Whether you're seeking donations for your club’s equipment, raising some extra cash for your study abroad trip, or launching a campaign on behalf of a local nonprofit, college fundraising requires engaging busy, cash-strapped students while keeping planning costs to a minimum. Plus, you need fresh ideas that stand out to audiences who already receive a tidal wave of solicitations, like school alumni.
These college fundraising ideas will help you tap into the generosity of your fellow students, faculty, alums, and the broader campus community.
1. Nostalgia night 📟
Everybody loves a well-executed throwback event. Thanks to the wealth of pop culture online—from popular songs, movies, and products to trendy clothes, food, and slang—it’s fairly easy to pay homage to any era. Simply pick a time period, set the scene, and start raising funds.
You can charge an entry fee for this era-explosion, but there are other creative, crowd-friendly ways to raise funds. For a throwback to the '90s party, you could sell themed merch like slap bracelets and fanny packs with your group’s logo ironed onto them. Rent a photo booth and ask for a donation for each print. Don’t forget the ‘90s-themed snacks and refreshments!
2. Oozeball tourney 🏐
Oozeball is your average volleyball team tournament with one exception: It’s played in the mud. Reach out to your school’s volleyball team and administration to ask if you can turn the sand volleyball court into a temporary mud pit. Or, set one up (with permission) in an off-campus field or park.
Require participants to sign up as fundraising teams and charge an entry fee. Keep the competition simple with “sudden death” scoring, or take it up a notch with March Madness-like brackets. Leading up to game day, sell commemorative t-shirts online and in-person.
👀 Real-life example: Check out UConn’s Oozeball tournament for some messy inspiration.
3. Bacon, eggs, and kegs 🍳
According to Upserve, 71% of Americans wish restaurants served breakfast all day long. Serve up an all-day brekkie buffet on campus and sell tickets online and at the door. You can work with your campus food service or get it catered by a local restaurant. Make this fundraising event exclusive to the college community, or open it up to the greater area.
Spice things up for the 21+ crowd by offering bottomless brunch-style bloody marys, mimosas, or other alcoholic beverages. Be sure to create and maintain an ID-checking system, and look into your state's laws and regulations before selling alcohol.
4. Networking event 👥
Host a fresh, fun, and laid-back networking event or job fair that your fellow students won’t want to miss. Charge a small entry fee and get creative: Invite food trucks, wineries, breweries, and performers, and include hands-on activities.
Challenge attendees to make at least two new friends, and then have them team up for a round of trivia. Businesses will be happy to participate if you can guarantee a healthy turnout and promotional opportunities. 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. Have text-to-donate payments ready to go so everyone can focus on having fun and connecting—and not waiting in line.
5. The 24-hour challenge 🕵️
A 24-hour dance marathon is a tried-and-true tool to meet large-scale fundraising goals, but you don’t need to stick to the same old formula to see success. One engaging and adaptable idea is a 24-hour scavenger hunt. This fundraiser is a great way to introduce new students to the campus and show off the surrounding city. You can also structure it to introduce upper-level students to lesser-known sites and cool venues outside of the campus bubble.
Create witty questions and creative challenges to bring out the best in your campus or college town. Participants can register as teams and pay a group rate, and you can guide them through historical locations, Instagram-worthy spots, and nearby adventures. Challenge them to find a specific person or object or complete a set of dares. They must present photographic evidence, of course!
👀 Real-life example: See how #IthaQuest raised funds for a school trip by hosting a 24-hour scavenger hunt through the Ithaca community.
6. Beyond the bake sale 🧁
A bake sale is one of the most common college fundraising ideas—and for good reason. It’s low-cost, students and professors alike love the convenience, and you can easily expand the sale past your campus borders. Bring in even more dough by lining up your bake sale with a major holiday or event, like Valentine’s Day, Halloween, or an on-campus movie night.
