The end of the year is approaching sooner than anyone would like to admit. That means that year-end fundraising planning is beginning (or, has already started) to pop up left and right.

It is easy to understand why. On average, charities bring in 40% of their annual donations at the close of the year. Given statistics like that, nonprofits are always looking for the best ways to capitalize on the fall fundraising momentum.

Fall is the optimal time to push ahead of last year’s fundraising numbers, striding forward with donor and donation growth. One such way of getting there is by hosting lucrative events.

Although many nonprofits stick to the same formula every year, you don’t have to feel beholden to the standby events. They have their place, but they are not the only option. This article aims to give you options and at the very least, inspiration if the options don’t suit your organization’s current needs. There are plenty of great fundraising event ideas to choose from.

The three ideas listed below are deliberately diverse. Each represents an opportunity to appeal to a different donor group.

1. Bowl-a-thon

Part of the world of “a-thons,” but not as traditional as a walk-a-thon, bowl-a-thons are what you’d imagine them to be. Bowlers will gather pledges prior to an event, in addition to paying a small participation fee.

Pledges can be flexible, either based on performance or a flat sum for simply participating. Bowlers can run their pre-event campaigns via a crowdfunding page that your organization sets up.

Bowl-a-thons have three qualities that make them stand out as a unique choice among a stale field of fundraising events:

  • They’re active, but not to such a level that they’re exclusionary. Unless you are a professional competing, you’re not likely to break a sweat. It is an activity ideally suited to amateurs and casual competitors, which means that entire families can participate. From a kindergartener, to a recent college grad, to the parents of them both, everyone has a place at a bowling alley. The more people able to participate, the more funds you have the opportunity to bring in.
  • They happen indoors. Outdoor events are wonderful when the sun is shining and the weather is somewhere between 72 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. How often does that happen though? When you plan an event that weather can impede on, you always have to have contingencies in place. What about lightning? Severe heat? Snow? Indoor venues are a set and predictable bet.
  • They follow a familiar format from a unique perspective. Your attendees may have never been to a bowl-a-thon, but they’ll have participated in some kind of similar pledge-based, endurance-style fundraiser. The event is different enough to capture people’s’ attentions, yet just on the right side of “out there.”

Your biggest obstacle is going to be securing a bowling alley at an affordable price.

If you have a small, community bowling alley, talk to the owners and see what they’d be open to. Otherwise, see if you can find more of a “chain” bowling alley and look into if the larger company has any corporate giving initiatives. You might be able to make an arrangement that way, as well.

2. Themed Parties

Mix your “party-type” events up with some interesting themes.

Target your theme according to the donor segment that you’re hoping will attend.

For example, maybe you hold a signature ball for your wealthier, more established donors. That night is focused on major donors. The fundraiser always goes well, but you’d like to also host an event that draws in younger millennials.

You see the importance of forming ties early in these new donors’ philanthropic careers, but understand that an event as costly as your signature ball is likely to isolate many interested people. What’s a solution?

Host a theme party with all the familiar trappings:

  • cutesy decorations
  • a costume contest
  • on theme food, drinks, and music
  • and other theme-specific add-ons

The goal of any of these theme parties, whether they’re targeted at millennials or not, is accessibility. They get people out of their regular rhythms and draw in supporters that never would have considered attending one of your events before.

It is almost as if theme parties were made for social media promotion, so don’t slack in that department! We’ve seen what social media can do for peer-to-peer fundraising, another innovative take on event-based fundraisers. Let social media marketing work its magic on your theme party, too!

There’s even promotional potential during the party itself. You could incorporate a hashtag into the costume contest for people to make their competition submissions and crown the winner based on likes/favorites.

That social media presence is going to keep the event on supporters’ radars past the evening of the party.  

3. Cyber 5K

If forced to name a downside to 5K races, what would you say? I know what I would say. Only supporters in your immediate community can participate, unless you have the infrastructure to hold satellite events.

What is everyone else to do? Go online and host a cyber, or virtual, 5K. The web has changed our entire culture. People can keep up and connected with a full-time job from anywhere in the world by working online remotely. You can do the same with fundraising 5Ks.

Participants will all still run the same distance, but they get to do so from their own location. They enter their times using the trust system and all the standard prize and ranking procedures can stay in place. You might even mail them t-shirts and bibs for participating.

Cyber 5Ks foster your organization’s support community without placing limits on the parameters of that community. The race doesn’t even have to be entirely cyber; you can just provide the virtual option for those who cannot join in at the main location.

Say goodbye to that downside.

Why switch things up?

Americans philanthropically gave approximately $358 billion last year. So, there’s clearly an interest in charitable giving. Also, I don’t have an exact statistic on this, but I’d wager that the average person also has a vested interest in socializing and going out...aka attending events.

If you can find a way to creatively connect those two interests, you’ll have no issue making the most of the year-end fundraising boom.  

Dan Quirk is the Marketing Manager at DonorPro, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. Dan's marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.

Dan received his degree in Business Management from Grove City College and earned a Marketing Strategy Certification from Cornell University. In addition, he is a Certified Inbound Marketer, Certified Hubspot Marketer, and a Certified Customer Advocacy Marketer.


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