If you have an organization that needs to raise money for a cause, here are several fundraising ideas to consider. Most of these are not difficult to setup, organize, or complete. We arranged them in order of easiest and least cost to ones requiring more organization ability and some supplies or upfront costs.
If you are new to fundraising, start with first few easier methods. If you are a veteran moneymaker, you might find some fresh fundraising ideas to your current approach. Finally, be sure to check with your state or local gaming commission for any rules you might need to follow in order to fundraise legally in your area.
Containers, envelopes, and website buttons
When you need to raise money, one of the easiest things you can do is simply to ask for it. While this is stating the obvious, make sure you are asking in all the right places: use donation containers, donation envelopes, and a website donation button.
- Donation containers (aka “penny drive”). Place coin collection containers in appropriate locations to collect lose change. This method works best if you can place containers in places where there is a steady stream of people who might have lose change to donate to a good cause. Examples of good locations include the counter at a coffee shop or local retail store within the community. The containers should be well-marked and emptied regularly. While this option isn’t practical for everyone, if it is available to you, be sure to use it. This option works best for fundraising projects of fairly short duration.
- Donation envelopes. Envelopes work best for organizations like churches and schools, but any nonprofit can benefit from using them. Envelopes can request a specific amount or list a range of amounts (“what your donation will buy”). Place envelopes in strategic locations such as pews and bulletin boards, mail them out to members of your organization, and include them in correspondence. It’s an especially good way for groups to collect money for small projects or limited campaigns.
- Website donation button. If you have a website, consider placing a donation button on a page where you explain your fundraising need. Most fundraisers can use PayPal to collect the funds and pay a relatively small transaction fee to collect this money. Read about crowdfunding below, which is another method to collect donations online.
One thing is for certain, asking for money never works if you don’t ask.
Like donation envelopes, containers and buttons, “matching gifts” is free money for the asking. If your existing donors work for a company that has a matching gift program, your organization might be eligible to increase the donation through their employer’s program.
Matching gifts require some administration. To get this money, you need to do two things: promote matching gifts to your donors and follow the correct procedure for reporting and collecting the matched amounted.
Want to make money by going through your trash? General Mills still offers their box top fundraising program to nonprofits, which can earn up to $20,000 cash per year for your organization.
The program is very easy to start and manage. Simply register your nonprofit. Then encourage your supporters to send in their box tops or drop them off in a designated collection box. Each box top is worth 10 cents. Send in the box tops to General Mills to earn extra cash that otherwise may have been thrown out with the trash.
Crowdfunding is collecting money online for a cause or project. This method works best for causes with a compelling story that will inspire donors to open their wallets.
Every crowdfunding platform has rules and fees. So examine them carefully to confirm whether a particular platform applies to your project or goal. Fees range between three and nine percent. So be sure to figure this amount into your fundraising goal.
Popular crowdfunding platforms
Below is an (alphabetical) list of some of the most popular platforms for general and charitable fundraising. We’ve included a very brief description of the types of projects which might use this method successfully.
- Crowdrise. Used for many projects and causes, including charitable events such as marathons or any other charitable fundraiser, community projects such as a skate parks, or personal causes from scholarships to medical needs.
- Fundly. Used to fundraise for almost anything, including creative projects, schools, sports teams, weddings, nonprofits, charity, military, clubs and organizations, churches, and many other needs.
- FundRazr. Used often to fund critical needs such as medical expenses, as well as animal rescues, memorial & funerals, personal needs (education, travel, emergencies), nonprofits, and many other causes.
- GoFundMe. Used often to fund critical needs such as medical expenses, education costs, volunteer programs, youth sports, and funerals or memorials, as well as money for charity.
- Kickstarter. Used for projects that create something to share with others. Projects cannot fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve anything on their list of prohibited items. Finally, it’s all-or-nothing: meet your fundraising goal or all money is returned to donors.
- Razoo. Used to fundraise for almost any project or cause for an organization, charity, or personal need.
- StartSomeGood. Used by organizations or individuals to fund social impact projects that create tangible social good in your community or around the globe.
Click on the link for each crowdfunding platform to find out more about rules, costs, advice, and tools for setting up a successful fundraising campaign.
Restaurant gift cards
This deal seems too good to be true. But it’s legit. You purchase restaurant gift cards at a price significantly lower than their retail value, sell them and make $10 profit on each card. For example, you can sell a $50 gift card for $20 and keep $10 from each gift card sold.
This method is gaining in popularity because the cards are easy to get (even in low quantities), sell fast, can be sold and redeemed any time of year, and never expire.
Our recommended source for fundraising gift cards is Restaurant.com. They are a recognized leader in the industry and offer gift cards from more than 20,000 locations nationwide. There are also options for paper and electronic gift certificates, as well as other features that your fundraising group may find useful.
‘Ante Up’ fundraising activities
The basic premise of “ante up” fundraising methods is for donors to divert money to the cause through some fun activity. It’s like a penny drive, but bigger and with benefits. The ante can take different forms.
