Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits: A Practical Guide for Every Organization
Fundraising for nonprofit organizations can be exciting, stressful, and a lot of work!
Raising funds is the lifeblood of any charitable organization and tends to be an ongoing challenge for leadership. Through pandemics, economic stresses, good times, and bad, finding a way to keep the wheels turning is a core task.
Recent data highlights just how challenging fundraising can be. Donor metrics are typically driven by the largest groups of donors, made up of those who donate less than $500, along with one-time donors. Overall, those donors are estimated to be down by 7%.
Total donor dollars are slightly up across all sectors, largely thanks to bigger donors holding steady, but retention continues to be an issue, at approximately -4.2% across all categories of nonprofits organizations.
The bottom line for nonprofit leaders is that you need to keep donors engaged through a shifting environment, and you need solid fundraising ideas!
In this guide, we highlight unique fundraising ideas across a range of nonprofit categories. We’ve listed different ideas under each category, but you’ll notice that some strategies could be used for other categories or even all of them. You should find something here that your organization can implement.
Fundraising ideas for arts and culture nonprofit organizations
Arts and cultural organizations haven’t experienced the same overall slump in donors as other sectors, with donors up 5.4% and total dollars up over 8%. However, donor retention remains an issue, and organizations should look to innovative fundraising ideas to boost engagement and keep donors coming back.
Here are some ideas:
#1. Offer classes
Arts and cultural donors tend to have a high affinity with the organizations they donate to. They see the value of the arts as part of a thriving society and have a genuine interest in keeping arts and cultural appreciation alive.
Covid badly impacted “Live” events, such as anything on stage, but people are now eager to get back to in-person interactions. With this in mind, classes can be a great way to fundraise, even if you offer some online. For example:
- Art classes can be run either in-person or online. As an extra aspect of the fundraiser, you could sell kits that hold the materials people will need to complete the class. Some organizations have run very successful “paint and sip” style classes, for example.
- Theater workshops. These are definitely better in person. If possible, offer donors time with your skilled directors or actors so they take away some valuable lessons.
- Writer’s workshops. These work either in-person or online. Many people wish they could write the book, essay, or poetry ideas they’ve thought of, so give them something of value by helping them through practical steps and giving them feedback.
- Informative tours. What happens behind the scenes? Consider backstage tours that include some history and information about who does what job. Tours could be virtual or in-person.
- Classes via podcast. Did you know over one-third of Americans listen to podcasts regularly? Podcasting is huge and can be a way to generate fundraising dollars. There are a couple of ways to achieve this; you could seek sponsorship, where organizations pay to run advertisements in your podcasts, or, you can charge a membership fee for your podcast, or perhaps for premium content. (It can be a great practice to offer some episodes for free so that people get a taste and are willing to pay for more!).
#2. Sell NFTs
NFTS (Nonfungible tokens) are a recent phenomenon in the cryptocurrency space that has seen some sizable donations for arts organizations. An NFT is a crypto asset with distinguishable identification codes, with digital art being the most common iteration. These assets are purchased and stored on a blockchain, preventing duplication and clearly denoting ownership.
NFTs can be used to generate funds for arts and cultural organizations in two ways. Firstly, you can sell NFTs for profit. You do this either by minting your own NFTs to sell or by flipping NFTs that you’ve bought for a profit.
The second way to fundraise with NFTs is through projects that are designed to raise money for a cause in the first place. Here’s an example, where Ellen DeGeneres auctioned an NFT of one of her monologues to raise funds for World Kitchen.
#3. Fundraise online
Online fundraising offers you multiple opportunities and can be a relatively low-overhead way to generate funds. It offers the advantage of being able to open up beyond geographic boundaries and reach a wider audience. Some keys to success include:
- Use targeted advertising to reach the most likely audience. Fundraising intelligence software can help you to determine what that audience looks like.
- Have the right tools in place. You might need landing pages to gather information, or software that can deliver the form of fundraiser that you need. Factor the cost of tools or software into your budget.
