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Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits

Diverse fundraising ideas and strategies can make your next event a success, helping you generate more revenue. Find unique strategies here.

Nonprofits need money to run their daily operations, cover costs, and deliver their mission to the public. Without fundraising efforts, a nonprofit can't efficiently operate and fulfill its goals. That means a nonprofit needs to solicit funds from various sources, including public or private foundations and corporations. The issue a nonprofit faces is reaching those who are willing to give.

Once upon a time, nonprofits had to rely on sending out physical media in the mail and use phone banks to solicit donations. All of that has changed with digital marketing for nonprofits, which is more effective at reaching potential donors. Now it's a matter of identifying the right type of donor, where they're most likely to be found, and how to deliver a plea for financial assistance effectively.

The following is a look at different ideas for effective fundraising for nonprofits in the digital age. These ideas are a starting point to help your nonprofit reach a larger audience and encourage donors to donate again in the future. You can build upon these unique fundraising events or add them to your existing outreach strategies to maximize results.

What is nonprofit fundraising?

Nonprofit fundraising is the act of asking for donations from the public at large, along with corporations and charitable foundations. The money that's given or granted to the nonprofit is then used for day-to-day operations, community outreach, educational programs, and helping the organization grow. Money earned from fundraisers for nonprofits helps the nonprofit make up for shortfalls in revenue from other income-generating activities.

Fundraising for nonprofits ranges from traditional solicitation activities, such as fundraising drives, selling a product that gives a portion of the sale to the nonprofit, an annual event, or a one-time activity with the proceeds directed towards the nonprofit's operation.

Why is fundraising important for nonprofit organizations?

Nonprofits operate just like any other business in that it has overhead, expenses, and payrolls. These expenses need funding so the nonprofit can operate and engage in its mission without worrying about running out of money. A nonprofit can sell items at a profit as long as the items or services it sells are in line with the nonprofit's purpose.

According to the IRS, the nonprofit can generate revenue from unrelated business income (UBI) and not endanger the not-for-profit status of the organization. The catch is the UBI can't make up the majority of the nonprofit's income, and the UBI is taxed at the regular corporate income tax rate. As a result, the nonprofit has to keep the activities that generate UBI to a minimum and find other ways to fund the organization.

Unrelated business income can be lucrative for a nonprofit, but this type of activity goes against the purpose of a nonprofit and IRS rules. A nonprofit still has to face the fact that it needs to fund itself, and fundraising events help organizations in raising money required for their operation.

Diverse fundraising ideas for nonprofits

Holding a fundraising event doesn't always have to consist of traditional marketing efforts. They can also be one-time events that range from the offbeat to the conventional. The idea behind a non-traditional fundraising event is to get a large number of people to participate and donate while providing a fun time for everyone. The theme for an event can be an annual affair, held during a holiday season, or in honor of a cause that's supported by the nonprofit.

Just about anything goes as long as it's related in some way to the organization's mission. The following are some of the best fundraising ideas for nonprofits.

Host an online cooking class

This is an opportunity to leverage your social media content into a fundraising effort. People can learn about the fundraising event through the nonprofit's social media accounts and suggest a donation for participation. Consider creating a themed cookbook as a gift for participants or ask for an additional donation for a copy.

Karaoke night

Encourage participants to sing their hearts out in exchange for a donation. You can make the experience competitive by inviting judges and offering a prize at the end of the karaoke fundraiser.

Scavenger hunt

A scavenger hunt allows participants to work individually or in teams to find specific items on a list or complete challenges. Each group or individual player will receive clues to help them find the necessary items or the next puzzle. The first team or participant to complete the scavenger hunt will be named the winner.

Consider offering prizes or gifts as a thank you for donating to the organization. You can ask a local restaurant or local businesses to donate goods or services as prizes, or buy inexpensive items at wholesale to encourage people to give.

Dog wash

Like a car wash, participants will bring their dogs to a specific location and allow volunteers to wash their pets. In exchange, those requesting dog washing and grooming services will provide a donation.

