by linking my page with that of Manna Project’s, I was able to show and tell potential donors that their money would be directed towards Manna Project, versus to a personal account of mine.

Step 2

I then shared my fundraising page with friends and family via email, text, phone calls, and Facebook. I chose not to share in a post to my Instagram account because that is not how I use that form of social media (although I did utilize the “story” option for another fundraiser).

  • Challenge #1- At first, I received positive support from friends and family, but didn’t see much of that support in the form of a donation. How could I turn friends’ “likes” and comments into dollars and cents on my fundraising page? I understand that many of my friends are just getting into their careers or are figuring it out, so they don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. Some approaches included asking friends to share my posts with their network on Facebook, granting a “Tokyo experience” for each donation over $25 and reminding friends that literally any dollar amount makes a difference. (At the time, I was living in Tokyo, Japan and gave people the option of sending three “experiences,” such as eating a certain food, visiting a certain place, etc., and for each donation over $25, I promised to complete one of their requests. This was not successful, but worth a shot.) 

  • Challenge #2- With emailing family members, I was nervous because I felt a bit awkward asking for money from people I may not have seen or talked to in a while. Add to that some family friends who are part of the family listserv, and it can feel even more awkward. But raising money and awareness for Manna Project, as well as fulfilling the financial obligation as a Program Director, is more important than a slight feeling of uneasiness.

  • Success #1- Casting such a wide net was helpful because even though I didn’t get responses from everyone, I still reached several family members (and friends whom I have yet to meet). You never know who is willing to donate and who is interested in learning about Manna Project. Now, I am focusing on following up with those who donated, keeping them engaged with what I am doing. I have a blog that talks about my time in Ecuador and with Manna Project, but I would like to explore different ways to maintain their interest and support.  

Step 3

Aside from direct donations, I hosted two events and sold t-shirts.

  • Success #2- My first event actually took place in Tokyo, where I was living until I came to Ecuador. I hosted a bake sale outside of the language school I volunteered at. Bake sales are not common in Japan and the school was not in a high-traffic area, but I created a flyer with information in both English and Japanese, cards with links to my blog and fundraising page, and sold sweets at both language school locations. I also left a donation box at one of the sites that had information about me, Manna, and why this work is important. I was incredibly lucky to have such a supportive staff at the language school, to provide me the space and advertisement that I needed. Several parents told me that they were interested in me and the cause because volunteering abroad is not something that they would even think about; it’s not a common thought in Japan. They liked having the opportunity to talk to their children about the challenges that other kids and communities in the world are facing.

  • Challenge #3- Next, I organized a happy hour fundraising event in Oakland, California. The main challenge with this event was finding food and prize donations. After moving out of Japan, I only had three weeks back in the United States before I had to leave for Ecuador and just a week and a half before my event. Organizing an event while in another country is not easy, as securing donations from local restaurants and businesses is much easier (and sometimes only done) in person.

    With little time to go to places in person, finding a restaurant to donate food to the event was very difficult. I ended up buying food myself. So my suggestion for hosting an event is to contact businesses early. I found that a few restaurants were interested in donating food, as it is something they often do, but they needed more notice than a week.

  • Success #3- But securing prize donations went well! I created and printed a sheet with information about me, Manna Project, and the event and handed it out to several local businesses. Going into places in person is key; it is the reason why I was able to secure donations, such as free movie tickets and restaurant gift certificates.

  • Success #4 -At my event, I also held a trivia game with categories such as Oakland, sports and Ecuador. Participants paid to play and the winner received a prize. I also had a raffle at the event, which allowed me to raise more money during the event. These were simple, low-cost ways to further raise money outside of the ticket sales to the happy hour itself (which is why securing prize donations was extremely helpful).

  • Success #5- At the event, I also promoted at t-shirt that a friend had designed. We used Custom Ink’s fundraising option, which was great because there are no costs lost to the fundraiser if shirts aren’t sold. Once you sell a certain number of t-shirts, you start to earn money. This means that you don’t have to worry about purchasing the t-shirts yourself and hoping to sell them all in order to make money. Everything is done online, so getting the link out to people is very important. But this was also a challenge. 

