Does it really take money to make money? Between galas, golf tournaments, luxury trip auctions, and other top-dollar fundraising campaigns, you might think the answer is “yes.” But the fact is you don’t need deep pockets or a large budget to raise money for a good cause. Make a difference with these 17 inexpensive or free fundraising ideas.
1. Date and amount fundraiser
Simplicity will always be in style. All you need to do for this free fundraiser is pick a date and ask people to donate a certain amount on that day. It’s even better if you choose a month or day that’s relevant to your cause.
For example, request $15 contributions in September in support of World Alzheimer’s Month. Let’s say you’re fundraising for a personal reason, like a loved one who needs help paying for medical school. Use the date they found out their application was approved, like March 23, and hold a fundraiser on the 23rd all summer long.
2. Local restaurant partnership
Here’s a scrumptious way to meet your fundraising goal. Partner with a local restaurant and they’ll donate a percentage of each meal to your fund. You can either reach out to your favorite eateries and see if they’ll participate. In this scenario, restaurants will usually give your group 10-20% of every sale.
Send out evites for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and then dig in. You may even be able to negotiate a discounted meal package and sell flat-rate tickets ahead of time if you can guarantee a steady number of guests.
3. Give it up
With this free fundraising idea, it’s okay to be a “quitter.” A Give It Up campaign doesn’t cost any money and it’s accessible to everyone. Each participant has to give up one treat for a certain amount of time and donate that money to your cause instead. Think of nonessential (but beloved) purchases, like matcha lattes, fantasy football league entry fees, Chinese takeout, or Uber rides.
It’s a true win-win. Participants get to decide how much they’ll donate while working toward a personal goal, and your team gets tons of donations. Promote your challenge far and wide via email, social media, text, and more. Make sure your donation page can handle multiple payment types (credit card, Venmo, offline donations, etc.) so people can join in easily.
4. Yard sale
As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. So, a free and simple way to raise funds is to host a yard sale. Sell off your own household clutter or ask community members to drop off furniture, clothes, books, and knick-knacks they don’t need at a location you’ve reserved. Try a parking lot, school, or community center.
Yard-sale prices are already attractive, but you can up the ante by handing out raffle tickets for a special, high-value item. See if anyone owns vintage clothing or signed merchandise. Above all, think about items that would excite your target audience. Throw in a bake sale (and a digital donation jar), and people won’t be able to stay away.
5. Community potluck
Gather around the community dinner table for another free fundraising idea. Ask attendees to bring one favorite, shareable dish to your potluck. Charge an entrance fee and set up an optional add-a-donation button for anyone who can’t attend or wants to contribute more. Make sure there are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options so no one’s left hungry.
Spice things up with a theme or bonus activity. For example, make it a posh tea time with sandwiches and scones, add live poetry and music, or host a cocktail class before lunch. Not only do supporters get to participate in a good cause, but they also get to make some new friends. Compile the dishes and good times into a mini cookbook to sell later.
6. Dollars for dares
Do you dare? Put your fundraiser on the fast track by doing wacky antics for donations. Create a fundraising page and ask friends, family members, and others to come up with their silly-but-safe ideas. You can also toss in a few of your own ideas. Then, everyone votes on the top entries. Once the lineup is finalized, set up custom donation amounts for each one. For example:
- $20 for a pie to the face
- $75 to go out dressed like Barbie
- $125 to eat a ghost pepper
As you snap pictures and take video, upload it to your page and watch the likes, comments, and funds roll in.
7. Email campaign
Asking for support is always free — you just need a well-crafted message and a compelling goal. You can choose from a variety of email campaigns that suit your cause. Tell the story of the person you’re helping, emphasize the facts and statistics your group is up against, or keep your request simple and to the point.
Read our article on how to write a fundraising letter before you get started.
8. Livestreamed talent show
One way to raise money without spending a dime is to host a livestreamed talent show. Hand the mic to amateur singers, poets, dancers, magicians, comedians, and other uniquely talented individuals. In the spirit of America’s Got Talent, anything goes as long as contestants can perform their act in front of the camera.
Charge admission for performers and audience members. With Givebutter, you can set up different ticket prices for each group, and even give performers a unique promo code for their friends and family members. See if any local artists will serve as judges — or even kick off the contest themselves. The ticket sales will help you offer a small prize for the winner, like an artsy workshop or gift card.
9. Shoe drive
A shoe drive gives gently worn shoes a new home. It also takes a minimal amount of labor and effort to set up thanks to the many shoe collection services. Organizations like Funds2Orgs take your donated shoes and pay you within 48 hours of pick-up. Even better, they provide a fundraising coach and lots of helpful resources to guide you through the process. Simply collect unwanted shoes from your community members and hit your goal.
10. Envelope fundraiser
An envelope fundraiser lets you raise a lot of money for the cost of some envelopes and thumb tacks. It’s perfect if you’re fundraising in a high-traffic location, like an office or school, or you’re holding a large event.
Take a certain number of envelopes — 100 is common — and number each one. Pin them up on a bulletin board. Now, you ask participants to choose an envelope and put the corresponding dollar amount inside ($10 in #10, $40 in #40, and so on).
