A Smarter Way to Fundraise: Explore Classy’s Fundraising Intelligence Suite

14 Cheap Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits

kids throwing buckets of water on a car

Request a Demo

Learn how top nonprofits use Classy to power their fundraising.

Schedule a Demo
Published May 13, 2022 Reading Time: 8 minutes

Major nonprofit events like 5K fundraisers, golf tournaments, and black-tie galas are efficient revenue generators for nonprofits of all sizes and cause sectors. However, these fundraising efforts require large budgets, planning time, and significant volunteer support.

The best fundraising ideas maximize donations while minimizing expenses. That way, more money goes toward your fundraising goals than overhead costs.

There’s still a need for larger events on your annual calendar, but supplementing large-scale efforts with easier, cheaper options is a great way to sustain a steady flow of year-round donations in a relaxed, fun way.

To help you get started, here are 14 cheap and easy fundraising ideas to consider. Pitch some of these creative ideas to your team to determine which ones work best for you.

Manage Your Nonprofit Events with Classy Live

1. Donation Jars

In the age of cryptocurrency and digital wallets, we often forget about cash as a quick donation option. People are always looking for ways to unload clunky coins from their purses and pockets, so you might as well offer them the opportunity to make a small donation with their throw-away change.

These hard currency donations can add up quickly. Encourage people to donate by placing physical donation jars around your community. Talk to local businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, banks, or dry cleaners about leaving a donation jar near their register.

Clearly label each jar with your organization’s logo and mission statement. Provide training sessions for employees of these businesses, equipping them with the skills to effectively communicate your cause to community members. This includes preparing them to address inquiries about your mission and educating them on strategies to inspire customers to contribute.

2. Community Yard Sale

Preparing for their annual spring cleaning, many people are emptying their attics and closets of unwanted items.

Take advantage of this purging frenzy by organizing a community yard sale. Find a large space to host the event, like a park, gym, or community center. Invite friends, family members, and loved ones looking to unload their unwanted goods and encourage them to spread the word to their extended networks.

Sellers can donate a flat rate to your nonprofit for a spot to sell their items, or you could ask for a portion of the money they earn. Your biggest task is to drum up interest from potential shoppers. After all, the success of this event depends on the turnout.

Promote your upcoming yard sale through all relevant marketing channels. Send a localized email campaign to supporters close enough to attend and target social media ads focused on a specific geographic area. Printed materials, like DIY flyers or posters, can help raise awareness.

3. 50/50 Raffle

Participating in 50/50 raffles not only supports your cause by directing half of the proceeds its way but also offers participants the chance to become a lucky winner. A true win-win.

You’ll need a large supply of raffle tickets and a captive audience for this cheap and easy fundraising event. Sporting events or school pep rallies work well to host these raffles. Simply recruit a team of volunteers to circulate and sell tickets for a set amount, and provide updates on the prize pool throughout the evening to pique interest.

Toward the end of the gathering, divide the ticket sales into two equal parts and select a random winner to take home half. You could also host your raffle in a hybrid or virtual environment if that’s more accessible to your audience. All you need is the right fundraising platform.

Remember to review the rules for nonprofit raffles in whichever environment you select. Make sure to abide by these laws and pay the appropriate taxes on certain cash prizes.

4. Bake Sale

There’s a reason why reality TV shows like The Great British Baking Show are so popular. People love baked goods, especially when they’re homemade. Your nonprofit can ride this wave of popularity by hosting a bake sale fundraiser.

The most important element of a successful bake sale is recruiting volunteer bakers to make cakes, pies, muffins, and other delicious treats to sell. Then, secure a high-traffic venue, like your local park, to host the event and attract potential (and hungry) buyers.

Even better, coordinate the sale with an event that draws a crowd, like a farmers market, sporting event, festival, or concert. Ask if you can set up a table or small concession stand to sell your items, then let the smell of freshly baked cookies do the work.

