So, what's it going to be — a barbeque, a golf tournament, or art auction? Or will you be selling chocolates, candles, magazines, or used cars? If you use your imagination, you can ponder all sorts of unique and interesting fundraising possibilities.
Among the most popular fundraising options today are auctions, walk-or bikeathons, carnivals, and the always-popular sale of magazines, candy, wrapping paper, or other easy-to-manage (and transport and distribute) lowcost items. Benefit dinners, banquets, wine-tastings, and golf outings are more popular among the business and corporate crowd. Comedy nights, bowling events, and elegant fundraising house parties are also effective methods to raise funds.
While fundraising outings are widely held, do not discount the “nonevent event” where supporters simply send a check or donate online within a certain time frame and expect nothing in return.
In recent years, auctions have become a leading type of fundraiser for schools, associations, charitable groups, and religious organizations. The competitive nature of winning an item lends extra excitement to spending money. People are often willing to spend more than the value of the item, knowing it is for a worthy cause.
Auctions are a good choice for almost any kind of group or organization because they can be run on many different levels. By determining the economic level of your prospective attendees, you can get a feel for how high end you want to go. Usually, a cross section of reasonable goods and services works well for a club, association, school, or community/neighborhood group.
Kinds of Auctions
Traditional auctions need to be carefully planned so that the pace maintains a level of excitement. Items need to be displayed before the auction begins, and methods of bidding must be clearly explained. It is important that there are written rules and guidelines regarding how the auction is run so that final sales are not contested later. A program listing the items also needs to be carefully prepared in advance and distributed to everyone in attendance.
Silent auctions can be handled in one of two ways. Bids can be written down and placed in a bowl next to the item — the highest bidder then wins the item. Another way is to have everyone purchase tickets at the door for a set amount and place the tickets in bowls next to the items they are interested in bidding on. Then a lottery-style drawing occurs for each item. This is called a Chinese auction.
Planning an Auction
An auction committee of fifteen people is ideal. Members of the committee will handle such areas as securing donations of goods and services, cataloging or listing all donated items or services, picking up and storing auction items, transporting items to and from the auction site, preparing and printing up the list of items, publicizing the event, and staffing the auction.
While traditional auctions provide more excitement and can run the bidding up higher on popular items, a silent auction can allow the shy attendees to get involved, which is likely to increase the number of participants. Many people think of auctions as a means of buying valuable paintings or antiques at auction houses and are intimidated by the idea of bidding. Nonetheless, either type of auction — or a combination of both — can prove highly successful, as evidenced by the popularity of fundraising auctions.
If you are running a silent auction and know your event is short on time, try this approach. Print out a sheet of the winning numbers and distribute them to the tables of guests. Those who win can quickly claim their prize, and the rest of the audience can call it a night.
The key to a successful auction of any kind is having the goods and services of value to auction off. Parameters need to be set up regarding the range of items you are looking for. In some cases, auctions have a theme, such as sports or cooking, but most often schools, charities, and community groups auction off a wide range of items of reasonable value.
It is up to those staging the auction to tap into the community donations of items or free services to be provided. A letter, brochure, and/or flier describing the specific need for funding will be necessary to attract donors. The mission and background of your group or organization must be clearly explained in print and in your sales pitch. Credibility on the part of those handling the auction will make or break your number of donations.
Of course, celebrity donations have a nice cache. A-list items such as Joe Frazier's boxing gloves or a jersey signed by Mia Hamm are bound to bring in big bucks. Again, find out who your inner circle knows or can access. Some experts recommend expanding a committee to as many as thirty-five people in order to broaden the possibilities.
Coordinate who is soliciting which vendors, merchants, or service providers. You don't want to annoy the very people who are donating items by having multiple people approach them after they already made a donation.
When soliciting, it is important to talk to the owner or manager and get a firm commitment in writing. Have a very basic agreement to be signed by someone in a responsible position in the store or business. Also, find out how and when you can pick up the item or display the service they will provide. Sometimes, a restaurant will give you a menu or a service provider will have you display her card and a brochure.
The items don't have to be expensive. One popular trick of the auction trade is to put smaller items together into a theme package. For example, a “Night on the Town” package might combine dinner at a nice restaurant, theater tickets, and free babysitting. Food baskets and handmade items or baskets of goodies put together by children can also be very popular and fun prizes. And don't discount free items that may hold value to members, such as a parking spot in a busy area.
Finally, don't forget to give credit to all of the people who donated goods and services at the auction as each winner is announced, and thank the donors at the end of the evening.
Selling items has always been a simple and effective means of raising money. From candles to grand pianos, the variety of items sold for fundraising purposes is quite vast. The Internet now serves as a valuable resource for finding bulk quantities of candy, candles, key chains, T-shirts, or thousands of other items for fundraising purposes. In fact, many one-stop-shop fundraising websites serve as portals to numerous vendors and merchants.
Before ordering from an online vendor, try to find out which vendors other nonprofits have used. Call and get shipping terms, a timetable, and a return policy, and ask questions before ordering from an online vendor.
While door-to-door sales are mostly a thing of the past in today's environment, children and adults have found that networking through friends, neighbors, coworkers, and relatives is an effective manner of selling goods. Wrapping paper, magazines, cookie dough, and other gourmet items have become favorites with schools and youth groups. Given the popularity of annual magazine subscriptions, it is a safe bet that your group could also sell a few subscriptions.
