This article was originally published in Nonprofit Hub Magazine.
Here at Nonprofit Hub, we believe the most successful fundraisers are hybrids of innovation and tried-and-true ideas. Dinner galas and silent auctions are effective to an extent, but when someone asks you, “What’s the best fundraiser you’ve ever been to?” chances are those don’t come to mind.
These fundraising ideas, which came straight from Nonprofit Hub, have proven effective through the personal experiences of our staff members. They’ll be sure to make your next money-raising endeavor stand out.
Tournament or competition
In this case, it was a ping pong tournament, but it could be any other game that’s easy for people to pick up and play without much experience. The host of this fundraiser was able to borrow eight ping pong tables at no cost, so ask your local recreation centers to use some of their equipment for a good cause—you’d be surprised at how willing they might be to help.
Most of the funds were raised from team entry fees (use your discretion here: you don’t want to deter people from playing, but you’re still trying to raise money, after all). Local restaurants donated food, so the concessions also served as a great source of revenue. Finally, find some volunteer referees to coordinate the tournament, and you’re ready to let the games begin.
This has since become an annual, highly anticipated event. Hype automatically forms around competitive fundraisers that allow you to hang out with your friends and have a good time. And, the best part is the incredible return on investment—nearly 100 percent of what you generate goes straight to your cause.
Good ole fashioned direct mail
Whoever said direct mail was dead was sorely mistaken. A small high school had an outdated auditorium and no budget for their fine and performing arts program, and the students decided to change that. Through a direct mail campaign, they doubled their goal, ultimately raising $160,000 for the arts.
The most important thing to learn from this fundraiser is that, especially if you’re in a smaller community, direct mail is alive and well. People care about local causes, and older donors will especially appreciate having a hand-written letter sent to their home. If you’re considering a similar approach, make sure to include personal touches. These high schoolers wrote individual notes to each prospect asking them to give, and as a result, most of them did.
Whether you choose to utilize this strategy on social media or on a sheet of paper is up to you—the donations are likely to roll in either way. Here’s how it works. Fill a grid with increasing dollar amounts and allow each donor to claim (or “adopt”) a box. They can write their name over it, or if it’s on your social media stories, you can type their names over each box as you go.
We especially like this fundraising idea because it accommodates donors large and small. If someone wants to help but can’t afford a $50 or $100 donation, there are smaller amounts for them to cover. Plus, you can increment the grid however you’d like—we’ve seen grids with single-dollar and hundred-dollar upgrades.
This method will help you stay organized and donors will gain recognition for their generosity. Trust us, the money will add up more quickly than you think.
Wine cork tree (or “wine pull”)
Make a “tree” out of wine corks that each match up with a donated bottle of wine. Participants pay a set amount, say, $20, and choose a cork at random. Whether they draw a $15 bottle or a $100 one is up to fate. Regardless of which cork they choose, everyone will get to take home a bottle of wine and support a good cause, so it’s a win-win.
It doesn’t have to be wine, either. The same idea works for gift cards (which can also be donated) or anything else you’re able to similarly camouflage.
According to Nonprofit Hub’s executive director, Randy Hawthorne, fundraisers stand out (and sell out) when they’re based on experiences.
Sure, you can hold an auction, but instead of selling antiques and gift baskets, sell cool things to do! People, especially 20-somethings, are seeking out experiences over material things more than ever. Our local rotary club often auctions off “donated” adventures like fishing trips, scotch tastings, golf outings and more.
A kids’ summer camp in our town hosts adult education events that teach grown-ups everything from how to paint, to how to make cocktails, to how to use their smartphones. People pay an entry fee for these classes, which are donated and taught by experts of these random skills.
Hopefully this gets the ball rolling for your upcoming fundraisers. Take our word for it—these are all creative, lucrative, easy, cheap and fun! Have any favorite or innovative fundraisers of your own? Shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org—we’d love to hear about them!