7 creative charity event ideas and real-world examples

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Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

7 creative charity event ideas and real-world examples

Whether you’re fundraising for your nonprofit organization or raising funds for your favorite charity, you’ll always need fresh and creative ways to get people giving. Hosting an event is one of the fastest and most fun methods of driving donations. Events have great turnout rates and bring your supporters together under one physical (or virtual) roof.  

There’s also the fact that fundraising events are endlessly customizable — you never have to do the same event twice. A different theme, new location, and different speakers or entertainers can all transform your event. Get inspired with the seven unique charity events below.

1. Amateurs vs. pros cook-off 

Swedish Chef Cooking GIF

Chili cook-offs and BBQ competitions are common charity fundraisers, but you can spice things up. Set up a showdown between home cooks and professional chefs that your supporters won’t want to miss. Amateur vs. pro cooking challenges rack up millions of views on YouTube, and your charity’s version can attract a wide audience of family, friends, and fans.

To host your cook-off, choose a food category (chicken wings, pie, breakfast food) and then reach out to local home cooks and career chefs and ask them to compete. You can host an in-person event in a large space like a parking lot or community center. For a virtual alternative, live stream your showdown and have judges make their top picks. Sell tickets to the big fundraising event and have attendees donate to vote for their favorites. Who will walk away with the cook-off crown 👑? 

2. Fabulous fashion show 

Fashion Show GIF

Lights, camera, fashion! You don’t need friends at Versace to host a successful fashion show fundraiser. There are tons of ways to organize your event. One option is to source “models” from the community. Come up with a theme — like “‘90s grunge” or “chic but casual” — and challenge fashion enthusiasts to create and model their best outfits. Charge a show entry fee and let your guests vote for their favorite looks by contributing to your donation page

Another option is to partner with local businesses or schools, like a clothing store or fashion design school, and ask them to donate unique pieces to your show. 

Put your cause at the center by having your charity beneficiaries walk the runway. 

For instance, Project FTK, a pediatric cancer nonprofit, hosted a Dreaming of a Cure fashion show where the performers, speakers, and models were all cancer patients or survivors. Don’t forget an energetic emcee! 

3. Polar bear plunge

Frozen Let It Go GIF

Get chilly for a good cause. A polar bear plunge is simple, memorable, and a little challenging — three ingredients for the perfect charity event. Your participants will dive into a cold body of water, like a local lake or pond, and exit the water to enjoy towels and hot drinks right after. 

A polar plunge makes for a great peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Have your supporters set up individual fundraising pages, or they can form teams and set a group fundraising page. They’ll pledge to plunge once they’ve raised a certain amount for your charity, like $100 per person or $1,000 overall. Alternatively, you can charge an event registration fee. Pro tip? Live stream the event so their supporters can see the big moment. 

If you don’t have a body of water around, you can opt for a good ol’ fashioned ice bucket challenge instead. 

4. One-day giving event 

Come Here GIF by Bounce

You know those “FLASH SALE” emails that show up in your inbox from time to time? Retailers know that these sudden deadlines act like ticking clocks that motivate people to buy quickly and tell their friends. 

Fundraising professionals can harness the power of a one-day flash campaign, too. 

This type of event works any time of year, but Giving Tuesday is far and away the most well-known fundraising day. (Read our complete guide to Giving Tuesday for six effective strategies to stand out.) Set a date for your one-day campaign and support it with activities throughout the day, like expert webinars, local celebrity appearances, social media challenges, games, and other live streamed events. 

5. Virtual movie night and trivia

Game Win GIF by VPRO

Tickets, please! The COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown brought drive-in movies and outdoor movie screenings back into the spotlight in a big way. In addition, virtual watch-alongs have shot up in popularity thanks to all the free live streaming tools available. Any of these events could be a money-maker for your charity.

Take this Halloween Trunk-or-Treat & Drive-in Movie Night held by Tiegerman, a nonprofit that serves students and individuals with developmental disabilities. The organization raised nearly $2,000 from their screening of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” We especially love their fundraising page, where they break down how each dollar makes a difference. For instance, a $30 donation covered the cost of disposable gowns and shoe coverings for one classroom.

Choose a family-friendly movie and keep pricing low to attract a wide audience. A trivia contest — complete with prizes — is another great addition to your movie night. 

6. Crawl for a cause

cheers salud GIF by SYFY

Pub crawls send participants on a trek across the city to visit different bars, try unique brews, explore the neighborhood, and meet new people. Many restaurants and bars are eager to join up with nonprofits to raise money this way. After all, they get a large group of patrons and you get a portion of the day’s sales. 

But maybe the majority of your donors aren’t of drinking age, or you want a more family-friendly event. Don’t worry! You can organize another kind of crawl that’s just as fun. Try a beauty crawl, in which your participants get pampered at the nail salon, hair salon, massage parlor, and more. There are also art crawls, taco crawls, cupcake crawls, and more!

Raise money by selling different ticket packages, like a VIP package that covers the full crawl plus a gift. Don’t forget to sell themed crawl T-shirts, like pink T-shirts for your breast cancer research charity. You’ll clean up in ticket and merchandise sales, and your participants walk away with wonderful memories.

7. Birthday wishes

Celebrating GIF

Charities face the constant challenge of coming up with event ideas and determining what truly works. Resources are limited — you can only test out so many bake sales, golf tournaments, galas, and more throughout the year. The good news is that there’s one charity event that you can host every single day without any work: a birthday fundraiser! 

Ask your supporters to pledge their birthday to your charity and encourage them to collect donations rather than birthday presents. 

Birthday fundraisers work really well because they draw on the concept of social proof. When people see others giving and talking passionately about a cause, they’ll feel inspired to donate too. 

For the most success, include a page on your website with directions and tips on hosting a birthday fundraiser. List suggested donation amounts and explain what each giving level does for your charity. It’s also common for people to ask for donations that match their age or birth date. For instance, a 36-year-old asks for $36 per person, or $18 if their birthday is January 18.

Choosing the right charity event 💛

You’ve now got seven fresh charity event ideas to raise funds with ease, but how do you pick the right one? Look for three qualities: Your event should attract and excite your target supporters, reflect your charity’s mission, and match up with your skills and resources (time, budget, number of volunteers, etc.). 

Remember, this list is a jumping off point — your next step is to take these ideas and examples and make them your own! Experiment with different themes, challenges, speakers, locations, and prizes. 

Looking for more inspiration? Check out these other amazing ideas for your next event:

Written By

Written by
Rachel Mills
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.