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15 Unique Fundraising Ideas For When The Usual Ones Fail

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Published: Apr 6, 2024

Unique fundraising ideas for your nonprofit are not hard to come by. They just need a little planning and brainstorming.

For example, would you buy a smoothie that comes with a cute cap like this?

cute-caps-unique-fundraising-ideas

In the past few years, 7.5 million people have! That resulted in Age UK raising a whopping 2.5 million Euros for its cause.

Let me tell you a little more about this fundraising venture.

In 2003, Age UK and Innocent Smoothies devised Big Knit, a unique fundraising idea that was a tremendous success.

They invited volunteers to knit hats for their smoothie bottles. These cute hats (handmade with love), would then be put on a few of their bottles at each supermarket.

Every time a customer buys a bottle with a knitted hat, Innocent Smoothies donates 25 cents to Age UK. This simple idea generates quite a bit of revenue for AgeUK during the winter season.

If you are looking for such unique fundraising ideas for the upcoming holiday season, you are at the right place. Read on.

What makes a successful holiday fundraiser?

The holiday season is the best time of the year to raise funds. Your prospects are in a pleasantly benevolent mood, and hey, there is good cheer and happiness in the air.

You would think that all nonprofits would make their biggest bucks during this time. Sadly, that’s not true.

More than 35% of nonprofits (maybe yours, too?) get only 10% of their annual benefits from year-end efforts.

Despite highly conducive circumstances for giving, organizations are not successful in winning donations.

One reason for this is of course, how and when the ask is made. If every year I only get asked for money during Christmas time, I would get annoyed too and wouldn’t contribute much.

Read Also: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Donor Engagement Cycle

Another equally important reason is that the nonprofits are not giving the prospects a compelling reason to choose their cause.

36% of donors do not give again because they have found another charity to give to.

So, the fundraising event you plan should focus on solving the above two issues.

A successful fundraiser is an event that is focused on:

  1. Cultivating a relationship with your prospects
  2. Showing your prospects why they should choose your cause

You will notice that I have not mentioned the amount of money raised. No, I haven’t forgotten it. Raising money is, of course, the ultimate aim of the event.

Related reading: 24 Tested Fundraising Strategies for Nonprofits – Which Ones Are You Using to Raise Money for Your Cause?

However, the amount of money raised depends on how well you build a relationship with your prospects and whether you have won their trust to invest in your cause. So, as long as your event checks the above boxes, you can be assured that it will raise enough money.

Unique fundraising ideas for the holiday season

Now, if you are planning to use any of the fundraising ideas from this list, I thought you should know a bit more about them.

I have categorized the above list into two sections:

  • Community-based unique fundraising ideas
  • Extreme sports fundraising events

The kind of planning and prospecting that goes into each of these categories is widely different. It should be taken into consideration when you plan your fundraiser and explore unique fundraising ideas.

Unique fundraising ideas for community events

A startling study reveals that about two-thirds of donors do not do much research before giving. They simply donate to organizations they are already familiar with or are recommended by friends or family.

year-end-fundraising-stats

Community events are an excellent first step to ensure that you are on their minds or that you are the organization that gets recommended.

Community fundraising events are perfect for building relationships with your prospects. They are fun to hold, bring a community closer, and raise awareness about your cause.

Here are a few unique fundraising ideas for the community that you can use for your cause. Feel free to add your twist to it and make it more relevant to your prospects and your organization.

Pumpkin Run

Marathons and runs are a great way to bring in participation from a larger community. That is because runners all over the world (if not the state,) would clamor to take part in your event.

The catch is, of course, to relate it to the holiday season. That way, The Great Pumpkin Run is an excellent example. It happens every September (right at the end of the Fall) to celebrate ‘the best season of all.’

pumpkin-run-unique-fundraising-ideas

The runners register for a quick run (5K, 10K, or 15 K). Once they cross the finish line, they can cool down with cider and take home a pumpkin!

Notice the kind of prospects it attracts. Since it is not a serious running event but is classified as a ‘fun’ run, the participants come with their kids and families. They are encouraged to run with a pumpkin (as a tougher challenge.)

