The Ultimate List of Fundraising Ideas is a compilation of the best events, campaigns, and donation strategies on the web. We asked our friends in a variety of non-profit companies and donation-dependent groups what ideas actually were successful at raising money. BonfireFunds is passing this resource on to you with some helpful hints about how to make each creative fundraiser a success.
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Let the fundraising begin!
Bachelor/Bachelorette Auction – Find the most dapper gentlemen or elegant ladies in your midst and host an auction. Creative pre-planned dates with the people in the spotlight will go to the highest bidders. Get local restaurants and businesses to donate gift cards and free services to use on the dates. In return, they will get the publicity of you announcing their business name when you describe the date being auctioned off at the event.
50/50 Raffle – Sell raffle tickets for $1 or $2 and draw one winner from the pool of tickets. The grand prize is half of the money taken in from ticket sales, with the other half being kept for donations.
Silent Auction – Contact local businesses and ask for donations of gift cards, spa days, movie tickets, vacation rentals, creative artwork, hot air balloon rides, and unique dining experiences. For more auction items, register on donationmatch or check out this list of retailors that are known to generously contribute to local organizations. Have an upscale night of drinks and hors d’oeuvres with a cash bar and let guests look over the prizes and write their bids down on a bidding sheet. Make sure to include the minimum bid (usually 20% of item value) and minimum increase (usually $1-$10) at the top of the sheet. Silent auctions also work well at school fairs where parents are present. You may have to forgo the adult beverages though.
Single/Multiple Prize Raffle – Get prizes donated from local businesses. Sell raffle tickets over the course of a month or all at once during a large event. All tickets go into one drawing pool. Pick as many winners as you have prizes, starting with the smallest and leading up to the grand prize.
Ebay Auction – The internet has become the lifeblood of some of the biggest marketplaces in existence. Gather donated items from members of your group, similar to how you would for a joint yard sale, and post those items on eBay for nationwide exposure. Create a list of links with item descriptions for everything you have posted for sale, create a page on your organization’s website, and let people see everything they can bid on to help you in one place.
Butler Auction – Ever wanted to feel like the Banks family from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Now’s your chance. Auction off upperclassmen or members of your group to be someone’s personal butler and assistant for the day. A pencil thin mustache and white towel over the arm is recommended but not required.
Dodgeball Tournament – This childhood favorite game reached new levels of popularity with the 2004 movie Dodgeball: An Underdog Story. People will likely deck out their team costumes with their flashiest headbands and rec-specs to throw spherical objects at their opponents. Charge teams an entry fee and create official team shirts in different colors for players to wear for this high-energy fundraising idea.
Poker Tournament – Poker players are already used to paying tournament entry fees. Use a portion of the proceeds for cash prizes that will be awarded to the 1st, 2nd, and maybe 3rd place winners. The rest of the entry fees will be kept as donations. Make sure to check local state laws for gambling laws and exceptions for non-profit groups. The most popular poker game in recent years has been Texas Hold’Em. Learn the rules here if you want to understand the in’s and out’s of the game.
Cornhole Tournament – This popular yard game also known simply as “bean bag toss,” is a game that anyone and everyone is capable of playing. It is highly social and every age and fitness level can play together. Consider having a crafty member of your group make the wooden boards and sand-filled bags, or do so yourself with these step-by-step instructions. You can auction them off or use as prizes for the winners.
Dance-a-Thon – Find a venue such as a gym or rec center with an area that can be used as a dance floor for 12 or 24 hours. The majority of your donations will come from ticket sales. Hire a DJ or use a PA system with a Spotify playlist with no explicit lyrical content. Be careful not to let just anyone control the playlist or plug in their MP3 player, because bad music or repeat songs can quickly diminish the energy in the room. The person or couple that stays on the floor the longest and dances the hardest wins the grand prize.
5k Walk/Run – Runners get sponsors to donate or you can have participants buy race packets that serve as their entry fee. Let the serious runners start ahead of the others. Encourage the others to dress up in costumes to make the event more fun if it suits your organization. To maximize donations, start your own team and motivate your fellow members throughout the months leading up to the race using BonfireFund’s Team Captain’s Checklist.