Tie-dye social

For this fun and creative event, you'll ask potential participants to pay a registration fee or make a donation, which will cover their supplies. Then, all participants have to do is show up, follow the instructions, and enjoy creating colorful items.

Conduct an auction on social media

You can leverage your social networks for a fundraising event when using a physical space isn't possible. It's also a great way to expand your reach by encouraging viewers to buy multiple entries, tell friends and family about the opportunity to participate, and offer a nicer prize due to the lack of overhead.


Cook-off events encourage participants to show off their best dish and present it to a panel of judges. Each participant will pay a registration fee to enter the competition and receive a prize if they win. Cook-offs can also be themed according to holidays or special events.

Video game tournament

Like many other fundraising competitions, a video game tournament allows participants to join in on the fun by paying a registration fee or making a donation. In exchange, they'll compete with other players for a prize.

Fashion show

A fashion show event lets participants showcase their clothing, accessories, and unique personal style. This provides an opportunity for aspiring models and designers to demonstrate their talent while helping nonprofits raise money.

Community sale

Before the community sale, you'll ask individuals to donate their gently used goods. Then, non-profit volunteers will sell those items during an in-person event. It’s a great way to attract those looking for second-hand items.

You can also sell raffle tickets before the event; winners can take a few items home for free.

Tips for creating an effective fundraising strategy

Organizing a fundraiser is more than creating an idea to get people to donate to an event. You need to assemble a plan, make a budget, get the word out for the event, and more in order to get the best return on your efforts. Here are some tips that can help you:

Create a SMART plan

SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. It's an outline that helps you create actionable steps and keeps you on track for getting your fundraising efforts off the whiteboard and into reality. For example, you need to ensure your nonprofit web design includes the fundraiser date and a donation button.

A SMART plan lets you identify what you need to do, measure your progress against your schedule, keep your goals realistic, ensure that what you're putting on the page is relevant to your event, and finish your work by the deadlines you set.

Manage your budget

Manage the budget for the fundraiser like you manage the budget for the nonprofit. It's all too easy for scope creep to set in and cause you to spend money to the point that there's nothing left for contingencies. Sometimes you find something you want to include in the fundraiser after your planning has started. Try to save it for another event or find low-cost or free options instead.

Market your event

Marketing the fundraiser is a part of the PR basics that every nonprofit should engage in, even if you don't have a lot of money to devote to the activity. Create fliers to hand out, post on social media, use word of mouth, and look for local media outlets that will share the event for a discounted fee. Spreading the news about the event as far as you can goes towards increasing interest and bringing in more attendees.

Cause marketing is another way to market your event by partnering with a corporate organization. The corporate organization benefits by entering into an affiliation with your nonprofit, and the nonprofit can reach further into a particular market with the organization's help. Doing so makes it easier to raise awareness.

Evaluate your needs

Fundraisers for nonprofits usually state a financial goal and the purpose of the money being raised. People like to know where their money is going, and you can make that statement when you've evaluated the needs of the nonprofit. For example, the nonprofit is looking at an operating income shortfall, and a fundraiser is needed to cover that shortfall.

You can make a statement about how much is needed to keep operating your organization in your fundraising marketing materials, then use the donations as intended.

It's important to clearly understand the nonprofit's financial requirements to get the money for your cause. Anything left over can be used to help the nonprofit in other areas.

Get feedback post-fundraiser

No matter how well you plan, there's always something you overlook or don't anticipate. That's why getting feedback from participants after the event is a good idea. You can identify common issues and pain points and determine what was successful. Then, you can use the information to make changes for your next event.

Set your fundraiser up for success

You want your fundraiser to be the best it can be and raise enough money to help your nonprofit thrive. Give yourself plenty of time to develop an idea, plan it out, and promote it to as many people as possible. Running a successful fundraiser is a lot of work, but the rewards are worth the effort.

At Mailchimp, we want to help you in your marketing efforts and make your digital marketing for nonprofits successful. Take a look at our marketing tools to enhance your strategy and raise funds for your organization.

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