This is a popular fundraiser because donors choose the amount they’re comfortable with while remaining anonymous. For this to work, you’ll need to do a good job of explaining why your cause matters. Read 6 steps to getting a “yes” to your donation request for tips.
11. Gift wrapping service
Roughly 30% of annual giving occurs in December, the heart of the holiday season.
Raise money and spread a little cheer with a gift wrapping fundraiser, where participants bring their presents and you wrap them beautifully for a small fee. Assemble a small team of volunteers and set up in a central location, like a local community center or church.
Keep costs low by asking volunteers to bring their own wrapping paper, but have a stash on hand in addition to your scissors, tape, bows, and other gift wrapping accessories. We suggest charging a flat fee per box, like $1 for a small box, $2 for medium, and $3 for large. You can also try out bundles, like $7 for five gifts. You can even sell goodies like candy canes and chocolates as stocking stuffers.
12. Game night
The average person supports more than four charities, so you’ve got to stand out. A game night is one of the best free fundraising ideas to do just that. You provide the location and participants provide their favorite board games or video games. Organize the fun into a tournament or keep things relaxed with a free-play night.
Another exciting idea? Follow up the tournament with a gaming-themed movie night. Entertain your attendees with so-bad-they’re-good flicks like Super Mario Bros. and classics like Tron.
13. Penny drive
The penny drive is an oldie but a goodie for school fundraising and youth projects. You add donation jars in each classroom and ask children, parents, teachers, and staff to drop in their spare change over the course of a few months.
You can also ask local businesses, supermarkets, churches, and recreational centers to add your jar to their sales counter. This fundraiser may not earn a lot on its own — you’re collecting pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, after all. But if you create a digital donation jar, you can run an online fundraising campaign to support the drive. Parents will love being to quickly donate from their smartphone and share the link with relatives, friends, and co-workers.
14. Photo contest
Today, the average person could have anywhere from 600 or 6,000 pictures on their smartphone alone. Odds are there are some hilarious, heartwarming, and beautiful pictures that would be perfect for a photo contest fundraiser.
For this creative fundraising idea, you’ll host a photo competition on your social media pages. Set a theme, like:
- Cutest baby pictures
- Craziest pet moments
- My city, my neighborhood
- Best Halloween costumes
You charge a contest entry fee for each contender or keep submissions free and have people vote on their favorites by making a donation.
15. Scavenger hunt
A scavenger hunt has your supporters raising money while raising their pulse. It’s fun to plan and fun to execute. Choose local landmarks and natural features or hide your own interesting items for eager teams to find. An online fundraising page makes it easy to post new clues — and call out changes on the leadership board.
To earn money, sell tickets to each team or have them raise a certain amount of funds to participate. For an additional donation, you could provide hints or unlock special clues. (Before the big day, make sure to run the course yourself and see how long it takes to complete.)
A unique theme will draw more participants, so dedicate a fair amount of time to picking one. For example, take teams through a culinary history of their city. They’ll take pictures of legendary restaurants, visit community gardens, and grab a bite at famous street-food carts.
A walk-a-thon is a quick and easy fundraising idea if you’re trying to keep costs low. They unite the community, encourage people to get active, and can easily be connected to your cause.
Simply pull up Google Maps and plan a route for your attendees. Keep in mind factors like the number of participants, ages, time of day, and more. For instance, if you have 400 people signed up, you might want to avoid a route that uses a lot of narrow sidewalks.
Along with ticket sales, you can encourage participants to get per-mile pledges as a form of peer-to-peer fundraising. Raise more funds by selling walk-a-thon kits with items like water bottles, T-shirts, and sunglasses. You can jazz things up by building a small obstacle course at the end of the route, or make it a color run. Finally, tie it all together with a fitting name (Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a great example).
Don’t forget to have a back-up plan in case of bad weather, like reserved space at a nearby gym or a home workout alternative.
17. Trivia night
Host a trivia night fundraising event for hours of fun and friendly competition. Choose a category, like famous films, urban legends, all things ‘80s, or Texas trivia. Or, keep it a general grab-bag of familiar facts — you know your audience best. Make sure questions get harder as play progresses to reward your avid contenders.
Charge a team or individual fee to play. You’ll attract more players and raise more funds if there’s a little something extra. Add in karaoke, a silent auction, arcade games, costumes, and more for a truly memorable night.
You can set this up at home, or reserve tables at a local food or drink spot. Bonus points: Combine it with idea #2, the local restaurant partnership, and earn up to 20% back from every meal. Grab a charismatic MC for the night and you’re ready to go.
Free fundraising platform + free fundraising idea = success
With some fundraising platforms, you could end up spending more to accept donations and manage your campaign than to host the actual event. Not with Givebutter — our platform and 70+ fundraising features are 100% free forever.
Plus, you’ll see 100% of every donation when you let your donors cover your payment processing costs. (These are mandatory fees set by card networks and banks if you accept credit cards, bank transfers, and more.) A whopping 95% of all Givebutter donors cover these campaign fees.
Learn more about free fundraising with Givebutter 💛
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.