‘Tis the Season to Try Some New Fall Fundraising Ideas

‘Tis the Season to Try Some New Fall Fundraising Ideas

September 19, 2019

Has your organization been there, done that with the usual fall fundraisers? Make this the year you try something inventive and fun for both you and your participants!

First, let’s get the statistics out of the way: It’s commonly reported that 25 percent or more of all annual giving in the U.S. occurs during the last three months of the year. An estimated 43 percent of higher income donors (from households earning greater than $200,000) donate more during the holidays. So the importance of a solid fall fundraising season can’t be overestimated. This article provides a bit of guidance on where to start, followed by six sections of ideas, and closing with a few general tips for successful fundraising.

Start Here

Like everything else for nonprofits, your fundraiser must have a budget. One recommendation is to spend half as much as you expect to raise; in other words, if you expect to raise $20,000, your budget should stay under $10,000. Your margin could move in either direction, of course, but the goal is to make sure the fiscal payoff is worth the time and effort of your staff and volunteers.

It’s also recommended to keep your fundraiser related to your cause so that your activity, and all the communication you will do around it, can send a clear message of your mission. Are you a historical organization? Perhaps a haunted-property event or a “classic horror” poetry or movie night. Are you an educational foundation? Get with a local school or science club and stage a punkin chunkin’. (For more on these specific ideas, read on.)

Now that the basics are taken care of, here are six categories of different fall ideas.

1. Give Thanks

As noted above, it’s the time of year when people’s thoughts turn to gratitude and to giving something back. So why not do a special outreach to your existing donors and volunteers? We’re sure you appreciate your crew all through the year, but Thanksgiving is an ideal time to express your gratitude for all they do — and the more personal you can make it, the better. Nothing beats a handwritten note, or at least a hand-signed card; notes from someone your organization has helped is especially meaningful. Remind them of all you have achieved together over the course of the year. Another idea is to get your board of directors to make a few phone calls to donors thanking them for their support. Smaller organizations could consider a Thanksgiving “gratitude” meal.

Please note these efforts are not intended to solicit new donations, instead just expressing thanks. However, it will help you be top of mind when they make decisions to donate.

2. Fall Fun

Tis the season… to dress up in costumes and celebrate the spooky and offbeat. Your contributors are going to do it anyway, and they enjoy it even more when they can support their favorite charities at the same time. You could easily roll a costume contest with paid entries into any of the following.

A Haunted… Office?

People are more than willing to pay an entry fee for a good scare. If your location gives off a certain atmospheric vibe, turn it into the scariest (or silliest, depending on your audience) haunted exhibit in town. Throw in some concessions or a food truck or two, some music, and some “selfie stations,” and you’ve got a landmark event! We think Michael Scott would approve.

While we’re on the subject of concessions (and it’s going to be mentioned often), Weiners can help with wholesale prices on a huge variety of treats, from traditional choices like Cheez-it Crackers and M&M’s, to new favorites like Nutella & Go, Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Popcorn, and Haribo Bears candy.

Spooky Decorations

Exploit the Genre

An Edgar Allan Poe-try Night or “Double, Double” Feature Night are fun ways to invoke Halloween. For a horror-themed poetry night, charge for entry and invite volunteers to sign up and read snippets of their favorite frightening classics. Have a competition for the best performance, and take a poll or determine the winner through the crowd’s response. Along the same lines, host a double feature film screening at a local theatre, drive-in, or your own venue. Consider the favorites of your usual contributors when selecting titles; if the list is still too long, plan several days or subsequent weekends of screening. Don’t forget the concessions!

Quiddich Tournament

Yes, Muggles actually do their best to recreate the Harry Potter sporting event – and they have a great time doing it. Contact your local comic-con association or Quidditch team to see if you can tie in with any events they have planned. And don’t forget about your spectators — sell concessions and hot mugs of butterbeer to warm up the crowd.

3. Pumpkins With Presence

Pumpkin Sale

Families with kids understand the challenge of finding the perfect pumpkins. If there are pumpkin farms in your area, plan an event on-site; if not, consider ordering pumpkins in bulk online, at a local nursery, or through a large store and sell your haul at your location or at a public space like a farmer’s market. Make the most of the glorious fall sunlight with a photo area and some props within your “patch”; accept donations for its use. 

Pumpkin Carving Contest

You supply the accessories and carving stations, and let your paid entrants supply the imagination and elbow grease. Partner with local farmers for pumpkins or ask guests to “Bring Your Own Pumpkin (BYOP).” Add a silent auction and concession sales. 

Punkin Chunkin’

For unadulterated geekery in the crisp fall air, it’s hard to beat a punkin chunkin’ contest. This would be a great event to co-host with a local high school or college. Traditionally held in November when it’s easy to find a surplus of ammunition, this event encourages competitors or teams to build trebuchets and see who can launch theirs the farthest. Charge an entry fee for both participants and observers, offer fun prizes, and as always, remember the concessions! Look into the insurance requirements, of course, and make sure to garner a large open space for the competition; you’d be surprised how far these things fly.

