6 classic college fundraising ideas proven to work

Written by
Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

6 classic college fundraising ideas proven to work

Raising funds on behalf of an amazing nonprofit? Earning some extra money for your study abroad trip? Getting donations for your club’s equipment? 

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to reach your fundraising goal. Start with the basics! These six classic college fundraising ideas have stuck around for so long because they’re affordable and popular with everyone in the university universe — college students, staff, alumni, parents, locals, and more. Spread awareness and get donations on and off campus with the fundraising campaigns, events, and tips below. 

1. Restaurant takeover 

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Add some flavor to everyone’s day! A fundraising event at a local restaurant is the perfect way to get tons of people on board and raise more money overall. Instead of trying to convince potential donors to sign up for an event or purchase an item, you’ll ask them to buy something they already planned on getting — a tasty meal. 

Here’s how it works: You’ll reach out to independent eateries or local franchises. Many chains already have fundraising programs you can take advantage of. For example, Potbelly will donate 25% of sales from your group to your cause, and Chipotle offers 33% of the proceeds brought in by your supporters. They order and mention your cause, and you receive a donation.

If the restaurant doesn’t have a fundraising program already, no worries! That gives you more wiggle room to come up with an agreement. Then, promote your campaign dates and ask people to chow down for a good cause. Dine-in, delivery, or pick-up, this event is sure to satisfy. 

2. Networking event

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Professional meetups, career fairs, workshops. For many people, the mere mention of these words gives them sweaty palms, upset stomachs, and an excuse not to go. They dread making small talk with strangers or explaining why they should get the job ... while another applicant waits behind them. 

This is where you come in: You can host a fresh, fun, and laid-back networking event or job fair that your community members won’t want to miss. 

Charge a small entry fee and get creative — invite food trucks, wineries and breweries, and performers. Businesses will be happy to show up if you can guarantee a healthy turnout. Also, work in activities. 

You could challenge attendees to make at least two new friends, and then have them team up for rounds of trivia.

By relaxing the formalities and planning an event that people actually want to attend, you’ll sell tickets and meet your goal in no time. 

3. Bake sale 

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A bake sale is one of the most common college fundraising ideas for a reason. First, it’s low-cost — you can bake goods from scratch or off the brownie box, or request donations from home bakers and businesses. Second, students and professors alike love the grab-and-go convenience. And third, you can easily expand your sale past your campus borders and local community. 

For instance, this Citywide Sugar High Online Bake Sale raised over $16,000 delivering goodies all over Austin, Texas. All you need are drivers, cars, and your sweet and savory cargo. Charge people based on which baked good they order and cover costs with a reasonable delivery fee. 

Another pro tip? Line up your bake sale with a major holiday or event, like Valentine’s Day, Halloween, or an on-campus movie night. Fundraise smarter, not harder!

4. Corporate sponsorship

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If we’re talking about fundraising efforts, we’ve got to cover corporate sponsorships. Businesses sponsor organizations and individuals — like nonprofits, college clubs, and now social media influencers — providing resources in exchange for something. Those resources might include money, free products, or volunteers, and that “something” could be a better brand reputation, media attention, or new potential customers.

In the past, sponsorships were mostly reserved for sports teams, like a business donating equipment to a college volleyball team in exchange for their logo on their jerseys. 

Today, businesses aren’t as strict about who they’ll sponsor.

Want to be next? Check out our five-step guide to getting a corporate sponsorship to get started. 

5. Raffle

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A raffle might sound like your grandma’s fundraising campaign at first, but you’d be surprised at how many people will buy a ticket or make a donation for a chance at winning. The raffle can be the entire campaign, with your team members competing to sell raffle tickets and promote the grand prize. Or, it can be a quick and easy addition to your larger fundraising event, like a gala or silent auction.

The key is a great raffle ticket prize (or prizes), and one of the best ways to make that happen is to partner with local businesses. Whether the payoff is a $50 gift card or an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway, it’s hard to go wrong with a raffle. One important note: Many states have rules and restrictions on raffles. For example, Alabama, Hawaii, and Utah ban raffles altogether. Research raffle laws in your state and city before you launch one.

6. Walkathon

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Need a college fundraising idea that creates awareness, brings your community together, and is always a reliable money-maker? A walkathon is your best bet. All you need is a location, a safe route, and a group of willing walkers (or joggers, runners, and rollers). A track, field, or path on campus could work well as long as you get permission ahead of time. Charge admission. 

Even better, with peer-to-peer fundraising, your geared-up supporters can take their participation even further and actually raise money for you. Basically, each supporter gets their own donation page. Leading up to the big day, they’ll pledge to walk a certain distance and ask people in their social network for a certain dollar amount for each mile or lap they walk, like $20 per mile. You can set a target for all your walkers, like $50 to $100. 

Another pro tip? Take inspiration from this 2020 MHS Walk for Animals and offer lots of activities, contests, and raffles to keep the energy high! You can even design and sell walkathon T-shirts. 

Want more college fundraising ideas? 🔎

Check out the other ideas we’ve curated especially for college fundraisers: 

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.