Comprehensive Guide to Surgery Fundraising

Surgery Fundraising

Preface: This article assumes that you don’t have savings to access, and that you have exhausted credit and financing options, from credit cards to mortgage refinancing, and loans from family or friends.

Whether it’s for top surgery, hysterectomy or bottom surgery, lots of trans guys don’t have the funds necessary to pay for these medically necessary and often insurance-exempt procedures. If you’re planning for surgery with less than full coffers and need some ideas about how you can raise money, this article is for you.

Saving Money, Making Money

Here’s what it boils down to: to raise money for surgery you will need to figure out how to reduce how much money goes out and/or bring more money in. There are tons of resources online where you can get ideas about how to save and make money, from cutting living expenses and squirreling away loose change, to organizing benefit parties and selling artwork. In lieu of repetition, here are a few extra tips to help fill up the piggy bank:

  • Rely on a combination of strategies to amp up your fundraising!
  • Cut surgery expenses by going with a lesser known surgeon, traveling abroad for surgery, scouring the web for seat sales, etc.
  • Sell stuff you don’t need. Have FTM gear to sell? List it on LiveJournal’s FTMGarageSale.
  • If you paid out-of-pocket for a previous surgery, be sure to claim it as a medical expense on your tax return (USA, Canada.)

Surgeon Financing

Many FTM surgeons partner with CareCredit, a medical financing company. CareCredit works kind of like a credit card, and carries steep interest rates in the area of 30%. However, partner surgeons can set their own interest rates with CareCredit, so if you apply for CareCredit through a partner surgeon you’ll usually pay interest rates that are slashed by as much as half. CareCredit isn’t for everyone though. You need a good credit score to be eligible and must keep your account up to date or pay hefty fees.

Beyond CareCredit and similar medical financing companies, surgeon financing and payment plans for SRS are extremely rare. At the time of this writing, I’m not aware of any surgeons who offer private payment plans.

Health Insurance

United States

American health insurance companies are beginning to cover gender reassignment surgery with increasing frequency, and the number of big companies and universities adopting trans-inclusive health care plans is growing. If you have insurance, be sure to review your policy carefully–you may discover that your surgery is covered! If you’re denied, you can appeal. Recently, both Aetna and Anthem of Colorado reversed decisions on transgender surgery coverage.

Insurance appeal resources:

Australia

For information about insurance coverage in Australia, see FTM Australia:

Surgery Grants

A few organizations in the United States offer grants to a limited number of applicants.

Crowdfunding For Surgery Money

crowdfunding for surgery moneyAh, crowdfunding and the new economy of giving—it’s not everyone’s cup of tea! While supporting each other is a positive thing there’s a rising sense of entitlement evidenced by the surplus of crowdfunded surgery campaigns put up with little thought beyond “give me money.” To execute an effective crowdfunding campaign you have to be willing to ask people for help and this is a skill that not everyone has. If you’re planning to raise surgery money with crowdfunding, here are some best practices to plug into.

Planning Your Campaign

  • Write an honest letter to your would-be funders about why you need the funds. Ask for what you need and not more.
  • Keep in mind that running and publicizing a crowdfunding campaign can be quite time consuming. Delay your campaign if you’re overworked, burned out, etc.
  • Have realistic expectations: more than half of Kickstarter campaigns fail to make their goal. Assume that only 1% of your contacts will contribute.
  • The currency of crowdfunding is relationships, so get your target audience right. If all your friends are broke and also saving for surgery, you’ll need to re-think your plans.
  • Make a great video promoting your campaign and put it on your donation page. Be creative, entertaining and honest. Solicit an emotional response.
  • If you’re offering rewards / backer levels, structure them carefully and budget the cost of fulfillment. While the average donation amount will probably be under $50, use your creativity to create attractive “upper end” rewards as well.
  • Study successful campaigns and try to reverse-engineer their path to success.

Examples of successful crowdfunded surgery campaigns:

Crowdfunding Services

Before you pick a crowdfunding service, consider: do you really need one? These services take a commission on the funds raised (see table below.) Many people have had good success using a self-hosted donation page (hosted on their websites or on WordPress.com/Blogspot/etc.) with a form integrated with PayPal or WePay, where fees hover around 3%.

Service Fees
DonationTo 4% + PayPal or Wepay fees (typically 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction). 0% Paid accounts also available.
Fundly 4.9% + 3% credit card processing fee
FundRazr 5% + PayPal fees (typically 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction)
GiveForward* 5% and 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction)
GoFundMe 5% + 3%
GoGetFunding 4% +  2.9% credit card processing fee
Indiegogo 5%
RocketHub 8% – 12%
You Caring $0 + PayPal or Wepay fees (typically 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction)

*GiveForward is specific to medical fundraising.

CAUTION

If you receive social assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, school grants etc., money you raise for surgery can negatively affect your benefits. Crowdfunding can also affect your tax return. Consult a tax advisor for further information.

Publicizing Your Campaign

  • Don’t spam Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Be selective about where you post, and customize your message to the audience you’re trying to reach. You wouldn’t just walk into a party and approach every person with a request for money, so why do the equivalent online?
  • Social networks are NOISY and it can be hard to get a message heard. In addition to sharing the link to your fundraiser on social networks, you’ll need to do some one-to-one communications. Even then, reaction from your contacts could be slow and you’ll probably need to hit them up a few times.
  • Add a link to your fundraising page in the FTM Surgery Forums and it will be shared on Twitter. For Tumblr exposure, submit your fundraiser to the Trans*ition Fund Collective.
  • Update your campaign regularly, and don’t forget to THANK your funders! Be grateful!

