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Event Planning & Management
6 September 2018 

10 Innovative Fundraising Event Examples

Maria Waida
10 Innovative Fundraising Event Examples

Inspire your donor engagement strategy with these 10 innovative fundraising event examples. Featuring puppies, haircuts and human-powered cars.

With the growing popularity of digital donation sites like GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and Crowdrise, in-person fundraising events are more important than ever. Sending money to a nonprofit without ever interacting with a live human being can’t compare to the uniquely dynamic connections that can be made in person.

But the way we think about planning fundraising events is starting to shift as nonprofits compete with the seemingly endless supply of online donation sites.

Events provide a valuable solution.

However, for an event to be successful, it needs to be memorable. It needs to provide a positive experience to your attendees. A survey conducted by Nonprofit Tech for Good found that 91% of donors believe that positive emotions like hope and empathy are the driving force behind their willingness to give.

Face-to-face communication offers a valuable way to tap into these positive emotions. However, generic fundraising events just won’t cut it anymore and are being replaced with creative fundraising event ideas like mini golf bar crawls and engineering competitions.

Fortunately for event organizers wondering how to create successful fundraising events in 2018 and beyond, there are plenty of examples to draw inspiration from. Fundraising events like the ones created by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers bring together passionate community members, investors, and leaders for a chance to connect over a shared cause.

In this post we’ll cover some of the most inventive fundraising event examples we’ve seen. But first, there’s one question we need to answer.

What is a fundraising event?

Fundraising events are the combination of fundraising strategies and event marketing techniques that generate high event ROI. By leveraging these fundraising tactics for a physical event, nonprofits can attract the best donors from a wider range of communities. Speaking face-to-face, making eye contact, and making introductions helps guests achieve that feel-good experience they wouldn’t be able to have through a 30 second video and a few clicks of a mouse.

In brief, fundraising events gather and engage prospective financial supporters who are passionate about a cause that an organization is championing.

The first thing people think of when they picture a nonprofit fundraising event is a giant hall with tables and name placards scattered throughout. However, well-known nonprofits are finding that creative marketing tactics coupled with helpful event software can help find top donors while also offering attendees something more than a glass of wine.

These creative fundraising event examples include:

  • Members-Only Education Opportunities
  • Industry Festivals
  • Super Bowl Parties
  • Eating Contests
  • Doggy Talent Shows
  • And More

Let’s check out some of the best examples below.

10 Innovative Fundraising Event Examples

1) Entrepreneurs’ Organization Accelerator Program 

The Entrepreneurs' Organization combines networking and education at their events

Source: EO Networks

Entrepreneur’ Organization (EO) donors get just as much (if not more) than they give. The Entrepreneurs Organization offers a structured educational course that helps first-stage business owners grow their businesses to over $1 million USD in sales. The skills learned in the course helps make donors better entrepreneurs and leaders.

The program centers around connecting newbie entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals for guidance and support through various educational events. The courses covered include creating sustainable top line growth, managing talent, executing a strategy that provides an advantage over competitors. Through this unique model of peer-to-peer learning attendees have the chance to access a wide array of networking opportunities. You can check out more networking event examples here.

Key Takeaways:

  • Offer donors a valuable gift they’ll actually use.
  • Create a community atmosphere to ensure repeat donations down the line.
  • Add prestige by only allowing current donors to apply.

2) The American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s Human Powered Vehicle Competition

A group from ASME poses at a competition event

Source: ASME

Who doesn’t love a good invention? ASME hosts a yearly engineering event that challenges young engineers to create never-before-seen vehicles entirely powered by man. Judges award prizes based on design, manufacturing, and creative use of robotics.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineering hosts not one, not two, but three different competitions across the world, giving their event a multicultural importance as well as an increased opportunity for global brand recognition. Human powered vehicles are one of the most useful forms of transportation in underdeveloped or inaccessible parts of the world. Winning designs have been used to create viable forms of sustainable transport in real life.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use advanced technology (like an event app) to create and execute your fundraiser.
  • Offer multiple locations so participants in various parts of the world can join the event.
  • Create an event that is as unique as your organization.

