“Why don’t we just throw a fundraiser?”

Your blood just ran cold at that sentence, didn’t it?

Fundraising events are hard. They take time and effort from your staff, buy-in (literally) from your donors, and a whole slew of marketing to pull off successfully. None of which comes free.

But the good news is that not every event has to be a five-star gala. With a little know-how, you can raise real money with a minimum of sweat.

The proceeds may not bankroll your next program launch or buy a new building, but every cent is unrestricted funding for day-to-day expenses that so often go uncovered by grants.

With that in mind, a few humble suggestions for generating revenue without diverting time, energy and budget from your core mission:

  1. Print-on-Demand T-Shirts:
  • Did you know that you can design and sell t-shirts for free on Amazon.com? It’s true! Just sign up for a free Amazon Merch account to get your print-on-demand clothing line started. Amazon handles the printing and shipping services, so you don’t have to worry about inventory or sales processing. Just upload your shirt image, make sure that the title and description include relevant keywords, and start collecting the profits! Some ideas to get you started:
  1. Raffle / Silent auction:
  • Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking. Ask local businesses to donate a product or gift card to your organization for a charitable cause, then raffle them off on your website. You can combine it with a happy hour or trivia night, or use an online service like RallyUp or a Facebook contest.

Not sure how to approach businesses with this kind of donation request? Find sample emails, request templates, contact database plans and more in Resilia’s premium content library!

  1. Car Wash:
  • This is a great one for spur-of-the-moment asks. Ask a local church or business (one with a parking lot!) if you can use their space for a charitable cause, then set up signs and volunteers with sponges, soap and hoses. Bonus points for setting up a lemonade stand, flea market or bake sale for drivers to shop at while they wait.
  1. Karaoke contest
  • Let’s face it: there’s nothing to break the ice like watching your friends and colleagues humiliate themselves on the mic. Karaoke machines are surprisingly cost-effective to rent, and can be set up in a free venue like a public park if the weather’s nice. If you really want to get elaborate, put together a panel of local “celebrity” judges and charge a buy-in to compete.
  1. Charity Calendar:
  • Everyone needs a calendar, and they’re a great way to keep your nonprofit’s brand at top-of-mind for your donors. Choose a subject that’s quirky, fun, motivational, or significant your organization and feature twelve variations on it for your calendar. You can produce your own images if you have the photography skills, or create fun compositions from free stock images. Put the layout together with a free tool like Canva, get them produced by a cost-effective local print shop or an online vendor like Vistaprint, and sell them on your website or at your next event.
  1. Charitable happy hour:
  • You’d be surprised at how many restaurants, bars and music venues are willing to host a night where a portion of the evening’s profits benefit your organization. Many cities even have charitable service professional groups for this exact reason. (NOLA’s own The Barman’s Fund is a great example that’s recently expanded to New York, Austin and Los Angeles.)
  1. Cook-off:
  • Even if you don’t work in a food- or nutrition-related issue area, you probably have a few top-notch cooks in your community. Get the potluck one-uppers together and stoke the competition for a cookoff! Themes could include local specialties, variations on a standard dish like chili, or a broad theme like vegetarian or spicy dishes.
  1. Trivia Night:
  • Can’t beat putting human competitiveness to work for a good cause. Create a custom deck of trivia questions based on your organization’s work and shop it around to local bars, asking to host their trivia night in exchange for putting out a donation bucket.
  1. Fill-the-jar game:
  • This smaller fundraising game works best as a side activity inside another event. Get a clear jar and fill it with various small candies (jellybeans, mini candy bars, peppermints, etc.), ask players to give a small donation to guess how much of the item is in the jar. The person with the closest guess wins the jar.

Got a favorite fundraiser idea or cautionary tale of a gala gone haywire? Tell us in the comments!