20 fundraising ideas your donors will love

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Paperless Post > Business > 20 fundraising ideas your donors will love

Fundraising makes an important difference for nonprofits, schools, and religious organizations as they work to improve their communities. Sure, organizing a fundraiser is a big undertaking, but it’s also fun and rewarding. And according to three fundraising experts we spoke with, you don’t have to be an expert to pull it off without a hitch. But you do need to choose the fundraiser that will best suit your needs.

Meet the experts
Ann Marie Elmayan brings 10 years of fundraising experience in the nonprofit sector and currently serves as the Development Director at Spark The Journey.
Kara Hoover is a marketing event director at Press Ganey | Forsta and volunteer for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Janine Repka Guzzone is the Senior Development Manager at Crime Victims Treatment Center.

Janine Repka, Senior Development Manager at Crime Victims Treatment Center, says that one of the most important things to consider when researching fundraiser ideas is your target demographic. “For some organizations, a 5K run is a really good idea, because the people in your network are families with young kids,” says Ms. Repka. “But that’s not going to work for an organization that has a different demographic. Being honest with yourself about what your community will respond to is key.” 


Choosing a fundraiser type

To help you decide on the type of fundraiser you want to organize, it’s important to get clear on your goals, budget, and available resources, says Ann Marie Elmayan, Director of Development for the nonprofit mentoring organization Spark the Journey. “First of all, I ask what are we hoping to accomplish—and is a fundraiser the best way to accomplish it? What is the budget and what flexibility do we have with the budget? If this is a first-time event, you will want to determine your goal based on what you plan to spend—you want to at least break even. Think about what you can make based on past donor support, the number of donors you currently have, and what types of gifts you usually get.”

Whatever type of event you choose, says Kara Hoover, an event-planning professional and volunteer for St. Jude Children’s Hospital’s charity golf tournaments, tailor your fundraiser to offer options for different giving levels. “You can have different levels of tickets for entry, and you can have easy grabs for sale,” says Ms. Hoover. “Those kinds of things are fun—and they’re immediate gratification for people.” She also suggests including some kind of valuable takeaway. “People either want an experience, or they want to build a community with other people, or they want tangible items, such as donating to win an auction item.” 

With so many options for raising money out there, it’s easy to find one that will work for your organization, no matter how big or how small your staff, or your budget. Read on for 20 ideas that put the “fun” in fundraising. 


Two young girls at a dessert table in a park hold out baked goods for a man to take while a smiling woman looks on.
Image via Adobe Stock.


Easy fundraising ideas

Whether you’re short on time, staff, or resources, an easy fundraising idea may be what you need to reach your fundraising goals. Here are a few simple ideas to raise funds for your organization with minimal effort:

1. Organize a point-of-sale round-up fundraiser

A simple way to raise money for your organization is to ask a local grocery store, drug store, or other retail outlet to participate in a round-up fundraiser to benefit your cause. When customers check out, the cashier asks if they’d like to round up their total to the nearest dollar for your organization. Many local and national retail chains participate in round-up fundraisers—talk to the store manager for details.

2. Set up donation jars

Collect a bunch of large jars, and cut slots in the lids. Use superglue to secure the lids to the jars, and adhere colorful labels to the jar that clearly explain the cause you’re collecting money for. Ask local businesses if you can set out a jar next to the cash register for a predetermined amount of time—a few days, a week, or even a month. When time’s up, collect the jars, and use tin cutters to open the lid open around the slot to retrieve the donations.

3. Partner up for a restaurant dine-to-donate night

Numerous local and national restaurants and chains offer schools and nonprofit organizations the chance to raise money through a dine-to-donate night. On the agreed-upon date, the restaurant will donate a percentage of sales made between certain hours. All you have to do is spread the word and encourage your circle to dine out for your cause.


Left: Several people in businesswear stand beside a tall cocktail table with a wine glass on it. Right: A navy invitation for the “Save the Sea Gala” with a thin white border and intersecting lines.
Image courtesy of Spark the Journey; “Balance” by Paperless Post.


