Good causes can turn you into an activist and fundraiser overnight. Perhaps a family member needs help funding a summer internship in another state. Maybe your favorite nonprofit organization has put out a call for donations, or your school’s student council wants to host an unforgettable seniors night.
Everyone can benefit from knowing how to raise money and awareness in a pinch. Use this simple step-by-step guide to plan your campaign. We’ll also go over nine time-tested fundraising ideas that anyone can do, from first-time campaigners to seasoned activists.
How to raise money for a good cause in a few steps
Pick an idea and make a budget
First, you need to decide how you’ll raise funds for your goal. Don’t put yourself in the pressure cooker of trying to choose the “perfect idea.” There are many different kinds of fundraisers, but they all accomplish the same thing: They get people engaged and invested!
One way to narrow down your options is to define your audience. Who are you going to appeal to? Students and teachers? Dog lovers? Local business owners? Seniors? If there’s something that unites your donors, go with it. For example, you can host a “throwback night” for a specific generation. Give your campaign the best chance of attracting attendees or donors.
Once you’ve got the idea, make it a reality. Create a list of your expected expenses for the event or campaign. That includes the cost of prizes, marketing, venue rental, and more. Always give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected costs. One best practice is to add 10-15% to your budget, just in case.
Craft your campaign goal and message
How much money do you want to raise? Is your goal to raise a big lump-sum quickly or do you want to encourage recurring gifts? No matter what, make sure your fundraising goal passes the SMART test. It should be:
Aiming for $400, $4,000 or $40,000 is fine as long as you’ve got the game plan to back it up. People are inundated with mail requests, email appeals, phone calls, and social media campaigns every day. Make sure your voice is heard by crafting a specific, compelling fundraising message. Which of the following would you donate to?
- Fundraiser A: Help us raise $10,000 to renovate the Ronnie’s Restaurant kitchen! We need all the support we can to buy some much-needed kitchen equipment. Please donate as soon as you can.
- Fundraiser B: Help us raise $10,000 to renovate the Ronnie’s Restaurant kitchen! We need a new fridge ($3,000), cooktop ($5,750), and counters ($1,250). We need all the support we can so we can get back to feeding you delicious meals! We are asking for donations through August 10 so we can retire our old equipment and install new fixtures by September.
The budget breakdown in this housing fundraiser is a powerful example. Supporters can see exactly what impact each dollar has and why it’s needed. Share a clear call-to-action to drive donations.
Choose an online fundraising platform
Sending out emails and posting on Facebook will get you part of the way to your goal. But an online fundraising platform has some worthwhile advantages. You can rally more support, provide flexible giving options, and easily interact with your donors.
Here are some factors that set Givebutter apart:
- 😍 Fully customizable fundraising pages
- 💸 Free to use and transparent pricing
- 🎫 Seamless events, tickets, and donations
- 👀 Trackable team progress and goals
- 💳 Plenty of payment methods: credit card, Venmo, and text-to-donate
- 🎨 Live supporter feed with GIFs, pictures, and videos
With Givebutter, you get the most of each donation instead of losing dollars to credit card processing fees. Unlike other platforms, Givebutter lets donors cover payment processing fees. If they donate $100, your cause gets $100 (and not $96.80).
Promote your campaign
If you’re trying to raise money outside your inner circle, you’ll need to amplify your message. Luckily, you have some digital tools at your disposal. Put together a straightforward strategy to spread awareness. You can use a combination of social media, email, phone calls, and text messages. Out of all the marketing channels, social media is your ally here. According to Nonprofits Source, 43% of people participate in charitable events in their community because they saw it promoted on social media.
If you want to take it to the next level, you can buy online advertisements. Anyone who’s familiar with social media can easily create an inexpensive, eye-catching Facebook or Twitter ad campaign. Target people by location, page likes, and more. If it’s a local event, posting paper fliers on café bulletin boards and along popular streets could work.
Raise funds and then follow up
Whether it’s a live telethon or a formal gala, make sure you rehearse before the big day. That means testing laptops, checking internet connections, and running through the event schedule. Have a backup plan for unforeseen problems, like a broken credit card swiper or a sick presenter.
You’re ready to go, but there’s one more crucial step. Make a plan to follow up with your donors after the event is over. First and foremost, thank them for their contributions. Remember to share any success stories and positive outcomes later. The next time you’re raising money, they’re more likely to jump in.
9 fundraising ideas anyone can do
Here are nine handpicked fundraising campaigns to get started. These ideas work whether you’re running the campaign on your own, with loved ones, or a dedicated team of supporters.
