Nonprofit Technology
Fundraising Software

3 Game-Changing Event-Based Fundraising Ideas

Published by in Fundraising Software

If you’ve been to a wedding, benefit, or really any formal outing where dinner was served, you’re familiar with the standard meal options:

  1. Steak
  2. Chicken
  3. Vegetarian

The steak and chicken are good, but they can get tiresome. And the poor vegetarians, their hungry hands are tied. How many variations can there be on mass-produced eggplant dishes?

Fundraising ideas

This menu evolved from a need to please as many people as possible, and more often than not, no one is pleased.

At this point, you are probably wondering what this mini-rant has to do with fundraising. Don’t worry, there’s a connection in sight.

It’s arguable that nonprofits have settled into the same holding pattern as these formal dinners, just with fundraising events instead of menu options.

If your fundraising events are working swimmingly, continue with what you’re doing, because you’re clearly doing all the right things. However, if your events leave something to be desired, read on.

Major fundraising event revenue has dropped by nearly 2.5%.

All too often, organizations settle into a rhythm of two to three standard events a year — your steak, chicken, and vegetarian dishes. They’re the kind of events that are easy to do well with, but difficult to excel with.

If you want to push ahead of the crowd, take a risk with one of your fundraising events.

Step outside of your comfort zone, even if it is still within reach. You don’t need to go wild (you can, but it isn’t necessary) to reinvigorate your organization’s special events. Like the subtle risk of pasta or the splashy choice of a BBQ buffet at a wedding, offer what feels right for your cause and your supporters.

Handled correctly, these events can help your donor growth surge. Track attendees in your donor database and send out follow-ups to cement your relationships with new and veteran donors alike.

To get you inspired, try out one of three options listed below.

1. Community Carnival

A carnival will be a big undertaking that’ll require serious dedication to organize, but it has great potential to become a long-standing event. Get it right the first time and people will expect the carnival to come back around every year.

Carnivals are clearly intrinsically bound to the local community, so they work particularly well with organizations that serve the neighborhoods they’re based in.

You’re likely to attract a crowd far beyond the scope of your supporters, so the carnival is the perfect chance to raise awareness of your cause. As such, make sure that your nonprofit and its mission are incorporated into all the promotional materials and details are prominently displayed at the event itself. Cut marketing costs by seeking out free publicity outlets.

As a start, you can keep the event low-key and make the activities mostly booth-oriented, like the milk bottle toss. If you want to go all in, just commit. Think petting zoos and Ferris wheels.

You’ll hope to get most items donated in-kind, but what you can’t secure in that manner could have considerable cost. Keep that in mind as you make your plans and decide how grandiose you want the carnival to be. Remember, the carnival has to be a fundraiser first. If expenses are too high, you’ll eat up all the funds you gather.

2. Art Auction

Art auctions are always popular. Make the event as formal or as informal as you want and get the bidding going. The first, and most central, question you’ll have to address is where you’re going to get your art from. There are a few options available to you.

Option A: Donations from Local Artists

This option works better if your organization happens to be a museum or serves an art-related cause, but any type of nonprofit can try it. Reach out to artists in the area, and really any artists you have connections with, to ask if they’d be willing to donate pieces of their work as gifts in-kind.

If that’s a tough sell, you may even be able to offer to split the proceeds, with half going to the artist and half going to your organization as donations.

Option B: Works You Have Gathered Over Time

Occasionally, you might have a piece of art donated to your organization. For example, there could be a few items that didn’t sell during the live auction at your gala. Or, you might have an art collection that was donated as part of an estate that has been left to your nonprofit as a planned gift.

No matter how you stumbled into your art collection, it is valuable and worth leveraging for donations. Plus, art deserves to be displayed and appreciated, not kept in your storage room.

Option C: Artwork Created by Those Benefiting Your Cause

There are a few directions you can take this. Student work goes over well with school and university fundraisers. If your organization has a youth-related cause, you can auction off pieces created by the children that you work with. You can even go so far as to let dogs at your animal shelter paint abstract originals with their paws.

As you can see, there are numerous avenues to explore when gathering your auction items. Once you have the pieces, the rest of the event organizing will be standard and more of what you’d usually expect.

3. Rummage Sale

You can call it a rummage, lawn, or garage sale; the end result will be the same. These sales are often ideal fundraisers for schools because the student body is a built-in source of gently-used items. However, even if your organization isn’t a school, you can still see an excellent return on your investment.

All you need is a location to host the sale, a way to promote, and the items. Reach out to your community of supporters for supplies. People will be glad to get some rarely worn sweaters and dust collecting home decor out of their houses.

Even better, the people who donate items will be some of your most excited shoppers the day of the event. They might be ready to ditch some of their own items, but they’ll be just as quick to browse your selection for replacements.  

Inspired yet? The ideas are yours for the taking. Remember — pass on the chicken next time! Dare to see what else is out there.

Have you used other unique events to up your donation levels? Share your ideas in the comments!

Looking for Donation Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Donation Management software solutions.

About the Author

Roy Cheran

Roy Cheran

Roy Cheran is the Vice President of Marketing at DonorPro, an innovative software company that helps nonprofits grow their fundraising revenue by an average of 37% each year. Roy has extensive experience consulting in higher education and leading fundraising efforts for military veteran causes. He is also a regular speaker at nonprofit technology conferences and a public voice for Veterans in the Pittsburgh area.


Comment by John Hornbeck on

Agree with Sherry completely. Without naming names, last year I attended an event for a nonprofit that was well plugged into the arts community. In addition to a silent auction, a cornerstone of their fundraising was a live auction of art. It was a disaster. I was curious as to why and in talking with several of the attendees was told that the selection of art to auction was extremely poor for this group of people. There are a lot of subtle facets to running a successful art auction. Yes, it carries potential, but it is also high risk. In this case, it was actually embarrassing. So . . . be careful.

Comment by Lisa Lehman on

Excellent ideas. One of the Catholic schools I work with really strives to keep their annual fundraisers fresh. My favorite was a western-themed gala complete with a mechanical bull (which was an extra ticket fee). They also do an annual Harley raffle which is very popular — and somewhat unconventional — for a parochial school.


Comment by Sherry Truhlar on

Wait a second … did you write that ART auctions are a game-changing fundraiser?? Did I read this correctly? I have to disagree with this suggestion. Though I work with a couple of organizations that are able to pull this off, most nonprofits should avoid selling art. Few groups can pull this off successfully unless (of course) they are art organizations with art-loving crowds. As it’s easier to change items in an auction than it is to change the crowd, focus on items the crowd enjoys. Statistically, art is one of the worst performers in an auction unless — again — you’ve got that type of crowd. Even then, we’re trending away from putting kids art into the live auction, even in school auctions.

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