- Craft an engaging “hook.” The online world is noisy so you need to grab the attention of your audience and prompt them to take action. It’s worth spending time getting your copy, video, or other media right.
What are some ideas for online fundraising? Here are a few from us:
- Host an online auction. Seek donations, or auction off things that don’t cost you anything, but are of value to donors. For example, a preferred parking spot at your facility or tickets to your next event.
- Offer an online course. What knowledge do you have that other people would pay to learn?
- Utilize Facebook fundraisers. There are a couple of ways to go about this. Firstly, you can directly host a fundraiser linked to your own Facebook page. This is generally in the form of simple requests for donations. Secondly, you can ask that your Facebook-using supporters run fundraisers for you. Facebook always offers people to fundraise in recognition of their birthday, so put it out there that you’d love your organization to be the recipient.
#4. Raffle unique opportunities
Raffles are a way to give more people the chance to win an opportunity while generating funds for your organization. Compared to auctions, raffles can encourage many smaller sales, whereas an auction relies on one winning bid for each item.
Selling tickets means that smaller donors will often have the chance to contribute, while your larger contributors may simply want to buy more tickets. As an arts and culture organization, consider what unique opportunities you might raffle, for example:
- The opportunity to conduct the orchestra at your next concert (or raffle this during the concert and draw after intermission).
- Personal tours or backstage access.
- Unique classes. The opportunity for one-on-one tutoring may also appeal.
- The opportunity to “meet and greet”, for example, with actors, singers, lecturers…
- Afternoon tea with someone important to your organization.
#5. Host a unique event
Arts and cultural organizations are often in the best position to host unique events that engage with donors. In fact, this is something to consider with regard to donor retention. When people look forward to events that they’ve enjoyed before, you’re more likely to see repeat supporters.
What can you do? Here are some thoughts:
- Variety concerts. Invite different artists to participate and put on a great show.
- Guest lectures. For example, engage someone well-known within your field who gives an interesting presentation.
- Charity gala. Many people love the excuse to dress up for an evening out!
- Degustation dinner.
- Film festival.
- Children’s camps or workshops.
#6. Reach out to patrons
Many arts and cultural organizations already have a list of loyal patrons who are strong advocates for the organization. Reaching out directly to your best supporters can be a relatively simple way to bring in more donations.
Some fundraising ideas for reaching out include:
- Keep people updated and engaged with the stories of your organization. Reach out with personal emails or handwritten notes.
- Pick up the phone. Engaging on a more personal level can encourage donations.
- Share your appreciation for their support. Let them know of the impact they have made. You could also publicly acknowledge them by including key sponsors on materials you publish (such as programs).
Fundraising ideas for community foundations
Community foundations are often challenged by their “community” nature. If times are tough in your community, it can be difficult to grow donations. In recent times, organizations falling under the category of “public or social benefit” have found an increase in donors and donor amounts, but again, struggle with retention.
Here are some ideas you can try under most circumstances:
#1. Offer professional development opportunities
What needs do you commonly see among the people or organizations who request your services or funding? These may be an opportunity to offer some professional development. This is a sort of win-win, whereby you can raise funds, while the people or organizations take away some knowledge or skills they can apply.
Some examples we’ve seen in communities include:
- Development around the administration or “business” side of an organization. For example, managing people, finances, or legal requirements.
- “How-tos” for marketing or driving membership. For example, how to effectively use social media.
- Leadership skills. For example, how to inspire others and drive organizational goals.
- Mental health awareness. For example, mental health first aid courses can be invaluable to leaders within all sorts of organizations.
#2. Needs-based sponsorship
Do you have a list of very specific needs for your organization? Needs-based sponsorship can be an answer to get those met.
For example, if you have a list of building maintenance needs, you could look for local construction companies who are willing to help. One way to do this is to clearly list all of your needs and publish it so that people know.
If you don’t need highly specialized skills, an approach such as a community help day may be a solution, especially for needs such as cleaning up or basic painting.