Donkey Basketball – Surprisingly, this bizarre fundraising idea is exactly what you think it would be. Host the event in a school gymnasium. Players ride on the backs of donkeys, pass a basketball to fellow teammates, and attempt to rack up the most baskets. The event is so novel, that tickets essentially sell themselves. Pay a company like Buckeye Donkey Ball or Dairyland Donkey Ball to provide the mules and take care of all the logistics. Sell tickets to the game to raise money for your group.
Golf Tournament – Contact a local golf course near you. Chances are they already have an information packet for letting non-profits and other groups run fundraising tournaments with them. Start advertising months ahead of time. Get businesses to pay to be a hole sponsor with a lawn advertisement for their company near the starting tee’s for each hole. Teams of 4 pay an entry fee of anywhere from $200-$1000. Hopefully everyone will sign up for the good of the cause, but make sure you have cash or donated prizes substantial enough to bolster some real competition. To challenge players’ ego further, set up a table for a “Par 3 Challenge” on one hole. Players pay $20 and take a shot at hitting the green in one stroke. Have a few prizes for winners of the challenge and a consolation prize for the less accurate participants.
Miniature Golf Tournament – This is better suited for school groups and a slightly younger demographic than the regular golf tournament fundraiser. Ask a local mini-golf business to let your participants play for free so you can take the proceeds of entry fees. The business will get concession and arcade sales from all the foot traffic. All participants keep track of their own score on the honor system and submit their score at the end of the last hole. Announce the winner the next day along with the prize.
Bake Sale – Enlist volunteers to contribute a batch of baked goods to sell at an event or during school hours. Consider specializing in one kind of treat so you can create a brandable name like “The Cupcake Craze” or “The Pie Drive” to drum up excitement.
Eating Contest – Pick your poison: pies, hot dogs, watermelon, or anything else able to eaten in rapid succession. This event goes by fast so it is best to use it as the main attraction during a day of other fundraising activities that you can pick from our ultimate list of fundraising ideas. Charge admission to the event or let spectators bet on which of the contestants they think will win the eating contest. Don’t forget to research the particular gambling laws of your state and what exceptions can be made for non-profit organizations.
Lemonade/Coffee Stand – They key to this fundraising idea is to set up in a place that gets a lot of foot traffic. Getting cars to notice you and pull over just for a refreshing beverage is like herding cats... nearly impossible. Sell coffee if you are free during the mornings, or lemonade if it’s hot and your spare time usually comes in the afternoon. Make sure it is very visible what donated funds are going to, and consider giving away the drink for free with a “donations are welcome” sign and message as you hand the drinks out.
Spaghetti Dinner – The secret to the spaghetti dinner fundraiser lies in the illusion that spaghetti is an elegant 5-star Italian entrée, when in fact it can be prepared extremely economically. Sell tickets at $10-$20 per plate and add a nice salad, rolls, and a few beverage options to the menu.
All You Can Eat Potato Bar – Similar to the Spaghetti Dinner fundraising idea, the all you can eat potato bar is a banquet style meal with a recommended cost per plate of somewhere around $20. This meal is best served in the buffet style with toppings such as shredded cheese, sour cream, bacon crumbles, avocado, chives, broccoli, and anything else you can dream up. Since the meal itself is self-service, have volunteers checking in on your attendees for drink refills and other “table touches” that will make them feel like they are being taken care of. For an in-depth recipe and list of cooking instructions, check out TheYummyLife’s Baked Potato Bar post.
Pancake Breakfast – Get your spatulas ready, and fire up the griddle! It’s an all you can eat pancake breakfast. Charge $10 a head for hungry attendees to raise money. Buy a few aluminum tins to keep plain, blueberry, and chocolate chip pancakes in as they come off the assembly line. A separate garnishing station should include toppings such as syrup (maple and regular), whipped cream, more chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter. Serve water, apple juice, and orange juice to parch your guests’ thirst.
Chili Cook-Off – Either charge your competing chefs an entry fee or let them off the hook for buying and preparing the goods that are essentially the backbone of this whole event. Raise money by asking your guests to pay $10 for a bottomless bowl of chili. Let each guest vote for their 3 favorite chili’s, and tally the scores to announce a winner. This event is best done outside with lawn games and other activities to create a casual social environment.
