Tips from Abroad: 5 Unusual Fundraising Ideas That Work
Bored with walk-a-thons, candy sales, car washes, galas, and seemingly everything else you have done in the past to raise money for your organization? Learn then from a culture that does things differently! Here are my favorite fundraisers that I have witnessed, planned, or participated in from my home in Paraguay, which you could easily adapt for your nonprofit or school group in the States.
1. Advertise on cars for a local night club
Often, university classes or groups in Paraguay are tasked to raise funding for their programs to keep tuition costs to a minimum or help disadvantaged classmates. Local dance clubs pay them to attract people to their venues on specified weekend dates.
The popular advertising technique is that a group of students camps at a stop light and requests passing cars to write the club’s name and their particular cause, with a date of their fundraiser, on the back windshield of vehicles with water soluble paint. The group ends up with a percent portion of the night’s entrance fee income as a result of their volunteer work.
America has an obsession with bumper stickers – why not fundraise this way with temporary car advertising? Especially if you are working with high school students or university students who drive and are influenced easily by peers, try creating a local buzz by pairing with a local night spot for youth and painting your fundraiser’s date on as many vehicles as possible. You get to hang out at a bar, a dance club, or any other cool venue you want to be at anyway and raise money in the process!
2. Palm reading at the local elementary school
I did this personally as a favor to a local elementary school where I taught for two years as a volunteer. In Paraguay, every June brings a fun festival of fire and mystique in honor of San Juan. Schools often have a fair with typical foods and spooky games aimed at children and adults alike as a fundraiser. I set up a booth in a classroom and told 150 fortunes at $1 a palm.
Imagine, in the U.S., how fortunetelling or any other metaphysics for fun could translate to dollars raised for your group! (This might be perfect for a Halloween fundraiser.)
Two ideas that come to mind are:
- Asking someone who understands astrology to make natal charts for a charge, perhaps with a fun theme. These could be ordered online as requested and paid with via PayPal.
- Offer tarot reading consultations or ghost/spirit invocation to small groups. It can be real, with a legitimate metaphysical specialist, or pretend with a creative volunteer. Parents can invite a small group of friends and ask for a set donation to participate in a metaphysical cocktail party. If they invite 10 friends, charge $25 each, they will quickly raise $250 for a unique experience.
3. Chicken dinner takeout for the ill
Universal health care only applies to rich countries. In the developing world, people have to get creative when a family member or loved one needs help beyond the state-offered services (that do not run very deep). The most common way to raise money is to sell tickets for a home-cooked dinner.
It is simple and very profitable for the organizer and her family, especially when she can get a local food distributor to donate products or provide them at wholesale. And what neighbor wouldn’t buy a home-cooked, grilled chicken dinner to help a sick friend? All you have to do is bring your coupons (plus a pot or Tupperware to collect your food if needed) to wherever the food will be distributed, and pick up your takeout meal.
I recently bought 5 tickets for a dinner for $10 total ($2 each), complete with a grilled chicken thigh and leg, rice, and Paraguayan cornbread. The women cooking only spent around $1 a meal, and all of the labor was free. They sold nearly 500 plates with little planning and no marketing beyond door-to-door and call sales.
Imagine a takeout dinner program for your next school fundraiser! At U.S. dollar scale, if you spent $3 a plate with the help from a grocery store donation of some of the supplies (just ask – often they will give you a gift card without much hassle), sold tickets for $6, and sold 1000 dinners, you would make $3,000 easily selling something every busy family wants!
4. Hosting a community bullfight
Yes, traveling groups of cowboys with Brahman bulls that weigh more than a ton set up portable rings in communities upon request of local school groups and local governments trying to raise funds for projects. The local municipality or school sells tickets to the event and makes a profit on all sales beyond the booking cost. In Paraguay, a bullfight, or “rodeo” as they call it, does not involve killing the animal but is more a comic and acrobatic routine to entertain children especially.
If you’re tired of typical carnivals for your community festival, search the web for a local group that might help you out with a different type of children’s entertainment: Why not partner with a freelance clown service, or a local traveling circus?
5. Street performances
In the developing world, people will readily donate funds to a group that hops on a bus and plays a medley for a cause, or to jugglers that entertain at traffic lights. In America, we might liken a street performance to begging, but we will still tip for a good performance.
Ask the individuals in your group what special talents they have, and take those skills to the streets or to your local mall parking lot! A good sign and props they probably already have will be all the resources necessary to pull off a quick and fun fundraiser.
If you are bored with your past fundraising techniques, try something truly new and unusual that has been proven to work elsewhere!
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