1. Give it up
This campaign turns little expenses into a lot of money. With this fundraising idea, you ask individuals to give up one regular purchase. Challenge them to hit pause on their daily coffee, sweet treat, or fast food item — and donate that money to your cause instead.
This idea works best when it’s open-ended. Let supporters decide what they’ll give up themselves. “Dare” them to go as long as they can, but set a target date to help them stay committed. Ask them to tag their friends for even more support.
2. Matching gifts
Two is better than one! Help your donors double or triple their donations with a coordinated matching campaign. There are a few ways to execute this:
- Employer matches: Employees ask their companies to match their donations. (Many companies have corporate matching gift programs in place already.)
- Challenge matches: You, your team, or a sponsor matches each dollar donated by supporters up to a limit. This pairs well with crowdfunding campaigns.
- Business matches: A local business or large company agrees to match donations, or donate a portion of their proceeds.
You can also share a matching gift database with supporters to help them find opportunities to maximize each donation. It's a win-win.
3. Scavenger hunt
Add a little wonder into your campaign with an inexpensive scavenger hunt. Have participants form teams and sell group admissions. Come up with a sizable (but realistic) list of items that participants can find in their community.
Tie it together with a theme, like school spirit, all-things-pink (for a breast cancer fundraising event), or community pride. Also, you can easily convert this to a virtual event. Choose items people can quickly find around their house. Remember to tailor the difficulty to your audience and offer small prizes to keep everyone motivated. Take this 24-hour scavenger hunt for inspiration!
4. T-shirt sale
A T-shirt fundraiser is an oldie but a goodie. Create an exciting design that represents the cause or commemorates the person you’re raising money for. Or, turn it into a T-shirt competition to get the community even more engaged.
Collect each person’s T-shirt size and color using custom fields. As a bonus, your supporters will have their T-shirts ready if you ever host a walk-a-thon!
This is a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign waiting to happen. Bake sales get all the glory, but a cook-off connects members of your donor base for a fun event in person or online. This fundraiser takes nothing more than a trip to the grocery store (and a livestreaming platform for long-distance competitions).
First, select a tasty cuisine, meal, or a set of ingredients. Challenge contestants to come up with their best dishes and bring them to be enjoyed. Let participants sign up as chefs or judges for a small fee. Everyone makes good memories and, hopefully, walks away with happy stomachs. You can even compile the best submissions into a cookbook to auction off later.
6. Community yard sale
Most people are looking for a reason to tackle their clutter and get rid of unwanted items. Ask supporters to donate items in good condition to you for a community yard sale. Request gently worn clothes, books, home decor, cookware, and more. Create some buzz by uploading images of the best items to your donation page.
Set up a tiered price tag system. For example, yellow tags identify $5 items and green tags identify $10 items. If you receive large items, you can auction them off at the end of the day. You can even sell raffle tickets to attendees for a few end-of-campaign prizes.
7. Photo contest
Thanks to social media, people are more willing to share photos than ever. Channel that energy into a photo contest. You can spin this fundraising event multiple ways! Make it a wacky photo contest for all ages or a formal competition for local artists. Add a prompt, like “hometown pride” or “cutest pets.”
You can charge an entry fee, or ask supporters to donate to “vote” for their favorite photo. Turn the top 12 photos into a calendar and auction it off as a big-ticket prize.
8. Talent show
Let your community members show their creative side with a talent show. Leave it open to a wide range of talented performers, including comedians, singers, musicians, and comedians. Sell tickets to performers and offer different levels of admission (like VIP tickets with drinks and snacks) to raise extra money. Just be sure to screen each act. No one wants to hear the same Ariana Grande song three times in a row.
9. Trivia night
Give people an outlet for all their “useless knowledge” with a trivia night. Have participants create teams and pay a small entrance fee. Add a crowd-pleasing theme, like “The Office” or “Baseball All-Stars.” You can easily add in other events your supporters will love. Open up karaoke afterward or invite people to bring their favorite board games to play after trivia.
You can host the entire night online, or partner with a local restaurant or bar. The venue may even donate a portion of their food and drink process to your cause.
A good fundraiser begins with passion, but it needs a few more ingredients for success.
Start with one of our campaign ideas or brainstorm an event that’s sure to attract your target audience. You’ll also need a realistic budget that will get you from day one to day “done.”
Make sure the right people hear about your campaign using a detailed promotion strategy. (A free online platform like Givebutter makes it easy to sell tickets, collect funds, and coordinate your in-person or virtual campaign.) And don’t forget to send a heartfelt “Thank you!” to your donors, attendees, and volunteers after you hit your goal.
Now that you know how to raise money, you’re one step closer to becoming a changemaker for a cause that matters.
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.