5. Concession Stand

While on food, we can’t forget to mention running a concession stand at the next local sporting event. With enough volunteers, tasty snacks, and creamy hot chocolate, these stands can bring in hundreds of dollars in a single evening.

Contact your local high school, college, or professional sports teams if you’re interested. See if they‘d offer your nonprofit the opportunity to run a concession stand at one of their venues or split the proceeds with your organization.

Recruit a team of volunteers to work shifts at the concession stand, and encourage your supporters to attend the game with big appetites. This is a great way to stay involved in the community and meet supporters in person in a relaxed, low-cost environment.

6. Car Wash

Washing cars is a common way to raise money for high school sports teams, bands, and clubs. They’re extremely simple to organize and offer a way for donors to check this pesky chore off their to-do lists.

To organize an effective car wash, your organization needs an open space, like a parking lot or gas station, plenty of washing materials, and a group of willing volunteers.

Attract the most drivers with clear signage and an easily accessible location. Set a small fee for the service, or simply ask for donations as customers arrive. Just be sure to mark a clear donation box where donors can leave gifts on their way out. This is important since most gifts will likely be physical cash or personal checks.

If donors inquire about non-cash donations, direct them to a QR code on your donation box. Offer them the option to give via Venmo, PayPal, Google Pay, or whatever methods you feel are best suited to the crowd.

Although a car wash is extremely cheap and easy to organize, it’ll become a massive flop if no one shows. Don’t forget to promote ahead of time through your organization’s website, social media channels, and email. Get your volunteers to share news by word of mouth, too.

7. Team Trivia Night

Who doesn’t love a good game of trivia? Or even better, a trivia tournament to raise money for charity.

Work with a local restaurant or bar to host the event. Get a volunteer to emcee with a list of brain-teasers, or reach out to a local personality who supports your cause. Teams can pay a set entrance fee to participate in the competition, or the restaurant could give back a portion of its revenue from food and refreshments throughout the evening.

You could even give the winning team some funds as a small prize. But win or lose, trivia nights are always a great way to bring people together for some old-fashioned fun.

8. Sports Tournament

If a trivia tournament isn’t your style, host an athletic competition instead. This could be a tournament of flag football, ultimate frisbee, softball, kickball, basketball, or a mix of different sports.

First, you’ll need a venue to host the competition. Starting your search with a public park or community center could help save money on rentals. If that doesn’t work, contact local schools or churches to see if they’d let you use their space for a few hours. Your volunteers can serve as referees—just be sure to get them whistles and striped t-shirts.

Provide clear rules for gameplay upfront. Determine how many teams can participate and organize them into a bracket. Depending on the sport, you may need medical services on standby in case of athletic injuries.

Collect an entry fee from each team to participate. Charge admission for spectators to generate additional revenue, and consider selling merchandise, food, or beverages in exchange for donations.

You could even secure a few corporate sponsorships if you wanted to go the extra mile and create custom swag with your sponsors’ logos for all competitors.

9. Giving Holidays

There are several built-in fundraising dates across the calendar, the most obvious being Giving Tuesday. However, there are quite a few other holidays your organization can leverage, depending on your cause.

Holidays are effective fundraising opportunities because they create organic opportunities for connection. You can even tap into holidays not traditionally known for fundraising, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Halloween. Costume parties or donation drives are great ideas to maximize these special days in a creative way.

10. Happy Hour

One of the largest perks of joining a nonprofit community is meeting and spending time with like-minded people. That’s why traditional fundraisers like golf tournaments and charity galas are so successful. They’re not only fun but also give donors the opportunity to spend time together.

However, this great fundraising idea doesn’t require a huge budget. Contact a local restaurant or pub willing to help people relax and unwind after a busy day. This offers an opportunity for professionals to network with one another in a low-pressure environment and potentially discover their new favorite place to grab a drink.

Consider setting a theme for your event, like Taco Tuesday or TGI Friday—anything involving food and drinks. It doesn’t need to directly relate to your nonprofit, so don’t hesitate to get creative.

