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7 charity event ideas every nonprofit should know

These classic charity events examples will draw supporters new and old. Get fresh ideas for charity events and tips on how to host a charity event (the easy way!).

Kylie Davis
June 8, 2023
December 17, 2020
Nerd Mr Butter

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Whether you’re fundraising for your nonprofit organization or raising funds for your favorite charity, you’ll always need fresh and creative ways to get people giving. Hosting an event is one of the fastest and most fun methods of driving donations. Events for charity have great turnout rates and bring your supporters together under one physical (or virtual) roof.

There’s also the fact that charity fundraiser events are endlessly customizable—you never have to do the same event twice. A different theme, new location, and different speakers or entertainers can all transform your event.

7 classic charity event ideas and examples

You’ve got fresh charity event ideas to raise funds with ease, but how do you pick the right one? Look for three qualities: Your event should attract and excite your target supporters, reflect your charity’s mission, and match up with your skills and resources (time, budget, number of volunteers, etc.).

Remember, this list is a jumping-off point—your next step is to take these ideas and charity event examples and make them your own! Experiment with different themes, challenges, speakers, locations, and prizes.

1. Amateurs vs. pros cook-off 🌶

Chili cook-offs and BBQ competitions are common charity fundraisers, but you can always spice things up. Set up a showdown between home cooks and professional chefs that your supporters won’t want to miss. Amateur vs. pro cooking challenges rack up millions of views on YouTube, and your charity’s version can attract a wide audience of family, friends, and fans.

To host your cook-off, choose a food category (chicken wings, pie, breakfast food) and then reach out to local home cooks and career chefs and ask them to compete. You can host an in-person event in a large space like a parking lot or community center.

For a virtual alternative, livestream your showdown and have judges make their top picks. Sell tickets to the big fundraising event and have attendees donate to vote for their favorites. Who will walk away with the cook-off crown 👑?

2. Fabulous fashion show ✨

Lights, camera, fashion! You don’t need friends at Versace to host a successful fashion show fundraiser. There are tons of ways to organize your event. One option is to source “models” from the community.

Come up with a theme—like “‘90s grunge” or “chic but casual”—and challenge fashion enthusiasts to create and model their best outfits. Charge a show entry fee and let community members vote for their favorite looks by contributing to your donation page.

Another option is to partner with local businesses or schools, like a clothing store or fashion design school, and ask them to donate unique pieces to your show. Put your cause at the center by having your charity beneficiaries walk the runway.

For instance, Project FTK, a pediatric cancer nonprofit, hosted a Dreaming of a Cure fashion show where the performers, speakers, and models were all cancer patients or survivors. Don’t forget an energetic emcee!

3. Polar bear plunge 🥶

Get chilly for a good cause. A polar bear plunge is simple, memorable, and a little challenging—three ingredients for the perfect charity event. Your participants will dive into a cold body of water, like a local lake or pond, and exit the water to enjoy towels and hot drinks right after.

A polar plunge makes for a great peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Have your supporters set up individual fundraising pages, or they can form teams and set up a group fundraising page. They’ll pledge to plunge once they’ve raised a certain amount for your charity, like $100 per person or $1,000 overall.

Alternatively, you can charge an event registration fee. Pro tip? Livestream the event so their supporters can see the big moment. If you don’t have a body of water around, you can opt for a good ol’ fashioned ice bucket challenge instead.

4. One-day giving event 🗓

You know those “FLASH SALE” emails that show up in your inbox from time to time? Retailers know that these sudden deadlines act like ticking clocks that motivate people to buy quickly and tell their friends. Fundraising professionals can harness the power of a one-day flash campaign, too.

This type of event works any time of year, but Giving Tuesday is far and away the most well-known fundraising day. Set a date for your one-day campaign and support it with activities throughout the day, like expert webinars, local celebrity appearances, social media challenges, games, and other livestreamed events.

5. Classic drive-in movie night 🎥

If you want to host a movie night, make it old school—we're talking 1960s drive-in movie old school.

To host a drive-in movie, you'll need a projector, screen (even a large white sheet works!), and a very, very large wall (like the side of your school building). You can easily sell tickets in advance, or use text-to-donate for walk-in (er, drive-in) supporters. To raise extra funds, consider selling popcorn, sodas, candy, and other treats onsite.

This campaign hosted a drive-in move event (complete with food trucks, costume contests, music, and even a pumpkin decorating contest) to raise funds for a Resilient Retreat, Inc. Supporters and sponsors bought tickets through their fundraising page, or purchased add-on activities like a pumpkin decorating kit.

5. Virtual movie and trivia night 🍿

Tickets, please! The COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown brought drive-in movies and outdoor movie screenings back into the spotlight in a big way. In addition, virtual watch-alongs have shot up in popularity thanks to all the free livestreaming tools available. Any of these events could be a money-maker for your charity.

Take this Halloween Trunk-or-Treat & Drive-in Movie Night held by Tiegerman, a nonprofit that serves students and individuals with developmental disabilities. The organization raised nearly $2,000 from their screening of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” We especially love their fundraising page, where they break down how each dollar makes a difference. For instance, a $30 donation covered the cost of disposable gowns and shoe coverings for one classroom.

Choose a family-friendly movie and keep pricing low to attract a wide audience. A trivia contest—complete with prizes—is another great addition to your movie night.

6. Crawl for a cause 🍻

Pub crawls send participants on a trek across the city to visit different bars, try unique brews, explore the neighborhood, and meet new people. Many restaurants and bars are eager to join up with nonprofits to raise money this way. After all, they get a large group of patrons, and you get a portion of the day’s sales.

