Unique fundraising ideas: 10 ways to make your mark

Written by
Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

Unique fundraising ideas: 10 ways to make your mark

Whether you want to raise funds to fight for racial justice, buy high school sports team equipment, or help mothers of color who have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, creating a compelling fundraiser can be a challenge. After all, there are countless causes vying for people's attention, be it on social media or in the local community. 

But rather than seeing the situation as an obstacle, think of it as an opportunity to get creative and come up with fun ways to encourage the spirit of giving. With that in mind, we’ve curated this list of unique fundraising ideas that will spark interest, inspire generosity, and ensure good times for all.

10 fun and simple ways to meet your fundraising goal 

While galas and silent auctions are tried-and-true fundraising event ideas, not everyone has the time, energy, or resources to make such big productions happen. So, when it's time to raise money for a good cause, creativity and convenience are critical. That's where this list comes in. While you might think you've heard and seen these ideas a million times, we promise you'll find an unexpected twist.

1. Themed walkathon

Raise awareness and money for a nonprofit organization that's close to your heart with a themed walkathon or walk challenge. Consider a "Pajama Parade" for a children's hospital fundraiser or a "Canine Companion Hike" for your local animal shelter. You could even arrange to take the pets who are up for adoption on the walk and introduce them to fellow pedestrians on the path.

If you feel like getting a little freaky with your fundraiser, try a zombie-a-thon, which is perfect during Halloween. Or how about a "Silly Santa Saunter" where participants wear fun Santa-style outfits for the Christmas holiday season? 

Encourage participants to ask friends and family members to pledge donations for every mile they walk or simply make a lump-sum donation. Either way, participants will get their cardio on and your cause will get much-needed funds. It's a win-win! 

2. Photo contest

Community gif

A picture is worth a thousand words, and with this easy fundraising idea, you could be raising thousands of dollars for your cause of choice. You could certainly go the traditional route and have a photo contest where participants share photos they've taken of nature, pets, or a particular theme you've selected. But I’m loving the idea of a "Guess the Baby" photo contest. 

For example, if you're raising money for a school, you can get teachers to participate by asking them to share a photo of themselves as a baby. You might even consider an "entrance fee" of, say, $10 for instructors to participate. 

You can then create a fundraising page where you post the photos and ask students to pay a $2 entry fee (or whatever amount you feel is appropriate) to match the baby photo to the instructor. Depending on the school's size and the number of participants, you can raise a good amount of money and have a ton of fun while you're at it. 

3. Chili cookoff

Hot stuff! If there's one thing people love, it's their "secret family recipes." A real crowd-pleaser whether you live in a small town or big city, a chili cookoff is a fun way to create a sense of community and stir up a little friendly competition. 

Along with working out the logistics of where to hold the event (a neighborhood park, community center, or local restaurant are good options), ask local bloggers, influencers, or foodies to be a judge on the big day. You can also sell raffle tickets to attendees for a chance to win gift cards and other prizes donated by local businesses.

4. Car wash

Whether you're raising money for summer camp or meals for those in need, a car wash is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to raise money quickly. Gather your coworkers, fellow volunteers, and community members and get ready to wash like Mr. Miyagi is watching.

All you need is some soap, water, buckets, towels, and a good location to set up. For a fun, creative twist, have volunteers wear silly wigs or dress according to a theme or era — a Totally Awesome ‘80s or Disco Diva car wash, perhaps?

If you're raising money for the local high school band, have participants work in shifts and trade duties. While one group of students wash cars, others can perform a mini-concert and play a few tunes!

5. Movie night

Oh, what a night. For a fun twist on the traditional movie theater experience, why not plan an outdoor movie night for your next event? Contact your city to see about using your local park or a large parking lot from a local business owner and set up a screen to project your feature flick. Guests can bring their chairs or blankets and pack a picnic if they like. Charge admission — for example, a small fee of $10 per person — and set up a concession stand with popcorn, drinks, and candy.

If you truly want a night under the stars while watching the stars (on the big screen, that is), then consider a venue that will share their rooftop for a cinematic experience replete with sweeping city views. If you can swing cocktail service, this idea would work especially well for the 21+ set. (Plus, the venue can donate a percentage of sales to your fundraiser.)

6. Posh potluck

Unique fundraising ideas: Beautifully set table

There's a good chance you've heard of the renowned Le Diner en Blanc white parties that began in France and took the world by storm. With this idea, you can bring a little of that je ne sais quoi to your own fundraising efforts no matter where you are.

To offer a swanky spin on the traditional potluck picnic, plan a get-together at a local park or other public space (be sure to get permits!) that can fit your group size. Diners will register ahead of time and pay an admission fee and provide their own food, chairs, tables, and tablecloths. 

Of course, they'll also be required to dress in head-to-toe white. This can be a bit tedious for some, but it's without question a fun (and incredibly chic) way to raise money and have an unforgettable time. 

7. Game night

Whether you're hosting trivia night at a cool bar or a board game tournament at the local coffeehouse, the key to a successful game night fundraiser is to make sure it doesn't become a "bored" game situation. 

You can't go wrong with classics like Trouble, Scrabble, Risk, or Battleship, while fun trivia themes like "The Office," "Parks and Rec," ‘90s pop culture, local history, sports, geography, and foodie favorites are always popular. (Know your audience when selecting your theme.) 

To raise money, each player must pay a registration fee. You can also ask the venue if they'll donate proceeds from the night's sales or have a special game night drink or food item for which all sales go directly to your cause.

8. Yard sale

Garage sale gif

Whether you call it a yard sale or garage sale it really doesn't matter — you don't necessarily need a lawn or a garage if you create a virtual yard sale. You can avoid the hassle of moving clothes, furniture, camping gear, and the like when you take the event online. (Check out our guide on virtual fundraising events for more ideas.) 

However, if you're on a street that'll draw good foot traffic, consider organizing a block party yard sale or estate sale where neighbors can get together and make it a weekend blowout. Just make sure you get the proper permits before setting up shop. You can also mix in a bake sale, lemonade stand, or any other nostalgic money-raising endeavor to complement the main event. 

9. Community clean-up

It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it. And it may as well be you and your group of volunteers. For this low-cost, high-impact fundraising idea, all you need are some helping hands (protected in gloves, of course), brooms, rakes, trash bags, and plenty of bottled water for all those hard workers. 

Along with asking family members, friends, and local business owners to pledge donations, participants can create donation boxes that they can leave in local businesses and then collect once the event is complete. 

Community clean-up is a great entry point for elementary-school-aged children and tweens to learn about environmental responsibility and doing our part to keep the planet happy and healthy.

10. Bake sale

Brady Bunch gif

Yes, we know you probably think that when you've seen one bake sale, you've seen them all. But consider putting a creative spin on the typical bake sale fundraiser with goodies that cater to specific dietary concerns. 

Whether that means gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, keto, paleo, or a combination of all these, your delicious treats (and fundraising potential) will go a lot further when you cater to those who often get left out of the snack pack.

Unique fundraising ideas that are as special as your cause

These days, there are so many great causes. Fortunately, there are ways to get your fundraiser the spotlight it deserves. When looking for fundraising tools to help you raise more money with ease, it doesn't get much better than Givebutter.

You can create campaigns, sell tickets, collect donations, and thank supporters from one simple platform. Sign up for Givebutter ⁠— it's free and easy. To find more unique fundraising campaign ideas that'll inspire your next event, be sure to explore Givebutter.

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.