- Give it up ante. Donors will divert money they would have spent on something and donate it to the cause. For example, donors divert money spent on some indulgence they would be willing to give up for a short time to support a worthy goal. Specific examples include giving up lattes at the local coffee stand for a week, giving up dinner out at restaurants or going to the movies for a month, or even going “meatless” on dinners at home one night a week.
- Dare ante. Organizations challenge donors to help achieve a fundraising goal by a specified date or the organization accepts a dare. If the fundraising goal is met, the organization completes the dare. For example, upon reaching the fundraising goal, the board of directors all dye their hair, wear face paint, shave their heads, jump in an icy-cold body of water, or some other fun antic.
- Sports tourney ante. This ante includes walk-a-thons, 5K runs, or any other athletic tournament such as bowling, baseball, or croquet—whatever your community might enjoy. Fundraising is achieved primarily through participant entry fees and/or sponsorships. Individuals and teams can solicit sponsorships, as well as the hosting organization. A dare ante could be added to both the losing and winning teams.
The “give it up ante” is fairly easy and cheap to implement. However, the “dare” and “sport” antes require increasingly more organization and planning. In addition, they may need some upfront funding for supplies.
There are two types of fundraising raffles to consider: a prize raffle and a split pot raffle. For either type, you sell tickets and draw one or more winners.
- Prize raffle: participants win a prize if their ticket is drawn at the end of the raffle. Prizes can be modest or expensive, depending on your resources. For example, a basket of goodies, restaurant gift certificates, a rental car for a week (or a year), an exotic vacation, or a house. To raise the most money for your cause, try to get any prizes donated. Otherwise, the cost of the prize needs to come out of the raffle ticket sales, which decreases the net fundraising amount.
- Split pot raffle: money sells! Sell tickets and simply split the money collected with the winner and your organization. You can have one grand prize and several smaller prizes. This method works well when the grand prize is significantly higher than the ticket price. For example, a $10 ticket buys a chance to win $10,000. If your organization can reasonably sell upwards of 1,000 ten-dollar tickets, this can be a great option. (Don’t forget to include the cost of any other prizes in your ticket sales goal.) Total cash payout should be less than 50% of total ticket sales.
Tips for a successful raffle:
When selling tickets, state clearly whether or not a ticket holder needs to be present to win. If a winner does not need to be present to win, then be sure that donors retain one ticket (to prove they won) and write their name and contact (phone or email) on the back of the ticket submitted to the collection box.
Since the goal of a raffle is to sell as many tickets as possible, it’s a good idea to give discounts for bulk buying. For example, if tickets are priced at $3, then you could sell two tickets for $5, four for $10, and 10 for $20.
The cost of all prizes should not exceed 50 percent of the total amount raised. For those on a budget, strive to get items donated, or consider choosing another fundraising method.
Raffles are most often held at an event or organization with a built-in audience such as a school or church. If you don’t have an event or audience, you might be able to find one by contacting a popular business, such as a restaurant or festival.
Spin the prize wheel
To participate in a prize wheel, people pay a fee for the chance to spin the wheel and win the prize indicated by the pointer when the wheel stops spinning. It’s similar to a raffle, but more interactive and instantly gratifying for the donor.
It’s not necessary that everyone win a prize. For example, mark several locations on the wheel with “thanks for playing” where they win no prize. Mark other with “trinket”, where they win a low-cost item, perhaps a pen or other logo item you may already have on hand. For more significant prizes, it can be anything from coffee cards and t-shirts, to bottles of wine, restaurant gift certificates, gift baskets, or even desserts such as layer cakes all boxed up and ready to go home.
Spin-the-prize-wheel is economical if you already have the necessary equipment—namely the big spinning wheel. Like the prize raffle, try to get any prizes donated rather than take the cost of the prizes from sales. Spin the prize wheel is good for well-attended, lively events such as festivals and potlucks.
‘Pop the Balloons’ variation: if you don’t have a prize wheel handy, the same idea can be implemented using balloons. Simply write the prizes on slips of paper and insert into balloons before blowing them up and tying them off. You can sell the balloons directly, or pin their tail onto a board. Participants pay for darts to throw at balloons for a chance to win (by popping the balloon and getting the prize inside). Don’t forget to figure in the cost of balloons (around 3 to 5 cents each) in addition to the cost of prizes.
Bingo, game night, or movie night fundraising
Similar to the “sports tourney” listed above under “Ante Up” fundraising activities, a game night can be a great fundraiser that is fairly easy to implement at low cost. Bingo, card games, and board games make for fun, fun, fundraising events that can become a regularly recurring event that continually nets money for an organization.
If there is not already competition in your area, Bingo can be a good fundraising option. While known as a soft gambling option for “ladies of a certain age”, bingo is experiencing renewed interest in some areas, particularly with populations under 25 and ethnic groups with little or no prior experience with the game. So consider these facts and your audience. Bingo may be worth a try. To raise money, participants pay for score cards, which you can purchase in wholesale quantities. As with raffle tickets, plan to give discounts for participants who want to buy multiple playing cards to increase their chance of winning. Cash prizes (up to 50% of the total sales) are best and more likely to draw a larger audience. But you also need other Bingo equipment to call numbers randomly.