In each of these elements, the organizers have carefully woven in their central theme – the fall season.

What is more interesting is that these runs serve as a great donor touchpoint. It is an ideal way to teach your prospects a little more about your cause and build a relationship.

You can send out a text SMS anywhere during the event (after they cross the finish line, for instance). This is an excellent moment for nudging them to support your cause.

Read more: Text Fundraising: How To Raise Money Over A Channel That Your Donors Prefer

Or, you could always get in touch with these participants later to see if they want to give a bit more to your organization.

Santa Run

Similar to a pumpkin run, a Santa Run is all about the season. Participants run in Santa Claus suits to keep up the cheer.

The London Santa Run, by the Woman’s Trust, is a great example.

london-santa-run-womans-trust

Each participant pays a 25-Euro sign-up fee, but they are also encouraged to sponsor a minimum of 100 euros for the cause.

If they choose to raise 100 Euros, they get their own Justgiving page, set up by Woman’s Trust to help them raise that money.

Agreed, this is a bit higher ask than the previous pumpkin run we spoke about. Here, the participants are expected to not just create awareness by running but also raise money from their network. 

So, if you do not already have a relationship with your donors or you have a great reputation, this may not always work for your nonprofit.

Let’s assume your prospects are unprepared to become individual fundraisers for your cause. The best way for you is to treat this run like any other costume run. Participants sign up to run, run in Santa costumes (a nod to the festive season,) and the proceeds go towards your cause.

Read Also: 4 Major Steps to Plan Your Next Fundraising Event

Dish Smash

A dish smash is a great low-cost fundraiser option. You can encourage participants to come smash dishes for a small fee.

Of course, the fee collected would go to your charity. The participants can have a great time, either venting some hidden aggression or simply smashing dishes, because it is for a good cause.

Remember that the fees you collect for each ‘smash’ will probably be minimal (otherwise, your participants will not be too interested). So, you must increase the number of participants to ensure that the sum you collect is quite high.

You can also approach community members to donate their crockery for the smash. This way, your overheads can be reduced a bit.

Typically, a dish smash is held as a part of a bigger event like, say, a carnival. However, if your cause is related to fighting hunger and poverty, it could work well as a stand-alone event.

Car Smash

As Frost would probably put it:

 ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a car,

 that wants it smashed.’

Very similar to Dish smash, a car smash is when participants pay to wreck a car. If your cause is focused on protecting the environment and reducing global warming, this would be a great idea.

Approach a local garage or pound to see if they can part with an old car that they are thinking of destroying. Instead of it being crushed by machinery, you could ask the local community to pay (a considerably higher sum) to have the pleasure of wrecking it with their own hands.

Potty Clean Up

Have you met Petunia the potty?

petunia-potty-cleanup-unique-fundraising-ideas

She has single-handedly brought in more than $350 for the American Cancer Society. Petunia was left on the lawns of people in the community, who then had to pay for its removal. They could give $10 to have it temporarily removed, give $20 to give it to a friend or ensure that it is taken away for good by offering $30.

So far (with 1 notable exception) everyone who has gotten the potty dropped on their lawn has been a good sport about it, and almost everyone has chosen to pass it on to a friend.

Sarah, Volunteer, Relay for Life

As you have probably figured, this is a great way to raise awareness within a community and identify interested prospects whom you can approach later for a bigger ask.

This could be an excellent idea if your cause is focused on providing clean sanitation for a community. You could also brainstorm a bit to see what else you can leave (instead of a potty) that not only relates to your cause but will also encourage people to participate.

Please note – The potty used was completely sanitized. So if you are borrowing a leaf from this book, please ensure it is unused and cleaned up well.

Dog kisses

If you are having such an event, please count me in. I would pay quite a lot to be able to hug, pet, and be kissed by a dog.

The event is extremely simple to organize. All you have to do is get a well-trained, gentle dog that participants can pet for a small fee.

dog-kissing-booth

The dog can wear a Santa hat or a jacket with your mission emblazoned in bold letters, so every person who pets him will know a bit more about your cause. Talk about unique fundraising ideas upping the cute quotient.

The best part is that you do not even have to set up a separate venue for this event. Are you targeting a company? Simply pick a day and walk your dog in so that the employees can pet him.

