Nonprofit events are much more than simply bringing in donations. This is, of course, one of the primary functions, but if you’re going to be planning events for nonprofits, you’ll want to have them cover a lot of bases.
A good event can inspire deeper loyalty to your cause, create a lasting memory, promote engagement, and reach out to new demographics and audiences. And this is all before any money has even changed hands.
If this sounds good, but you’re not sure where to start, you’re in luck. We’ve got ten great fundraising event ideas coming up, but before that, let’s take a look at exactly what makes them so good at what they do.
Hosting Events for Nonprofits and What Makes Nonprofit Events Effective
Throwing a nonprofit event to generate income for your organization or cause can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. It could be said that with most nonprofit events, “what you put in is what you get out,” but even this isn’t always true. Events thrown together as an afterthought have gone viral globally and generated millions of dollars, and well-thought-out, expensive gatherings have failed to hit the mark.
So, there are a few things to consider before putting in all the work, and some events are more efficient than others in terms of cost and time savings; we’ll come to those shortly. If you’re thinking of putting together a fundraising event, it’s important to answer the following five questions first:
- How much do you need? You will need to set a target before you get started so that you can know what to budget for and where to look for the funds.
- Who will you get it from? You should identify your target audience and get to know as much about who they are and what they’re into as possible.
- When will you need to run the event? Events can take a long time to organize, so set the deadline as far in advance as you need to and design a roadmap for planning and getting people involved.
- How will you let people know about it? Where will you reach people to tell them about the event? Which platforms will be used, and how will your content change as you get closer to your deadline?
- Who will be involved? Who are the major stakeholders in the event, and who will make up your workforce? Do you have enough volunteers, or will you need to recruit more?
When you have identified your needs as they stand, you’ll be in a lot better position for designing your fundraiser.
Some things to factor into the design will be the cost, the location, and the way to leverage whichever platform you’ll be hosting it on, whether physical or virtual. A good fundraiser is multi-faceted: it provides you with exposure, engagement, and (of course) funds. Simply pushing for a donation drive might bring you in some money, but it’s one-dimensional, and an event is designed to be much more than that.
Nonprofit events bring people together, raise their moods, offer some kind of value, and present them with a pleasant giving experience. There are so many ways to run them, so no matter what your audience is or how small the budget is, you’ll be able to put something together that fits.
10 Inspirational and Exciting Fundraising Event Ideas to Get you Started
These ideas are picked for their versatility, the ability to apply them to almost any context, and how engaging they are. We’ve given some examples and covered a little about how and why they work, but you can pick and choose different elements from each to make your own.
Selling cookies is one of the most traditional ways to generate funds. Replace cookies with lemonade, and you’ve got a suburban classic that everyone knows about. There’s a charm factor to these charity drives, especially if you can recruit younger supporters to help you generate funds.
Girl Scout cookie money goes to all kinds of local projects and generates over $800 million for the organization as a whole each year. So there’s a lot to be made this way, and it doubles up as public outreach and exposure, too.
The best way to run a stand or public sale is to sell something people already want. Tacking on a donation price to the cost of the item is a smaller step for customers than buying something they don’t want or donating without receiving anything. This way, everybody wins, and you can create value for your donors in the product they’re buying and the comfort that their purchase is contributing to something bigger.
2. A Challenge
Internet challenges take advantage of social media’s “look at me” culture and flip it into something that channels the energy towards a good cause. Challenges range from silly to straight-up lethal, so it’s important not to design something that can cause harm. When done right, though, they’re the best exposure you can get and can generate a lot of money.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is so well known it needs no introduction, and that’s exactly the point. Challenges are a fun little viral craze that, when designed carefully, can spread like wildfire. This is one of the best ways to get exposure (although, do you remember what the challenge supported?), and it’s a fantastic way to encourage high-profile and widespread support in the form of donations.
The way to really leverage the strength of internet fads is to make sure the challenge has something in the name that will linger as a reminder of who you are. Make it harmless, fun, yet truly challenging, and people will jump at the opportunity to make themselves look silly in front of viewers. If this comes with a donation, all the better.
3. Raffle or Lottery
Raffles have been around since at least the times of ancient civilizations and haven’t gone down in popularity. As a fundraiser, they’re incredibly easy. Everyone buys a ticket for the chance to win a prize. That prize is worth less than the sum of the tickets sold, so there is money left over, generated from the game itself.
Raffles can be created online or hosted live and can be used at any scale. The Royal Trinity Hospice in London, for example, charges £2 per ticket and offers hotel stays, theatre tickets, and high street vouchers. These tickets raise funds for the hospice, and the event is run every year at Christmas.
The principle of a raffle is so simple, and it’s a great way to run a fundraiser event due to its flexibility, cheap costs to run, and the fact that it’s an easy event to manage. It can be its own event, or it can be part of a larger event, and the prices and prizes can scale with the generosity of your target audience. Raffles and lotteries are a good way to engage supporters and can be run remotely and repetitively, making them a staple in the arsenal of nonprofit events.
4. Date Auction
This is another example of a fundraiser that everyone has heard of before, but not so many have actually been to one. Date auctions involve eligible volunteers putting themselves up as bounty to the right bidder. This should be a fun and lighthearted event that’s run safely and involves lots of informed consent! When done well, these events can generate a lot of funds for your nonprofit.
The Young Democrats run exactly these sorts of fundraiser events to gather funds for their community center and frequently generate thousands of dollars as a result. They’re also able to collect food items and other contributions at the same event to support their target organization.