#3. Host community fundraising events
Rally the community and bring them together for a fundraising event. Events do tend to take a lot of planning to pull off, so put together a thorough plan beforehand and figure out where you can get sponsorships and event help.
Some ideas for community events include:
- Community BBQ.
- Concert in the park (or movies at the park).
- Pancake breakfast.
- Fun runs. These could be around a holiday or theme (such as Turkey Trots at Thanksgiving).
- Any sort of “a-thon”.
- Community cultural festival.
- A market or food truck festival.
- Community garden event day.
#4. Matching donations from local businesses
Local businesses may be willing to match donations from their customers. This can be a win-win where they gain customers and goodwill for support of a local organization, while you benefit from the proceeds.
Some larger businesses have programs where they’ll match their employee’s donations, so it’s worth looking into those and whether your organization is eligible to benefit. For example, you may have people who work remotely for a large company. Some of those allow their staff to choose who they’d like to support, so you could put the word out that you’d love to be the beneficiary!
Note here: for the best chance at getting these types of donations, make sure you have promotional materials that plainly communicate how you benefit the community and what you need donations for.
Another idea is that local restaurants may be willing to schedule specific days where supporters can purchase their meals and a portion of the proceeds gets donated. Restaurants may like the free marketing aspect of this, especially if you spread the word far and wide.
#5. Get other community groups involved
Other groups within your community may be willing to help out as needed. For example, some organizations have a service component to their programs. Girl Scouts have Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards that are based around service, and Boy Scouts also have service awards.
You’ll find that groups such as Soroptimists, rotary, or even school groups may be willing to help out.
#6. Tap into local volunteers for events
Many local groups are happy to provide volunteers for your events. Partner with organizations such as the Moose Lodge, Civil Air Patrol, Girl Scouts, 4H, or any other community groups that foster the spirit of participation in the community.
You can often get practical tasks taken care of that are an important part of hosting an event, such as clearing trash, directing parking, or providing information.
#7. Look for state or federal grants
There are grants targeted at almost every possible category of need, from sports, to environmental, to education. Finding, applying to, and meeting the requirements of grants does take some time, but can be well worth the effort. Grants databases can be useful for finding relevant opportunities. Some examples include:
Fundraising ideas for education nonprofit organizations
Educational fundraising has struggled recently with retention, although total donor numbers have remained stable. The sector has seen a small increase in total donor dollars.
The education sector covers a mixture of schools, education foundations, and universities, so here is a range of ideas that can work for any of these:
#1. Sponsorship opportunities
Sponsorship opportunities can be a way to draw in organizations, as well as individual donors. One suggestion to create opportunities for different capacities to give is to set sponsorship tiers. For example, you might have gold, silver, and bronze tiers. You could name every sponsor at each tier, or perhaps those on higher tiers get some sort of extra benefit (such as their name permanently on something).
Some ideas include:
- Sponsor a playground tile.
- Sponsor a bench.
- Get your business name on the sponsor banner.
- Sponsor an event (where your name goes on the promotional activities)
- Sponsor a brick.
#2. Peer-to-peer fundraising
Peer-to-peer fundraising is where you ask supporters to fundraise for you through their networks. A popular example is the many types of “a-thon” out there, where people request sponsorship in return for completing it.
Basic ingredients of P2P fundraising include:
- Define a campaign (e.g. walkathon etc). What type of fundraiser will it be and what is the goal?
- Set up individual fundraising pages (or gather paper-based pledges). Paper forms are the traditional way to gather pledges, but online, individual fundraising pages make it so much easier for your participants to spread the word and gather donations from farther away.
- Help your fundraisers to be successful. Your participants need clear fundraising materials that explain what they’re doing in order to attract donations.
- Acknowledge your fundraisers. Thank them for their efforts! Sometimes schools will include rewards or prizes.
#3. Product-based fundraising
Product-based fundraising is as it sounds – where organizations sell products to raise funds. One advantage of doing this is that if you have a desirable product, it tends to be easy to sell and therefore raise funds.
Look at Girl Scout cookies as an example – people look for those at a certain time of year. A disadvantage is that products often don’t have great margins, meaning you might not make much per unit sold.