You can also meet your fundraising efforts by setting up shop across campus and selling other tasty grab-and-go snacks. Some colleges charge a fee to let students create their own food and sell it on campus. If this is the case, cut costs by using the school's food provider. Here are some no-mess ideas to go beyond your typical bake sale:
- Mini burritos
- Pork buns
- Egg rolls
- Corn dogs
Charge people for a single treat, or offer reduced-price deals (think $3 for one taco, $5 for two). Pick spots that get lots of foot traffic and can be seen from multiple directions. Why not extend the no-fuss concept to payments? Let students pay with Venmo and drop tips into your digital donations jar. No cash necessary.
👀 Real-life example: Check out the Citywide Sugar High Online Bake Sale, which raised more than $16,000 by delivering delicacies all over Austin, Texas. All you need are drivers, cars, and your sweet and savory cargo.
7. Raffle 🎟️
A raffle might sound like your grandma’s fundraiser at first, but you’d be surprised how many people will buy a ticket for a chance at winning prizes. A raffle can be the entire campaign or an easy addition to a larger fundraising event, like a gala or silent auction.
The key is to have great raffle ticket 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.
8. Restaurant takeover 🍽
Instead of convincing potential donors to sign up for an event or buy an item, ask them to purchase something they already planned on getting: lunch. Many restaurants already have fundraising programs during which your supporters mention your cause or show a flier at checkout, and you receive a portion of those sales.
Potbelly, for example, will donate 25% of the proceeds from your supporters, and Chipotle offers a whopping 33% right back to your cause. If the restaurant doesn’t have a fundraising program already, no worries! That gives you more wiggle room to come up with an agreement or work with a local restaurant to start their own program. 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.
👀 Real-life example: The Driver Foundation surpassed its $5K goal through a Take-Out To Help Out fundraiser.
9. Liven up your walkathon 👟
If you're looking for a fundraising idea that creates awareness, brings your community together, and is always a reliable money-maker, a walkathon is a great 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.
Introduce peer-to-peer fundraising, so your geared-up supporters can take their participation even further by helping raise money for your cause. Basically, each supporter gets their own donation page. Leading up to the big day, they’ll ask people in their social network for a certain dollar amount for each mile or lap they walk, for example, $20 per mile. You can even set a target for all your walkers, like $50 to $100.
👀 Real-life example: Take inspiration from this 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 to bring in more donations.
10. Fashion show! Fashion show! 👗
Raise money for your initiative, community project, or other good cause with a fierce and fabulous fashion show. This is a fundraising idea for college that gets the whole campus buzzing.
Reserve an atmospheric location on campus or in the community, like an auditorium, theater room, or chapel. Add an intriguing theme for the show, like “22nd-century looks” or “patterns on patterns.” Line up a diverse group of participants ready to show off their sartorial style. Try tiered entrance fees, like charging $15 for general admission and $30 for front-row seats. See if local clothing stores or student designers would donate clothes for an online auction after the event is over. Bring in judges and hand out gift cards for the best look of the night.
11. Naming rights 🌳
Although you may be used to seeing names like the “John R. Elliott Science Building” around campus, naming rights can extend to various locations and objects. Many colleges allow you to dedicate a bench, tree, garden, sculpture, room, archway, sidewalk section, brick, and more. This fundraiser gives your target audience a chance to leave their own lasting legacy. There are several ways to implement this idea:
- Create an approved list of names and have people donate to cast their votes.
- Give the school, department, or team with the most donations wins the right to pick the name.
- The community member who raises the most money gets to choose the name.
However you do it, encourage participants to set up donation pages and let the fun begin. Fundraise smarter, not harder!
Graduate to better fundraising
Leave the car wash and dance marathon back in Fundraising 101. You’ve got 11 fresh ways to fund your community service projects, group trips, equipment purchases, and any other shenanigans you kids are into these days.
Whatever college fundraiser you run with, Givebutter is here to help you create your campaign, collect donations, and keep your supporters engaged in your mission—all for free.
Sign up for your free account and get fundraising today. 💪
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.