Our world is increasingly driven by experiences. In addition to raising funds, events have evolved into strategic tools that nonprofits can use to create inspiring experiences, connect to their supporters, and build their brands.
The future is going to be all about moments. Using event marketing to drive your fundraising strategy is a sure way to bring in the needed funds for your nonprofit organization.
We put together a list of 16 creative fundraising event ideas for nonprofits to inspire your event strategy. From events designed to speak to adults and children alike to fitness challenges, there is something for everyone to choose from in this list of effective nonprofit event fundraisers.
Starting with the basics. Walkathons, runs, bike races and other similar, active fundraisers are some of the most lucrative event fundraisers out there.
Walks and runs are exceptional at capitalizing on massive networks of supporters to raise money. With these events, participants usually ask their networks to give a certain amount based on the total number of miles completed. You can either have your participants set up their own fundraising pages and raise funds by reaching out to their networks (peer-to-peer fundraising).
Alternatively, you can have everyone make their donations directly to your fundraising page. Ask local businesses to match donations or sponsor the event.
Pro tip: Now is the time to begin planning for a spring or summer race. To go the extra mile, brainstorm fun and unique ways to make your event stand out (zombie run, color run, Santa Dash, turkey-trot, or other themed race).
To make a standard race more interesting, organize an obstacle course. Obstacle courses are much more exciting and rewarding for those who take part in them, and this tends to increase participation and raise more funds.
Design a race that includes obstacles like rope and wall climbing, walking on a beam, bag races, running through sprinklers or pools of soapy water, climbing stairs, dodging water balloons filled with paint, mud pits, jumping through tires etc.
You can run the obstacle course in a few ways. You can require a minimum raise for each team to participate or charge participants individually. Don’t forget to prepare a prize for the winning team.
Cozy and effective – movie nights. Movie nights can be adapted to suit the varying needs of many different nonprofits out there. Start by choosing the movie – a classic or a new release generally work well (choose a seasonal one if appropriate). Then, proceed to fill in the movie license applications.
Choose the right space for your screening. Whether you organize the event in the cinema or you put up a screen and speakers in another location (e.g. a school or a park), make sure your space is adequately prepared and set up.
Charge for entry and raise even more funds by selling popcorn, candy, and drinks.
A barbecue is a great way to attract a big crowd. There are several ways to go about raising funds at this family-friendly fundraiser: selling barbecue plates (‘to stay’ and ‘to go’), selling barbecue sauces and drinks, organizing raffles and auctions, and more.
To utilize the fundraising potential of barbecues, organize fun activities for kids and adults (e.g. ball and bucket toss, floating duck pond, turtle races, or whack-a-mole).
Reach out to local butchers, grocery stores, markets, farmers, and restaurants, and ask them to donate food, condiments, and buns in exchange for you promoting them at your barbecue. Make sure there are options for everyone. Source vegetarian and vegan hamburgers and hot dogs, vegetables, and gluten-free buns. And don’t forget to consider food safety!
The most important meal of the day and potentially a great fundraising event for your nonprofit!
Invite your alumni for a networking breakfast. This could be a welcome change from networking dinners and socials. Pick a weekend morning so that your attendees don’t have to miss work. Consider inviting an expert guest speaker to add value to the event.
Sell tickets or ask for donations in order to partake in the networking breakfast with all proceeds going to your nonprofit.
To raise even more funds, set up bidding for one-on-one chat sessions with thought leaders or participating experts.
To add some pizazz to your fundraising, liven it up with live art. Get on boards and artists, performance artists, graffiti artists, and body painting artists. Pair the live artist event with a gala dinner or an auction. The live artistry will entertain the guests, encourage them to have fun and mingle.
Serve cocktail drinks and appetizers and consider hiring a DJ to add to the atmosphere of the event.
Raise funds by selling the art pieces being made or art services being offered or let guests make donations in their own time.
Zumba and dance are popular with people of all ages. Reach out to several Zumba or dance instructors in your area and see if one of them would like to lead the class for free.
Then, promote the event on your socials and in your community. Charge a fee for attending the class and raise some funds while everyone’s having fun!
Alternatively, ask a hot local workout spot to host an exercise class (e.g. spinning or hot yoga) and help promote your fundraiser.
Charge an extra fee for entrance to this special one-time class.
Photograph by Michael Zittel @Serrbiz
Set up a coffee and cupcake stand in a busy area (e.g. campus, the business district in your town, or a busy street) in the early morning hours. Make sure the information about your nonprofit organization and your fundraising campaign are clearly visible.
Sell hot coffee and delicious cupcakes, and keep the profit for your nonprofit. To get the most out of this fundraiser, get a local café to donate coffee and cupcakes to your cause. Have volunteers serve the coffee and cupcakes.
You can also offer these to local businesses and have volunteers take online or phone orders from employees at these different businesses. Volunteers can then deliver the orders and collect the money.