Big money fundraising ideas

If you have the time and budget, a large fundraiser can bring in substantial donations. With some volunteers and smart planning, even small organizations can pull off a large-scale fundraiser. These are some of the most popular and well-attended fundraising ideas with potential for big returns.

4. Throw a gala

A festive gala is just the thing to create some buzz for your cause and get lots of potential donors through the doors. Your gala can take whatever form works best for your organization, audience, and budget. Options include dinner and dancing, a costume ball, or a cocktail party. You can book entertainment for the event, like a jazz trio or comedian, or plan a recognition or awards ceremony. “We once had a gala that recognized incredible honorees and that blew our donation goal out of the water,” Ms. Repka. “We chose and cultivated the right honorees who we knew would bring in donors.”

To offset some of your costs, find corporate sponsors for your event—and to increase the fundraising potential of your gala, hold a silent auction. Send Paperless Post gala invitations via email, text, or shareable link. Use Guest Questions to manage attendees’ dietary restrictions and Guest Tags to help with seating arrangements.

5. Host a race or a sports tournament

Bring people in your community together with a fun run, a 5K race, or a golf or ping pong tournament. Find corporate sponsors to help organize or fund the event, and book a few popular local food trucks to feed the crowds—and donate a portion of their sales. Provide free t-shirts for participants, and have plenty of extras on hand to sell, along with other branded merch that’ll keep you on their radar once the event is over.  

6. Put on a benefit concert

A benefit concert can pull in large crowds, resulting in impressive returns on ticket sales alone. Ask local bands to donate their services to the cause, or book a regional or national act for even higher ticket sales. Hold the event at a local club, hotel ballroom, or outdoor location, like a park—or your parking lot. Set up a table or booth where you can sell merch or concessions, give people information about your organization, and accept cash donations.


Left: A man holds up a 9 paddle in front of a painting at an art auction. Right: An art auction invitation with gold arches on the bottom and upper right corner.
Image via Adobe Stock; “Sand Garden” by kate spade new york for Paperless Post.


Fundraising ideas for charities, foundations, and nonprofits

Charitable organizations and foundations work tirelessly to improve their communities and the people who live there—and they’re always looking for ways to keep donations coming in to finance their good works. A combination of several easy, smaller fundraisers and one or two bigger ones keep the funds coming in all year long. These ideas will get you started.

7. Art show and silent auction

Approach local artists to participate in a gallery showing of their work in exchange for a portion of the proceeds from sales. Promote the show, and have attendees buy art off the wall or via a silent auction. Include a smaller area where you can exhibit artwork by your members or staff—or collect art from volunteers in the community to put on a mini amateur art show to showcase local talents. 

Partner with a local gallery, or transform your own space into a showplace. Make it a fancy event with wine and cheese, or invite a local brewery to serve their favorite beers. Set up tables with craft projects for the kids. Create customized Paperless Post fundraiser invitations, and add a Photo Gallery Block to entice invitees with a few select photographs of the art for sale.


Left: People doing yoga in a park. Right: An invitation for yoga in the park with large green and white circles extending off the frame to create abstract shapes.
Image via Adobe Stock; “Lentil” by Paperless Post.


8. Offer donation-based fitness classes

Hold fitness classes for your community with a professional yoga, ZUMBA, or capoeira instructor—or find a volunteer who knows their stuff and can teach the class for free. Make it a theme, like “Yoga in the Park” or “ZUMBA at the Zoo.” Accept donations at the beginning of the class, and set up a sign with a QR code that leads to your donation page. Make it an ongoing weekly Saturday morning event, or promote it as a month-long offering in the evenings—whatever makes the most sense for your community and target demographic. At each event, set up a booth where participants can learn more about your organization, donate, or sign up to volunteer.

