Holding an event is a fast and effective way to raise funds for your charity, club, or other non-profit organization. And the opportunities are only expanding — the growth of virtual fundraising events now puts deep pockets around the globe within reach. But maybe you’re ready for something fresher than another bake sale or black-tie dinner and don’t know where to begin looking for virtual fundraising event ideas. We’ve been there. So we found innovative event organizers in the US and UK and put together a list of fantastic ideas for unique fundraising events.

1. Go wet and wild

In the UK, some charities capitalize on the (crazy) tradition of Boxing Day swims by organizing charity dips. Themes range from Pirates and Princesses to Angels and Santas. Despite below-freezing water temperatures, brave bathers raise thousands of pounds for charities.

Not to be outdone, in the US and Canada, charities sometimes organize fundraisers around a polar bear plunge. But an adventurous fundraiser need not involve cold water: try a relay race, or join the many fundraisers trying out virtual races.

Take-away: People love the great outdoors, so why not move your next event into the elements?

2. Get artistic

Street art has become very popular all over the globe, and smart organizers have leveraged that popularity with charity street art events — often called “paint jams.” These events bring together several street artists to paint live, reeling in fans to watch the artists in action, either in-person or by live streaming. You can also sell art supplies beforehand so your audience can join in on the fun, like San Gabriel Mission High School did.

Take-away: People love to see and take part in unusual activities — it can actually be more compelling than typical “performances” like live music. When you’re planning your next spectacle, think outside the box.

3. Take a swing

We’ve all joined in on a game of soccer or kickball, whether during grade school PE or after-school activities, so sports are a great way to get people involved in your charity event. Put together a soccer tournament or work your connections and make it a celebrity golf game like UK organizer Watson Metters Golf often does.

Take-away: Sports events are a great way to rally donors — and even better if there are celebrities involved.

4. Get pampered

Sometimes, the easiest way to raise funds is to get people to splurge — on themselves. Self-care events can work great virtually — just ask UK creator Judith Onwubiko. Hook your audience up with pre-delivered lotions, conditioners, or other products, then connect them to a self-care expert for tips and tricks.

Take-away: Who doesn’t like to get pampered every now and then? Especially if it’s for charity!

5. Hide clues around your city

Puzzle events like escape rooms and scavenger hunts are growing in popularity, so this is a perfect time to start your very own treasure hunt. Hands-on activities like this are a great way to keep participants engaged, and are even a chance for the whole family to get involved.

Take-away: People love a challenge, and what better way to test their brainpower than with a scavenger hunt?

6. Get gaming

Grab some retro consoles, borrow some TVs, and you’ve got yourself a gaming event. Go all night and you’ve got a marathon. This fundraising event is great for kids and adults alike. Since video games can often be played online, and even watched online through sites like Twitch, it’s a perfect fit for an online fundraiser.

Take-away: Gaming marathons are an unconventional but smart way to raise money. And if you have a gamer in your life, you’ll be giving them a once-in-a-lifetime excuse to play all day!

7. Tap into animal instincts

Get on a call with the wild. In order to raise funds in the wake of recent closings, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo will let you add superstars like rhinos Taj and Glen, to your next Zoom conference. Looking for something a little furrier? They’ve got skunks, raccoons, wallabies, and more ready for their camera time — just give their agent a call.

Take-away: People love and respond to animals. Turn your fundraiser into a fur-raiser.

8. Head to the kitchen

Sagesse is a Calgary-based non-profit devoted to fighting domestic violence. They’ve put together a series of online fundraisers called Cooking for a Cause, in which they send recipe ingredients to ticket purchasers, and invite a guest — chef, food blogger, cocktail master — to provide the secrets to food success.

Take-away: Food is a delicious way to convince your attendees to open their mouths — and wallets.

9. Fashion cents

An alumnae group of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority raised money for a scholarship fund with a fashion show. Showcasing boutique fashions, skincare, cosmetics, and more, they also included an online auction and a DJ.

Take-away: Fashion’s always changing, which creates a never-ending interest in the latest looks. It’s a great opening to get people also interested in your fundraiser.

10. Dress it up

Challenge people to put on a costume and watch them cut loose. Choose a theme or go theme-less and leave the imagining to your guests. Make it simply a costume party, or turn it into a contest like Youth Singers of Calvary did. People love an excuse to put on a disguise and pretend to be someone else, even when it’s not Halloween.

Take-away: Getting your guests involved in your fundraiser helps to inspire them to contribute to your event’s success.

11. Powder play

WOCRC saw the winter flurries as a fun way to fundraise. Have a snowball fight, a snowman-making contest, or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, try dog-sledding.

Take-away: Fun and frivolity are brilliant ways to engage people in fundraisers, and finding one hook you can repeat each year reduces the amount of time you have to spend thinking of new ideas. Can you come up with an original activity that would appeal to your attendees?

12. Do the twist

The San Antonio Zoo brings new meaning to romance on Valentine’s Day each year. For a donation, participants can name a cockroach or rodent after an ex, and then grin diabolically as the zoo feeds the creepy crawlies to their resident birds, snakes, and lizards.

Take-away: Putting an ironic or humorous twist on your event can be a great way to stand out and get people excited to take part in your fundraiser. And livestreaming or including a virtual component invites the whole world to your event.

13. In it for the laughs

Fundraising’s easier when everyone’s having fun. From stand-up to sketch routines, there are numerous ways to inject some levity into a fundraiser. Make it an open mic and let your attendees take part, or get a pro to MC the entire night. Or bring your canine for stand pup comedy.

Take-away: Who doesn’t like to laugh? One key to fundraising is simply getting people in the door, so emphasizing laughter and fun can only help.

14. I see a theme here

Choosing a good theme can turn an ordinary fundraising event into a great one. It works especially well when the theme complements or reflects the purpose of the fundraiser. The Eugene Public Library hosted a fundraiser using a literary theme when it hosted its Bookish Brain Trivia Contest.

Take-away: Tapping into a popular theme that is already familiar can work wonders for your attendee engagement. Just be careful when using trademarked or copyrighted brands for your own purposes – make sure you seek relevant permissions and legal advice where necessary.

In conclusion

Fundraising is a competitive marketplace, so the quirkier and more interesting your events the more you’ll stand out and excite your supporters. The great thing is, technology now allows for different kinds of fundraising events, with virtual fundraising quickly becoming as important as in-person events.

The key, as ever, is attracting — and engaging — your audience. Learn how to market your event, then get brainstorming on ways to engage the audience.

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