With so many non-profits competing for a finite amount of resources, a unique fundraising event is a great way to increase the public profile of your organization. An exciting activity that people in your community can rally around helps build outreach and public interest in your organization. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Hit the road
A good fundraiser will have a high degree of visible impact. A bike rally is great for this because even with a small turnout, your event will be noticeable to people on the streets. This kind of event allows a lot of flexibility in terms of who can participate and, unlike a fun run, there is more of an element of spectacle to the event. In 2010, the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation raised over $1 million with their annual bike rally – check out http://www.bikerally.org/for details.
If your organization works closely with youth and young people, a multimedia contest is a good way to tap into their creativity while providing a forum to recognize their talents. Contests are good for generating ongoing interest and return traffic to your website. Have participants create a timely message using video, music, photography or poster design – as an added benefit, the winning entries can be used as promotional or teaching tools for your organization. Citizens for Global Solutions have done this in years past; you can see some of the winning entries at http://multimedia.globalsolutions.org/
Often the most effective fundraising ideas will use their organization’s inherent novelty to engage the public. Think about what is unique about the people who benefit from your work. The well known ‘Movember’ campaign (http://www.movember.com/) is a great example of a event that both celebrates and raises awareness about the people behind a cause; since men are affected most directly by prostate cancer, a global coalition of moustache-wearing activists is a fun, ironic way to raise awareness. This kind of event can also help stigma-breaking and promote discussion about sensitive issues.
Local artists are always looking for venues to promote their work, and arts patrons tend to be supportive of progressive causes: why not bring the two together? Each year, Open Studio generates the majority of their fundraising through an event called 100 Prints. 100 artists donate a limited-edition print or artwork, and 100 tickets are sold. Throughout the night, tickets are drawn at random, and the holder whose number is called has one minute to select the print they want. Every ticket holder is guaranteed to leave with something, but the evening creates suspense as the number of remaining prints dwindles and donors try to snag their favorite pieces.
Do what you do best
Think about the people who work and volunteer for your organization. What is unique about them? What special talents do they have? The American charity 826 National runs drop-in tutoring centers in several American cities. The centers are staffed largely by volunteers, most of whom are creative young adults who enjoy working with children. One of 826’s regular fundraisers is their yearly Write-a-Thon. The event brings together students and volunteers for a day of manic writing, with participants raising money based on the number of pages they complete. Coffee, snacks and various other writing aids contribute to an atmosphere of inclusive creativity: kids get to feel grown up working alongside their tutors, and volunteers use their talents to raise money for a great cause.
These certainly aren’t the only ideas for generating funds and awareness about your organization. Many non-profits, particularly small or newer organizations, tend to focus on one-off events or “wacky” competitions (turkey bowling, anyone?). While there’s nothing wrong with a little levity, events which seem too gimmicky or childish may limit the effectiveness of your campaign. The examples above were chosen as they each illustrate a general principle for creative fundraising; the goal is not only to raise money but to engage people around the issues pertinent to your organization. Every organization is different in terms of who they serve and which groups of the general public they want to engage. A good fundraiser always begins with a clear picture of who your stakeholders are – once you’ve established that, a little creative thinking is all it takes to plan a successful event or campaign.