People have to eat! There will always be a demand for food, so why not use this demand to raise funds for your cause?
Eating is a socially driven practice so fundraisers involving food are sure to draw a crowd. Food-related events are a chance for people to mix and mingle, making them both fun and memorable.
There’s a food fundraiser for every group and every type of audience. From an elegant evening dinner to a pancake breakfast. Not everyone can afford the pricey tickets that formal gala dinners usually cost, and these can be massive undertakings.
Let’s look at ideas that are a bit more down to earth and practical so that more people can participate.
Food Fundraising Ideas
1. Not-your-average Bake Sale
The Bake Sale is a classic winner and one of the easiest fundraising ideas to pull off. Everyone in the group brings in homemade baked goods that are sold to other supporters or the general public. Bake sales allow low-level participation by time-strapped parents or those uncomfortable with more involved volunteering. Even kids can participate. Anyone can make a tray of cookies. Bake sales are also community social events.
The key is the location. Try to place your tables and/or booth in a high-traffic area. To guarantee a heavy traffic flow, plan the sale around other coordinating events. For example, school sporting events or theater productions would be the perfect time to host a bake sale. Local street fairs or craft shows may allow free booth space for a worthy cause.
Think beyond baked goods. Serve coffee at bake sales in the evenings or on cold days. Selling cold bottled water or homemade lemonade along with the baked goods at a football game would increase profits. Try to coordinate donations of specially packaged food items that the buyer can use or give as gifts, like bagged cookie ingredients or homemade granola in decorative jars.
Presentation is everything. Set out nicely decorated and organized tables. Use plain tablecloths, because the baked goods should be the visual star of the show.
Know your customers. Are you selling to big families? Make sure to sell cookies by the dozen and entire cakes for large groups. Sales to children or singles will be higher with individual packages of baked goods, such as a single brownie or one muffin.
Check your local health codes. Some states have health codes stating that everything must be individually wrapped.
2. Potluck Potential
Like bake sales, potluck dinners are easy on the organizer and volunteers because everyone only has to contribute one dish. The potluck fundraiser is accessible to everyone. Just think about how many people would like to attend a formal fundraising dinner, but can’t afford the pricey tickets.
Instead, potluck dinners bring to life an old tradition that has people getting together and sharing food without putting a costly burden on the host. Ask guests to each bring either an appetizer, main course, salad, side dish, dessert, fruit platter, or a cheese and cracker tray or other hors d’oeuvres. This makes for an eclectic meal, especially if people from a variety of cultures are attending.
You can ask for donations through admission fees, and/or sell the recipes, or a book of recipes, of the yummy dishes, offered.
3. Selling Cookbooks
A cookbook fundraiser can be a lot of initial work but often yields great results. That’s because it’s not a single event, but can be sold continuously. You can even market or sell it through your website. One of the best things about doing a cookbook fundraiser with the community’s help is that it introduces people to each other through your organization.
Many people will be tempted to buy a community cookbook, especially if it features closely-guarded family favorites. Setting a theme for your cookbook can help keep things organized and relevant. For instance, you can build a cookbook around an upcoming holiday, or keep things general with an easy-to-cook recipe book, feature all desserts, regional favorites, comfort food recipes, or just about anything you think will appeal to your buyers.
There are low-cost online publishers that will take a digital document and turn it into a beautifully bound book that you can promote and sell at a profit.
Most importantly, make people aware that you’re selling your cookbook as a fundraising event and feature information about your charity in the cookbook.
4. Barbecue Grill-Off Contest
Come summer, the smell of the barbecue has everyone’s mouths watering. A barbecue contest is a great reason to fire up the grill and break out your barbecue skills! You can grill steaks, ribs, burgers, hot dogs, sausages, or chicken, and for the veggie-lovers, grill Portobello mushrooms, corn, and skewers with chunks of vegetables.
Throw further fire on the grill by making your fundraiser a little competitive. Ask guests to judge the top grill skills. Create various grilling categories—best-grilled meats, vegetables, and best sauces. Make your charity funds through an entry fee, or you can charge hungry donors by the plate. You can even make extra funds by selling homemade barbecue sauces.
5. Spicy Chili Contest
When the temperature dips, everyone is hoping to put some warm food in their bellies. A chili fundraiser not only brings in needed funds, but it’s also a reason to socialize and share your favorite recipe.
Chili cook-offs raise funds through an entry fee. All chefs pay an admission fee but remember you must offer good donated prizes to the winner. Offer different categories for prizes like spiciest chili, vegetarian chili, meatiest, chicken chili, white chili, etc. If space and facilities permit, allow chefs to prepare onsite or you can ask guests to bring their pre-cooked chili to the venue in a slow cooker. You can also rent some commercial chafing dishes to keep them warm.
6. Hot Dog Concession Stand
Everyone loves a quick hot dog on the run. So why not turn your next fundraiser into a food concession and sell hot dogs with all the fixings? The hot dog stand is an ideal charity fundraiser to set up outside social events, sporting events, or concerts. You can rent everything you need to set up a hot dog concession stand, you just need to purchase and sell the food! Make sure you make it really obvious you are selling hot dogs for charity to set you apart from any competition. And don’t forget the drinks and condiments.
