While putting on fundraising events can (and should) be a lot of work — after all, you get what you put in — they are incredibly rewarding when successfully run. Best of all, the number of potential fundraising event ideas are as endless as there are potential donors.
If you're looking to try something new with your fundraisers, a great place to start is developing a list of donor personas. Who is your ideal donor? Where do they work and live? How do they like to spend their free time? What are their other interests and hobbies? Answering these questions will help you create a list of event ideas that target their interests and are thus more likely to be successful.
To spark some inspiration, we've curated a list of 10 fundraising event ideas that appeal to donors with a wide range of interests, from art to fashion to the theater and more. For even more great ideas, check out this comprehensive list from Eventbrite.
1. Date Auction
Liven up a fundraiser by auctioning off dates. This is a real crowd pleaser, but you can’t auction off just any date - make it really special! Try getting your CEO or a local celebrity to play along in the fun.
Or, make it a destination date that people - especially those celebrating big milestones and anniversaries - will be eager to pay for. Aim for packages that come bundled with airfare, lodging and bucket-list experiences (like the top-rated Ultimate Hamilton Experience on Broadway, with tickets and a meet-and-greet experience for two).
2. Fashion Show
Do you have access to student designers, models and a fashion school? If so, go the whole nine yards and put on a ritzy showcase of avant-garde, local fashions. But even if you don't - you can still pull off a fabulous show.
To do: Design and order high quality branded merchandise (like fleece jackets, scarves, bracelets and tote bags), then have your outgoing staff members model them. This could happen live or perhaps you'll just post the pics on social media. Then you can sell the merchandise and collect the proceeds.
Instantly amp up the buzz for any fashion show by raffling off a Saks Fifth Avenue Shopping Spree and trip to Chicago for two.
3. Local Theater
Most of the best fundraising events involve local partners, or sponsors. (You can’t lose when it’s a win-win!) And you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy a night at the theater.
Since many local theaters are nonprofits as well, ask if they'd be willing to partner with your organization and donate some or all of the profits from a special performance. You can then invite your entire supporter base to attend the performance, knowing they'll not only see a great show but support your cause. If the theater has past experience working with other nonprofits, they may have specific arrangements they’d be willing to plan with you.
Don't have a local theater troupe? Try planning a special "Cinema for a Cause" screening at the local movie theater.
4. Craft Fair
Before the holiday season, a craft fair is a surefire way to attract donors trying to cross people off their gift lists and get into the charitable spirit of the season. In spring and summer months, craft fairs are a great way to enjoy warmer weather and shop local.
See if you can find local artists, craftsmen, and artisans of all kinds to sell their artwork at the fair, or lead craft-creating workshops. Then charge admission at the door and watch people shop happily for unique gifts that give back.
5. Golf Tournament
A fundraising classic, golf tournaments are a smash hit for those who prefer to mix competition with leisure, conversation and of course charity.
An increasingly popular spin on golf tournaments these days is Topgolf, which can be played indoor and is more like bowling or skeeball than playing a traditional 18 holes of golf.
To kick your tournament up a notch, try auctioning or raffling off a destination golf getaway (like the top-rated Fairmont Scottsdale Golf and Spa Experience).
For athletes and non-athletes alike, a 5k run/walk is a timeless seasonal event. Spirits are high, it gets large groups of people together, and everyone feels rewarded and accomplished at the finish line.
Especially if you've never hosted one in the past, now is the time to begin planning for a spring or summer race. You can also brainstorm fun, unique ways to make your event stand out (like hosting a color run, Santa Dash, turkey trot or other themed race).
The Lifelong Learner
7. Movie Screening
Depending on your organization, there is likely a film or documentary that encapsulates your cause. (Some of the most well known include Waiting for "Superman" for school and education, An Inconvenient Truth for climate change activism, and Blackfish for animal rights.) Most popular documentaries are made because filmmakers want to investigate and share their perspective on serious issues.
If so, appeal to the academic side of your donors. Put on a screening, complete with concessions. Keep in mind documentaries are often controversial; they deal with emotionally charged topics that can put off donors who disagree with the final conclusion. So it's up to your discretion what film to choose and how to present it.
Finally, end the evening with a post-viewing debrief. Even better: See if you can get some of the producers, writers, and so forth to participate in a panel discussion.
8. Art/History Lesson
Turn your donors’ love for learning into an adventure they won’t want to miss.
For the history buffs, host a tour of local historical places and noteworthy landmarks. Recruit a knowledgeable staff or member of a historic society to provide enlightenment on sights that your donors may have passed a hundred times without realizing their historical significance. You can also turn this into an art lesson by hosting a guided tour of an art museum or institute.
To supercharge this event, you can auction off a trip for 2 to D.C. to enjoy Winspire's top-rated Private Historian’s Tour of the U.S. Capitol. "The historian wove interesting anecdotes into an overarching narrative of the messy yet inspirational essence of democracy, and the foundations of the U.S. government," raves one traveler. "He brought the story of our Capitol in DC to life," says another.
9. Community Hike
For a global cause, consider hosting a community hike led by a professional, personable, and knowledgeable guide. Hiking brings new and established donors together, gets everyone outdoors, and challenges in a fun, rewarding way.
10. Community Garden
If you have the land or access, planting a community garden is a great way to get a large group of people working together for the benefit of others and the earth. Turn it into a fundraiser by charging for admission, selling plants to take home and creating group t-shirts for gardening day.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Tell us about a successful, out-of-the-box event you’ve helped plan in the comments below!