Paying It Forward: Some guys who crowdfunded their surgery money went on to crowdfund for others. How cool is that? See Point5cc and Save Charlie Bracelets.

More Surgery Fundraising Resources:

Good luck with your fundraising!

Have a surgery fundraising tip? Add it in the comments below!

Last updated: 02/08/16

21 Comments

  • Nina says:

    You should have included Canada.
    3 provinces – Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta cover the cost of SRS.
    In Ontario, the government last year paid for 52 MTF surgeries and 38 FTM surgeries.
    These are 100% paid for.
    I know, my surgery is next year.

  • Cass says:

    Some of this is useful advice. I don’t think it is ever a good idea to go to an out of country surgeon just because it is cheaper. Often it is less expensive because they have little to no oversight and it is easy to get an infection or a botched job that can cause so many more expenses, not to mention a lot of suffering.

    My boyfriend is trans f-m and he has been saving for several years for his top surgery. Just this last year our company adopted trans-friendly health insurance policies. This is really fantastic because the thousands he has saved up will be a windfall for additional expenses. The world is slowing changing to give more access for necessary trans surgeries.

  • Thanks Nina, I’m Canadian myself and I deliberately left out info about SRS funding in Canada because including trans health care coverage from around the world was outside the scope of this piece. Unfortunately, the picture for trans men in BC is not as rosy as your info makes it sound. We currently have a *10 year* wait for bottom surgery coverage here.

    Thanks Cass, I mostly agree, but I think you may be overstating things, after all, infections and botched jobs happen in North America too. There are several high quality clinics around the world offering trans surgeries and if money is an obstacle, these options definitely deserve a look.

  • chris says:

    how to save up for top surgery im 28 been on testosterone for 7 months now

  • Richard says:

    How Am I ever going to save for this surgery?

  • Daniel says:

    Love your site can I learn more

  • Lyric says:

    Um hi I’m only 16 but I’m like 100% sure I can’t save up for FTM surgery by my self so what do I do?

  • Hey Lyric, I understand how saving for top surgery can look like a huge mountain to climb, but there are ways to get there. Saving money boils down to getting a source of income and limiting what you spend. This of course sounds easier than it is, but tons of guys who didn’t think they had a shot at top surgery worked hard and hit their target.

    If you are in the US, do you have any health insurance, through parents maybe? Insurance in the US is covering these surgeries with more and more frequency.

  • Renee says:

    Hey I’m 23 transman. I’ve been wanting the top surgery ever since I was younger. Any advice for around virginia? I had a friend tell me to go to Florida Dr. Charles garramone.

  • Mat says:

    I’m 18, in MS, and still have barebones military health coverage from my parents but nothing that covers transitional surgeries–but I’m leaving for school next year. I can’t get a real job right now for a couple reasons, but I was considering starting an online store to start raising extra money for top surgery so I maybe I won’t have to wait until after uni. Do you have any knowledge/experience/advice with using host sites like Etsy for commission funding?

  • When applying for schools, look for those that have health plans with trans health care included! More and more colleges and universities in the U.S. are offering this coverage.

    Running an online store IS a real job! LOL. Seriously, it can take a lot of work to develop a successful store. You’ll need a great product, a well-executed website, and a solid marketing plan. Treat it like a real job and it can pay just like a real job! I hope you can self-fund this way, Mat!!

  • Jack says:

    At least there are options for people in america. There is no financial help in Australia and the government seem to be actively ignoring trans people. I’m broke and too proud to ask for help. Looks like I’m going to be surgery-less for a long time yet.

  • Colin says:

    I’m a 49 yr old living in Alabama. I’ve begun my transition only recently, and the key is save, know the right answers to the questions you’ll be asked, and gather support.

  • Irina says:

    Hello. I would like to offer my help to everyone.
    I know about different problems, and I can tell you about the great opportunity to raise the required amount for medical treatment faster.
    If I can be helpful to you – write me, please irina.shimko@quarter-back.org. I will do everything possible to save someone’s life.

  • Julian says:

    Do you possibly have a list of ftm surgeons in Iowa? I am having a very hard time finding any myself. Since you have done a lot of research and might have access to resources that I don’t, maybe you have a list for Iowa?

  • I’m only aware of two surgeons offering Top Surgery in Iowa:

    1. Dr. Konstantinos Lekkas at The Iowa Clinic in Des Moines (I’ve heard good things.)
    http://www.iowaclinic.com/doctor/konstantinos-lekkas/

    2. Dr. David Coster, Grinnell Surgeons, does Top Surgery and Hysterectomies. (Nice man, LGBT-friendly staff.)
    http://www.grinnellsurgeons.com/en/general_surgery/

  • Judah says:

    Do you know of any surgeons in Utah, I know of one so far and the cost is about 6 grand out of pocket, any others? I’ve been saving and saving for about 4 years and am almost there I hope to get it done by next fall!

  • Hey Judah! Top surgery? The only surgeon in UT that I’m aware of is Dr. Agarwal, and I assume that’s the one you know too. Good work saving up for surgery! Keep it up and next fall will be here before you know it!

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