Just this past weekend, I attended a mini-fundraiser for a sports team that three of my children are a part of. There is a family on the team who owns a local 50’s style diner, famous for their frozen custard. They offered to give the team 10% of the food sales for one night, plus 100% of the tips.

The members of the team would serve as the wait and bus staff. The youngest children were table wipers. Before the event, the kids signed up for half-hour shifts. There were plenty of volunteers.


Nobody thought this would be a major fundraiser. It had a sort of last-minute, thrown-together feel to it, which is fine. Sometimes, these kind of events are great- they build a sense of camaraderie and generate a little revenue, while not requiring a ton of advance planning.

My family had a great time. There was a huge turn-out, even more than the coaching staff had hoped for. Nobody seemed to mind the mild chaos that came from having a wait staff made up of middle and high school students. We talked to a bunch of people, ate some great diner food, and left feeling really positive about our team. I thought to myself that with all the people who showed up, there would be a respectable pile of cash.


A couple of days later, I ran into the woman who was in charge of the event. I asked her how much we made. She looked kind of mystified and told me that after the food sales, the tips, and an extra donation made by the owner of the restaurant, the total only came to $500. She was encouraged that so many people came and had a great time, but disappointed that more money wasn’t raised.

So, I’ve been thinking of a few things that we, as a team, could have done during the event to have made it more profitable.  Here are seven ideas that I came up with.  If you have other suggestions, I’d love to read about them in our comment section!

1. Could have asked for bigger tips. There was a tip jar next to the cash register, but at no point while I was there (during the heart of the rush) did anyone from the team leadership make a general announcement/reminder for people to tip big. We were told by the owner of the restaurant that we could keep 100% of the tips, so we should have made a very vocal push to ask for big, over-sized, incredibly generous tips. Instead of the normal 15%, we should have asked people for 50% of the meal price, as a general rule, if not more. It’s a fundraiser. Don’t be shy!

2. Could have had a raffle. Even though it was a little frenzied with all the people running around, it wouldn’t have been that inconvenient to run a quick 50/50 raffle. Those always go over well and the drawing aspect adds a touch of drama and excitement. Even if it only raised an extra $100, it still would have been helpful.

3. Could have auctioned off free “passes”. At some point, the coach could have done a mini-live auction and put a few “free” items up for bid (meaning that the team didn’t have to buy the item to auction). For instance, start the bidding at $20 for a “free pass” during one of the team’s hardest drills at practice. Or see how much someone would spend for a chance to “challenge the coach”. For that matter, the coach could take a page out of some school principals’ play book and offer to shave his or her head if a certain donation amount is raised for the team. These kind of free items can be personalized to fit whatever group you are a part of.

4. Could have sold pictures of athletes to their doting parents. This would have taken a bit of prior planning, but not too much. There are many people these days with really excellent cameras. At a prior meet or game, or even a practice, a parent volunteer could use his or her “souped-up” camera with telephoto lens to take some really awesome “in action” photos of each athlete. Develop them before the fundraising event and then sell them for $10 or $15 each at the event. You can even sell the digital file for more.

5. Could have pushed a passive fundraising campaign. A board member could have had applications and printed information available for all of the local merchants who offer “percentage fundraising” like grocery stores that give money to a school when the customer mentions them at check-out. If you can get all the moms and dads on your team participating in these promotions, the returns can add up over time. However, sometimes, the hardest part of making these programs succeed is getting your people to fill out the forms required by the merchants. The more you can do to simplify this process for people, the better.

6. Could have mentioned “end of year” donations. Our sports team just recently gained its 501(c)(3) status, so it’s donors are now able to claim their gifts to our organization on their taxes. A board member could have taken a moment to address the crowd and reminded us of the donation envelopes they had previously mailed before the holidays . They could also have had extra envelopes on hand. This might not have yielded any immediate donations, but it could be beneficial down the road.

7. Could have distributed an in-kind wish list. Every non-profit organization should have an up-to-date wish list of items or services it would like to be gifted. These can range from small, inexpensive thing all the way up to big ticket items. Again, having a wish list that could be passed out on every tray of food might not have caused any on-the-spot giving, but you never know if you don’t give it a shot.


I want to be clear that the event, as it was run, was a lot of fun. The people who worked on it did a great job on short notice. It will certainly be a highlight of our season.

But, if we were to run such a mini-fundraiser again, perhaps we could brainstorm a list of money-making ideas that could be run during the event itself, to increase the amount of money we raise overall.

One of my strongest beliefs when it comes to fundraising is that you never let people leave your fundraising event with money still in their pockets. Make sure you offer a multitude of ways for your supporters to give financially to your organization.

Photo By: Steve Snodgrass

Posted on 12 December 2010

Related posts

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter or RSS Feed.

Leave a Comment

Please keep comments related to this subject of this article. If you have a general comment you may use our guestbook instead or to contact us directly and get a response by email, please use our contact form. By using the form below your comments (but not your email address) will be displayed publicly. Please follow our comments policy or your message will be deleted (no advertisements.)