Are you having trouble getting teenagers involved in your fundraiser? Or getting them involved with your community at all? When it comes to participation in fundraising, teens are traditionally an elusive group.
They may have outgrown selling Girl Scout cookies or popcorn in front of the grocery store, but that doesn’t mean they can’t raise money for a good cause. Leaders should strive to get teens involved in their community efforts, including raising awareness and fundraising for high school, youth group, and clubs as well as for special charities.
Teens often have to earn community service hours, and having the opportunity to raise money for a good cause can also help them make those hours.
Organizations and leaders that understand the importance of engaging young adults in their activities have a higher level of success in their engagement because they understand that teens can be “amplifiers” for their cause. Involving them in your efforts can create various win-win scenarios for the teens and the organizations involved.
Like fundraising with other specific groups, fundraising with teenagers can cause as many problems as it solves. The trick is to understand teens and how to work best with them.
Teens are unique and diverse but they have some general characteristics that can impact on fundraising:
- They have the energy and enthusiasm to make things happen when they’re motivated.
- They can be difficult to motivate.
- They are digital natives. Today’s generation of young adults is one of the first to be fully immersed in the digital world from an early age, meaning they know better than most how to mobilize their friends and community for a cause they support.
- They have busy lives and diverse priorities.
- Most of them are social beings, and gravitate towards group activities, especially with their peers.
- The fun factor is huge.
17 Fundraising Ideas well-suited to Teen Involvement
- “Party Clothes” Sale
- Teens’ Cookbook
- Potluck Spaghetti Dinner
- Big Game or Oscars House Parties
- Photo Book
- T-Shirt Fundraising
- Video Game Tournament
- Wacky Car Wash
- Make-the-Grade Fundraiser
- Invitation Art Show
- Battle of the Bands | Music Competition
- “50/50” Draw added to an event
- Shave your head or color your hair
- Fashion Show
- Gift Wrapping
- Sock Fundraisers
- Launch a Crowdfunding Campaign
1. “Party Clothes” Sale
Ask your teens to go through their closets and donate their gently-used or outgrown semi-formal
clothing, shoes, and accessories. Price items to sell. Time the sale to occur before an upcoming dance and watch the hilarity ensue as teens see their clothes getting a second life.
2. Teens’ Cookbook
How about a cookbook for teens produced by and marketed by teens? They should ask their buddies to contribute their favorite personal or family recipes, ideally simpler recipes. You could create chapters for types of food, or build sections by difficulty level. There are low-cost online publishers that will take a digital document and turn it into a beautifully bound book that teens can promote and sell at a profit. They may need some guidance but much of the project can be done by them. It’s also a unique keepsake that the kids and the community can cherish.
Example: AMOR Healing Kitchen delivers healthy food to ailing people made by teenagers and high school students. Through this initiative, they also support local farmers and empower teens. Recently, they set up an online campaign in collaboration with the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM) on Donorbox to create a cookbook. Recipes were shared by AAHAM members and the AMOR team. The donation form was used to seek sponsorships/ads that were to be printed on the book. As you can see, it’s a recurring form, so donors can even choose to give monthly with this page.
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3. Potluck Spaghetti Dinner
High-schoolers are more capable in the kitchen than when they were younger, opening up a range of possibilities when it comes to fundraising with a culinary theme. This potluck gets points for being relatively easy and inexpensive. Ask teens to bring cooked pasta, sauce, bread, drinks, or dessert. Hold it in a recreation center or school cafeteria and invite the community. Everyone pays a set fee to eat the meal and tickets can be sold in advance.
This can be a great add-on to your holiday campaigns, Christmas or Thanksgiving events to boost participation and engagement.
4. Big Game or Oscars House Parties
Host a house party or multiple house parties on the same night around a sporting event or the Oscars telecast. Announce on invitations that you will be using the evening to raise money by charging an entry fee, and encourage guests to bring beverages and snacks. Have a donation jar set out for those who would like to give more.
5. Photo Book
Teens love photos. An especially good idea for a school club or church youth group. Gather your best photos into a well-organized photo book, take orders and price your book to cover costs and help reach your fundraising goal.
