Major fundraising events like 5K races, golf tournaments, and black-tie galas are extremely successful at generating revenue for nonprofits of all sizes and cause sectors. However, these fundraising events also require large budgets, time to plan, and significant volunteer support.
The goal of any nonprofit fundraising event is maximizing donations while minimizing expenses. That way, more money goes directly towards your mission instead of covering overhead costs.
Knowing that the average nonprofit donation is $128, think about how much your organization could raise through a successful community event. Those small gifts can add up to make a major impact.
There’s certainly still a need for larger events on your annual calendar, but supplementing large-scale efforts with easier, cheaper options is a great way to sustain a steady flow of donations all year.
To help you get started, here are 14 cheap and easy fundraising ideas to consider. Pitch some of these creative ideas to your team to determine which ones work best for you.
1. Donation Jars
In the age of cryptocurrency and digital wallets, we often forget about cash as a quick donation option. People are always looking for ways to unload clunky coins from their purses and pockets, so you might as well offer them the opportunity to give back in the process.
These hard currency donations might be small, but they can add up quickly. Encourage people to donate by placing physical donation jars around your community. Talk to local businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, banks, or dry cleaners about leaving a donation jar near their register.
Clearly label each jar with your organization’s logo and mission statement. Train the employees of these businesses on how to speak to the public about your cause. Help them answer any potential questions about your mission and educate them on ways to encourage customers to give.
2. Community Yard Sale
Stuck at home during the pandemic, many people cleared out their attics and closets of unwanted items. Nonprofits like Goodwill were overwhelmed by an influx of donations.
Take advantage of this purging frenzy by organizing a community yard sale. Find a large space, like a park, gym, or community center, to host the event. Invite friends, family, and donors looking to unload their unwanted goods, and encourage them to spread the word to their extended networks.
Sellers can donate a flat rate to your nonprofit for a spot to sell their items, or you could ask for a portion of the money they earn. Your biggest task is to drum up interest from potential shoppers. After all, the success of this event depends on the turnout.
Promote your upcoming yard sale through all relevant marketing channels. Send a localized email campaign to supporters close enough to attend, as well as targeted social media ads focused on a specific geographic area. Even printed materials, like flyers or posters, can help raise awareness.
3. 50/50 Raffle
Over the years, 50/50 raffles have become popular because they give half of the proceeds back to your cause while passing along the other half to a lucky winner.
The only things you’ll need for this cheap and easy fundraising event are a large supply of raffle tickets and a captive audience. Sporting events or school pep rallies work well to host these raffles. Simply recruit a team of volunteers to circulate and sell tickets for a set amount, and provide updates on the prize pool throughout the evening to pique interest.
Toward the end of the gathering, divide the ticket profits into two equal parts and select a random winner to take home half of the money. There are even options for hosting a virtual or hybrid raffle if that’s more accessible to your audience.
Whichever environment you choose for your event, remember to review the rules for nonprofit raffles. Make sure to abide by these laws and pay the appropriate taxes on certain cash prizes.
4. Bake Sale
There’s a reason why reality TV shows like The Great British Baking Show are so popular. People love baked goods, especially when they’re homemade. Your nonprofit can ride this wave of popularity by hosting a bake sale fundraiser.
The most important element of a successful bake sale is recruiting volunteer bakers to make cakes, pies, muffins, and other delicious treats to sell. Then, secure a high-traffic venue to host the event and attract potential (and hungry) buyers.
Even better, coordinate the sale with an event that already draws a crowd, like a farmers market, sporting event, festival, or concert. Ask if you can set up a table or small concession stand to sell your items, then let the smell of freshly baked cookies do the work.
5. Concession Stand
While we’re on the subject of food, we can’t forget about running a concession stand at the next local sporting event. With enough volunteers and tasty snacks, these stands can bring in hundreds of dollars in a single evening.
If you’re interested, reach out to your local high school, college, or professional sports teams. See if they‘d offer your nonprofit the opportunity to run a concession stand at one of their venues, or split the proceeds with your organization if they prefer.
Recruit a team of volunteers to work shifts at the concession stand, and encourage your supporters to attend the game with big appetites. This is a great way to stay involved in the community and meet supporters face to face in a relaxed environment.
6. Car Wash
Washing cars is a common way to raise money for high school sports teams, bands, and clubs. They’re not only extremely simple to organize, but also offer a way for donors to check this pesky chore off of their to-do lists.
To organize an effective car wash, your organization needs an open space, like a parking lot or gas station, plenty of washing materials, and a group of willing volunteers.
Attract the most drivers with clear signage and an easily-accessible location. Set a flat price for the service, or simply ask for donations as customers arrive. Just be sure to mark a clear donation box or bin where donors can leave donations on their way out. This is important since most of these gifts will likely be physical cash or personal checks.
Although a car wash is extremely cheap and easy to organize, it’ll end up being a massive flop if no one shows. Don’t forget to promote ahead of time through your organization’s website, social media channels, and email. Get your volunteers to share news by word of mouth, too.
7. Team Trivia Night
Trivia question: What is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States?
Answer: According to Forbes, it’s the United Way, which brought in more than $5.1 billion in 2021.
Who doesn’t love a good game of trivia? Or even better, a trivia tournament to raise money for your charity.
Work with a local restaurant or bar to host the event. Get a volunteer to emcee with a list of brain-teasers, or reach out to a local personality who supports your cause. Teams can pay a set amount to enter the competition, or the restaurant could give back a portion of the revenue they make from food and drinks throughout the evening.
