Transparency is key. Charities take a lot of heat for having shady or vague policies about where a donor’s money goes, and how much of a donation makes it to the project. I’ve found that because SOS gets its donations by providing a service – Exam-AIDS – our “donors” don’t scrutinize us as much as if they just gave $20 for kicks. However, we don’t rely on handout donations for funds. We have a fantastic team of over 1100 volunteers across the continent that makes our business possible. People volunteer without totally knowing what we do with the funds raised and, in turn, what makes SOS so special! Whether a SOS volunteer or an Exam Aid attendee, they should know about our 360 Degree Volunteer Experience.
When a student comes to an SOS Exam-AID session, they pay $20 and get a 3 hour group review session. We get a whole lot of twenties at each session we run, and run a lot of sessions, at a lot of universities across North America. This is the money we use to fund our projects in Latin America. This does not mean that it gets to the community by covering the cost for a volunteer’s trip down. What this means is that every $18 is spent directly on the capital costs (or building costs) of the infrastructure projects. Exam-AID revenue is spent on the actual bricks, the cement, the rebar, and the mortar that is necessary to build these buildings.
A common misinterpretation is that Exam-AID sessions are a fundraising tool to help volunteers offset the cost of their flight to the community. Not true. SOS volunteers spend their time during the year working to build these chapters and then in the summer, they spend their own money to finance their trip down for two weeks. They’re of course welcome to fundraise on their campuses however they’d like (BBQs, Bottle Drives etc.), but Exam-AID sessions are not involved.
We try to keep our overhead costs low to allow as many students as possible the opportunity to travel down. When volunteers travel, their $2000 – $2500 goes towards their flight, food, accommodation, transport and organizational support both from SOS and our partners. Our pricing is the leanest out there. This is in large part, if not entirely, because we are able to finance the projects through our Exam-AID sessions, rather than through participant fees. This system also allows our volunteers to complete meaningful projects. The scope of our projects would be significantly smaller if we had to rely on funds collected through volunteer fees.
So how does this work in practice?
Each summer, our chapters project how much they are going to raise through their Exam-AID sessions. As an example, Queen’s predicted they’d raise about $10,000. They went through the available project proposals and found a community in Guatemala – La Nueva Florida – that was looking to build a primary school room and a playground for about that amount. They settled on running a trip to that community in May and began looking for volunteers to participate.
Other chapters – Laurier for example – find that they fundraise much more than they are able to support in projects. In this case, their “over-fundraising” is put in our Charity Development Fund. This is a fund that we use to run additional trips at the National level, to support chapters that don’t meet their project goals, and to make quality improvements to the proposed projects.
Does that make a bit more sense? If there is one thing we want you to take away from all of this it’s that: Exam-AID fundraising is spent on infrastructure investments, not volunteer’s trips or excessive overhead.
If you have any questions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org right away!