6. T-Shirt Fundraising
Selling customized t-shirts is not only a great fundraising idea but buyers become walking advertisements for your cause. The trick is finding an uncomplicated method. For example, Bonfire is an online t-shirt fundraiser platform that enables you to sell custom t-shirts and hoodies by creating your own campaign page where anyone can buy direct. There’s no upfront cost and nonprofits pay only a small percentage processing fee.
Bonfire offers a t-shirt design tool and templates for individuals and nonprofits to use when they’re setting up a fundraiser. When the campaign ends, products are shipped directly to buyers and you get the profits. The key to a successful t-shirt fundraiser relies on two things: a cool shirt design and promotion. Social sharing buttons allow your supporters to share the campaign.
Example: Black Butte Eco Bike Explorers is a nonprofit educating kids and teenagers about the need for protecting natural habitats. They ran a t-shirt fundraiser to serve the local youth with various outdoor programs and projects. We love their campaign page for its neat structure of content, images, and adequate information. If you see their donation form, it’s pretty simple, too. They have used a drop-down field so users can easily select the t-shirt size. We can imagine how transparent this must have been for their donors.
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7. Video Game Tournament
Tapping into teens’ love of games and competitive nature can pay off for charity. Hold either a tournament or a marathon (see if someone can play for 12 hours straight) and have participants pay to get in, or else collect sponsors to keep them going. Pick a specific genre of video game – retro, puzzle games or multiplayer co-op games work well – and see how far everyone gets. It’s more fun if adults also participate.
8. Wacky Car Wash
Vehicles always need to be washed. Car washes are classic for good reason. Make yours unique by having teen volunteers dress up in crazy outfits or outfits with a theme, like superheroes or your local sports team. Teams can participate in shifts, competing to see which group can raise the most money, turn around most cars, or have the best sidewalk hustle. Promote it in advance and don’t forget creative signs to lure in customers on the fly.
9. Make-the-Grade Fundraiser
In a Make-the-Grade fundraiser, teens can have their friends, family, and teachers sponsor them during each academic semester. Supporters pledge different dollar amounts “betting” that their student will reach certain academic achievements that period. Start by signing students up. Encourage people to sponsor a young adult in their life.
Suggest different academic benchmarks for students, such as getting straight A’s, having perfect attendance, or raising their GPA. Select the academic benchmarks based on the individual’s academic goals. At the end of the semester, if the student has reached their goals, then you collect the pledges and apply them to your group project or cause. The bottom line: Make-the-grade fundraisers are a low-cost and positive way to involve young adults in a cause while also showing them the benefits of positive goal-setting.
10. Invitation Art Show
An art show is a different spin on the talent show. Artistically inclined teens get a chance to demonstrate their gifts in exchange for an entrance fee that’s donated to charity. If the show is held in a school, other students can participate in the opening event. Music students could provide background music and light refreshments can be donated.
11. Battle of the Bands | Music Competition
Host a contest for the talented young musicians in your community. You could include solo singers as well. Bands will be happy to donate their time to a contest that showcases them. A prize for the winner will incentivize them even further to get involved.
Provide judges or ask the audience to determine who has the best sound in town. Ask a local venue to host it. They will appreciate the extra business and you will have a perfect stage for your event. Promote it in advance throughout the community and charge a small cover fee from the attendees.
Example: The Canadian Sinfonietta is a chamber orchestra that wants to attract a new generation of concertgoers with culturally interesting programs. They held a concert in early 2020 for which they had invited young musicians to compete for the first three winning positions. The winners got a chance to play at the concert. The Young Artist Competition 2020 had a participation fee of $60 that was collected through the donation form. But donors also had the option to give extra with the ‘custom amount’ field. We love this donation page for its simplicity and effectiveness.
You can create a similar music competition and have local teens participate in it. You can keep a registration fee and ask them to request extra donations from parents, family, and friends. This way you encourage teenagers, give them a good opportunity to showcase their talent, at the same time, raise funds for your cause.
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12. “50/50” Draw added to an event
Low effort to set up with maximum impact! A 50/50 draw is a simple lottery system (the monetary prize is 50% of how much money is raised) that can work as a standalone fundraiser or as something to add to another event. The more people that participate, the more money that gets raised for charity – plus the jackpot becomes even higher.
