When you start a new nonprofit, you realize pretty quickly that with so many options, it’s important that you pick the right fundraiser to get the money flowing.
Which one should you choose? Which one works the best for new and small nonprofits?
There are so many things you could try to raise money.
And with limited time and money to spend on raising money, you need something you can manage easily and that will bring in the kind of money you need.
For a brand new nonprofit, the right fundraiser initially is likely to be small and fun – something that doesn’t require too much arm-twisting to get people to attend, and something that doesn’t require people to spend a lot of money.
Think Bingo Night, a Trike-a-Thon, or a Mystery Cookie Box Sale.
Or maybe an Uno Tournament, a Brewery Tasting, or Go Fly a Kite Day. Or maybe a Spaghetti Supper, a Tennis Tournament, an 80s Party, or a Backyard BBQ.
But, small does not mean easy. Any fundraising event takes time to plan and effort to pull off successfully.
The key to picking the right fundraiser for your new nonprofit is to come up with something unique but familiar, something no other organization in your area is doing but also something that your prospective guests will feel comfortable with.
And something that you’re excited about hosting.
If you pick the right fundraiser or fundraising event, it can become a signature event that you host year after year, with a steady increase in revenue year after year. That sounds good, right?
Let’s look at some different kinds of fundraisers so you can get a better idea of the right one for you.
Evaluate Different Kinds of Fundraisers
If you start looking around, you’ll see lots of different fundraisers happening in your community.
Maybe your child’s school has an incredibly successful annual auction. You could host an action, but auctions are a lot of work and can be expensive to pull off. A highly-successful auction takes up to a year to plan, even with a core group of committed volunteers.
You need a lot of friends and supporters who will “attend and spend,” as the saying goes. A live auction is ideal for a school whose parents have disposable income, but it’s not a great fit for most new nonprofits.
Maybe you participate every year in a wonderful walk to find a cure for a medical condition. Is a 5K the right fundraiser for your new nonprofit? Probably not, as a 5K also requires up to a year of planning, a lot of committed volunteers, and a lot of friends and supporters who will participate in the event in the early years, when most people have not heard of the event or your organization.
How about a gala? Don’t most nonprofits have fancy galas that raise tons of money? Actually, no, most nonprofits go with less-fancy events. Like an auction, a gala costs money upfront to secure caterers and a facility. A gala requires attendees, people who will buy entire tables, fill the seats, and recruit friends to attend. For a new nonprofit to come out of the gate with this much momentum is a tall order. Though if you have LOTS of friends who will support it, this might be a good option for you.
If most of your organization’s supporters have young families, think about a kid-centered or event. Families go to family-friendly events.
Or, think about an adult-only event but with a twist … babysitting is included! Parents drop off their kids for supervised childcare and then attend a fun party for grownups, maybe a Margarita Tasting, with alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, along with Tex-Mex food.
If your guests are likely to be empty nesters and people who have retired, a Wine Pull or a Basket Raffle might be just right.
How to Choose the Right Fundraiser
To choose the right fundraiser, start with your audience. Who will attend this event?
Then think about what type of event people in your audience would enjoy.
Would they prefer an outdoor activity or a fancy indoor party? Upscale or casual? Serious atmosphere or fun?
Take these answers into consideration as you select your fundraiser so you can choose the one that will ultimately raise the most money. Remember, if it doesn’t look fun to your audience, they won’t support it, no matter how excited you are about it.
For example, if your community is already into cornhole, then a Cornhole Tournament might make sense. But if no one has ever heard of cornhole … that’s not the right fundraiser for you.
The key to a successful event is not to replicate something another organization does but to find the right fundraiser that captures the spirit of your organization and is … just right for your organization.
Brainstorm with everyone close to your organization as well as your friends and family members who have attended fundraisers. Come up with ideas and decide if they’re the right fit for your audience.
A meme got my attention recently on Facebook. It said, “You know the fundraiser I’d actually like to go to? A Scholastic Book Fair for grownups.” Several of my friends clicked the laughing emoji and agreed that would be fun. “A book fair with booze!”
I thought about it and … a Book Fair for Grownups has potential, especially if your organization has a literacy or education focus. You could partner with a local bookstore to set out some popular books and invite your book-loving friends. You could add pencils with scented erasers and other trinkets to capture the feel of an old-fashioned school book fair.
Set up a silent auction table with surprise books wrapped in brown paper, as well as some themed book baskets. Maybe you could get some popular books signed by the authors and auction them off as well.