7. Rise and Shine Pancake Breakfast
This fundraiser breakfast has participants paying an entrance fee for all-you-can-eat pancakes. It usually includes pancakes, syrup, fruit, eggs and sausage, coffee and juice, etc. Find a facility to host your breakfast and prepare your food, and ask volunteers who have food handling experience to lend a hand.
8. Bada-Boom Spaghetti Dinner
A spaghetti potluck gets special points for being very easy and inexpensive for volunteers. This idea is appropriate for all groups and ages. Big dinners will require a banquet hall, recreation center, cafeteria, or gymnasium space. Some malls also offer community space for nonprofit groups. Ask local grocery stores and restaurants for donations. You will need spaghetti noodles, tomato sauce, meatballs, Italian bread, drinks, desserts, plates, cups, and disposable utensils. Sell tickets for admission, and let guests help themselves to the all-you-can-eat buffet-style dinner.
9. Sub Sale
If it’s set up near a big sporting event, the sub sandwich is a sure winner. Pre-make a variety of subs — cold cuts, Italian, turkey, or ham, and cheese. You can ask for food donations from local bakeries and delis. For toppings, you will want pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and a good variety of sauces so buyers can dress their own subs. For drinks, you might want to consider selling soda and water to complete the meal.
10. Winery Tasting and Tour
An evening of wine tasting makes a fun and sophisticated fundraising event. Sell tickets to the event (making sure all participants are of legal drinking age) and feature four or five different wines. Team up with a local winery that doesn’t offer tours to the public every day. The winery sponsors the event and promotes their wines which keep the overhead cost down. Keep the party going with a spread of hors d’oeuvres that people can munch on as they sample and mingle.
11. Food Truck Rodeo
You simply need a parking lot, a permit, and a handful of local food trucks willing to attend. Charge for entrance, and the food trucks can still charge their normal prices inside. Or ask the food trucks for a flat fee or a donation amount of their choosing. If you opt for a voluntary donation, be ready to name a suggested minimum.
Pick a good place for the trucks to set up before you book them. It could be a school parking lot, in or alongside a park, or any other open space that has parking nearby and/or heavy foot traffic. Once you’ve picked a couple of potential spots, see what the availability is for these places for a few specific times. Getting permits and locking in specific dates with food trucks has to happen simultaneously.
Some food trucks will provide their own seating or standing tables, but some won’t. You don’t have to eat sitting down, but it’s nice to have a place to put your drink. Ask people to bring their own lawn chairs, or set up in an area that already has seating options. Often, event companies have standing tables that can be rented out.
To get a great deal of excitement going, plan for at least five or six food trucks with different cuisines, possibly including a vegetarian/vegan choice and dessert. Pick trucks that offer a diverse selection of foods, so you’ll have something for everyone.
Even large organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Toys For Tots have successfully raised funds using food truck fundraisers. If your event is well visited, you could make your food truck fundraiser a regular event and plan for a “food truck night” every month, like some schools do.
12. Chain Restaurant Fundraisers
One of the easiest fundraisers is one that compels community members to purchase something that they already intend to buy, like lunch or dinner. You may not be aware that many chain and some independent restaurants actively solicit fundraisers.
The way it works is you plan the fundraiser and estimate a certain number of people to fill the restaurant for lunch or dinner. Restaurant space is reserved for your group. Then diners just show up and pay for their meals. The receipts go into a box and the restaurant pays your organization a certain percentage of the take, typically 15-20%. The restaurant gets customers and you get an opportunity to host a fun social event and earn some cash. Win-win!
There’s even a website, GroupRaise where you can search restaurants in your area that do this and also helps you plan and organize your event.
13. Food Tasting Event
Another idea that relies on restaurant participation is a food tasting fundraiser. Enlist many local restaurants to advertise their cuisine by providing free samples of their dishes at an event you plan, organize and promote. It’s a great way of getting food for tasting and offers restaurants a great marketing opportunity.
Make it a true event by adding some form of entertainment. Consider short cooking lessons or a live band… Be creative and think carefully about what your attendees would really enjoy! Charge an entrance fee and/or have donation boxes at each restaurant’s table.
14. Cooking with Class
People are always looking to improve their cooking skills. With a cooking class fundraiser, people can learn to cook new things while giving to a good cause. Find a local chef to donate their time, or if you have a skilled chef on your team, they can hold the cooking class. Sell tickets to the event and once the class is over, the participants get to enjoy the food they prepared. This works particularly well if you have a local culinary school you can team up with.
Pro Tip: Add a Raffle to any Event
Any event that attracts a crowd should always include multiple ways to raise funds. A raffle is a great way to multiply funds raised and can be added to any of the above events. Sell raffle tickets at the door, then at the end of the evening raffle off donated items that relate to the event theme.
The laws governing raffles are determined state-by-state. Some states have deemed them illegal as part of gambling, while other states allow a raffle fundraiser for just about anything. So, be sure to check your local laws regarding raffles.
When your food fundraiser is over, don’t forget to thank those who donated their food, space or gift items. Thank your sponsors on your website, social media channels and in print publications. Not only will they feel appreciated, but other potential donors will see that they will get publicity if they participate and so may end up helping you with your next fundraiser.
And don’t forget to thank the volunteers who generously donated their time to help make it a success. Come next year’s event, you’ll have folks you can count on to help!