3) The Kevin Turner Foundation’s Mike Ditka and Friends 

Celebrities and attendees mix at the Kevin Turner Foundation's fundraising event

Photo Source: Gridiron Greats

Celebrated NFL coach Mike Ditka wants to grab a beer with you before kickoff this football season. The football legend and his friends are the guests of honor at The Kevin Turner Foundation’s yearly charity event.

In this fundraising event example, attendees pick from various event sponsorship packages that offer goodies like promotional opportunities, open bar tickets for VIP guests, and a private meet and greet with Mike Ditka and other famous football names. The event also features live music, entertainment, and great food.

Key Takeaways:

  • Team up with celebrities your donors would love to meet.
  • Offer more than one type of sponsorship package.   
  • Plan events on unofficial holidays that pair well with your cause.

4) MENCAP’s Four Pound Burger Challenge 

The MENCAP team poses at one of their fundraising events

Photo Source: MENCAP

This event brings a new meaning to putting your money where your mouth is. Here the mental health charity MENCAP gave contestants a chance to enter and win a burger eating challenge that consists of – you guessed it – a whopping four pound beef patty with all the fixings. For guests who wanted to join in on the fun but weren’t in the mood to eat approximately 16 quarter pounders, they also offered a second competition with half the meat.

When the event organizers at MENCAP first ran the contest, there was only one participant who finished (Paul Bridges, a rugby player, who clocked in at 57 minutes and 31 seconds), achieving instant fame for his super speedy burger eating skills. If eating meat isn’t your thing, this type of contest can be replicated with pretty much any food item offered in bulk. 

Key Takeaways:

  • People will do almost anything for bragging rights.
  • Friendly competition is contagious.
  • Humans are fascinated by large quantities of food.

5) Great Falls Animal Shelter Sidekicks’ Fall Fantasy Dog Show

The Great Falls Animal Shelter's Dog Show is a great fundraising event example

Source: Great Falls Animal Shelter

Looking for a fundraising event that’s both family friendly and incredibly fun? Take a page out of the Great Falls Animal Shelter’s book with their Fall Fantasy Dog Show. Guests enter their pups to show off their tricks in a number of hilarious competitions that include Waggiest Butt, Best Biscuit Catcher, and Most Mysterious Heritage.

They chose to pair the dog show with other picture-perfect fall events like a chili cook-off and pumpkin decorating station. Whatever time of year you choose, themed activities add a little something special to an already creative fundraising event idea.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pets make every event ten times better.
  • Use the seasons to inspire guest activities.
  • Entice donors with an event their entire family can enjoy.

6) Pretty Pampers Beauty Essex’s Pamper Me Fabulous

Who knew pampering could make for such a successful fundraising event?

Source: SingularCity.com

In 2016 Pretty Pampers Beauty Essex hosted a charity event that offered affordable and luxurious experiences while raising money The Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Local spas teamed up to provide steeply discounted services like massages and facials so donors could relax and unwind. In between sessions, guests could shop boutique stalls featuring local clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, and home decor.

They also included a raffle with prizes donated by featured vendors and brand name companies. And if that wasn’t enough, they even hired dancers and face painters to keep everyone entertained!

Key Takeaways:

  • Work with local businesses to showcase their services in exchange for their time.
  • If you offer any retail at your event, be sure to include a raffle featuring those products.
  • Put your own twist on a tried-and-true fundraising event idea.

7) Extra Life’s Game Day

Extra Life's fundraising event

Source: Extra Life

Extra Life’s Game Day raises over $40 million for sick and injured kids, proving that video games aren’t actually that bad for us. Their gaming competition offers unique awards, swag, and a promising day of unforgettable video game fun. Keeping with the theme, Game Day winners earn badges for various accomplishments that can be shared on social media.