  • Challenge #4- Several friends expressed interest in buying the t-shirt, but because they needed to buy online, they weren’t always ready with their credit card when I’d send a reminder text about the buying window closing (I chose to have the t-shirt available for four weeks, the maximum). Easily fixed by getting up and grabbing their wallet, this challenge is common among young people, so figuring out a way to get people to the virtual checkout line without being pushy will lead to more success in this kind of effort. Despite a lower-than-expected turnout, I think the t-shirt sale was a success and I hope to design and sell another product soon.

The bottom line

Overall, my main suggestion for fundraising is to start early. Ask local businesses, friends, and family members for support and donations as soon as you can! If I was able to find some success with my short amount of time back in the United States, I’m sure you will also find success in your fundraising efforts.

Program Director Applications Due 8/14


Manna Project International is accepting applications for Program Director positions for in Nicaragua or Ecuador. Applications are due August 14th.

Manna Project International creates communities of young leaders that help break the cycle of poverty in underserved communities around the world. If you are a recent or soon-to-be college grad with a love of travel, culture, and international development, apply to join one of our teams in Latin America. 

During this 11-month position, you will experience life and work alongside other young leaders and community members. At one of our sites in Nicaragua or Ecuador, you will direct a variety of impactful programs designed to meet the specific needs and opportunities of the community. 


Manna Project equips volunteers with leadership development skills for a variety of career fields, including medicine, international development, law, the greater non-profit sector, education and international politics.

Top reasons to become a program director

Do you want to talk to a current Program Director about what it's like to work abroad with MPI?




Parent Series: A Wonderful Adventure

Welcome to the first installment of our Parent Experience Series! With a new group of Program Directors on site in Ecuador and Nicaragua, we know that some of our new readers are parents who want to follow along. It's a fact - sending your child to an unknown country can be a nerve-wracking experience! Liz Herr's son, Dan, is starting his second year at Manna Project's Nicaragua site, and she has some words of comfort, advice, and encouragement for you. 

"Mom, Dad, I'm moving to Nicaragua!"

When our son Dan announced last spring that he was planning to spend thirteen months in Nicaragua as a Program Director for Manna Project International, one of my first reactions was to buy a bunch of stuff for him to take along. He thought this was crazy. His intention was to throw some clothes and toiletries in a duffel bag and go. I hate to admit it, but he was partly right; my shopping spree was a little crazy and mostly a way to keep at bay my anxiety over having my son head off to an impoverished area of an unknown (to me), developing country. A few of my purchases, however, turned out to be quite useful. 

                Liz with Dan in Nicaragua

                Liz with Dan in Nicaragua

I thought I would share my thoughts on this in case you are a parent, family member, friend or prospective MPI Program Director yourself – in the hopes that you can avoid unnecessary anxiety and the need for retail therapy.

The Necessities

There were only two things that Dan felt that he needed prior leaving - a new daypack to replace his current one, which was falling apart, and an extra pair of sunglasses. Both of these truly were essential. He also threw in good, sturdy water bottle.

Collared shirts and shorts (not gym shorts) are what the guys seem to wear most. The best pair of shorts works for everything, from teaching math to coaching lacrosse. Clothing should be lightweight and quick-drying. Nicaragua is hot - and dusty. So while light colors are good, anything that is white will soon be a brownish-gray color from dust and multiple washings.  It’s more complicated for the girls, as shorts aren’t as socially acceptable for women in Nicaragua, but the general principles are the same.

Life as a Program Director

Program Directors walk (a lot!) in addition to running, hiking, volcano boarding and hanging out at the beach in their off time. Shoes get wet, muddy, and sweaty. Dan spends most of his time in athletic shoes or flip-flops. The athletic shoes he took in July 2015 were smelly and worn out by Christmas.