Write Support Letters – Sometimes a more formal approach to fundraising is more efficient. And with email long since taking the crown of spam king, people usually appreciate receiving a letter that was mailed by hand. Type up a support letter template that briefly explains your cause, your goal, and how their donation will help. Always leave room for a small handwritten note to your contact in the top or bottom margin. Consider doing a “$20 Dollar Challenge” where you encourage each letter recipient to give a very reasonable sum of money. Those who are willing to give more still will, but you will solicit some donations from people that would have otherwise felt they couldn’t afford to give a helpful amount. Another tip is to use your wedding invitation contact list as a source of names and addresses to mail to.
Christmas Gift Donations – Despite the our natural desire to collect more and more material goods, many families find it refreshing to step away from the tediousness of giving gifts. After all, the stress of having your gifts be liked often outweighs the joy of receiving whatever it is someone has gotten you. Ask people to donate to your cause in lieu of Christmas gifts or other holiday treats. Make sure your message focuses on the lives that will be brightened by their donations, as that is the spirit of most holidays that people are ultimately looking to enjoy.
Online Video Challenges – Few fundraising campaigns have grown as quickly as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The key to success with video challenges is posting a video of yourself doing something that is short, requires little preparation, and has a high entertainment value. At the end of your video, challenge 2 friends to complete the challenge and donate what they can to your specified charity. Post the video on Facebook, tag the people you’ve challenged, and watch the campaign spread. If you’ve never seen the videos, watch this YouTube compilation of stars like Chris Pratt, Justin Timberlake, and Taylor Swift getting in on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge fun.
Corporate matching programs – This is by far the easiest way to multiply the funds you’ve raised. Large employers often have programs set up where they will donate the same amount of money that you raise on your own to your cause. Have anyone in your group that is willing contact their Human Resources department. Many people get nervous about approaching their employer about such things, but remind them that they don’t need to convince anyone. They are sampling asking if such a program already exists at their company.
Company Concert - Find the musically inclined employees in your company and ask their band to play a benefit show. Charge an admission fee and maybe even do a raffle or other supplemental fundraising activity at the event.
Jail and Bail – Have members of your group volunteer to be “prisoners.” Place them in a prop jail cell that is highly visible in a park or campus. They have to call, post on social media, or solicit passersby to donate their bail amount to go free. Make up creative crimes such as “telling too many Dad jokes” “overzealous assigning of homework” or “illegal possession of Nickelback CDs.” Have donors bring their pledges to the jail cell or use fundraising websites for people to pool pledges. Continually post “jailed” and “bailed” pictures to get to the word out.
Head Shave – Set a fundraising goal, and encourage people to start donating. If you reach the goal, pick a teacher, principal, executive, or community member that will have to shave their head. This is an incentive that can also be used to motivate donors in any of the events found on the list of fundraising ideas.
Carnival – This event can bring in a substantial amount of money, but will require a great deal of planning to arrange all of the individual games. It is ideal for schools and PTA’s that can delegate volunteers to run each station. Sell tickets as well as concessions to raise money. Maybe even have a few extra pay-per-play stations like face painting. Have a PA sound system to announce raffle drawings or a silent auction while everyone is enjoying the carnival. For more fundraiser ideas for PTA’s and information on how to use BonfireFunds.com, check out our PTA Fundraising Ideas page.
Camp Out – Commit to camping out every night until your fundraising goal is met. If you have a high visibility area on a school campus, consider having 2 or more people at the tent site 24 hours a day. Use a lawn sign to advertise your cause and where people can go online to donate.
Bingo – A timeless game for people of all ages. Hold a Bingo event and sell bingo books/cards for anywhere from $1-10 per card. Players can buy a handful to increase their odds of winning. The trick is being able to check all of your cards as numbers are being called. A typical bingo fundraiser will call 5 games in an hour, break for food and a raffle, and then finish with another 5 games. The whole event should take 2-3 hours. Buy a set of Bingo supplies from Amazon or print your own cards and use a virtual bingo caller that randomly generates numbers.
Yard Flamingos – Buy a gaggle of plastic flamingos from home depot available in packs of 10 or 50. We recommend the 50-pack lawn flamingo set for optimum visual appeal. The idea is to place all of the pink, stilt-legged birds into the lawn of a friend or coworker under the cover of night. Leave behind a sign that says something to the effect of “You got flocked! If you are able, donate (recommended amount) to our cause here (donation site) and above all else, keep the flock moving to a new, unsuspecting home!”
