These days, every penny counts and many community organizations are feeling the pinch. Reliable funding sources are thin, and those that do exist are drying up like puddles in a drought. If you're scrambling to find creative ways to raise revenue for your community group, or just want to come up with a rollicking good event idea that will generate enthusiasm and hopefully pay for itself, we have 10 buzz-worthy suggestions that will make showing up, participating and donating a lot more fun than your average cupcake sale or weekend car wash.
Throw a Block Party
Getting all your neighbors together for an afternoon or evening has some nice advantages: You'll be able to develop more than a nodding acquaintance with the folks you're sharing air with, and you can begin to cultivate a little of the small town atmosphere missing in many subdivisions across the country. This has the potential for making life more pleasant for everyone. Knowing that someone you like and respect is watching to make sure your home isn't vandalized while you're away for the weekend can be a big stress reducer. The more neighbors you know, the more likely you are to find a few you wouldn't mind inviting over for lunch or poker night, too.
If you can get a couple of neighbors interested, planning a block party doesn't have to be that big an undertaking for any one of you. If your teenage son has a garage band, you've already lined up the entertainment. Add some folding chairs, portable tables and husbands who love to grill for a crowd and you've made a great start.
This is a bit simplistic, but things like picking a location, sending out invitations, performing follow up, arranging for food and designating a cleanup detail follow pretty organically once you start strategizing. If the idea gets some traction with the neighbors, you'll have plenty of volunteers and more creative ideas than you know what to do with.
Late spring is a great time for a block party. The weather is finally starting to show promise, so just being outdoors is a treat. Oh, and if the idea really takes off, consider making arrangements with your police department to reroute traffic around your location for a few hours. That way, there'll be less worry about the kids and pets.
Hold a Craft or Hobby Show
We like this idea because it's so versatile. From face painting to woodcarving, just about everyone has a hobby, and most lend themselves to demonstrations or sharing. You don't necessarily have to have a lot of space to make a craft show/exhibition happen, either. From conducting a jewelry making demonstration in an unused corner of your local nail salon (with permission), to putting up a quilt display in a local park by draping quilts across ropes strung from tree to tree, there are hundreds of ways, large and small, that you can get crafty with community events. This is a great time to discover how talented your friends and associates really are.
Host a Nature Walk
Most folks know a bit about the flowers they plant in their flowerbeds but can't tell you the names of the native species sprouting up in their tree lawns. Hosting a nature walk around a neighborhood park is a good way to educate the community about green practices and conservation while identifying some of the major players in the world of regional flora and fauna. The USDA Cooperative Extension Office in your area can give you some ideas about how to get started identifying the trees, plants, birds, insects and other critters you share space with. This is a good add-on event when you're already hosting an outdoor activity in a natural setting.
Conduct an Educational Cemetery Tour
This isn't as ghoulish as it sounds. In some communities, the cemetery is a beautifully groomed and shady space more like a park than anything else. If you live in a historic area, the local cemetery could be an important historical site, too. Cemeteries aren't just significant for their history, either. Taking headstone rubbings and collecting epitaphs are both popular hobbies, and many cemeteries boast interesting artistic features and remarkable craftsmanship in their wrought iron fence designs, headstones and mausoleums. Cemeteries can also contain plant species, like old world roses, that are pretty rare and noteworthy all by themselves. All of that and many cemeteries also have famous and infamous residents worth a respectful visit.
If you think a cemetery near you might be a good candidate for a tour, contact the site director to discuss the options. Halloween is the obvious time of year to conduct this type of event, but it might be worthy of year-round attention.
Have a BIG Garage Sale
You know those community garage sales you see advertised in the paper? You can do that. Actually, there are a couple of ways to organize multi-household garage sales. One is to have adjacent homes all conduct garage sales on the same day. Let's call it a garage-a-thon. This usually attracts a big crowd because there's an opportunity for lots of bargains but shoppers don't have to walk for miles or car hop from location to location.
The other option is to have a central staging area where multiple donors can contribute goods for one great big garage sale. Think of this one as a mini flea market. This is a good choice if space is available, especially if you plan on it becoming a regular event. Folks can donate or consign their goods (and get them out of their respective garages) while whole groups of bargain hungry shoppers can mark their calendars for the event every year.
Spring and fall are both productive times for garage sales. The weather is typically good, and people are usually ankle deep into spring or fall cleaning, a time when they're ready to retire gently used toys, appliances and clothing.
Hold a Pumpkin Painting Contest
In fall, pumpkin carving is a big draw, but smaller kids are often left out because it involves using sharp implements like serrated knives. This year, instead of slicing those orange globes into scary shapes, hold a kid-focused pumpkin decorating day. With adult supervision, some stencils and inexpensive acrylic paints and brushes, kids can become master pumpkin crafters. This is less messy than a classic pumpkin carving contest, but the process is just as much fun. For the older kids and grownups, have a couple of face painting booths with pros on hand to do the honors.