4. Stay Local

The best fall celebrations are unique to every community. Keep an eye out for the businesses or organizations that already have events where you could be involved; rent a booth and plan an activity related to your mission to engage visitors and encourage donations. Other ideas below have grown out of the current appreciation for locally grown and made provisions.

Oktoberfest Pub Crawl

If your area has a selection of breweries, work with a few of them to organize an Oktoberfest pub crawl and charge for participation. If these locations already feature a fall theme in their selections (pumpkin ales, hard ciders, etc.), all the better! You could easily add a paid costume contest, or create T-shirts branded with your logo to help raise awareness while participants make their way through the route. 

Harvest Dinner

Similarly, you could work with a local restaurant to create a menu of locally sourced fall foods; if there’s a winery nearby, try to include samples of their harvest creations. Provide live music, selfie stations and even a silent auction to round out the evening. Donations would come in the form of tickets for seats or tables. 

Chili Cook-Off

It’s also fun to let your participants do the cooking. A chili cook-off can include family-friendly games, refreshments, and other fundraising ideas like a silent auction. Sell tickets to both competitors and attendees who want to sample the chili. Along with the traditional categories, include creative categories like side dishes or “best use of fall flavors.” Your panel of judges can include local chefs or other celebrities, members of your board of directors, and even donor/sponsors. You might also want to have a category for “audience favorite” and collect votes. 

5. Get Outside

Football, the seasonal sport

There are a couple ways to integrate football with your fundraising. One is to simply host a tailgate party for your local team: charge an entry fee, offer grilled fare and some parking-lot-friendly games, and even “sell” entries into a “most fanatical fan” contest. See if the team wants to be involved in some way. Or expand the same idea by hosting a football tournament, encouraging teams to compete not only on the field but in their fundraising efforts. Increase your reach by including different divisions like kids and powderpuff. And of course, remember those concessions.


This one is effective because it benefits both your cause and every donor. As popularized by Habitat for Humanity, a Rake-A-Thon usually involves collecting a suggested donation to have volunteers go rake donors’ leaves. While you can reach out to existing donors and volunteers, this event also excels with an online fundraising platform or social media exposure that will allow donors to sign up in advance, which means you can better organize your volunteer workers.

6. Virtually Runs Itself

Speaking of online fundraising, it’s another win-win for you and your donors – it’s easy for them to participate and takes very little for you to implement or maintain, other than doing consistent outreach. That’s probably why, according to a 2018 report in Philanthropy News Digest, online donations as a share of total fundraising revenue grew 13.9 percent for small nonprofits, 7.7 percent for midsize nonprofits, and 5.6 percent for large nonprofits in 2017. It’s critical, however, to eliminate any glitches that could give someone an excuse not to give; make sure your donation process runs smoothly both on web browsers and mobile devices.

Here’s just a small sample of the virtual events can be planned, hosted, publicized, and carried out entirely online.

Virtual Event Run

Virtual Fun Run

Who needs a planned event with a set course? Virtual 5Ks or fun runs invite participants to register to run a certain distance on their own in exchange for the usual 5K freebies like T-shirts. The event period can be however long you like, and can include any participant, anywhere. One fun twist for animal shelters or pet organizations would be to make the event a pet walk, perhaps soliciting photos for a virtual pet parade and contest. This is the sort of event that can really boost your social media presence.

Giving Tuesday

We would be remiss not to mention #GivingTuesday, which falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. You need an online donation platform or a branded landing page ready to go live on that day. This page becomes a vehicle for your most meaningful and personal donor messages. Visit givingtuesday.org to sign up as an organization and get more information.

Gift Catalog

Everyone has a shopping list during the holidays; help donors give meaningfully by packaging your donations and organizational needs so that donors can sponsor items in others’ names. Create an online catalog and promote it via email and social media. For instance, if your organization needs personal essentials kits, or the items to put in them, give donors a chance to purchase them online for you. We at Weiners offer these products and would be happy to help you set up a custom kit or other items to feature in your “catalog.”

Final Notes

It’s popular these days to scoff at the participation trophy, but if there’s ever a time to provide such recognition, surely it’s when your participants have donated to a great cause. To build the best ongoing relationships with your donors and volunteers, recognize them early, often, and sincerely. And don’t skimp on the awards and prizes.

Building your fall campaign around the story of your year’s successes, and about the needs you have yet to meet, is key. Giving is usually an emotional decision, so make your message clear and emotionally compelling.

Whenever possible, diversify your campaign, however you can imagine it. Your in-person events can be publicized online, through email, and on public broadcasting and community news. Live events can be streamed online and the real-time videos posted to social media. Get your participants to help you spread the word through peer-to-peer fundraising.

Finally, you know your cause and your donors better than anyone else. So if you have a crazy new idea for a fall fundraiser, give it a try! You may have to fine-tune it a bit over time, but it will stand out from the more common fundraising activities, and you’ll be glad you did.

Tags: Giving