Keep it low-cost by sticking with your nonprofit’s area of expertise. If you’re a nature conservation group, do a guided nature walk. Make it a once-a-month venture so people can spread the word and get others excited about joining the next event.

9. Game night happy hour

Host an epic one-night board game extravaganza—or host a weekly Friday night happy hour game night where attendees pay an entry fee to compete for the title of Trivia Titan, Mahjong Master, Chess Champ, or Boggle Boss. Partner with a local pub to receive a percentage of sales, or host the event at a community center and sell concessions. Create a Flyer for the event that you can share through your social media channels and send to your contacts via email. Reach out to corporate sponsors for sweet prizes that will incentivize people to participate.

10. Create an online awareness campaign—and link to a donation page

Simple, direct, and effective, online awareness campaigns deliver information quickly and clearly to your community of supporters. Annual or bi-annual campaigns can be very effective for bringing in donations and raising your organization’s profile—and they don’t require a ton of effort or a big budget. 

Although social media is a great platform for getting your name and your message in front of a large audience, says Ms. Elmayan, direct email campaigns are more effective for raising funds. “Your email list is already a curated list of people who are connected to you,” she says. “Let donors give a recurring amount each month, and create a more reliable source of financial support—and a higher donor retention rate.”

11. Put on a car wash

Car washes are appealing to the masses, because people love their cars, and having them washed provides immediate gratification. And if it’s for a worthy cause, all the better. The best place to hold a car wash is on a busy street where volunteers can wave signs toward passing traffic—and drivers can see the car wash in action. Drivers can pay cash, or you can use an app like Venmo or CashApp to collect the funds. Offer add-ons like waxing or vacuuming, and sell drivers on a cold beverage to enjoy while they wait—or include it in the price of the wash. 

12. Host an open mic night 

Raise awareness for an important cause and have some fun while doing so. Book a well-known performer or poet, and announce their involvement using Paperless Post’s Speakers Block feature on your invitation to the event.

Plan ahead and decide on a theme. Try to invite some performers who are connected to the charity you’re supporting. It builds empathy and shows that you’re honestly invested in the cause.


Left: An invitation for a book drive breakfast resembles a hardcover book with an orange spine and green pages. Right: Three young girls read books on a bench while one looks over at another’s book.
Image via Adobe Stock; “Novel Idea” by Paperless Post.


Fundraising ideas for schools

Fundraising initiatives in schools continue to be a major source of funding for projects like replacing playground equipment, stocking the library with new books, and providing enrichment opportunities for students, like field trips and special guest speakers. Some school fundraisers involve the students collecting money, while others are hosted by the PTA or other organization. The best school fundraising events have a “fun” factor that engages students, families, and the larger community. These are some of the most popular and successful fundraising drives for schools.  

13. Hold a penny drive

Loose change shows up everywhere, so why not ask kids to collect it? Penny drives can be as simple as placing a jar in each classroom and asking students to collect change from home. During the penny drive, consider asking local businesses to allow you to place donation jars near the cash register to collect change from their customers. 

14. Challenge kids to a read-a-thon

Read-a-thons help cultivate a love of reading, and they’re a great way to get entire families involved in raising funds for a good cause. Have students collect pledges from friends and family, and create a way for kids to keep track of their reading minutes on paper or online. Create excitement with sponsor-provided prizes for kids who read the most books or log the most minutes, and promise a pizza or popcorn party to the grade or the classroom that reads the most or collects the most money.

15. Give parents a night out

Parents need an occasional night out without the kids, and many will be more than willing to pay a little extra for the privilege if it benefits their children’s school at the same time. Send invitations to families via email—Paperless Post school fundraiser invitations make it easy for parents to RSVP, and you can include a Block with a link where they can pay for the service. 

Choose a weekend afternoon or evening for the event, and set up activities in the gym or multi-purpose room to keep the kids engaged. Gather volunteers—teachers, administrators, office staff, and (supervised) older students—to facilitate the fun. Ask your corporate partners to provide pizza or snacks. 