A nonprofit fundraising classic – cook-offs are fun and engaging! They are entertaining, cater to a wide audience, and have a relatively high return on investment.
Pick a theme (e.g. chili, ramen, Bolognese) and plenty of willing participants. Bonus points if the theme somehow relates to your cause! Charge a small entrance fee and sell tickets to raise funds.
To make the event even more enticing to potential attendees, recruit local chefs or food connoisseurs in addition. You can also get the local chef to host a class in his kitchen (or rent one) and end the lesson with a lively and intimate group dinner.
Charge premium prices for this experience (making sure everyone knows it’s for a good cause).
Partner with a local theatre and have them put on a special fundraising performance. The actors and the crew would all volunteer their time, and the theatre would donate the space and any equipment necessary to produce the show.
This is a win-win fundraiser! You get to raise funds, your donors get to see a theatre performance, and the theatre builds their brand image and attracts a new audience.
Alternatively, ask the theatre to donate part of the profits from a special performance. If you don’t have a local theatre, or you think your audience would prefer something different, try planning a “cinema for a cause” screening at the local cinema. Follow the same approach to raise funds.
For the knowledge buffs amongst your donors, host a tour of local historical places and noteworthy landmarks. Recruit someone knowledgable in history to lead the tour for you. If you’re organizing the tour in spring/summer, a guided tour outside (touring the landmarks) could be a good option for your nonprofit. If the weather isn’t on your side, organize the tour within a museum or a gallery.
You can also organize a guided tour in nature (e.g. mushroom tour or medicinal herbs tour), an ‘alternative city tour’ (showcasing street art, different subcultures, etc.), or any other tour that you think would be of interest to your donors and supporters.
Sell tickets to raise funds.
Pro tip: To supercharge this fundraising idea, you can auction off tickets to well-known tours in your country.
You can get really creative with this peer-to-peer fundraiser. There are countless challenges your supporters can perform to raise money for your nonprofit. Challenges are fun and engaging, making them one of the most effective creative nonprofit event ideas.
Personal challenges can be anything from a vow of silence for 24 hours, cutting or dying hair, fitness challenges, adventure challenges (e.g. skydiving or bungee jumping), not spending any money for a whole day, or going offline for a week. There’s plenty of space to innovate.
Personal challenges bring awareness to your cause in an inventive way and their ROI (return on investment) is high.
This fundraising event is a phenomenal way to get everyone involved, including four-legged friends. Decide what kind of pet show to organize i.e. will you include any pet, regardless of species or size? Or will it just be a dog show? Or a cat show?
Then, source an appropriate location. Outside locations might be the most convenient, especially if dogs will be participating.
Consider holding the event in the spring or fall when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. Bring supplies to clean after the pets and have plenty of food and water on hand!
Break up the show in categories and make it fun by including the best trick event where pet lovers can show off their pet’s skills and talents, whether it’s the basic commands like “sit” and “roll over” or something more “advanced”. You can have a section dedicated to kids and their pets and even organize a pet fashion show.
With this unusual fundraising event, you are guaranteed to raise funds for your cause. Look through ‘world’s most beatable records’ (there are plenty of lists online) and pick one that you’d like your participants to try and beat.
Whether you choose: “Most Items Kicked Off People’s heads in One Minute”, “Most Ice Cream Scoops Balanced on a Cone”, or “Most People Getting a Face Massage” – fun is a given!
Depending on which record you choose to break (and how many people will join), make sure you find an appropriate location. Ensure there are good music and food and invite local media to cover the event.
Trivia tournaments are relatively easy to pull off. All you need is a venue, a host, and some interesting questions. Try framing your trivia categories around your cause so that your tournament is both entertaining and educational. To spice it up, arrange a seated dinner or organize a raffle.
Charge for entry (charge per person or per team), and raise additional funds by selling food and drinks. During the evening, make a number of donation appeals.
If you can partner with a local restaurant to host the night, you can raise even more funds. Don’t forget about the prizes and recruiting a host/quiz master either!
This is a fundraising event with a lot of potentials. Get multiple boxes and fill them with a variety of items – ranging from affordable and going all the way to the luxury items (fill the boxes with predominantly budget items to raise more funds).
To get the most out of this fundraiser, get out there and network! Have local (and even national or international) businesses donate items and experiences (e.g. trips, vouchers, perfumes, clothes, bags, and more). Go to the dollar store and purchase some items there too.
Charge a flat fee per box (e.g. $10). No one should know what they’re getting! The participants will be excited to potentially get their hands on some of the more expensive items for only $10.
When it comes to keeping your donors and supporters engaged, the possibilities are endless. Amongst those, events are some of the most effective and interactive fundraising ideas out there.
Get inspired by the examples above and choose those that best match your nonprofit’s mission, speak to the interests of your target audience the most, and fall within your budget.
This list is meant to serve as a jumping off point for your research, so don’t forget to do your own brainstorming! How can you add your own touch to something like a pet show or a guided tour? How can you make these your own?