Cardboard Regatta – Teams get a pile of cardboard boxes, packing tape, and paddles. You can give teams a set amount of time to make their seaworthy vessel on the day of the event, or allow them to build at home and bring the ship with them. Charge a team entry fee and a spectator admission fee at the pool/body of water that you hold the event at. Award donated prizes to the fastest boat, longest afloat, and most creative. Ask restaurants and retail stores for donated boxes or you can buy them cheaply at a home improvement store.
Drive In Movie – This is a fan favorite from our list of fundraising ideas. Borrow or rent a projector to play a classic film that is universally loved such as The Sandlot, Toy Story, Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Back to the Future. Sell tickets as well as concessions. Project the movie onto the side of a white building or a large bed sheet. You’ll need a PA system for the audio or buy an FM transmitter to allow cars to tune in to a radio station.
Yard Work for Hire – Create a menu of jobs with set prices. People have very set opinions on how much they’re willing to pay for an hourly worker. But if you set a $50 flat price for a job like a mowed lawn, leaf removal, or mulching, people are more likely to be generous for your cause.
Car Wash – The infamous car wash fundraiser can be seen in most suburban cities and in nearly every slow motion movie montage ever. The most important part of this event is roadside advertising and location. Make sure you will be visible in a place that will give drivers plenty of time to make a decision and pull into the parking lot where you are set up. Keep it classy with matching t-shirts or institute a uniform of jean shorts for male and female volunteers alike to add a touch of comedy to the event.
Dog Wash – Have dog owners bring their furry friends out and let your volunteers give them a good scrub down. Raise money by charging $10 per dog. Make sure your helping hands are willing to get SOAKED and know how to calmly handle animals that might get a little jumpy. Advertise well in advance and ask local pet stores to promote on their social media or allow a flyer on their community board. This event works great alongside with other fundraisers as well.
Wall/Fence Painting – Another service based fundraising idea. Homeowners often need help painting fences and rooms in their house. Nobody likes spending every weekend for a month climbing ladders and washing paintbrushes to use and reuse. Offer to provide a few helping hands to knock it out all in one day and ask for a donation in return.
T-shirt Fundraiser – A newer fundraising idea that has becoming increasingly popular, t-shirt fundraisers let you create a shirt design, set a selling price, and bolster support using social media. Sites like BonfireFunds.com make the process surprisingly simple, and your supporters will love getting a comfortable shirt that makes them feel connected to your cause. Start a fund and try your hand in the t-shirt design wizard. You can always use images from the library of free art to easily create a must-have design.
Garage Sale – Encourage members of your group to start collecting household items that they could easily do without. You might not know it, but there likely several hoarders in your midst that just need a little encouragement to simplify their lives. Instead of holding a bunch of satellite yard sales, pool all of the donated items and host one giant garage sale, with all of the profits going to your cause. If items don’t sell, get a tech savvy volunteer to create a mass of Craigslist or eBay postings to keep the money coming in.
Craft Sale – In the golden age of Pinterest, there is an incredible amount of demand for hand-made jewelry and decorative crafts. Get your most gifted volunteers to create some stylish, Do-It-Yourself items to sell from a both or with an online Etsy shop. This fundraising idea takes some real creativity but can create an ongoing revenue stream to support your organization.
Pre-Ordered Food – Companies with popular food items often have fundraiser kits already available for non-profits and other groups to resell. Have members of your group pre-sell items such as Cookie Dough, Popcorn, or Homemade Pizza Kits to generate profits for your organization.
School Dance – With a just a few exceptions found in our decidedly introverted friends, everyone loves to boogie down when the DJ starts spinning tunes. School dances can be incredibly effective at raising funds through ticket sales. If you think the student excitement is high enough to support more than just the standard homecoming and prom dances, consider boosting donations by adding another creative dance to the school calendar. Sadie Hawkins, Winter Formals, and Spring Flings are all great ideas to get your students moving during every season of the year.