There are some businesses online which will produce “to order” products. This means that you design the product and they only make it as it is ordered by people. The advantage of selling merchandise this way is that you don’t have large initial costs for ordering. Teespring is one example of such a business.
Some ideas for products include:
- Cookie dough.
- Supporter’s gear, such as t-shirts, caps, and beanies.
- Scratch cards.
- Gift wrap.
- Coffee beans.
- Seasonal fruit from your area. (Some schools in Queensland, Australia sell mangoes).
#4. Discount card fundraiser
Discount cards (or coupon books) are often popular with local donors, especially if they give them discounts at local businesses which they already know and love.
ABC Fundraising is an example of a company that produces custom discount cards for an organization’s fundraisers. The cards are wallet sized and can feature discounts for up to twenty businesses in your area. Their company works directly with merchants in your area to set up discounts.
An alternative is to take a DIY approach. You approach businesses to ask if they’ll offer a discount, then have cards printed, along with details of the discounts available.
#5. Host a raffle
Raffles are often popular among the wider community, especially if you have some desirable prizes. The key is to price tickets so that you sell plenty of them, but also more than make up the value of the prize.
You can either gather donations to raffle off, or look for desirable items that don’t cost you any money. For example a reserved parking spot, priority pick-up line, VIP seats for an event, principal for the day…
#6. Wishlists for in-kind donations
In-kind donations are donations of products or services that your organization needs. This sort of fundraiser can be valuable because it saves you from having to find the funds to purchase these things from your operational budget.
Sites like Amazon offer the ability to create a wishlist of items that your organization needs. This can be great for things like office equipment, stationery, art supplies, and more. You can enter the number of any given item that you need and these will automatically be removed from the wishlist once someone buys them.
You can also request donations of second-hand items if you need them, for example, furniture or tools. You could do this by publishing a wishlist, say on your social media channels or via email. Be very specific about what you need and don’t need, so as to avoid having to dispose of unneeded items.
#7. Host an auction
Organizations have options for how to run auctions these days. They can be traditional, where an auctioneer calls for bids, or they can be silent auctions, where people are given a set period of time to write down their bids on items. The highest bid when time is up wins.
Auctions may also be online or in-person. Sometimes online auctions are run across a few days, giving more people the opportunity to bid on items.
Here are some tips for successful auctions:
- Seek donations that you can auction off. Consider who your target audience will be and be very specific about the types of items you’re looking to auction.
- Keep a log of donated items as they come in, so you can keep track of them.
- Have an appropriate venue if you’re going to host a traditional auction. Consider factors such as acoustics – people need to be able to hear the auctioneer, and the auctioneer needs to be able to hear if people call out bids.
Fundraising ideas for faith-based nonprofit organizations
Recent data shows faith-based organizations have managed to increase total donated dollars, although donor numbers have barely grown, and retention is an issue.
Most faith-based organizations draw heavily upon their faith community, although many operate missions that are essential to the wider community, and attract donations specifically for the cause. Some may also be eligible for funding via secular grants or foundations.
Here are some ideas for fundraising:
#1. Set up virtual giving
Somewhere around 20% of faith observers attend services online at least some of the time, even in a world where most Covid restrictions have been lifted. These people aren’t seeing the collection plate at church, but are often more than willing to donate if given the opportunity.
Setting up virtual giving can be a relatively simple solution for faith-based organizations to attract those donations from online observers. Some solutions even allow for the setup of regular donations.
#2. Sell holiday merchandise
Does your faith have specific holidays that are important to celebrate? If it fits with your doctrine, selling holiday gifts based on your specific faith can be a way to help followers observe the holiday, or provide them with unique options for gifting.
An alternative, but a similar idea is to sell family crafting kits where people can make their own ornaments (or whatever the faith-inspired craft is). This can also help promote family-friendly activities, and parents often appreciate something that doesn’t involve screen time.