What you are trying to do is think about your audience and your goals as an organization, and pinpoint the right fundraiser that fits both.
It takes some creativity to come up with something that will be a hit AND generate the revenue you need, so take the time to carefully think through your options along with the amount of time and energy each one will take to plan and host.
Ideas for Fundraisers
Alright, now that you understand that you need to choose carefully, it’s time for some ideas of different kinds of fundraisers you could hold.
Here are 20 ideas for fundraisers that might be just right for your new nonprofit:
1. Bingo Night: Bingo is a simple game most everyone knows how to play. It has an innocent, child-like appeal and fun for all ages. No one has to think too hard. Check first with your state to see if you need any kind of permit for a game of chance before you hold an event like this.
2. Trike-a-Thon: A Walk-a-Thon or 5K can be challenging, as you have to get a permit and work with your local police department to block off streets. But if your local high school has a track, you can stage all kinds of events, including a Trike-a-Thon, if a lot of your supporters have preschoolers. You can rent adult-size tricycles for adult-size participants or have adults ride kiddie tricycles. You can also have an old-fashioned Field Day with events like the three-legged race.
3. Apple Pie Contest: With shows like The Great British Baking Show being so popular, you can put your supporters to the test to see who’s the best baker. After judges award prizes for the best pies, you can have a pie-eating contest. Instead of pie, you could have supporters bake their most creative cupcakes or their favorite cookies. If you’re an animal shelter, add dog treats as a category! After prizes are awarded, sell everything in a bake-sale format or maybe incorporate a Cake Walk.
4. Uno Tournament: This is like game night but with a tournament set-up and one winner who wins a prize, typically something donated by a local business. Jenga also works in a tournament format, and other games could work as well. If you have enough chess players among your supporters, you could have a chess tournament. Add on a chess clinic for people who want to learn the game.
5. Brewery Tasting: If you think your supporters would rather socialize than play a game or bake a pie, work with a local brewery on a casual tasting event. These events are known for being popular with Millennials, but GenXers and Boomers also love breweries (yes we do!). Many breweries have craft sodas and other non-alcoholic drinks, as well as hard cider for people who don’t like beer.
6. Go Fly a Kite: If you can hold your event at a park or a high school football stadium, a kite-flying event has potential. Sell kites onsite and invite participants to pre-order them. Provide other family activities such as face-painting, performances by local musicians, and food vendors.
7. Spaghetti Supper: This classic budget-friendly fundraiser has nostalgic appeal and works for organizations whose supporters range in age from baby to senior. A Pancake Breakfast is another inexpensive community-breaking-bread-together event that works in tight-knit communities.
8. Tennis Tournament: If tennis is a popular sport in your community, set up a tennis tournament. If golf is popular, consider golf. An Adult Swim Meet can be a lot of fun for the right organization and the right community. What about volleyball? Find out what sports your supporters like to play, and think about how to integrate that sport into a fundraiser.
9. Dog Parade: It’s an obvious choice for an animal rescue, but all types of organizations can have a dog parade if a lot of your supporters have dogs. Award prizes for the cutest dog and the best costume. This is a great event to hold around Halloween.
10. 80s Party: This is such a fun event for your GenXer supporters! A Disco Party is also fun. Hire a DJ, rent a disco ball and lights, and set up a dance floor. Don’t be surprised if your guests beg the DJ to keep the party going.
11. Backyard BBQ: Sometimes simple is just right. Some organizations love their pig roasts, but for some people the sight of an animal being cooked whole is too much. Remember your vegetarian supporters with meat-free options. Set up games like cornhole, croquet, and horseshoes.
12. Margarita Tasting: This is such a fun idea if your crowd loves cocktails. Hire a bartending company to mix up pitchers of four different margarita flavors, as well as a few mocktails. Serve in very small glasses for tasting and serve with Tex-Mex fare.
13. Movie Night: Bring the whole community out with a beloved family movie, shown outdoors on a big screen. Instead of movie trailers, start the night off with a video about your organization’s work. No Movie Night is complete without traditional movie snacks. Pro tip: Don’t try to show your movie before it’s truly dark unless you have a special screen with LED lights. People won’t be able to see it!
14. Basket Raffle: Assemble themed baskets and raffle them off at a big party. Ask your local sports franchises to donate tickets and swag, and tap local businesses for contributions. Assign each Board member a basket with a particular theme, such as coffee or a night at the movies.
