Have you heard the one about the teenage girl who brought her tattooed, pierced, motorcycle-riding boyfriend home and was amazed when her parents didn't love him? The mother pulled the girl aside, expressing parental concern. "Well," the daughter replied "If he wasn't so nice, why would he be doing 5,000 hours of community service?"
Whether court-mandated or purely altruistic, volunteerism takes on many forms, and in many cases, the purpose is to raise some money. Be it the high school band, swim team, the Humane Society or the American Heart Association, there's always someone asking for your donation.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there were more than 1 million public charities in the United States in 2010. That same year, Americans gave more than $209 billion to their preferred organizations, according to the National Parks Service. So, if you're the lucky one chosen to spearhead the youth group's trip to Haiti, you've got some stiff competition for dollars!
That said, how do you stand out from the usual bake sales, coupon booklets and car washes usually held for fundraising? We've got new and creative ideas guaranteed to grab people's attention – and their wallets -- starting on the next page!
The "Honey-Do" Auction
Anyone who's married probably knows the "honey-do" list -- the endless chart of household chores you give your spouse: bake brownies for the bake sale, organize the pantry, clean the garage, change the light bulbs...
But what if you could outsource that list? That's the idea behind the "honey-do" auction. Why not have someone else re-caulk your bathroom or seed your lawn? Or how about having that great neighborhood cook handle your holiday baking?
The first order of business is to decide on the venue. Should it be a family-friendly cookout in a local park or a swanky cocktail party with evening wear? Then, round up the services. Whole families can participate with teens contributing babysitting, lawn care and dog-walking services.
Put together a catalog, with a page on each task with details of the service offered, the person providing it, any references and the suggested starting bid. Pictures are worth a thousand words so include them wherever you can. Attendees can review this catalog as they come in. When bidding starts, have the person who'll be providing the service on stage along with the auctioneer. This is sure to provide lots of entertainment as well as raise lots of money.
Deck the Halls for a Good Cause
In the movie "When Harry Met Sally", Billy Crystal, a.k.a. "Harry," said he just tries to get from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year's. Harry was referring to being single, but anyone who handles the annual holiday shopping and decorating can relate.
That's what makes a Christmas decorating and removal service such a great fundraiser! There's not a husband in a 100-mile (161-kilometer) radius who wouldn't give money to get out of stringing lights, hanging icicles or blowing up an inflatable Santa. And it's also a great way to spread holiday cheer -- people can purchase these services for an elderly neighbor or family member.
This is a once-a-year fundraiser, but hey, if the Girl Scouts can do it, so can you. Plan ahead with your publicity, and get households to purchase their decorating in the fall; also, lock in your volunteers. Set prices, such as $50 to string lights or hang wreaths on a two-story house, or ask for flat donations based on the size of the project.
Services should be donated by members of your group and local volunteers. But also try tapping professional decorating companies to donate their time, talent and equipment; though this is a busy season for them, they may be attracted to a tax write-off at year-end.
After you've made the town a little more festive and raised a little dough, what's next? Take prisoners!
The Celebrity Prisoner Fundraiser
Whether you live in a little hamlet or a metropolitan area, every area has some local celebrities -- radio hosts, TV personalities, sports figures, business owners, school faculty and of course, politicians.
For this fundraising event, arrange for a well-known celebrity to be a "prisoner" for a day. Set your celebrity up in a mock prison in a public place like the mall or the town hall. Dress him in prison stripes and equip him with a cell phone and laptop. Your celebrity must raise a certain amount of money before he can be "released."
Aside from contacting family, friends and businesses, your celebrity should use technology like Facebook, Twitter and texting to drum up interest, track the day and publicize the progress. Your group should also help the celebrity with the fundraising. Contact businesses to match dollars with every person who "likes" the celebrity's or fundraiser's Facebook page. Run a raffle where the winning ticket gets to have dinner with the celebrity prisoner upon his release.
The key to this fundraiser is publicity. Have local radio or TV stations and newspapers run stories leading up to the prison day, as well as while it's happening. It's a novel thing to see and fun to follow, so the more people who know about it, the more successful your fundraiser will be.
Next fundraising idea? Forage for food!
Food Bank Scavenger Hunt
Local food pantries, homeless shelters and meal programs always need donations, and while money is great, the food items are essential.
If you're fundraising for one of these charities, channel your inner child and plan a scavenger hunt. Often used as a birthday party game, a scavenger hunt occurs when you divide people into teams and each team has to retrieve a list of items. Since everyone's doing the same list, the winners are based on who gets the most, in the least amount of time.
Your food bank scavenger hunt list may include items like:
- 10 boxes of instant rice
- 8 containers of salt
- 1000 paper plates
Target residential areas where you can go door-to-door or commercial areas with grocery or "big box" stores, like Wal-mart. Give each team a different area to canvass. The goal isn't to buy the items but to gather donations; however, accepting cash to buy the goods could be OK. Designate a starting point, finish line and start/stop times, as well as a drop-off place for depositing the loot during the hunt. Be sure that team members have some handouts about the food bank they're collecting for to show to donors.
A local business, like a restaurant or bowling lane, could donate a team prize for the winners.
Let's Get Physical
Today's society is all about exercise -- running, shooting hoops, playing baseball, Zumba or yoga. So, funnel all this physical activity into a fundraising activity!
Plan a 3-on-3 basketball tournament where teams raise money for points they score or how far they advance. Have a Zumba-thon, where participants ask for pledges based on how many minutes they dance their booties off. Softball or baseball tournaments, as well as road races, are also popular sporting events at which to raise money.
Before your cause can see the sweat (and the dollars), you've got to organize the event. You'll need:
- Space: Local parks, schools and recreational departments are great sources for gyms or outdoor space.
- Referees and Judges: It helps to have people familiar with the sports -- instructors to lead Zumba classes, basketball refs to whistle fouls, a softball umpire, or just someone to fire the gun at the beginning of a footrace.
- Volunteer and Vendors: You'll need people to bring the equipment, fill water cups, keep score and flip hotdogs, and vendors to donate the items used.
- Participants: Teams and individuals to take part and raise donations; often these events carry an entry fee.
With some good planning, a little sweat and an awesome volunteer team, people can get physical and have fun for a good cause.
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.
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- Energize, Inc. "Humorous Anecdotes on Volunteering." February 7, 2012. (March 2, 2012). http://www.energizeinc.com/reflect/joke.html
- Fundraiser-Ideas.net. "The Top 9 Unique Fundraising Ideas." (Feb. 27, 2012). http://www.fundraiser-ideas.net/unique-fundraising-ideas/
- National Center for Charitable Statistics. "Number of Public Charities in the United States, 20120." (Feb. 28, 2012). http://nccsdataweb.urban.org/PubApps/profileDrillDown.php?state=US&rpt=PC
- National Park Service. "Giving Statistics." (Feb. 28, 2012). http://www.nps.gov/partnerships/fundraising_individuals_statistics.htm
- Outreach International. "Let's Can Hunger Scavenger Hunt." (March 13, 2012) http://support.outreach-international.org/pdfs/Lets_can_hunger_scavenger_hunt.pdf