16. Host a pancake dinner

Breakfast for dinner? Yes, please. Invite the school community to dine on pancakes—set up in the gym or cafeteria, and have the principal and other administrators man the griddle while the teachers or PTA members act as servers or sous chefs. Charge an entrance fee, and sell raffle tickets—or tickets for games like cornhole, tic-tac-toe, or ring toss. Solicit donations from your corporate sponsors or community partners to buy small prizes.


Left: An invitation for a church rummage sale has the words “join us” in large handwritten script. Right: A colorful jumble of steward, tea cups, bowls, and a red alarm clock.
Rosina” by Paperless Post; Image via Adobe Stock.


Fundraising ideas for mosques, temples, and churches

Religious organizations are pillars of support in many communities, but they often need support of their own to maintain their services. These fundraisers get the whole congregation involved to help foster relationships and build community.

17. Hold an old-fashioned bake sale

Bake sales are a classic fundraiser beloved by everyone—and they’re easy to put on. Have members of your group provide baked goods, and hold the sale immediately after services so the whole congregation can stop by for something sweet to take home for Sunday dinner’s dessert. Include a silent auction for extra-special cakes—and sell cups of coffee, tea, or cocoa for those who want to enjoy their baked goods on the spot. 

18. Sell a recipe book

Since time immemorial, congregations have bonded over food, and they’ll likely jump at the chance to submit their favorite recipe for a church cookbook fundraiser—they can even include a story about the recipe or a picture of the finished dish. Gather the recipes, and use an online book-making service to easily design and print your books. Sell them to members at a profit—you can even market them to the larger community through an email or social media campaign. Have your webmaster create a landing page on your website where anyone can purchase the recipe book—many online book producers offer drop-shipping, so you won’t have to maintain inventory or ship the books yourself.

19. Organize a “give something up” campaign 

Ask your congregants to choose something to give up for a month and donate the money they would have otherwise spent on it. This fundraising drive can coincide with Lent or another religious observance, or you can make it part of a wellness campaign. Ask parishioners to tally up their donation weekly and submit the payment on your organization’s website—your webmaster can build a page for it that includes a comment section where participants can leave inspirational notes, write about their experience, and encourage one another. When the campaign ends, host a reception to celebrate.

20. Set up a rummage sale

A rummage sale is a great fundraising idea to consider during spring cleaning season. Have congregants donate gently used items they no longer want, including books, clothes, toys, kitchen items, bedding, tools, and more. Advertise your sale in the newspaper, and promote it on local online garage sale forums and social media channels. Hold the sale on your premises—make it an even bigger event with craft booths or concessions.


An aqua colored invitation has the words “Thank you” repeated many times in rainbow letters, beside a salmon colored envelope with gold striped liner.
Can’t Thank You Enough” by kate spade new york for Paperless Post.


After the fundraiser

Whichever type of event you choose, a successful fundraiser always ends with a show of appreciation for all the people involved. Make a plan to send thank you notes as soon as possible to your generous donors—ideally within a week of the event’s conclusion, says Ms. Elmayan. “Send emails or write letters of thanks, depending on the relationship with the donor. Getting a standard acknowledgment is nice, but it’s not personal. Giving it that personal touch will go a long way.” She also recommends adding your new donors to your email list.

Ms. Repka takes full advantage of her thank yous as a way to cultivate relationships—and raise even more funds. “You can use your follow-up materials to do a last call for donations,” she says. Send a link with photos—people love to see pictures of the event.” If your event raised big money from large-scale or corporate donors, consider hosting a donor appreciation event to thank them in person. 

Planning your own fundraiser? Paperless Post has all of the nonprofit event invitations, Flyers, and thank you cards you need for your fundraising event—and they’re all customizable. Brand your invitation with your logo, or upload your own design. Our design tools make it easy to change the wording, font, and color of your invitation, and customizable Blocks provide invitees with information about your organization and links to donate or buy tickets. 



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