Class Donation Competition – This is best in the school environment but could be adapted for different departments in a company. Decide a prize for the winning class or group and create different buckets for each to place donations in. Keep a running total of each team’s amount raised. Decide a prize that is going to somehow benefit every person in that group such as getting to leave school early for a week, a pizza party, or an extra vacation day for a winning team of employees.
Drive of Dimes – Each teacher has a coffee tin with their name on it, and every dime donated to that tin counts as a point. At the end of the week or month, the teacher with the most points has to dress up in a zany costume the next day. Substitute coin denominations to sell as a “Penny Drive” or “Quarter Contest.”
Penny War – Variation on the game above. Pennies and dollar bills count towards your team’s total, and any silver coins (dimes, nickels, quarters) that you put in another team’s jar counts against them.
Guessing Game Jar – Get a large, eye-catching jar and fill it with a colorful candy like Skittles, M&Ms, or candy corn. Make sure you know how many pieces are in the jar. You can patiently count them before sealing the jar or quickly calculate the number inside with a scale and a little math. Follow these steps to get your total number of candies: Get the exact weight of 10 pieces and divide it by 10 to calculate the average weight per piece. Weigh the empty jar and subtract that number from the weight of the full candy jar to get weight of the candy itself. Now divide the candy’s weight by the average weight per piece to get the total number of candy pieces in the jar!
To run the game, charge a set dollar amount per guess. Have participants write their name and contact info on a slip of paper along with their guess and put it in a box. When you’re ready to end the contest, find the participant with the closest guess and announce the winner.
Candy Grams – This fundraising idea is particularly popular in schools and around holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or Halloween. Choose holiday themed candy that is novel but not too expensive. Buy cardstock/cards that will allow the candy to be attached with a piece of ribbon. You should be able to produce each candy gram for 15-20 cents. Sell them to students for $1 and let them write the name and classroom/address of the lucky recipient on the card. Advertise and sell for a few weeks, then deliver the special grams to their rightful owners.
Dunk Tank – Do you have a principal, teacher, or company president that is always buttoned up in their Sunday best? Give students the opportunity to see them with their guard down, and perhaps a little nervous sitting on a board above a tank of ice-cold water. Charge $1 per ball to anyone who wants to try out their aim in hitting the target that will send your beloved leader under the waves. Pair this event with other games during a field day or school carnival to maximize the amount of money raised.
Talent Show – Talent shows can be huge winners, but you’ll have to start planning several months in advance for this fundraiser. Announce auditions, or if you’re in an office, heckle everyone you’ve heard in the company that has an obscure talent, and pick your performance line-up. Promote the event and start selling tickets for $5-10 dollars. Lastly, ask a popular student, community member, or local celebrity to act as your master of ceremonies.
Fashion Show – Bring the glitz and glamour of Paris Fashion Week to your hometown. Grab some models from your organization that know how to confidently strut down a runway. Promote the event and sell tickets for $5-10 per head to raise money. An interesting twist on this idea is to make outfits made purely out “garbage” such as cardboard boxes, trash bags, duct tape, and newspaper pages. You can also use the theme of retro, thrift-store outfits if you have some savvy shoppers ready to hit the discount racks.
48-Hour Film Festival – Everyone has a device with a camera now. Come up with a theme that allows for a myriad of storylines and settings. Team’s have 48 hours to write their script/outline, film, edit, and submit the final movie. Host your own film festival in an auditorium or local theater where audience members or a panel of judges vote on the best submissions. Charge admission to the event and have a grand prize donated from local businesses to give to the victors.
Battle of the Bands – There’s never a shortage of musicians looking to book their next gig. Bands get started by maximizing their exposure to potential new fans. Get started with this fundraising idea by putting up a few flyers and making an announcement in your school or office to get the word out. Once you have some contestants selected, pick a date, contact a venue with a stage, and start selling tickets.
Comedy Show – Amateur comedy can be a delightfully unique experience. It can also bring the night to a slow crawl if you put the wrong person on stage. Make sure you screen performers so you know your future audience will have a good time. Sometimes people enjoy watching their friends perform, but you may want to contact local comedy troupes to perform instead. Sell tickets for $5-10 and start promoting the fundraiser.
Coffee House – What do hipsters, slam poetry, and cappuccino machines all have in common? They all live inside the quintessential coffee house. Have a poetry night or acoustic open mic night where you can sell coffee drinks to raise money for your cause.