It could be an excellent way to bring festive cheer to a hospital (or the kids’ ward). Ask parents or relatives to pay a small fee so the patients can hold and pet your dog. Otherwise, the hospital itself can sponsor the event.

P.S: Ensure your doggo is well-fed, well-rested, has access to water, and is not stressed out in the situation.

Bra pong

This is yet another event that is popular for raising breast cancer awareness. It can also be used to raise awareness about women’s issues – like equal pay or just abortion rights.

bra-pong-unique-fundraising-ideas

Like the dog kissing event above, it is extremely simple to set up. It need not even have a separate venue – but be part of a bigger fundraiser or a corporate event.

Ensure that the fees you collect are small enough to encourage participation. The main purpose of your event is to create awareness and build trust with your prospects. The funds raised would go towards your cause. However, you can target these prospects at a later date with a follow-up ask.

Envelope at a restaurant

An excellent way to spread holiday cheer is to leave an envelope at every table in a popular restaurant.

Every patron who dines that evening has the option of giving to your organization. They just have to leave money inside the envelope, and you can collect it later.

This method of fundraising works because of the implicit ‘word of mouth’ factor. That is, the restaurant is actually endorsing your organization to each of its patrons. And after an evening of good food, the patrons would be willing to spread the cheer. Unique fundraising ideas that also end up being a yum experience – sign me up!

Ferret racing

Don’t worry. No ferrets would be harmed for this fundraiser. These are unique fundraising ideas, not unique ways to endanger yourself.

As the name suggests, your community can come to watch ferrets race, place bets on their favorites, and cheer them on.

This fundraiser, though, needs a bit more planning and setup. Ferrets are trained to race through drain pipes, one end of which is blocked. At the other end, the trainer holds up various treats to encourage the ferrets to run.

ferret-racing

So you will have to plan for a venue, ferret racers, and also the kind of fees you would be charging. If it is a big event, of course, food and refreshments have to feature.

Whether this unique fundraising idea would work for you depends totally on your organization and the prospects you are targeting.

Yoga with animals

If your nonprofit helps animals, this one is especially for you. Animal yoga is a fun and relaxing way of spreading awareness about your cause.

Whether it’s goat yogayoga in the presence of dogs, or with kittens, this form of fundraising guarantees your participants get to practice yoga while cuddling with friendly and cute animals – there is no dearth of unique fundraising ideas you can come up with, with furry beings. This ensures they leave your class feeling stress-free, calm, happy, and wanting more!

Get a yoga instructor and rent a warehouse, or simply use the local park. Promote your event on social media channels and text your contacts. Include links to your fundraising event page where they can purchase tickets.

animal-yoga-fundraising-unique-idea
Credits: Tailster

Yoga with animals is a great way of showering rescued animals with the love they deserve and can also help them get adopted by enthusiastic attendees. Give people the option of cuddling the animals for extra time if they donate more.

Note: When you’re hosting these classes, make sure to assign volunteers who will be corralling the animals and cleaning up after them, if necessary. Ensure the animals are well taken care of and not stressed under any situation.

Consider reading Donor Thank You Calls: Writing the Perfect Script (Script included!)

Live Shadow

If you want your spectators to be enthralled, a live shadow act should do the trick. A live what, you ask? Yes, again, these are unique fundraising ideas, as we promised.

A shadow act comprises various dancers contorting their bodies into different shapes and forms in order to tell a story—all of this happening behind a translucent curtain, giving the performance a mysterious feel.

Contact dancers and choreographers from your community and ask them to stage a live shadow performance, which will be the highlight of your fundraiser.

Get creative. Let this shadow act tell your story by portraying the conflict your cause faces. This will likely have an emotional impact on your spectators, who will then be keen on donating more. Make this shadow act the very highlight of your fundraising event.

No-event event

Sounds confusing, but it’s not! We’re just trying to up our unique fundraising ideas game. A non-event fundraiser is an event that raises money but doesn’t really exist. In other words, it exists only on paper but not in practice.