Ask your happy hour venue managers to donate a percentage of their sales back to your cause or give attendees a discount during your event. Keep in mind that you don’t need to serve alcohol for the event to be effective, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

11. Social Media Challenge

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge taught us anything, social media can be an extremely impactful tool for boosting cause awareness.

Invite supporters to participate in a creative challenge to raise money for your cause, then share their experience on social media to garner interest. The Ice Bucket Challenge took off because it included a clear action that caught donors’ attention—dump freezing cold water on your head in an effort to raise awareness for ALS.

You can be as simple or creative as you’d like in crafting your challenge. It could be as straightforward as doing 20 jumping jacks, volunteering for an afternoon, or taking a photo of yourself doing a kind deed.

Remember that the ultimate goal is conversions. Encourage participants to include links to your donation website with each social media post to drive traffic to your online fundraising pages.

12. Talent Show

Plenty of popular reality TV shows, from American Idol to Dancing With the Stars, focus on people’s talents (or lack thereof) with a dose of friendly competition. Your nonprofit can cash in on that popularity by hosting a talent show of your own.

Solicit local talent—anything from singers, jugglers, magicians, or ventriloquists—to perform. Pick a volunteer or staff member to emcee the event and help create seamless transitions from one act to the next.

Grab three or four of your board members to act as judges. They can crown an ultimate winner after all entries have been performed or leave it up to the audience to determine the best act. The show’s winner could be awarded some of your best swag or free tickets to your next nonprofit fundraising event.

Sell tickets to an adoring public or ask for donations as spectators arrive. They’ll get to see entertaining acts and know they’re supporting a nonprofit organization’s worthy cause.

13. Open Mic Night

If you liked the last two ideas, combine them by hosting an open mic night for your local community. Mix happy hour with a talent show or karaoke to provide a memorable night of stand-up comedy, singing, or both.

You must secure a venue, emcee, performers, and a paying crowd. Your open mic night will likely also involve food and drinks, so plan ahead by getting a rough headcount of attendees.

Identify what type of crowd you’re attracting so your performers know what to prepare for their acts. Determine upfront if you want a family-friendly environment or more of an adult-only evening.

14. Gaming Marathon

Video games are a big business, allowing people to engage with a like-minded community and potentially even give back to worthy causes.

Gaming marathons can attract mass audiences and raise awareness for your organization. In fact, nonprofits like Games Done Quick and Extra Life are built completely around this idea.

Recruit a few gamers to stream themselves online while people watch, cheer them on, and potentially donate a certain amount to a designated donation page for every hour they play—similar to pay-per-mile races.

The biggest challenge here is forming relationships with well-known gamers who would be interested in participating. If you can’t secure a gaming celebrity or influencer, look within your own staff, community of supporters, or volunteers for others who could be a good fit.

Use a platform like Twitch or YouTube Live to broadcast the video game streams. Share information about your nonprofit with each gamer to discuss as they broadcast, and encourage them to put the direct donation link to your crowdfunding or peer-to-peer fundraising campaign in the chat box while they play.

How to Get Started with Twitch Charity Streams

Fundraising Made Quick and Easy

The common link between these cheap and easy fundraising ideas is that they bring people together to have fun and support a good cause.

Every season presents new opportunities to fundraise for your nonprofit, whether springsummerfall, or winter. These inexpensive events can be pulled off nearly any time of year without breaking the budget.

Explore these 86 Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits and Charities for even more great ideas

man typing on laptop

Checklists for Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer, and Event Fundraising Campaigns

Subscribe to the Classy Blog

Get the latest fundraising tips, trends, and ideas in your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing

You signed up for emails from Classy

Request a Demo

Learn how top nonprofits use Classy to power their fundraising.

Schedule a Demo

Turn web visitors into donors before they leave.

Get pop-up functionality, abandoned cart notifications, and more with Classy’s Donation Forms. Request your demo today:

Thanks for
requesting a demo!

Our team will be in touch soon with scheduling options.

Pin It on Pinterest