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Unless you have deep pockets, fundraising is a key part of sponsoring a refugee to come to Canada. That's because the money that the refugee needs for their first year in Canada must be in the bank before you even apply. And it's a lot of money. If you're starting a fundraising or crowdfunding campaign, here are some tips.

Who should start the fundraiser?

Good question! Basically, whoever has the best ability to raise the money should post the fundraiser. That usually means the person closest to the refugee, who can make the fundraiser a personal project, or the person with the biggest (and most generous) network.

That person is not always the sponsor! Sometimes there are groups in countries like Australia and the US, for example, who want to help refugees, but don't have the benefit of the Canadian private sponsorship program. Or they know the refugee and want to help them. Other times members of the Canadian settlement team launch the fundraiser, especially if they have a personal connection to the refugee.

Who shouldn't launch the fundraiser? The refugee himself (you're not allowed to fund your own application). Also not "Northern Lights Canada", which is, after all, a collection of volunteers who already have a number of active fundraisers already.

If you ask us to do it, the new fundraiser will likely get lost in the shuffle of the other ones we're working on. That said, once you launch your own fundraiser, let us know so we can share it on the Northern Lights Facebook page.

Bonus tip: If you happen to know some donors with some serious money to donate - enough to cover the costs required by Canadian immigration to settle the refugee(s) in their first year - you don't need to launch a crowdfunding campaign at all. But do keep a copy of all the wire transfer forms and information on each donor. You will need this paper trail for the Proof of Funds section of the application, to show Canadian Immigration where the money came from. Also don't send all the money at first. Send a test amount of maybe $20 to make sure the banks can handle the transaction.

What's the next step?

Get the life story of the person you're trying to help! That refugee narrative becomes the fodder for the online profile and eventually, the application itself. Also, writing it will allow you to talk with confidence about the refugee, when you're chatting with friends and potential sponsors or donors at your next house party or zoom call.

Read this post on the reasons for taking this narrative approach to the fundraiser.

Now that I have the life story written, what do I do next?

Now that you've got the story down, it's time to dramatically edit and reformat it to get it ready for the fundraising text. Check out this fundraiser for how to rework the refugee narrative into fundraising text.

As you can see, there's some identifying bio details at the top, then a kind of executive summary: 3 or 4 key sentences of who this person is and why you should care. Often in a larger font, and italics. Sometimes we reverse the order, and have the executive summary come first.

After you use a few short paragraphs to tell the life story - just 2-3 sentences per paragraph. You use of bold for key phrases and sub-headers to break up the text. And keep the text short! Just enough detail to tell the story and grab the reader by the heartstrings.

The life story should be told in 'third person' ("he/she/they" rather than "I"). That's because it seems more objective if someone else is telling the life story. Also because you're not allowed to fundraise for yourself, under the rules of Canadian immigration. To add a bit of personal colour to the narrative, we often use pull quotes, a few short sentences that allow the refugee to state how he or she was feeling in that moment.

"We had lost my father. Life would never be the same."

"The bombs roared overhead, and I dove for cover."

The reason to do all this snazzy formatting and editing that is people tend to have short attention spans when they're browsing online, and many people skim the text. You want to grab their hearts as quickly as possible before bringing them to the main purpose, which is to donate. If you want to tell a longer story, we often create a profile page, and link to it, if people want to learn more.

Should I use Chuffed or GoFundMe or something else?

The most widely-known platform in North America is GoFundMe. It charges a fairly high fee of 2.9% on every donation, but that's maybe worth it, since the trust level is also high.

People also use Facebook, which has similar fees, and is easily shared on that platform. For a short-term quick infusion of donations, you can also consider a birthday fundraiser on Facebook.

There are other platforms. In Canada, there is Fundrayzr, which has lower fees but maybe lower recognition, even in Canada.

In Australia, the platform of choice is Chuffed. On a side note, since most of the donations for the refugees in Indonesia tend to come from Australians, you should use Chuffed if you're Australian or your refugee is in Indonesia.

Other fundraising platforms are popular in other regions of the world.

How can I get the message out about the fundraiser? I don't know many people.

That's a big one. If you don't see a path to success, I would consider not launching a crowdfunding campaign, which may languish for years.

Usually it's best to put together a spreadsheet where you can account for raising about half the money (through relatives, big money donors etc) before even launching the crowdfunding campaign. That way you have the comfort that your fundraiser will at least get halfway to the finish line without too much time passing.

If you don't have any big money donors lined up, or a big social network of your own, you may want to contact a refugee group or church to take this on as their project, so you can benefit from their network and outreach.

You may also want to create a profile page on the family BEFORE you set up the fundraiser, to make it easier to find sympathetic friends and possible donors before launching the fundraising campaign. That's what the 'profiles' pages on Northern Lights and the Hazara Hope websites aim to do. So if someone asks, "Who are you trying to help?" you can send them to the profile page.

Who sets up the trust fund in Canada? Will the money from the account I set up for donations go into this trust fund?

The funds are collected by you, the fundraiser, with the crowdfunding account transferring money to your bank account. Once all the funds are raised, they are be sent by bank-to-bank transfer to the sponsors in Canada. If the fundraiser or the sponsor is the same person, you can skip that step.

Bonus tip: remember to keep copies of every wire transfer form and screen shots of all the transfers. You need to show a precise money trail for the 'funds explanation letter.'

The account where you send the money can belong to one of the sponsors or (much better option) to the trust account established for the sake of sponsoring the family. This is a non-business trust account, with two members of the sponsor team as signatories, to be super technical. You can read more about these banking details here.

How will you find the 5 sponsors, and how long could this take?

As you can see from the profiles page on the Northern Lights and on the Hazara Hope website, there is quite a long lineup of people looking for sponsors in Canada.

And here at Northern Lights, our own personal network is pretty much drained by this point. So again, you may need to do some outreach, or find someone with contacts in Canada to do this outreach and help find you a sponsor team.

Remember the 5+ sponsors must all live in the same place in Canada, the same 'community of settlement'.

How long will the Canadian government give the family to pay back the flight expenses?

The cost of the flight is paid for by Canada at the time of the flight, but it's a loan. The refugees are supposed to start paying back the loan, in instalments that can be negotiated, one year after their arrival. They're not allowed to buy their own (maybe cheaper) flights, since that would put them outside the care of the IOM, which brings them to Canada.

Any other questions? Let us know!