6 Unique Fundraising Event Ideas to Engage New Supporters

Engaging new supporters is vital for any nonprofit, school, or community organization. If traditional school fundraisers aren’t engaging your supporters enough, try branching out with more creative events to make a larger impact. 

Here’s a roundup of six unique events geared towards students, parents, and the whole community that will excite any donor and keep them coming back for more.

1. Themed Silent Auction

Silent auctions are classic, well-loved fundraisers for both schools and nonprofits that you can easily add a twist to. Center your silent auction around a theme to make it more unique and interesting for new donors.

For example, use a sports-themed auction as a football team fundraiser. Solicit auction items that any sports fan would love, such as season tickets for a local team’s games, signed memorabilia, or quality sports gear.

Using the right software, your auction can be hybrid or fully virtual. We recommend this because you’re able to have a far greater geographical reach of bidders, beyond the people who attend your event. Imagine Grandma Sue being able to donate and bid on items to support her grandson’s school from hundreds of miles away!

Using mobile bidding software will also allow you to do things like conduct checkout and payment through the app, allowing you and your volunteers to focus on other details. 

2. Fun Run

Similar to a 5K or walk-a-thon, a fun run is a race fundraiser in which participants gather donations for your organization and run or walk a route at your event in celebration. 

These types of events can also be pledge-based, meaning that donors pledge money based on how far participants walk or run. In this scenario, there will be additional work on the backend after the event has concluded in order to collect these funds, but the overall process is simple:

  1. Sign up your school or organization on a pledge fundraising website.
  2. Recruit participants, who will each create their own campaign page on the website.
  3. Participants share their pages and collect pledges for donations from friends and family.
  4. Everyone who raised money celebrates at the fun run itself.

There are plenty of theme options for walk and run events, such as making it a color run or encouraging participants to run in costumes for Halloween. You can also have a giving kiosk at the finish line for spectators to donate additional funds! 

3. Trivia Night

If your crowd is fun and especially competitive, a trivia night fundraiser may be a new and exciting way to engage supporters. Your existing families and donors will definitely want to invite their friends to be on their team in hopes of winning!

Trivia nights are always fun to theme, and you have a wide variety of options to choose from. From popular TV shows to brands like Disney or genres of music, the possibilities are endless. You could even generate trivia questions about your school’s staff and history to really make it personal and interesting for your audience!

Let your students, families, and community members form teams in advance of the event. You can raise money by collecting registration and entrance fees and selling food or branded merchandise at the event. You can even utilize the peer-to-peer function of a fun run to encourage additional donations.

Make your trivia night engaging for new and existing supporters alike by using a fundraising thermometer to show how many donations you’ve raised. You can project a live virtual thermometer at the event, and guests can watch you raise funds in real-time.

4. Student-Led Auction

Take your traditional school auction to a new level by letting your students take the lead. Consider hosting a live or silent auction for parents that is led by high school students. This unique fundraiser will help students develop their public speaking and leadership skills, plus it’ll be extra engaging for parents to see their kids in action!

Here are just a few ideas for how to encourage your students to get involved:

  • Let students have a hand in the planning process. Form a student committee in charge of decorations or coming up with ideas for auction items. Help them set the best rules, and work with them to create an engaging event schedule.
  • Train student volunteers to run the event (with your help). Not every student will want to make announcements or host the event. Some volunteers can help with the bidding process by carrying around ipads and helping guests to bid, or gathering items at checkout.
  • Have students thank donors. Students on the planning committee should also write thank-you letters to the donors who contributed auction items. This adds a special touch for your supporters because they are being personally thanked by the very people who benefit from their donation!

This type of event will take pressure off of your PTA or booster club while providing students with a memorable experience that gives them practical life application and excellent community service hours.

5. Open Mic Night

Open mic nights are a perfect choice for high school band or choir fundraisers, but they can also work well as community fundraisers.

When promoting this event, invite students and community members to sign up to perform ahead of time. Build out a robust schedule of performers, then leave some room for anyone who wants to get up on stage at the last minute.

An open mic night will provide entertainment value and give supporters a sense of getting something back for their time and support.

6. Virtual 5k

Looking for another way to make a race fundraiser unique? Make it virtual! Since the pandemic started, the running community has been much more open to the idea of virtual runs, and your organization can benefit from that.

The process of running a virtual 5k is similar to an in-person fun run: your organization still uses a pledge fundraising platform to collect pledges for donations based on laps or distance. Instead of everyone racing each other at the same large-scale event, participants can run on their own time and in their own neighborhoods on the day of your virtual event. A virtual 5k fundraiser widens your scope and allows new supporters to participate.

Creating a unique, entertaining event that is easy for people to join will make an immediate impact on new supporters. Once they’ve enjoyed the event, keep up your communications to ensure your school or organization stays fresh in their minds. Consider making your fundraiser an annual event that everyone looks forward to, year after year!


About the Author: Jeff Porter

Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid, has spent 18 years in the nonprofit industry. In 2004 he founded the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Colorado where he still resides as board chair. Jeff learned early on that nonprofits desperately needed better and more affordable fundraising solutions.  Leveraging his software background, he built most of the tools his charities used, and in 2011 he launched Handbid at his own fundraising event.  The goal was to improve the guest experience, reduce administration and increase revenue.  Handbid accomplished all of those goals, effectively doubling revenue in its debut. Nine years later, Handbid’s suite of tools has delighted over a half-million guests, generated millions of bids, and helped thousands of charities raise well over $100 million.