15. Wine Pull: Wine has wide appeal, and sales reps for local wine businesses would be happy to help you throw a wine pull. A Board member or other supporter hosts a party. Guests pay $25 to pull a random bottle of wine, wrapped so they cannot see what they are getting. Maybe they get a bottle worth less than $25, but a few of the bottles are worth a lot more. You can bypass using a wine rep, and just have Board members and other supporters donate wine.
16. Waffle Bar: Sometimes you feel like your audience would prefer a short and sweet event instead of an all-evening affair. You can set up a Waffle Bar for a decadent Saturday brunch. Include ice cream, toppings, and whipped cream, as well as maple syrup. Borrow as many waffle-makers as you can, so no one has to wait too long. Invite a coffee truck or set up your own coffee and smoothie bar as well.
17. Poinsettia Sale: It’s hard to think of an easier fundraiser than a Poinsettia Sale, especially if you live in a community that goes all out for Christmas. Other plant and flower sales might work better in your area. Check with local vendors to find out what’s in season and available. Supporters order online and then come to a drive-through pickup on a Saturday morning. A Luminary Sale can also be successful during the holidays, especially if your town does a parade or one-night event.
18. Mystery Cookie Box Sale: Recruit local chefs to make batches of their favorite cookies and box them up. Supporters order the cookies online without knowing what type of cookies they will get or which chef will prepare them. They pick up their cookies via a drive-through.
19. Knit-a-Thon: This is a laid-back event for an organization that has a lot of crafters among their supporters and is looking to bring new supporters in. Set up tables and chairs where knitters can hang out and knit and invite fiber vendors to set up booths. Invite food trucks to sell food or sell your own coffee and snacks.
20. Tamales Night: Work with a local restaurant that sells tamales to provide pre-ordered bags of tamales on a Saturday or Sunday. Supporters pick up their tamales and don’t have to cook dinner that night. Tamales are a special treat, and almost everyone likes them. Other local restaurants might have other ideas for dinners-to-go. An event that makes life easier for your supporters will have a strong chance of success.
Tips for Making Your First Fundraiser a Success!
Here are some things to think about as you plan the right fundraiser:
Check local ordinances, health codes, and state laws regarding raffles, festivals, events selling alcohol, and events selling food prepared by volunteers. You don’t want your first fundraiser shut down because you’re missing a permit!
Consider the up-front cost of your event, such as booking the DJ or caterer. You will probably have to put down deposits. Consider pre-selling tickets to Board members and core supporters to make the money you need to cover these initial event costs.
Start planning early. You’ll need more time than you think to fully plan the details of a fundraiser, so give yourself plenty of time to create and execute a detailed plan. Start at least 6 months before the date of the actual event to think through the details.
Offset as many event costs as you can through sponsorships. This is a great way to engage local businesses. Offer them a sponsorship package with a set of acknowledgements that get bigger at higher levels. The more they contribute the bigger their logo will appear on event materials. Start small, with sponsorships as low as $200, just to get businesses engaged with your organization.
Be realistic about the logistics of any fundraiser before getting too far down the planning path. If the logistics will be complex, make sure you have enough volunteers. If you are trying out a new concept and have never attended a similar event, make sure you consider all angles and have enough volunteers and lead time to pull it off.
Don’t be afraid to go simple and familiar. It’s fun to come up with something creative and brand new, but people also enjoy simple events. A Valentine’s Day Party with a raffle of boxed chocolates and a photo booth can be a big hit. Or set up a candy bar and sell bags in three sizes. Guests fill their bags with their favorite candy.
Play the long game. It can take a couple of years for an event to reach its potential. Think about the long game, and choose an event you can build upon every year, adding a new twist while keeping the parts of the event people love.
Start with a modest fundraising goal. Think of it as a baseline year. Focus on planning a fun event that people will enjoy and want to attend year after year.
Recruit a committee to help with the planning and execution. Many hands really do make light work and a committee of even 2 or 3 enthusiastic volunteers can help you create a wildly successful fundraiser.
The Bottom Line
By taking the time to pick the right fundraiser for your new nonprofit, you set your organization up for success. You’ll make new friends, reconnect with old friends, generate excitement for your organization and your programs, and raise money.
The right fundraiser will leave you feeling exhilarated, not exhausted. Well, maybe exhilarated and exhausted, but a good exhausted because everyone had a great time and you raised the money you needed. When you pull off a successful fundraiser or event, your sense of confidence grows in your ability to do the fundraising needed to fully fund your mission and change more lives. And that’s what we’re here for.