15 Unique Fundraising Ideas We’re Sure You Haven’t Tried Yet

September 6, 2019 - 28 minutes read

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! And that resulted in Age UK raising a whopping 2.5 million Euros for their cause.

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

In 2003 Age UK and Innocent Smoothies came up with 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 25cents to Age UK. It is a simple enough idea that generates quite a bit of revenue for AgeUK, right during the winter season.

If you are looking for such unique fundraising ideas for the upcoming 2019 holiday season, you are at the right place.

For those of you in a hurry, here is a quick snapshot of the topics that I will be talking about in this post:

You are welcome to pick an idea from this list and run with it. However, if you truly want to make it a successful event, I suggest you read on a little more.

What makes a successful holiday fundraiser?

The holiday season is the best time of the year to raise funds. Nearly ⅓ of all annual giving happens at this time. Your prospects are in a pleasantly benevolent mood, and hey, there is good cheer and happiness in the air.

So you would think that all nonprofits would be making 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.

That is, 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.

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 then be focussed on solving the above two issues.

A successful fundraiser is an event that is focussed 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?

But the amount of money raised is a consequence of how well you build a relationship with your prospects. It also depends on 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 of it raising enough money.

Unique fundraising ideas for holiday season

Now, if you are planning to use any of the 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.

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 already known or are recommended by friends or family.

year-end-fundraising-stats

To ensure that you are on top of their mind or be the organization that gets recommended, community events are an excellent first step.

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 15K.) Once they cross the finish line, they can cool down with cider and get to 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 family. They are encouraged to also run with a pumpkin (as a tougher challenge.)

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

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

Read more: Call-to-action examples for nonprofits and why it works

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. The participants run in Santa Claus suits as a way of keeping up the cheer.

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

london-santa-run-womans-trust

Each participant signs up with a 25 Euro sign up fee. But each participant is also encouraged to sponsor a minimum of 100 euros for the cause.

If they choose to raise 100 Euros, then 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 are also expected to 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 not ready 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, they run in Santa-costumes (a nod to the festive season,) and the proceeds go towards your cause.

Dish Smash

As a low-cost fundraiser, a dish smash is a great option. All you have to do is encourage participants to come to smash dishes for a small fee.

The fee collected would, of course, 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’ would probably be very minimal (otherwise, your participants will not be too interested.) So, you have to 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 focussed 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, or give $20 to give it to a friend or ensure that it is taken away for good by giving $30.

So far (with 1notable 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 for you if your cause is focussed 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 encourage people to participate.

Please note – The potty used was completely sanitized. So if you are borrowing a leaf from this book, please ensure that 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 sport maybe 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.

The best part about this 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 in festive cheer in a hospital (or the kids’ ward.) Ask parents or relatives to pay a small fee so that the patients can hold and pet your dog. Otherwise, the hospital itself can sponsor the event.

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 reason for your event is creating awareness and building trust with your prospects. The funds raised would go towards your cause. But you can target these prospects at a later date, with a follow-up ask.

Envelope at a restaurant

An excellent way to tap into the holiday cheer is by leaving an envelope at every table in a popular restaurant.

Every patron who dines that evening has the option of giving to your organization. All they have to do is 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.

Ferret racing

Don’t worry. No ferrets would be harmed for this fundraiser.

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 set up. Ferrets are trained to race through drain pipes, one end of which is blocked. The other end has the trainer holding 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 in.

Whether this fundraiser would work for you totally depends upon 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. 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 reach out to your contacts through text messages. Include links to your fundraising event page where they can purchase tickets.

animal-yoga-fundraising
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.

Consider reading: How to boost post event engagement

Live Shadow

If you want your spectators to be enthralled, a live shadow act should do it. A live what, you ask?

A shadow act comprises of various dancers contorting their bodies into various 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 within your community and get them to stage a live shadow performance which will be the highlight of your fundraiser.

Get creative. Let this act tell your story by portraying the conflict your cause faces—this is likely to have an emotional impact on your spectators who’d 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! A non-event fundraiser is an event which raises money but doesn’t really exist. Or 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 get the feel of having 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 would be surprised by how much traction you’re able to generate!

Unique fundraising ideas with Extreme sports

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

Would I do it? 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, for each of these ideas suggested below, you have to take care of the safety of the participants. That means investing quite highly in safety equipment, getting professional help and, of course, provide initial training to your prospects. So your overhead costs could spike.

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

Charity Abseil

Participants descend the side of a steep slope, or a cliff using a rope that is fixed to the facade. They can control their descent at all times, using friction devices so that they do not get rope burns or descend 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 also arrange for 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, for bungee jumping, the venue is paramount. It has to be ‘safe’ and pre-approved for bungee jumping. Also, you need an excellent set of professionals helping 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, these ideas can also be used as separate fundraising ventures all around 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 know about your venture
  5. Finalize outreach channels (e.g. use call center tools or texting tools) to promote your event

If you need any pointers, don’t hesitate to drop me a message! I am just an email away: [email protected].

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

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