3 Game Changing Event-Based Fundraising Ideas

Events Boring? Pivot!

The polar dip, an event by Camp Sunshine in Maine.
The polar dip, an event by Camp Sunshine in Maine. A new kind of "thon"?. Screenshot of newsletter by JFritz

Do your fundraising events stand out amongst a sea of galas and fun runs?

Are you getting the most you can out of them?

Nonprofits today face an interesting challenge when it comes to fundraising events. The time-tested, most popular events can feel a bit stale.

Although, we all know the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that doesn’t mean that tweaking and improving it should be taken off the table.

Fundraising standbys are fundraising standbys for a reason. They do their job, and they do it well. But the more nonprofits there are, the more events we see each year, and that means more of the same for your potential event attendees and donors.

Mix things up by hosting your regular events from a fresh angle. Your event planners and fundraisers will be happy about the change of pace, and your event attendees will be glad to see something new.

You won’t be completely altering things, just expanding on an already winning formula. Let your events evolve.

#1: Happy Hour Takeover

A happy hour takeover is a more community-centric alternative to a standard cocktail party.

This one will go over splendidly with your local 21 and over supporters. Partner with a neighborhood bar and host an event during one of their happy hours.

You can coordinate the fundraising component in one of two ways.

Option 1

Rent out the bar from 5 pm to 7 pm and host a private event for ticket holders.

Treat this as any other party or event. Invite your supporters and sell tickets. Promote across your communications, from email to direct mail to social media. Pack the place with fans of your mission.

Option 2

Arrange to share the happy hour profits for a night. During that happy hour, a portion of any money made from drink purchases will go towards your cause.

With option two, you’ll still need to actively promote the event, but you won’t have to worry about selling tickets.

Remember, though, that without private event ticket sales, you’ll have a harder time tracking attendance for later acknowledgment and follow up.

Coordinate a sign-in or even place blank personal contact cards on the tables beforehand. With that list, you’ll be able to screen those who attended to see if they’re strong prospects for future giving.

Happy hour for charity might seem like an odd deal for the bar to make, but the event itself should provide a big boost to attendance for the evening and likely draw in new clientele.

From your side of things, the promotional crossover gives your organization the opportunity to reach a new network of supporters, the walk-in bar patrons.

For either option, make sure the event and its purpose are front and center. Don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of a happy hour.

#2: Themed Costume Party

Think of this as your gala with a twist. You’ll still host it in a large space, possibly a ballroom or maybe even outdoors, and you’ll charge for tickets. There will be a dance floor and live music and mingling. Host an auction, too!

Who doesn’t love a costume party?

There isn’t the pressure of formal attire, but putting a costume together still makes the night feel like a true event.

You can base your theme on something related to your organization, the current season, or an upcoming holiday.

The possibilities are endless. You could try:

  • A perfect Halloween-style costume party in October
  • A decade dance (the 20s, 50s, 80s, etc.) — if you want to appeal to your millennial audience, in particular, host the decade dance on/near a college campus and make it 90s themed
  • A “Be My Valentine” party in February
  • A masquerade ball

Regardless of the theme, make sure there’s a costume contest. Have it judged by a panel of “experts” or determined by secret ballot.

Before the event, decide if you want all in attendance to be automatically entered to compete. Instead, if you’d rather make the competition more of a main event and secure some extra donations, have contestants pay a small fee to participate.

Then those who signed up get to strut their stuff on a costume catwalk and put their efforts on full display.

Outside of Best Costume, offer prizes for Best Couple Costume, Best Group Costume, Most Original, Most Authentic, and so on. It’s all in good fun and all for a good cause.

#3: A New Type of “a-Thons.”

From walk-a-thons to swim-a-thons, if you’re looking for a low-cost, effective fundraising event, an “a-thon” is just what you need.

It is easy to see why they’re so popular. They have a high return on investment and low cost per dollar raised.

Bust out of your walk-a-thon comfort zone and try a creative take on the fundraising standby.

Make your event a:

  • Bench-a-thon for your weight lifters
  • Bike-a-thon for your cyclists
  • Rock-a-thon for your rocking chair experts
  • Dance-a-thon for your literal movers and shakers
  • and so on

An “a-thon” change-up will reinvigorate this fundraising staple without losing what made it so great.

If you’re inspired by these takes on the classics, there’s whole world out there of unique, fun, and sometimes strange fundraising ideas.

Don’t let old habits box in your organization’s creativity when it comes to fundraising.

By taking your pre-existing events and pivoting, you’re forging a new path without losing the route you took to get there.