8 fundraising ideas for college groups (that aren’t a dance marathon)

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Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

8 fundraising ideas for college groups (that aren’t a dance marathon)

Between your fellow students, friends and family, faculty, community members, and alumni, there’s a huge network of donors for your student group to leverage. But in order to translate that potential into real funds, you need a great fundraising campaign.

The campaign needs to engage busy, cash-strapped students, and fit into your group’s budget. And you need fresh ideas that stand out to audiences who already receive a tidal wave of solicitations, like school alumni.

Not to worry. We have eight fundraising ideas for college groups that will excite and motivate your community members.

8 fantastic fundraising ideas for college groups

Explore these college fundraising ideas your fraternity, sorority, sports team, or student group can use to drive donations and make a difference. We’ll mostly cover on-campus possibilities, but you can adapt these ideas to any audience or location. 

1. Bottomless brunch

Current college students are from Generation Z (they’re born after 1996), and this generation loves brunch. But the appeal doesn’t end with this generation. According to Upserve, 71% of Americans wish restaurants served breakfast all day long. Make food dreams come true with this first college fundraiser idea.

Serve up an all-day breakfast buffet on campus and sell tickets online and at the door to raise money. 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.

If you’re fundraising for a specific country, culture, or demographic, you can represent your cause “tastefully” by serving the regional cuisine. For example, add chilaquiles to the menu to fund earthquake relief in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Spice things up for the 21+ crowd by also offering mimosas, bloody marys, or other alcoholic beverages. Be sure to create and maintain an ID-checking system. 

Bacon, eggs, and kegs, anyone? 

Brunch GIF

2. 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 follow this formula to see success. You can capture that philanthropic energy with your own pulse-raising 24-hour event. 

Host your own marathon event with memorable milestones and fun prizes along the way. One engaging and adaptable idea is a 24-hour scavenger hunt. 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. You can also charge a small fee per person and assign them to teams or let them choose.

Guide participants to historical locations, Instagram-worthy spots, and nearby adventures. Challenge them to take pictures, find a specific person or object, or get a community member to do something for them. 

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 upperclassmen to lesser-known sites and cool venues outside of the campus bubble.

3. Street food

If you’re trying to attract people to a good cause, food never fails. Street food is an even better bet for Generation Z. According to a recent report, 42% of these students want their college or university to offer street food options

Meet your fundraising efforts by setting up shop across campus and selling 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:

  • Tacos
  • Mini burritos
  • Pork buns
  • Egg rolls
  • Corn dogs 
  • Kabobs

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. And 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.

4. Fashion show 

Green is the new black. 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 like an auditorium, theater room, or chapel. Set the tone, whether it’s casual or haute couture, and 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 to bring in extra money. For example, charge $15 for general admission and show participants and $30 for front-row seats beside the catwalk or stage. You can even see if a local clothing store would donate clothes for an auction at the end of the night. Bring in judges and hand out gift cards for the best look of the night.

Confident Episode 1 GIF by RuPaul's Drag Race

5. Oozeball tournament

Oozeball is your average volleyball team tournament with one exception — it’s played in the mud. This down-and-dirty college fundraiser is tons of fun for students, but it can also be adapted for a community-wide, all-ages sporting event. 

Reach out to your school’s volleyball leadership team (and school administration) and ask if you can turn the sand volleyball court into a temporary mud pit. You can also set up in an off-campus field or park as long as you have permission. 

Have people sign up in teams and/or age divisions and charge an entry fee. Oozeball is typically a “sudden death” tournament, so when a team loses, they’re out of the whole competition. Depending on how many teams you have, you can keep it simple or take it to March Madness bracket levels. 

Another idea? Leading up to this messy gameday, sell T-shirts online and in-person. Check out the University of Connecticut’s Oozeball tournament for inspiration. 

6. Nostalgia night 

Everyone 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.

Since we’re talking about fundraising ideas for college students, a late ‘90s to early ‘00s party is a no-brainer. Recreate this gloriously wacky time with turn-of-the-century standards. Break out the Britney Spears CDs, whip up a batch of Kool-Aid, and set up a TV screening area to play old music videos and cartoon classics like “PowerPuff Girls” and “Hey Arnold!”

You can charge a small entry fee for this era-explosion, but there are other crowd-friendly ways to raise funds. Sell themed merchandise like slap bracelets and fanny packs with your mission on it. Rent a photo booth and have attendees pay for their snapshots by making a donation. Don’t forget ‘90s snacks and drinks. 

Have text-to-donate payments ready to go so everyone can focus on having fun (and not waiting in the concession line). 

Animated Mobile Phone GIF

7. Gala 

Whisk your donors away for a night of food and entertainment. At first glance, a gala may seem like an expensive way to raise funds, but there are simple methods of cutting costs. 

If you want to hold the event off-campus, reach out to local businesses, restaurants, and other spaces to see if they’ll host your event for free. (If possible, use them as an event vendor to sweeten the deal.) 

It’s common to offer a variety of activities across the venue, like silent auctions, raffles, karaoke, trivia, and more. You’ll also draw a larger crowd by booking a local musician, student band, or another musical group for the night. If you’re close to a major holiday like Valentine's Day, you can incorporate it into your decorations and games. 

Of course, you’ll charge admission, but you can also include an add-a-donation button to your ticket checkout. That way, if anyone can’t attend the event, they can still contribute. This Red and Black Ball is a great example of a gala done right.

8. Naming rights

Our final fundraising idea for college groups is a donate-to-dedicate campaign. Although naming rights are normally reserved for large capital campaigns, some universities and colleges let you apply year-round. 

Students may be used to seeing names like the “John R. Elliott Science Building” on campus. But this fundraiser gives your target audience a chance to leave their own legacy.

Naming rights extend to a wide variety of locations and objects — many colleges let you dedicate a bench, tree, garden, sculpture, room, archway, sidewalk section, brick (to be used in a building), and more.

There are many ways you can implement this idea:

  • Create an approved list of names and have people donate to cast their votes.
  • The school, department, or committee with the most donations wins the right to pick the name. 
  • The community member who raises the most money gets to choose the name. 

Either way, have participants set up individual or team donation pages and let the fun begin.

You Name It Shirley Caesar GIF by Identity

Graduate to better fundraising

Leave the bake sale, car wash, and walk-a-thon back in Fundraising 101. You now have eight new ways to fund your community service projects, group trips, equipment purchases, and much more.

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.