A good cell phone case is a good idea. Dan’s is the Lifeproof brand. It is waterproof, dust-proof and drop-resistant. Dan has always lived a life dangerous to cell phones; he gets tossed into some body of water about once a month, so he needed all these features before he left for Nicaragua. The case has been helpful in Nicaragua. He also chose to take his aging laptop with him. Fortunately, there is a Mac/ Apple store at Galerias Santo Domingo Mall in Managua that has helped him resolve computer problems. 

What to Pack?

                          The famous duffel bag

                          The famous duffel bag

Some that things that are expensive or hard to get in Nicaragua include: sun block, insect repellant containing DEET, and powdered Gatorade. It’s nice to have a good travel mug for drinking coffee on that morning walk to catch the bus. Dan also really likes having English language classic paperback books (think The Count of Monte Cristo or Don Quixote). He took a couple along, and we’ve sent some as well. You can read a book on the bus or the beach - it doesn’t need wifi or an electric outlet and a book never needs recharging. (Editor's note: If there's no room in your suitcase, the Manna house has an impressive collection of books donated by past volunteers!)

Be sure to get a full 13 months supply of contact lenses, medications, etc. to take along. We haven’t had any problems mailing things to Nicaragua, but packages take a while to get there. It might be a little risky to depend on the Nicaraguan mail for really important things. 

A Wonderful Adventure

Hopefully, these thoughts and suggestions will be helpful. One disclaimer: these views are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of MPI, other parents, or even my own son. Living and working in Nicaragua for MPI has been amazing and life changing experience for Dan - and by extension, for our whole family. It is a wonderful adventure.

Thank you, Liz!


Do you have a question for Liz?

Do you want to read more from this series?

MPI Alumna Featured in Forbes

Congratulations to MPI alumna Jackie Weidman, whose work in clean energy leadership was recently featured by Forbes! After her time with Manna Project, Jackie went on to co-found the Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI). See the article by Lyndsey Gilpin here or read more below. 

Not long after she graduated from college, Jackie Weidman moved to Ecuador to teach environmental education with Manna Project International, hoping to focus on the impacts of climate change. After studying the subject in school and watching how the US remained in denial that climate change was occurring, she figured she’d be fighting a similar battle in the communities she worked with.

Instead, she experienced quite the opposite. “Everyone was like, ‘oh, duh,’ we obviously believe it.” The community got 80 percent of its water supply from a glacier that was melting at unprecedented rates, and because of that, Ecuador has some of the most progressive water conservation regulations in the world.

The people in Ecuador knew developing countries were at the root of the problem, too, and they couldn’t do much to stop it. So Weidman focused on agricultural and environmental education for the year she spent there, getting to know the stakeholders in the communities and how cliamte change impacted people at the local level.

When she arrived back in the US, ready to begin a career in federal environmental policy, she realized she felt incredibly removed from the politics of climate change. The BP oil spill and the fail of the cap and trade bill to reduce carbon emissions had both occurred the year she was abroad.

So Weidman decided to go straight to the source—to Washington DC to embed herself in the workings of energy and environmental policy, and she hasn’t left the District since.”
                                                                              MPI Ecuador Team, 2009-2010

                                                                              MPI Ecuador Team, 2009-2010

The 2016-2017 Program Director Handbook is Here!

It's that time again - the latest version of MPI's Program Director Handbook is here! We are looking forward to meeting a new field of potential Program Directors in the upcoming application season.

Though our pool of applicants grows each year, one thing stays the same - the caliber and quality of the candidates who apply. We look forward to meeting a new generation of social changers as we find the perfect balance of personalities and passions to operate MPI's programs in the coming year. 

Before we get to 2016-2017, we want to make sure you know - it is not too late to apply for a position in 2015-2016. We still have two opportunities available in Nicaragua. The first deadline is August 25th, so send in those applications!


Apply today to be part of one of our amazing teams - we look forward to meeting you. And of course, don't forget to...

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