So here, you actively promote your event that isn’t taking place and sell tickets to it. And once the event has not taken place, you thank your attendees for not having attended.

no-event-fundraising-event
Credits: cause2give

While this sounds like a goofy concept, it works because instead of getting people to go through the hassle of getting ready, traveling to your fundraiser, spending a few hours there, and reaching home exhausted, they can conveniently use this time to relax at home with a book!

Donors feel as if they have attended a live event without having done so, and your nonprofit has just saved a huge amount of time and money by not hosting the event.

So go ahead and host one; you will be surprised by how much traction you can generate with these unique fundraising ideas!

Unique fundraising ideas with extreme sports

Would you jump off a building to support your cause? Probably yes.

Would I do it? It’s highly unlikely—not because I don’t support your cause, but because it is a big ask, and I am not ‘there’ yet.

That is precisely the catch when it comes to using extreme sports as fundraisers – getting participants is tough. Though they are exciting and unique, they can only work if you already have a relationship with your prospect.

Also, remember that for each of these fundraising ideas suggested below, you have to ensure the safety of the participants. That means investing quite heavily in safety equipment, getting professional help, and, of course, providing initial training to your prospects. So, your overhead costs could spike.

The participation fee/sponsorship should be structured to account for all the above costs so that you still raise a sizeable sum for your cause.

Charity Abseil

Participants descend the side of a steep slope or a cliff using a rope fixed to the facade. They can control their descent at all times, using friction devices to prevent rope burns or to prevent them from descending too quickly.

To make money from this event, ask participants to be sponsored by their family or friends (or even their own company.) The more unlikely the participant, the more interest this event would generate.

Remember to use social media to promote your event. Also, to gain more attention, see if you can use a local landmark as the facade for your event.

If the venue is a popular destination, you can arrange refreshments and entry tickets to make the most of this event.

Bungee jumping for charity

This is another event in the extreme sports series where participants agree to do a bungee jump. Since this does not need much training and is already a popular sport, it could be easier to organize.

Participants can be sponsored to attend. You could also hype it up a bit more by taking bets from the crowd.

However, the venue is paramount for bungee jumping. It has to be ‘safe’ and pre-approved. Also, you need an excellent team of professionals to help you with it.

Charity firewalk

Next time a prospect tells you, “I would do anything to raise funds,” ask them if they would be willing to walk on fire.

Well, no kidding.

Firewalking is a rather new and interesting form of nonprofit fundraising – perfect for those who are scared of heights. Though it sounds scary, it is extremely safe. When done right, the participants won’t even get a blister.

This is an outdoor event, with the venue being a turf or a big square. A rectangular patch of the turf is dug out to make space for burning coal. 

When the embers are exactly at the right temperature, your participants can rush across, with the crowd cheering them on.

charity-firewalk

As with the above sports, encourage the participants to get sponsored to participate. You can also give certificates to those who complete the firewalk. This would give them a tangible reminder of their accomplishment.

Next steps

Please note that these unique fundraising ideas can be used as separate fundraising ventures throughout the year. What makes them exclusive for the holiday season is your special touch. So, use these as inspiration for your big event.

Once you decide on an event, it is time to start planning. It is never too early for that! 53.8 % of nonprofits start planning their events way ahead in October. For Big Knit, here is what a rough fundraising plan looked like:

fundraising-plan-sample

This is just an outline of how the fundraiser would work. Once you get this in place, here are a few more items that you should check off your list:

  1. Set up metrics to track the performance
  2. Identify stakeholders and encourage them to participate
  3. Run it by your committee to see if it is feasible for your organization
  4. Get enough eyeballs on it so that your audience knows about your venture
  5. Finalize outreach channels (e.g., use call center tools or texting tools) to promote your event

All the best! I am rooting for you to nail this event!

What’s next?

Unique fundraising ideas are a great source of fun and revenue for any nonprofit organization. Unique fundraising ideas give you an edge over other nonprofits, competing for the attention of a small pool of donors. However, moving beyond the ideation stage and into the execution stage is no easy task. But worry not, CallHub has several resources to help you out. You can begin by reading our article Nonprofit Event Management: Vital Tips & Tools For Your Events.

Featured Image Source: RODNAE Productions

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