Why Your Fundraiser is Better as a Contest

Ramp up your next fundraiser by turning it into a contest! Here are some examples and strategies to help you gamify your next event. This innovative approach will bring more excitement, and dollars, to your fundraiser so everybody wins! 

What is it that makes us so die-hard in our dedication to Coke vs Pepsi? And how come it feels so natural and socially acceptable to hug, scream, and cry with complete strangers at NFL games? Actually, I’m not a psychologist, so I have no idea—sorry! But I can tell you that group mentality can really help your next fundraising campaign, no matter what the campaign entails. Adding a contest between different groups of people can significantly increase the fundraising potential of your campaign and foster rapid, organic growth of your support base.

Group mentality

Here’s why I know a contest is going to work for you: People love belonging to a group, and it motivates them to act on that feeling of camaraderie. You see that play out in college sports all the time… It’s why super cerebral, Ivy League students suddenly become willing to do really insane stuff they would never do without the team connection, like go shirtless in the middle of winter and paint their chests different colors. And the group doesn’t even need to revolve around something tangible to create that feeling of loyalty! Tons of psychological studies have shown that if you just categorize people into arbitrary groups with vague names like “Team A” and “Team B,” people on Team A will almost always choose to help other Team A members during assigned tasks and games, even if they never get the chance to speak with or personally connect to the others on their team.

Contest-style fundraisers 

St Jude Rebecca.jpg

So encourage your donors, event attendees, social media followers, or whomever is in your campaign’s target audience to join and rally behind a group! An organization who has this down to a science is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with their St. Jude Heroes initiative. Runners all over the country can sign up as a St. Jude Hero before their next race, and then set and reach a certain fundraising goal with each event. In this case, the runners are actually competing against themselves to meet the bar they set for themselves.

Brackets for Good also fosters a team spirit by running a March Madness-style fundraising contest between nonprofits in major cities across the country. Nonprofits ask their donors to help them earn points for their “team” as they compete to get a larger bulk donation provided by a major corporate sponsor.

You can also set up smaller subgroups within your donor base that compete against each other in fundraising. Safe Haven Family Shelter does this every year leading up to their annual Dancing For Safe Haven event by asking their followers to donate-to- vote for their favorite celebrity dancer prior to the Dancing With The Stars-style competition. The Greater Nashville community will show their support for their favorite local business owners, news anchors, indie musicians, and other local icons by helping their chosen dancer win the “Most Popular Online” title, which comes with a sparkly sash, trophy, and bragging rights.

Meeting your year-end goal 

But what if your planned event has nothing to do with a competition? What if it’s just a “make your end-of- year donations now” direct mail campaign or a standard charity ball with no inherent teams for people to join? Never fear—it’s super easy to add a contest to your next event.

I’m working with an organization right now which helps distribute children’s books to kids living in poverty who normally wouldn’t be able to afford purchasing their own books. They had already planned a standard, no-frills end-of- year campaign where they were just going to ask social media followers, email subscribers, and current donors to help them reach a $10,000 fundraising goal. No teams or competition in sight, right? But I suggested an easy way to add a competitive element was to challenge online donors to donate-to- vote for their favorite classic children’s book. In other words, prove The Very Hungry Caterpillar was way better than Green Eggs and Ham—put your money where your mouth (and heart) is!


I also work frequently with the Tennessee Respite Coalition, which provides stipends for low-income, full-time family caregivers (such as an adult child supporting their elderly parent, or a parent to a special needs child) to hire a temporary replacement and give them time to recuperate from such a taxing job and take care of themselves. The TRC likes to say they provide “the gift of time”… So at the last wine-and- dine event they hosted, they set out a giant hollow hourglass and challenged everyone at the event to fill the hourglass with cash in one hour. Everyone was on the same team competing against the clock, and the TRC raised thousands of extra dollars they wouldn’t have earned without that competitive element.

And you know what? Competition does more than just get your nonprofit more money! It can renew that “spark” within longtime donors who may have forgotten why they were so passionate about your cause in the first place. It gives your social media followers a reason to share your posts and get their friends to get excited about your mission. It can help you grow your volunteer base if you pit student groups and volunteer associations against one another to see who can contribute the most charity hours in a period of time. It can also provide that extra edge your organization needs to get some PR attention with the media… There are hundreds of charity events going on in every major city every year, and a competition may be just what you need to stand out and catch readers’ attention.

So order a couple more DipJars, brainstorm some teams, and add a contest to your next fundraising event!

Need help with your overall development or marketing strategy? Visit nonprofitjenni.com to check out some of my latest consulting projects and find out how I can help your organization!