Before you start out, do some canvassing to see if any similar fundraising drives are taking place in your community. The third magazine drive of the season is likely to be a bust in a small town. Be prepared to counter other sales trends. For example, if every school in town is selling magazines, then be the first in the neighborhood to sell items like light bulbs or toilet paper (everyone needs them, right?). In fact, one elementary school had great success selling compact fluorescent light bulbs, raising funds for the school and raising awareness for the environment at the same time.
The keys to successful selling for a fundraiser are:
Selling an item that provides you with a high enough markup to reach your goal
Having a realistic sales campaign in a realistic time frame
Making sure the buyer knows which group, school, or organization you represent (have literature and a badge or some type of identification)
Staffing with convincing, but not pushy, salespeople
Being able to describe the value of your product to the consumer
Keeping accurate records of sales and making sure buyers receive their goods in a timely manner
A sales drive can be effective for a wide range of fundraising groups. The choice of item and means of selling will depend on your target audience, so research their buying habits.
Another popular fundraising activity is an age-old favorite, the carnival. Youth groups, schools, synagogues, and charities have all run successful carnivals. A carnival takes meticulous planning and preparation because it is a one-time event with numerous details involved.
Scheduling a carnival requires looking closely at other activities and holidays on the calendar to make sure there is no conflict, and that you will be able to draw a crowd. It requires that you have a secure, accessible location and available parking space. Games and activities should be carefully planned so they are safe for children as well as adults. Prizes must be distributed fairly. Rides need to be carefully inspected to make sure they are safe.
Police and fire department officials need to know what is taking place and will generally provide support, providing, of course, you have any necessary permits or licenses to run a carnival. Look into local licensing and permit requirements well in advance.
Where do you get initial funding to kick off an event like a carnival or fair?
To run a carnival, a group or organization will need to either dip into its treasury or seek sponsorship to cover the costs of the activities or the whole event. Vendors or sponsors can set up their own booths or rides. Activities can also be donated by members or from existing resources. Be creative and resourceful.
Games and activities like ring toss, bean bag races, baseball pitching, shooting baskets, rope climbing, bowling, face painting, dance contests, and numerous others can be initiated with little expense and without bringing in major carnival rental equipment. The use of professional carnival activities should be decided well in advance in conjunction with your budget and funding needs.
Carnivals require a significant amount of preparation because there are many tasks involved, including finding the site, promoting the event, setting up, selling tickets, manning activities, and cleaning up. Plan a carnival well in advance and always have a rain date.
Bikeathons, walkathons, bowlathons, danceathons, and similar events are very popular with charitable organizations looking to raise money. For example, the annual Walk for the Cure is a walkathon designed to raise money for cancer research. The need to determine where this activity can take place is paramount in planning such a fundraising activity. You will need to secure, often with local police and municipal authorities, a safe route for bicycles or walkers to follow. Promotion, prizes (hopefully sponsored), and security and safety measures need to be addressed well in advance.
You also need to print pledge sheets and give participants a reasonable amount of time to get pledges from friends, neighbors, and relatives. Such activities can be excellent fundraisers because they have low initial costs. However, they require a lot of planning, promotion, and manpower.
Online applications can help a group maximize results. Convio's Team-Raiser, for instance, enables volunteers to create web pages linked to an organization or event. Volunteers can also e-mail their contacts about their event participation and measure and display their fundraising progress. They can post photos, links, progress reports, and other content options, making the web page a destination site for their family and friends. What's more, they can use the site to manage secure online and offline donations. This is just one of many software programs on the market, so research the market before selecting the application that is most appropriate for your group.
Remember that the stars of your event are the walkers, dancers, bikers, or bowlers — the people who are doing whatever activity you've come up with. Therefore, it is important that you meet the needs of all of your participants. Water, towels, healthy snacks, rest areas, and even medical attention should be available, and encouragement and support should be provided.
These types of events don't end when the event is over. One of the biggest aspects (and occasionally headaches) of the event is collecting the money from pledges. Most people will be forthright and prompt about paying what they pledged. However, there's always one person who takes forever to send you the money. Be persistent and try to collect all pledged money.
Events with a Twist
Host a comedy night with up-and-coming comics providing the entertainment, and a panel of local celebrity judges or well-known personalities in your community. Try to get a professional comic to MC to keep the evening moving along. With this kind of event, you will be helping area talent build an audience and supporting your cause at the same time.
If your organization attracts the patronage of wealthy contributors, host a dinner in the spectacular private home of one of your supporters. With this kind of function, the more elaborate the home, the better. Your event will attract a big audience, for instance, if the home is filled with original art or is adorned by beautiful gardens. When you are scouting for locations, be sure to thank anyone who offers his home, and use tact when selecting one over another.
Try a bowling event, and up the ante by selling sponsorship rights for individual lanes, the way a golf outing might sell sponsorship rights to holes or flags. It's the kind of event that brings new meaning to the phrase “bowling for dollars.”
The Nonevent Event
The nonevent usually consists of a mailing asking supporters for contributions to a cause within a specified time frame. This “unevent” is in lieu of running the traditional gala or golf outing, and it may appeal to donors who are plagued with event fatigue. There's an added plus: The nonevent gives donors the peace of mind of knowing the majority of their contributions go directly to their favorite causes, rather than paying for caterers and staff resources.
The nonevent event is a perfect way to let contributors know you appreciate their donations — and their time. Use this opportunity to thank them by inviting them to relax at home, send a contribution, and know that on this particular occasion, they don't have to attend yet another outing to support an important cause.