#3. Request donations for specific needs
People often respond to a poignant story. In fact, engaging storytelling has an important role to play in fundraising, by helping to capture the interest and emotions of donors. When you request a donation amount, telling a story about that donation can help draw people in.
You’ve probably seen the catalogs that organizations such as ChildFund put out, particularly around the holidays. They are an example of excellent storytelling which helps to let donors know how their contribution will be used.
For example, they might tell the story of Mary, who walks 20 miles each day to collect fresh water by hand. Mary faces risks and challenges on her journey, and in the end, must do the same thing the following day. BUT, your donation of $500 gets a well dug near her village so that she can access safe water without the risky journey.
People often want to know how their donation will be used, and this sort of technique captures attention.
#4. Set up memorial gift giving
Memorial gift giving is often a preferred alternative to donations or flowers for bereaved families. For example, you will see death notices or obituaries that state “in lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to X Organization in Bob’s name.”
This can often be facilitated by a well-thought-out, compassionately crafted page on your website that explains memorial gifting and provides easy steps to set it up. For example, take a look at Compassion’s memorial gifts page.
#5. Date night fundraiser
Many faith-based organizations have facilities suitable for childcare. They also often have a congregation or wider community which includes parents who struggle to get adult time together.
A solution could be to arrange a fun kid’s night so parents can take a date night. Your organization provides a safe venue, vetted carers, snacks, and activities for kids while their parents enjoy an evening out.
#6. Host a benefit concert
Benefit concerts or even faith-based music festivals can be a great way to bring together people who enjoy good music and would like to support your organization. It’s a simple concept; you arrange the venue, logistics, and line-up of bands, then sell tickets.
You could raise additional funds by selling merchandise or other product-based fundraising items at the concert. Selling food and beverages can also help you to raise some money.
#7. Set up recurring giving
There are a surprising number of faith-based organizations that still don’t have any ability to offer simple, recurring giving options. Many people are prepared to give a small amount regularly. The decision is made easier for them when you have the systems in place to easily set that up.
Software such as Tithe.ly, Vanco Payments, and EasyTithe can help you to set up recurring giving.
Fundraising ideas for healthcare nonprofit organizations
Healthcare organizations have seen both a drop in donors and a dive in donor retention. Fundraising dollars are only marginally up, having increased by about 1.3% year-on-year.
Healthcare organizations tend to raise their biggest donations through bequests and philanthropists, often amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. They are also often eligible for grant funding.
One way healthcare can be “different” in terms of fundraising is the special characteristics brought about by responsibilities to patients, and falling in line with privacy laws. For example, you must be very careful not to violate HIPAA. When fundraising, it’s always important to be mindful of the role healthcare providers play, and seek to promote trust with the community.
Many of the ideas below relate to drawing in smaller donors, a group that has dropped off significantly:
#1. Baby tiles
If your organization happens to be a hospital where babies are born, you’ll find that families often have a strong attachment to the place where the young life of their child began. People often like to memorialize events like the birth of a child if they are able, which can present an opportunity.
Parents, grandparents, godparents, or other loved ones can be encouraged to purchase a tile for their child, who was born at the healthcare facility. You display these tiles, engraved with their names, in your building according to a year of birth and it creates a feature that they’ll enjoy visiting for years to come.
#2. Benefit gala
Healthcare organizations are often considered by wealthy donors. The question is often how to attract their attention and make them aware of your needs.
Benefit galas or black tie events are among the more “traditional” strategies for healthcare fundraising. Events can include key speakers who talk about initiatives your organization wishes to implement, their impact on the community, and what you need to make those things happen.
A gala may also be an opportunity to run adjacent fundraising. Your audience will usually consist of a mixture of potential high-value donors, and those who would like to give, but aren’t considered high-value. For the latter group, including something like an auction, or prize drawing for those who set up a regular contribution may be appropriate.
#3. Memorial benches, plaques, and funds
As is the nature of healthcare organizations, they’re often places that people only have a lot to do with because they have a condition that needs treatment. Patients often form strong attachments to their carers in those places and value the role they played in their life.
