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Fundraising Ideas for Youth
Lindsay Stroh

Youth groups raise millions of dollars for charities each year. Fundraising provides young people the opportunity to learn valuable leadership skills and develop a commitment to improving the lives of their communities at home and around the world. Students can earn service-learning hours, required for high school graduation in Maryland and several other states, by raising funds for charitable causes.

When planning a fundraiser, remember that we can help you, so be sure to early in your planning. You'll need a letter that donors can use for a tax deduction for financial and in-kind gifts such as prizes or materials. We might also be able to help publicize your event and provide educational materials, displays, collection cannisters or educational material. Fred Cross, our St. Bernard mascot, may even be available.

The following events may be conducted alone or in combination with others:

Auction: The easiest type is a Dutch auction. Participants buy 10 tickets at a time, and put their tickets in the bowls placed by the auction items, putting all their tickets in one bowl or distributing them among several. Then the winner is drawn from each jar. For more ideas, see “Raffle” below. Other types of auctions include silent and live auctions. These require more organization and time, but can raise significant funds.

Cake walk: Cards with large numbers 1-10 are placed around a large, preferably round table. The music plays, and everyone who pays admission parades around the table. When the music stops, the person closest to each number picks it up. Then the winning number is drawn from a bowl or from a large spinner, and the winner gets the cake. Usually one ticket earns you three chances to join the cake walk. After three walks, new ticket holders form a new parade. The game continues until all the donated cakes (or pies, plates of cookies or brownies, etc.) are taken.

Car wash: Need a highly visible location and signs that clearly specify the charity that will benefit. Advance publicity helps, too.

Carnival games: Charge admission to the carnival and/or charge to play each game. Make your own games or rent them and get prizes donated. Ideas: beanbag toss, shoot out the candle with the water pistol, dunking booth, ball in the bucket, how many beans in the jar, bingo, etc. A guessing game with facts about your charity adds relevance. Include a raffle, entertainment and food.

Food events & contests: Pancake breakfast, spaghetti dinner, bake sale or other food event. Parents and kids share the preparation and serving duties—an opportunity to teach cooking and safe food handling. No alcohol, please. You can also have a competition for the best chili, salad, cake, etc. with everyone getting a chance to taste and vote.

Games Night: Borrow games and card tables and get food, beverages, score cards and little prizes donated. Be sure to include games that small children can play. Include a raffle and some carnival games.

Items for sale: Get your friends and neighbors to buy something. You buy it in bulk at a low price and sell it for more. (Think Girl Scout Cookies.) Ideas include light bulbs, first aid kits, greeting cards, etc. Check out a copy of “Boy’s Life” from the library for ideas.

Raffle: The key is to get desirable items donated with a value of $50 or more. A handmade quilt, an original painting, a new bicycle, a basket of CDs, videos and DVDs, dinner prepared by a well-known cook—the ideas are only limited by your imagination! Make sure your tickets include a description of how, where and when the raffle will be conducted, and if the ticket holder must be present to win. Some faith groups and also some local governments have rules about conducting games of chance, including prohibiting selling raffle tickets by mail, so check first.

Talent show: Kids (and their parents and siblings?) are invited to perform, alone or in groups, everything from singing and playing instruments to storytelling, dancing and doing magic tricks! A variation of this is karaoke, which is lots of fun especially if children’s songs are included.

Thons: An event where you raise funds based on how much you do something. Participants raise funds based on their pledge to walk, run or swim a certain distance, read a certain number of books, dance (or rock in a rocking chair!) for a number of hours, or any number of other creative challenges. A Maryland elementary school recently raised over $5,000 with a math-athon.

Yard or garage sale: Best selling items are tools, toys, knick-knacks, small furniture and appliances, dishes, books and handmade crafts. Some sales specify “no clothing,” since this eliminates people wanting to try things on. Include a raffle or a carnival game (see above) for added earning potential. Start early on Saturday morning, and advertise in the shopper newsletter and on signs on nearby roads.

One of my favorite resources for special events planning is the book, “The Business of Special Events” by Harry A. Freedman and Karen Feldman, available at Also check for fundraising books at your library.

Make sure your timeline and budget include a way to thank everyone. A well-run fundraiser is an opportunity to financially support a good cause, raise public awareness and develop young people’s leadership skills and a sense of community.

More ideas...

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