If the majority of your donors aren’t of drinking age, or you want a more family-friendly event, you can organize another kind of crawl that’s just as fun. Try a beauty crawl, in which your participants get pampered at the nail salon, hair salon, massage parlor, and more. There are also art crawls, taco crawls, cupcake crawls, and more! No matter what kind of crawl you decide to host, be sure to include a map and itinerary in your automated thank-you message so each participant knows the plan for the evening.

Raise extra funds by selling different ticket packages, like a VIP package that covers the full crawl plus a gift. Don’t forget to sell themed crawl T-shirts, like pink T-shirts for your breast cancer research charity. You’ll clean up in ticket and merchandise sales, and your participants walk away with wonderful memories.

7. Birthday wishes 🥳

Charities face the constant challenge of coming up with fundraising event ideas and determining what truly works. Resources are limited—you can only test out so many bake sales, golf tournaments, galas, and more throughout the year. The good news is that there’s one charity event that you can host every single day without any work: a birthday fundraiser! Ask your supporters to pledge their birthday to your charity and encourage them to collect donations rather than birthday presents.

Birthday fundraisers work really well because they draw on the concept of social proof. When people see their friends and family giving and talking passionately about a cause, they’ll feel inspired to donate too.

For the most success, include a page on your website with directions and tips on hosting a birthday fundraiser. List suggested donation amounts and explain what each giving level does for your charity. It’s also common for people to ask for donations that match their age or birth date. For instance, a 36-year-old asks for $36 per person, or $18 if their birthday is January 18.

8. Auction off your help 💪

If you're raising money for your local sports team, here's a fun way to raise funds while giving back to your community: auction off your time. Hold a silent auction where supporters can "bid" on hiring each respective athlete for two hours of work. The athletes can help with lawn maintenance, house cleaning, or other chores.

9. Bake off 🍰

Put a fun spin on the classic bake sale. Have participants face off in a live baking competition, selling tickets in advance so supporters can enjoy the action. Choose a category, select a panel of judges, then judge the participants on their prepared desert. When the votes are tallied, announce the winner and serve the various dishes to event attendees.

The Great Girl Scout Cookie Kickoff held a virtual baking competition where pastry chefs dreamed up imaginative desserts based on Girl Scout cookie flavors. Supporters voted for their favorite creation by donating in that chef’s name. The live streamed event was hosted by local celebrities, and different donation tiers earned supporters a variety of themed prizes. They raised $9,231!

10. Sand volleyball tournament 🏐

Virtually any sporting event is a great way to start fundraising for your charitable cause. These events bring in a lot of money from different revenue streams, selling tickets to attendees, charging entry fees for competitors, and booking sponsorships for local businesses.

For a fun summer event idea, host a sand volleyball tourney at a local park. If you're a school or sports team, have your local booster club sell hot dogs, sodas, and other snacks to bring in extra funds. Or, invite local businesses to sponsor your event, selling T-shirts, setting up beer tents, or bringing in a food truck.

11. Battle of the bands 🎤

Listening to live music is a special event for nearly every season of the year. And fortunately, you don't need to book a chart-topping artist to pull it off.

Organize your own battle of the bands competition, inviting local artists to perform for your supporters. If you're organizing an online fundraising campaign, you can livestream the concert instead. After your fundraising event ends, share a recording of the event with your email list, so supporters can continue to enjoy it at a later date.

12. High heels walk 👠

Walk-a-thons and charity runs are healthy ways to start raising funds for your worthy cause. But, to increase the stakes, why not encourage supporters to walk the entire race course in high heels? ​

High heel races can help raise funds and awareness for a number of issues, from domestic violence (like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes), LGBTQ+ issues (like the annual drag race in Washington, D.C. or the high heel race in Spain), breast cancer research, trans rights—you name it. Sell tickets in advance of the race, then use the ticket scanning feature to easily check in event attendees to raise funds for your favorite charity.

13. Closet clean-out 👚

Most of your supporters have clothes, books, and other household items they'd love to give away. To raise money for your religious group, sports team, or school, host an annual "Spark Joy'' event by donating gently used items.

Have supporters, friends, and family members donate items weeks in advance, giving you an ample amount of time to sort, organize, and prepare items to be resold. On your fundraising page, advertise big-ticket items (think televisions, guitars and other musical instruments, or modern furniture) to attract attendees.

14. Dancing with the stars 💃

For a creative spin on the classic dance-a-thon fundraiser, introduce a competitive twist. Invite local choreographers or dancers (if your school has a drill team, dance team, or cheerleading squad, use them!) to teach people in your community new moves.

To incorporate peer-to-peer fundraising, have each dancing duo create a team on your donation page. On the night of your "dancing with the stars" event, announce two winners. One prize will go to the team with the best moves, while another prize will go to the team that raised the highest amount of money.

15. "Give it up" challenge 🙅

You don't need three- or four-digit donations to run a successful charity fundraising campaign. In fact, nonprofits of any size can hit their goals through grassroots efforts, raising one dollar at a time.

To show supporters that a small donation can make a big difference in your nonprofit fundraising campaign, host a month-long "give it up" challenge. Throughout the challenge, invite supporters to give up one thing—a morning coffee habit ($5), a studio workout class ($20), an Uber Eats order ($30+). They then donate the money to charity instead. Display a progress bar on your page to show how small donations can help you reach your ultimate goal.

How to host a charity event—the easy way

Givebutter is the preferred choice for thousands of organizations looking for an all-in-one nonprofit software solution to host their events.

Regardless of the types of charity events you host—in-person, virtual, hybrid, silent auction, or livestreamed—Givebutter equips nonprofits with must-have tools for powerful fundraising, seamless event management, and meaningful donor engagement.

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