Returning participants receive special treatment with legacy wings around their avatars and special power ups based on their donation size. Their community page makes it easy to access their branding guidelines, connect with other organizations and bond over shared values.

Key Takeaways:

  • Plan events around activities your donors already love to do.
  • Any event can be gamified for an extra dose of fun.
  • Provide clear instructions that make getting involved simple.

8) Sojourner Family Peace Centers’ ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’

Walk A Mile in Her Shoes in action

Source: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ is now an award-winning walkathon dedicated to helping victims of abuse with their iconic heel walk. In this mile long trek, men literally wear women’s heels to raise awareness of the dangers of men’s sexualized violence towards women.

Participants pay a small fee to enter the walk and can even purchase the symbolic high-heels from the organization itself. Male participants unaccustomed to the tortures of women’s fashion were surprised by how much they did or did not mind wearing the shoes.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use a powerful symbol to unite your guests.
  • Create a themed walk based on your cause.
  • Make a statement by taking an ordinary event (walking in high-heels) and adding an unusual element (cisgendered men walking in high-heels).


9) The Heart Foundation’s Love Locks

The Love Locks

Source: The Heart Foundation

In a quirky art piece planted firmly in the path of the over 500,000 pedestrians who cross its path in this bustling shopping mall every day, thousands of engraved locks hang from big red letters spelling L-O-V-E. The Heart Foundation’s famous statue is home to padlocked declarations of love available for $10 a pop to whomever wants to make their relationship status official. This genius display has so far attracted over 7,000 couples.

While the sculpture is not technically a one-time event (the sculpture and its heart-shaped locks still hang from it today), its unveiling proved a huge success. The mayor of Perth, the home of Love Locks, was the first to install her lock to the piece. The clever hashtag (#lockinlove) and picturesque wedding photo backdrop make this charity memorable for donors around the world.

Key Takeaways:

  • Choose an event that allows guests to express themselves in some way.
  • Permanent structures create decades of brand awareness.
  • Donors love a good hashtag.


10) WDVE’s South Side Summer Open

Mini Golf Bar Crawl as a fundraising event

Source: WDVE

The annual mini golf bar crawl in downtown Pittsburgh attracts hundreds of players to its neighborhood charity event. Teams of four sign up to compete, bringing homemade or custom-printed shirts to represent their squad.

Each participant receives a commemorative participation shirt along with a club. Mini putt putt greens are installed at participating bars and restaurants. Players have the entire afternoon to work their way up and down Pittsburgh’s famous strip.

Key Takeaways:

  • Events with silly activities are usually the most fun.
  • Make a bar crawl unique by adding a creative twist on the experience.
  • Coordinating with dozens of groups and locations can be challenging. Use an event management software to keep things organized.  

What You Need to Know About Fundraising Events

Fundraising events are important because they offer in-person opportunities to form connections and experience positive emotions in a way that online donation services do not. Creative event strategies include hosting events that allow guests to further develop their knowledge of the cause while also boosting your event brand in a memorable way.

Even if you only remember one of these creative ideas for your next fundraising event, here are the five key takeaways:

  1. Be creative with your event like the Fall Fantasy Dog Show or Game Day. It can engage donors and help them connect to the cause in a meaningful way. They can also gain confidence in their association with your brand.
  2. Your event attendees are extremely passionate and enthusiastic about your mission, why else would they be there? You have the perfect opportunity to talk to your target donors and form genuine relationships.
  3. Reach out to donors rather than having them go out of their way to find you. You can establish your presence through annual events or by hosting multiple fundraisers in various locations.
  4. Collaborate with an established event rather than hosting your own. You’ll reach a larger audience with new potential donors as well as complimentary nonprofits to team up with again in the future.
  5. When looking for the best donors, sometimes you don’t need to look any further than your own patrons. Providing added value with unexpected opportunities and community engagement can influence existing donors to increase their current pledge or make the switch from one-time to reoccurring supporters.

Trying to find the best technical solution for your needs? Take the Event Technology Assessment.

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