Mar 15, 2024

Event Fundraising Ideas from the Experts

Fundraising event

Feeling the pressure of the upcoming fundraising event season? You’re not alone!  

Two out of three nonprofits feel increased pressure to stand up more revenue streams. We’ve brought together a panel of partners, bursting with ideas to help you freshen up your events this year to overcome event planning fatigue. 

We asked our panel of partners, “What unique fundraising ideas have you seen recently that helped that organization have fundraising success?” Experts from our on-site event management and donor engagement partners shared responses to elevate your sponsorship opportunities, live-giving moments, programs, revenue enhancers, and more! 



One unique fundraising idea that has caught our attention is the emergence of one-off or custom matching gift programs. These initiatives are similar to your traditional matching gift programs, with the primary difference being that the company offering the program matches gifts only to a single organization. 

One-off programs like these have proven effective for organizations to initiate mutually beneficial relationships with businesses that have yet to offer matching gifts for their employees. For example, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) collaborated with Danaher Corporation to implement a one-off match, which increased the business’s total giving by more than 150%. As part of the partnership, Danaher encouraged its staff to give and collect funds for an LLS fundraising event. Then, the company matched the sum of employee donations to double its team members’ generosity for the organization. 

We’ve witnessed a variety of fun and innovative approaches that have significantly boosted fundraising success. One very unique one that comes to mind is the “Balloon Pop” alternative to the traditional paddle raiser.  

Here, each donation level is represented by a balloon with corresponding colors. When a guest pledges, say, $5,000, they receive a large balloon. Once all balloons at a level are “sold,” guests pop them together, showering the room in confetti. The twist? One balloon contains a unique confetti color, and its popper wins a special prize. It’s not just fun; it’s visually spectacular and engages everyone in a shared moment of anticipation and excitement. 

Another concept we’ve seen quite commonly is the “Last Paddle Battle,” where the final donor with their paddle up wins a prize. Each paddle raise equals a donation, creating a dynamic and competitive atmosphere that often leads to a thrilling bidding war, pushing fundraising to new heights. 

Understanding your donor base is crucial to the success of these ideas. What excites them? What engages them? While classics like “Heads and Tails” remain popular for their universal appeal, don’t shy away from experimenting with new, fun, and unique elements for your next event. It’s about striking the right balance between entertainment and impact, ensuring your fundraising efforts leave a lasting impression and, most importantly, achieve their goals. 

Give attendees a unique experience that will outlast the evening itself by having interactive fundraising activities on sight.  

For example, an organization’s Instant Buy Items also served as the evening’s central decorative display, as participating attendees were invited to decorate paper hearts with kind messages and then hang them up. The paper hearts were then collected at the end of the evening and will be included in individual care packages for the organization’s beneficiaries.  

Another iteration of a raffle would be a Key to the Treasure Chest activity! Attendees are invited to purchase keys as Instant Buy Items upon arrival and throughout the evening. The evening then concludes with key holders trying their luck with a mystery treasure chest!  

Something the team has seen that has had success and a “wow factor” is having a live-action artist during the program. This person paints a custom piece or a pre-selected piece, such as a sports logo, with a lot of energy and choreography, that is equal parts entertainment and a high-end finished product. It often is sold as a live auction item before it is completed.  

We’ve also seen organizations have great success with having the Last Paddle Standing, where the last person to put up their bid card wins a certain prize. It becomes a back-and-forth bidding war! A way to keep the engagement going during your paddle raise is to have the auctioneer go around and take all the bid cards at the lowest level offered. We’ve seen organizations have a huge increase in responses this way! 

Making your event fun and interactive, will always help to keep your donor engaged and put you at the forefront of their minds. I’ve noticed a huge upswing in the number of casino events recently. The players can trade their winnings in for raffle tickets, which helps the organization make more money than they ordinarily would on smaller silent auction or raffle items. You can also raffle off items or play games to compete for items that you may not have previously considered. Hint hint: People love centerpieces.

As you finalize your plans to make your upcoming gala, golf outing, or other distinguished event, hopefully, these tactics from our panel of partners will inspire your team to try something new or level up your typical offerings. 

At GiveSmart, we’re grateful to power thousands of events annually. Peruse our event fundraising features to learn how we can help you achieve your event fundraising goals.  

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What our clients say

We needed a platform to make sales online and to track and display ads for our sponsors. GiveSmart was perfect. We ended up making close to $15,000 more than we had hoped for. Definite better ROI than we anticipated. The interface is easy to use and provides plenty of options to get help if needed.

Michelle M.

The Rotary Club of South Whidbey Island

Using GS has created ease in auction bookkeeping, payments, and generating post-event thank you/tax letters. While we were online during COVID, our interactions with our GiveSmart via phone, email, and zoom were seamless. A representative always got back to us within the day. I would recommend GiveSmart to anyone doing a large online event.

Julie G.

MicroFinancing Partners in Africa

GiveSmart is highly flexible - you can use it for [a] simple registration and check-in, to full-scale galas with complex order forms, onsite upsells, live auctions, seating management, and more.

Jamie F.

Hope Chest for Breast Cancer

GiveSmart is easy to use and ideal for virtual events and can be used for in-person events to manage the silent auction, seating charts, and check-in to the event. Being able to use the platform for unlimited events within the contract year is very useful and being able to add other users and volunteers for different levels of access is helpful as well.

Dawn L.

Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County