We like the idea of performing this one outdoors, but if you're using a gym, cafeteria, warehouse or restaurant, put down some tarps to catch the drips. Don't fret too much, though. Everything will wash out with a little water.
Go Christmas Caroling
Get vocal, literally. Caroling around the holidays can be an effective way to encourage community spirit, get attention for your cause and have some fun. If your little group sounds really good, you may be able to sell your services to local businesses and malls. Even in a down economy, Christmas spirit is still thriving, so hit a high note this season by organizing a caroling event.
Missed Christmas event planning? Try hosting an Easter egg hunt at a local park (or zoo if you have permission), and charge a nominal fee for admission. It's a great introduction to summer fun for the whole family and makes for touching photo opportunities. In fact, why not set up a photo booth?
Hold a Cook-off
You don't have to be a grilling master to love the smell of charcoal briquettes in the morning. A grilling contest or chili cook-off is a seriously delish way to start the summer event season. There's something about a food fair and contest that brings out the gourmet glutton in all of us. If you've ever seen a tailgate party at a local sporting venue, you know how genial, generous and fun these types of activities can be. For a food event you need to plan carefully, and having some serious talent on hand wouldn't hurt, either. Get in touch with a couple of popular local eateries to see if the management might want to help in exchange for some grateful acknowledgment in the way of free advertising.
Hold a Trivia Night
If you have access to a restaurant, hall or large event tent, holding a trivia competition is always a winner. People love to show off their knowledge of arcane topics and learn new factoids for future cocktail conversations. This one requires some planning, question prep, scoring savvy, and a master of ceremonies (or question and answer wrangler) with a great sense of fun. It also helps to have a public address system available.
We like the idea of having cooperative groups work together to answer questions and earn points for prizes. If the occasion involves school teams, clubs, couples or families, it's always fun for spectators to watch the interactions involved in coming up with group answers. Right or wrong, people watching at one of these events can be hilarious. To keep it civil, have each group appoint a team leader and spokesperson at the start of the game.
For a lively, fun evening, provide beverages and snacks. You'll also want Internet access and reference resources on hand to double check the answers and squelch any disputes.
Have a Treasure Hunt
Most people are naturally generous and want to support worthy causes. The potential for a windfall doesn't hurt, though. A treasure hunt is like a raffle on steroids. It gets people thinking creatively and actively engaged in the hunt -- and you know there's nothing quite as satisfying as finding hidden treasure. We really love this idea because it can be an indoor or outdoor activity, so it's a year-round option. It can be theme specific or not, and geared toward kids, adults or both. All you need is a prize, a hiding place, some fun and mysterious clues, and a signup sheet. You don't even have to hide the prize where X marks the spot; just place a pennant where the treasure should be. The winner can use it to claim his prize . . . and all the glory.
Hosting a trivia night can spice up a slow bar night or be a great fundraiser. Learn how to host a trivia night to get started.
- Amos, Janell Shride. "Fundraising Ideas." McFarland. 1995.
- Clowns Unlimited. "Checklist for Choosing the Perfect Event Location." (1/17/12). http://www.clownsunlimited.com/weblog/party-planning/checklist-for-choosing-the-perfect-event-location/
- Clowns Unlimited. "Planning and Community Event Checklist." (1/17/12). http://www.clownsunlimited.com/weblog/event-planning/planning-community-events-checklist/
- Fldex. "Promoting Your Event." (1/17/12). http://www.fldex.org/images/activities_fund.pdf
- Keenan, Heather. "Found in the Crowd: Making Large Events Feel Intimate." Special Events. 2/1/2004. (1/17/12). http://specialevents.com/mag/meetings_found_crowd/index.html
- Kid Activities. "Community Service Ideas for Kids of All Ages." 2/27/11. (1/17/12). http://www.kidactivities.net/post/Community-Service-Ideas-for-Kids.aspx
- Kid Activities. "Community Service Ideas for Middle and High School Kids." 7/16/09. (1/17/12). http://www.kidactivities.net/post/Community-Service-Middle-and-HIgh-School-KIds.aspx
- Richardson, Jesse. "10 Green Community Activity Ideas: Get More Engaged." 6/2/11. (1/17/12). http://www.organicsoul.com/10-green-community-activity-ideas-get-more-engaged/
- Science Center. "Community Events and Brainstorming Ideas. (1/17/12). http://www.sciencenter.org/fhtt/educators/d/community_events.pdf
- Simpson, Lisa. "What Science Can Teach You About Fundraising, Marketing and Making Social Change." (1/17/12). http://www.fundraising123.org/files/Lisa%20Simpson%20Final%203.16.pdf