13. Shave your head or color your hair
An idea that started with cancer-related charities, it can be used for other causes as well. Many fundraisers now have the “shave your head or color your hair” option, maximizing participation. After all, rainbow hair is trendy with teens right now. Pre-publicity is vital to maximizing revenue.
Candidates for the barber’s chair should get themselves out and about as much as possible in advance to galvanize support and get sponsors. They should flaunt their locks one last time and let everyone know what they are about to do. A common ploy is to set a clear target:
“If I can raise $250, the hair comes off”. This gives a bit of focus on the idea and makes it clear to everyone what is going on. Teens can group together to “get the chop” at the same time and take before and after photos.
Another fun option is to pick an individual in your organization, for instance, a senior staffer or a favorite teacher, to be on the “hot seat” and agree to have their head shaved or colored by students if a certain fundraising goal is met!
14. Fashion Show
Teens will enjoy strutting their stuff on the catwalk in front of a crowd! Any gym or field can be turned into a fantastic runway with a little bit of creative effort. Sell tickets for friends and family to come to see students and teachers model creative student fashions. Put a fun twist on it. Like having the football team model formal wear, putting teachers in sporty clothes, or sending your gymnastics team out doing backflips!
15. Gift Wrapping
Teens can offer to wrap gifts around the holidays in return for a charitable donation. You can offer this at your church or school, or partner with local malls to have a gift-wrapping kiosk onsite while folks are shopping. With the variety of wrapping paper, tape, bows, and colored tissue available at dollar stores, you’ll get a high return on your initial investment.
16. Sock Fundraisers
Another opportunity that is a big hit with teens is a custom sock fundraiser. Using the Elite Sport Socks Fundraiser Playbook, schools and other organizations can sell uniquely customized socks to raise needed funds.
17. Launch a Crowdfunding Campaign
Teenagers understand crowdfunding. Let them get involved in starting or promoting a campaign on Donorbox or another platform. Essentially, crowdfunding uses the power of social media to help spread the word about your campaign to existing and new supporters.
Crowdfunding campaigns are inexpensive to run, making them a great option for groups fundraising on a budget. By collecting smaller gifts from many donors, your nonprofit or youth group can quickly raise money and build your supporter base. Moreover, crowdfunding campaigns can be combined with other fundraising ideas for teens.
Tips to motivate and engage teens to get involved with your fundraising efforts:
1. Offer them something (that’s not monetary).
For example, offer your own teen a reward for getting involved with a fundraiser. This could be extending their curfew, giving them car privileges or letting them sleep in on the weekend. If you’re engaging teen volunteers, make sure they get something of value to them out of the experience.
2. Ask them for social media help.
Teens know how to promote and spread a message in a way that few others can manage! Ask them for their own ideas on how to help promote your fundraiser through social media.
3. Give them responsibilities.
Give teens responsibility for leading community building and brand awareness efforts. Give them responsibility for the project, or part of the project. They can handle it. In doing this, you’re helping them develop their skills around leadership, organizing, and team-building. These are core competencies and learning experiences they can take into the next chapter of their lives.
4. Meet them where they are.
Online and looking at screens. Reach out to teens directly, not through their parents or teachers. Rather than email/phone try to communicate via text or on Instagram or whatever is their favorite social media platform. Ask them how they like to be reached.
5. Make it fun.
Teens just want to have fun! Your most successful fundraising efforts with teens will come from choosing an idea that they can get excited about and have serious fun doing. When choosing an idea, think about your teens’ favorite activities and passions — and how they can be leveraged to do good. If teens get involved in a fundraiser they think is awesome, they will want to do it again year after year.
Getting them involved in a fundraiser helps them develop their own friendly competitions among each other or teams they put together. If you’re able to capture their imagination, there’s nothing that teens can’t do to make any event or fundraiser fun and exciting.
If you want to raise brand awareness for your club, group or nonprofit charity, you should look to teenagers to assist you to achieve that success and more. They will help you if you can spark their imagination and tap into their energy, but you will also be helping out the next generation of leaders in your community.