Date auctions work because they’re usually a hilarious public spectacle, and people get to relax into the mood of the event. This drives engagement at an event that’s already for a good cause and will leave your nonprofit with a significant boost to supporter engagement and your network itself.
Perhaps the oldest form of event there is, a contest pits competitors against one another for the spectacle and honor of public victory. This leaves a substantial amount of flexibility in the way they can be run and makes them particularly good at engaging supporters.
Participants can be sponsored, or there can be an entry fee to spectate. There can also be a prize for the winner. The rest is up to you and the needs of your project. Some simple ideas are a bake-off, a cross-country race, and a talent show. The almost-infinite ways to throw a contest mean you can run them on any budget and under any theme.
Contests work well because they cover a lot of bases. People love to compete, they love to gather to watch competitions, and they like to support local teams and nonprofits. Putting all this together, you can design one of the most flexible, engaging, revenue-generating nonprofit events there is.
6. Silent Auction
Silent auctions are a classic among nonprofit events. Using bidding sheets, attendees compete to win their choice of items and prizes. This is something that can be run with a medium amount of planning and effort and stands to generate some good money if executed well.
For the prizes and items, many of these can be donated or even paid for after the auction, in the case of a trip or some tickets to another event. Funds can be generated for entry and as the remainder of the bids once the item price has been covered.
They can even be held online. For example, Lakeview Pantry hosted a silent fundraising auction in 2020 for its 50th anniversary, and bids were submitted online before the event was live-streamed and throughout the course of the auction.
These auctions can be run at different scales, with prizes of all kinds, depending on your audience. You could be selling cakes, cars, sports tickets, or statues as long as the item price is less than the bid price. By all means, offer some diversity in the items, but don’t make them so obscure that they fail to generate interest. Try to target them in your market!
7. Movie Night
Movie nights come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re a great way to host a fundraising event that doesn’t have to cost a lot and can bring in good money. Movie nights can be tailored to your specific fundraiser and can be hosted either at a cinema or at your headquarters with a projector and some speakers.
If you can get access to special advanced screenings, you’ll be in with a good draw and something worth paying extra for. Even if you can’t, you can host themed movie nights, double-features, trilogies, etc., and gather proceeds from entry and from the sale of snacks and drinks. Movie nights can be held regularly if you have a good venue and can drive traffic to a local indie cinema while supporting your cause.
Movie nights can even be hosted remotely for those who can’t attend in person. Supporters from all over the world can tune in and share a virtual room with everyone in attendance. Essentially, this is a low-risk event with plenty of opportunities to engage supporters and volunteers, and they have some good revenue-generating potential. They can also be hosted regularly!
8. Quiz Night
Quiz nights are another one of the events for nonprofits that has been around since the dawn of questions in bars. They’re easy to run, fun to take part in, and can be held regularly. This is an affordable, accessible, and repeatable little fundraising event, as long as you have a venue to host it in.
For bringing in money, there are a few ways you can frame the quiz. Two of the most common are setting a flat rate to enter or offering donation tickets that need to be completed to gain entry. These tickets will have a set amount on them that needs to be raised, and this is a more involved form of outsourcing your fundraising to others and can be engaging to supporters but might not be as easy to manage.
The great thing about Quiz nights is that they can be held or attended virtually where needed and can become a regular occurrence. If you can get a good arrangement with a local pub, it can be a mutually-beneficial solution to regular, small-scale drives. If you’re really good at negotiating, you could even get a share of the income for food and drinks served!
9. Community Event
This could be almost anything you like. A bike ride, a bonfire, or even a pub crawl. The purpose of the event is to gather local people together to contribute to a local cause.
For example, if you’re fundraising for a homeless shelter, you could host a community bonfire and charge for attendance. Hot chocolate and coffee can bring in more proceeds, and you can set up donation stations for Winter clothing. Our Lady of Sorrows holds a carnival to raise their funds and provides opportunities for donors to bring household items and decorations to contribute, too.
The great thing about it is that it’s local, and the funds go to community projects. This means you can pretty much make it anything you like and diversify the donation streams in multiple ways. Further, it shouldn’t be too hard to find volunteers from the local community to help run the event since everyone will be local to it.
10. Fundraising Galas
The gala is the classic highbrow philanthropist festival, and it’s been around for over a hundred years. It’s a place where like-minded contributors can get together and socialize, often in the setting of a large and extravagant meal. It’s one of the simplest forms of fundraising and one that’s been tried and tested.
The Met gala began in 1948 and runs annually on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It’s considered one of the most prominent and exclusive social events in the world and has been known to raise over $200 million. If you’re looking for something a little more attainable, don’t worry. Gala nonprofit events can be run at any scale and on any budget.
While the classic gala is notoriously posh, the framework functions for anyone looking to create a nice social event to drive up funds. Consider hosting it as a costume party or as a networking event. Galas are great for awareness as well as bringing in money!
Each of these events creates value for the attendees in a way that cultivates loyalty and an emotional connection with your organization. Whether it’s a simple online raffle, or a luxurious, high-end gala, the premise is the same: like-minded people sharing a positive experience that they’re happy to pay for.
On top of this, when run well, it’s a great opportunity to market your project and can spread awareness to levels you never expected.
Whatever you choose to run, check out Rally Corp to help with the preparation and execution. Engage and mobilize your supporters with a mobile messaging platform that makes it easy to contribute and stay involved. We also have a fundraising thermometer that deepens engagement by showing the immediate impact of donations as they arrive.