You could even give a portion of the funds to the winning team as an incentive. But win or lose, trivia nights are always a great way to bring people together for some old-fashioned fun.
8. Sports Tournament
If a trivia tournament isn’t your style, host an athletic competition instead. This could be a tournament of flag football, ultimate frisbee, softball, kickball, basketball, or a mix of different sports.
First, you’ll need a venue to host the competition. Starting your search with a public park or community center could help save money on rentals. If that doesn’t work, reach out to local schools or churches to see if they’d let you use their space for a few hours. Your volunteers can serve as referees—just be sure to get them whistles and striped shirts.
Provide clear rules for gameplay upfront. Determine how many teams can participate and organize them into a bracket to decide who plays who. Depending on the sport, you may need to have medical services on standby in case of athletic injuries.
Collect an entry fee from each team to participate. Sell tickets to spectators as a way to generate additional revenue, and consider selling merchandise, food, or beverages in exchange for donations. You could even secure a corporate sponsor if you wanted to go the extra mile and create custom swag for all competitors with your sponsor’s logo.
9. Giving Holidays
There are several built-in fundraising dates across the calendar, with the most obvious example being Giving Tuesday. However, there are quite a few other holidays your organization can leverage depending on your cause.
Holidays are effective opportunities to raise money because they create organic opportunities for connection. You can even tap into holidays that aren’t traditionally known for fundraising, like Valentine’s Day or Halloween. Costume parties or donation drives are great ideas to maximize these special days.
Find ways your nonprofit can leverage specific holidays or cause awareness days to engage wider audiences and keep donors engaged all year. The more direct the connection is to your cause, the easier it is for people to understand the impact of their gift.
10. Happy Hour
One of the largest perks of joining a nonprofit community is the opportunity to meet and spend time with like-minded people. That’s the reason why traditional fundraisers like golf tournaments or galas are so successful. They’re not only fun, but also give donors the opportunity to spend time together.
However, you don’t need a huge budget to bring people together. Host a happy hour at a local restaurant or pub to help people relax and unwind after a busy day. This also offers an opportunity for professionals to network with one another in a low-pressure environment.
Consider setting a theme for your event, like Taco Tuesday or TGI Friday—anything involving food and drinks. It doesn’t need to directly relate to your nonprofit, so don’t be afraid to get creative.
Ask the managers of your happy hour venue to donate a percentage of their sales back to your cause, or give attendees a discount during your event. Keep in mind, you don’t need to serve alcohol for the event to be effective, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
11. Social Media Challenge
If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge taught us anything, it’s that social media can be an extremely impactful tool for boosting cause awareness.
Invite supporters to participate in a creative challenge to raise money for your cause, then share their experience on social media to garner interest. The Ice Bucket Challenge took off because it included a clear action that caught donors’ attention—dump freezing cold water on your head in an effort to raise awareness for ALS.
You can be as simple or creative as you’d like in crafting your challenge. It could be as straightforward as doing 20 jumping jacks, volunteering for an afternoon, or taking a photo of yourself doing a kind deed.
Keep in mind, the ultimate goal is to get participants and supporters to donate to your cause. Encourage participants to include links to your donation page with each social media post to drive conversions.
12. Talent Show
Plenty of popular reality TV shows, from American Idol to Dancing With the Stars, focus on people’s talents (or lack thereof). Your nonprofit can cash in on that popularity by hosting a talent show of your own.
Solicit local talent—anything from singers, jugglers, magicians, or ventriloquists—to perform in your show. Pick a volunteer or staff member to emcee the event and help create seamless transitions from one act to the next.
Grab three or four of your board members to act as judges. They can crown an ultimate winner after all of the entries have performed, or leave it up to the audience to determine the best act. The show’s winner could be awarded with some of your best swag, or a set of free tickets to your next event.
Sell tickets to an adoring public or ask for donations as spectators arrive. They’ll not only get to see entertaining acts, but also know that they’re supporting a worthy cause in the process.
13. Open Mic Night
If you liked the last two ideas, combine them together by hosting an open mic night for your nonprofit community. Mix happy hour with a talent show to give attendees a memorable night of stand-up comedy, singing, or a combination of the two.
Like a talent show, you’ll need to secure a venue, emcee, talented performers, and a paying crowd. Your open mic night will likely also involve food and drinks, so be sure to plan ahead by getting a rough headcount of attendees.
Identify what type of crowd you’re attracting so your performers know what to prepare for their acts. Determine upfront if you want a family-friendly environment or more of an adults-only evening.
14. Gaming Marathon
Video games are a big business, providing people with the opportunity to engage with a like-minded community and potentially even give back to worthy causes.
Recruit a few gamers to stream themselves online while people watch, cheer them on, and potentially donate a certain amount for every hour they play—similar to pay-per-mile races.
The biggest challenge here is forming relationships with well-known gamers who would be interested in participating. If you can’t secure a gaming celebrity or influencer, look within your own staff, community of supporters, or volunteers for others who could be a good fit.
Use a platform like Twitch or YouTube Live to broadcast the video game streams. Share information about your nonprofit with each gamer to discuss as they broadcast, and encourage them to put the direct donation link in the chat box while they play to encourage additional gifts.
Fundraising Made Quick and Easy
The common link between all of these cheap and easy fundraising ideas is that they bring people together to have fun and support a good cause.
Every season presents new opportunities to fundraise for your nonprofit, whether that’s the spring, summer, fall, or winter. Luckily, these inexpensive events can be pulled off nearly any time of year without breaking the budget.