How to Incorporate March Madness in Your Nonprofit Fundraising

March Madness is one of the annual rites of spring time—right along with setting your clocks back an hour and discovering what toys were hidden in the huge snow pile in the backyard.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is an annual tradition that can turn even the most indifferent people into basketball fans for three weeks. Anyone can become a quick basketball expert by predicting that North Dakota State would beat Oklahoma or that Mercer can play superior basketball to Duke.

While some are filling out brackets trying to prove their genius, others show their expertise in picking superior colors or mascots. March can be a great time of the year for the mildly psychic and the incredibly lucky. But why let the amateur prognosticators be the only ones having fun? Your nonprofit can get in on the excitement of the Big Dance.

Here are a few ideas to help with the roundball rampage that will engulf the nation.

Bracket Busting

You can’t escape the water cooler talk in March without someone telling you about their bracket. It’s the great unifying element in March Madness. It seems everyone fills one out and enters a pool with their family, friends and coworkers. Since most people are willing to put up a little money to participate in a pool, it should be an easy sell to get them to participate in your nonprofit’s pool. Here’s an example of how one person raised $2,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Kansas.

While this appears to be the easiest route to go, it could also be the most dangerous. (DANGER!) Because sports gambling is illegal in many states, it is not permissible to do a straight payout for the top finishers. Your nonprofit could instead run the event like a raffle where winners receive tangible prizes, especially ones that are specific to your nonprofit. (Free dog grooming! Free clothing! Free guitar lessons!) Be sure to know your local laws for lotteries and raffles to see if you need to obtain a license before starting.

Brackets for Good

This Indianapolis-based duo of Matt McIntyre and Matt Duncan turned a disappointing loss in 2011 by Butler into a good cause. They unveiled Brackets for Good, a local nonprofit challenge where nonprofits go head-to-head in a week-long fundraising battle. The nonprofit that raises the most money advances to the next round. In the four years they’ve been doing the brackets, they’ve grown from eight nonprofits in 2012 to 128 this year.

This approach takes a lot of planning and some good financial investments from sponsors to award the participants. This year Brackets for Good expanded to include a Louisville bracket in addition to an Indianapolis one.

A side benefit is that in addition to raising funds for nonprofits, you’re also raising education and awareness. While you’re donating to your favorite nonprofit, you can also learn about the competition for the week and other participating groups.

Live the Madness

Besides the brackets, there are many other ways to integrate basketball fever into your nonprofit marketing plan. You could tie in a basketball-themed campaign for your March mailer, or write some original content that ties into the event. (Like us!)

If you want to go the event route, consider hosting your own basketball tournament. Charging teams an entry fee for the competition and also running an entry fee to the tournament can take a lot of work, but it’s a fun event. Or if you want a simpler route, consider a free-throw contest and other skills challenges like dribbling through cones or precision-passing contests.

You could also host a March Madness open house. It’s been well documented that work productivity takes a dive during March Madness—especially during daytime games in the first week. Invite people to your office and host an open house—complete with snacks, basketball games and, of course, information about your organization.

There are countless other ways you can incorporate the NCAA Tournament Madness into your fundraising. Don’t limit it to just basketball and brackets. Get creative and see where the ball bounces. If done properly, your nonprofit can be the one cutting down nets at the end of the Big Dance.


Lincoln Arneal

Lincoln Arneal was a Senior Editor at Nonprofit Hub who brought loads of real-world nonprofit experience to the team. He was the past executive director of a nonprofit that provided leadership development to junior high and high school students. He looked to bring the insights from his time forming, developing, and running a nonprofit to help others in their quest to do good. Lincoln also had a legal background and had written for various newspapers (covering high school sports) for the past 15 years. He could be followed on Twitter at @NPLNK.

February 24, 2015

You May Also Enjoy

Two professionals shake hands, representing a business and nonprofit partnership
Sponsorship v. Donations: The Drawbacks and Benefits

Sponsorship v. Donations: The Drawbacks and Benefits

Needing money is a common denominator among all nonprofits. We may do different things, serve different causes, or even operate in different areas of the world. However, we all need funds. Two of the tried-and-true methods for raising dough, sponsorships, and charitable donations, can cause a lot of confusion. Here’s your guide to keeping them straight and also maximizing their ability to support your mission.

Become a Member

Whether you’re with a large team or a solo entrepreneur looking to start the next great cause, we have a membership package that will help you grow your network and your cause.