Memorial fundraising can be a fitting tribute for bereaved families. Your organization can offer things like:
- Memorial benches.
- A plaque in a memorial garden.
- Tree planting in memorial.
- Donations to your foundation in memorial.
You can make it easy for people by having memorial donations set up online. Give people options to choose from and an easy way to pay.
#4. Gift shop
Hospital gift shops often see a lot of traffic. People come looking for ideal patient gifts, or even gifts that they plan to give to someone else.
If you have the space, a gift shop can be a good fundraiser for your organization. Bear in mind that you’ll need people to staff it, although it’s possible you could get volunteers to cover shifts.
#5. Holiday festival
Healthcare organizations that want better community engagement and impact might consider hosting a holiday festival. Some ideas to put one together include:
- Find a venue that has easy parking and space for multiple people and activities.
- Invite local groups to entertain, such as choirs and dance studios.
- Include pictures with Santa, hot chocolate, cookies, and other beloved holiday traditions. (You could consider bundling these things in the ticket price).
- Have craft stations for kids.
- Sell holiday items (such as ornaments) from your gift shop.
- Raffle or auction items that might be given as gifts.
#6. Challenge month
Challenge months usually leverage the power of peer-to-peer fundraising. For example, participants might complete a physical challenge or give up something in return for donations from their peers.
Here are some examples currently used:
- Movember (mustache growing to bring awareness to men’s health issues).
- Dry July ( challenges people to abstain from drinking alcohol for the month of July).
- Monthly virtual challenges. The American Cancer Society sets up challenges online to promote better health. For example, 25 push-ups a day challenge, or 50 squats a day challenge.
#7. Trivia night
A fundraising trivia night is a way to offer fun engagement with your local community. You might choose to base your trivia around a theme, such as an important health cause you want to promote, or you might offer more general categories.
Here are some tips for a successful trivia night fundraiser:
- Sell “mulligans”(second chances for wrong answers), but not to a point where teams can buy a win. For example, you might limit to one mulligan per round and charge $10 for 10 mulligans.
- Set up for success. Make sure there are enough tables and chairs and that teams won’t be on top of one another.
- Have appropriate sound equipment. If you have a person reading questions, teams must be able to hear, no matter where they are seated. You may need a microphone. Hint: test any audio and visual equipment more than once before your evening begins.
- You could use games between some rounds to raise extra funds. It’s usually a better experience if those are kept short. People start to tire if the evening drags out!
- Give breaks to get refreshments etc, but not too many! Two or three are usually enough.
- Double-check your questions and answers. While mistakes sometimes happen, trivia teams tend to get annoyed by wrong answers!
#8. Celebrity endorsement
Celebrities with a story to tell can be a powerful way to draw in more donors. If you can connect with celebrities with an affinity for your cause, they may be willing to front a campaign for your organization. Some examples include Jennifer Garner for Save the Children and Sofia Vergara for St. Jude Hospital.
If your organization has had a celebrity patient, there’s a chance they may be willing to endorse your campaign. For example, if you provide orthopedic surgery and care, a famous athlete that you have treated could be an engaging endorsement. Alternatively, maybe you already have a celebrity among your list of supporters.
Getting celebrity endorsement is often not an easy path. Unless you have a direct relationship (such as them being a current donor), you’ll often have to go through agents or other third parties to try to connect with them. It can be worthwhile making the effort, especially as celebrity endorsements are known to bring in more donations from the public.
Why fundraising intelligence is the key to success
No matter what your fundraising strategy is, you can greatly improve your results by using data to plan your approach. How do you know who to ask? What signs indicate that a fundraising idea will appeal to your target audience?
This is where fundraising intelligence software comes in. iWave helps you to identify more prospective donors, their characteristics and preferences, and their capacity to give. With wealth screening, multi-lens modeling, prospecting, and analytics features, or robust fundraising intelligence can give your campaigns an edge.
iWave can help any nonprofit from any sector. You can request a demo here.
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- Request a Demo and see how iWave can help your nonprofit organization target the best potential donors.
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