If you don’t already have the necessary Bingo paraphernalia, then board games or card games can be a cheaper option. Ask attendees to bring games from home. Ticket prices are generally modest, perhaps a few dollars per player. Depending on your audience, you might consider simply offering the event as pay-what-you-can. Prizes aren’t necessary, people simply play for fun and to donate money to a good cause. So don’t forget to tell a good story when you promote your event.
Finally, if you have a large hall or outdoor space suitable for showing movies to a large audience, consider hosting a movie night. This can be indoors in cold weather or outdoors in summer months and is a great family option. Charge a reasonable fee (less than the going rate for movie houses, perhaps $1-$5 per person), and offer a price break for families.
You can further increase the funds raised by selling refreshments during any of these events. Donated coffee and desserts can help keep costs down, or buy goodies at wholesale prices from local warehouse stores and mark them up. Consider a “loss-leader”, something sold below cost or given away free, to put everyone in giving mood. Use your imagination, but free iced lemon water and small bags of popcorn are a couple of simple examples—just don’t forget to entice them something complimentary for sale, perhaps hot brewed coffee and big slices of chocolate cake. Well, you get the idea, don’t you?
Adult Spelling Bee
Schools are natural locations for the adult spelling bee as a fundraising effort. But it’s also a great idea for any organization in lieu of a game night fundraiser. Find word lists on spelling websites. Include specialized terminology based on the organization or sponsors. For example, a church might include biblical words. Or a community group might use terminology related to the history of the area. Use your imagination and make it fun.
For an adult spelling bee at a school, each class might choose one or more parents to represent their grade and compete against parents from the other classes, perhaps with a dare ante attached. Other organizations might allow entrance to any adult who wants to participate and complete against all of the other adults.
Fundraising can “bee” accomplished through ticket sales and concessions or refreshments during the event. But you can also require participants to pay an entry fee directly or through sponsors they solicit (similar to a national school spelling bee). With entry fees and sponsorships, you can offer the audience the option of pay-what-you-can or a suggested donation.
Car wash or dog wash
Washes are common and easy ways for low budget groups to raise some needed cash. You can charge a flat fee or suggest a donation amount—which means you must accept any amount the customer wishes to pay.
The first requirement is a busy location with a reliable source of water, such as a school yard, church parking lot, or gas station. Second, you need the equipment and supplies, including hoses, buckets, sponges, car or pet-friendly soap, and towels. For dogs, also have water bowls and a few treats on hand. Finally, you need lots of volunteers to do the work and move customers through quickly. Promote your car wash or dog wash well ahead of the event. Don’t forget a contingency date in the event of rain.
Car detail option: If a car wash isn’t feasible, or you want to increase car wash fundraising by offering an additional service, consider car interior cleaning or detailing. You’ll need a reliable electrical supply to plug in a vacuum cleaner, plus a few supplies (try to get these donated, as the cost can add up): glass cleaner, a spot cleaner for upholstery, vinyl/leather cleaner, and plenty of shop towels. Hang an air freshener on the rearview mirror for a finishing touch.
While car washes are popular, it requires purchase (or donation) of some supplies, as well as access to a suitable location. If you can resolve these issues and have a solid group of volunteers who can also donate some of the needed items, this can be an easy way to reach your fundraising goal.
Sell a product
A well-chosen product can be a very effective fundraising technique, either as an annual fundraiser or one-time event. Below we list a few popular fundraising products.
- Coffee and tea
- Flavored popcorn or beef jerky
- Candy bars or cookie dough
- Concessions at any event
- Bake-at-home pizza
- Patriotic flags
- Holiday candles
Some products have broader appeal. For example, concessions sales of beverages and treats at any event will appeal to everyone. T-shirts can be offered any time of year, can be procured from a wide range of suppliers at varying costs, and have very broad appeal.
Other products may have limitations. Bake-at-home pizzas take more planning and work. And holiday-related products are limited to certain times of year.
Selling a product requires up-front costs, which may limit your ability to use this technique.
More popular fundraising ideas
We skipped several tried-and-true ideas. Most of these require more organization than the above ideas, and often a sizable volunteer group if you want to pull them off successfully. A couple require specialized equipment or significant supplies. Although more complicated, these fundraising ideas are common and popular methods:
- Bake sales
- Cook-off competitions
- Yard sales
- Spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts
- Golf tournaments
- Bachelor/bachelorette auctions
- Auctions of goods and experiences
- Pumpkin patches
- Haunted houses
- Gift wrapping service
- Santa pictures
Final tips for successful fundraising
When using methods with prizes, you will make more money by choosing something most people attending your event would find desirable. So carefully consider your audience when deciding what prizes to offer. Is your audience young, older, composed of families, or mixed? For example, bottles of wine or coffee cards might not work for a mixed audience, as movie tickets will.
If your group is new to fundraising, start with the easiest methods and set modest fundraising goals. Once you’ve achieved some success, you can confidently increase your fundraising ambitions. Don’t forget to have some fun along the way.