15 Utterly Insane Fundraising Ideas People Actually Thought Would Work (and 3 that do)

Fundraising July 12, 2017

Terry Ibele

By Terry Ibele

“You should start a reality TV show about horses!” (suggested to a horse sanctuary)

Yeah, okay. Tune in at six to watch America's Next Top Horse.

To those in the fundraising world, wild suggestions like these are not unfamiliar. With thousands of worthy and inspirational organizations out there, we all know fundraising for your nonprofit and making your campaign stand out can be very difficult.

Still, donors, friends, and sometimes random people on the street often have (what they consider) novel and effective ideas to get your job done.

I was on a thread recently where folks listed some of the craziest suggestions they’ve received from well-meaning know-it-alls. I thought I’d share 15 of the most utterly insane ones. And to make up for it, at the end of this post I share three simple, yet highly effective strategies from some of the best fundraisers I’ve come across. 

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Or, just watch our video to get 100 fundraising ideas in ten minutes: 


15 Utterly Insane Fundraising Ideas People Actually Thought Would Work


1) “Just call Bill Gates!” 

Anyone have his number? He’s surely waiting by the phone!


2) Collect and sell slightly used airplane toiletry kits on eBay. 

Amazing! With shipping and fees, we could make approximately $0.10 per kit. Let me grab that gently-used pillow the guy next to me sneezed on for three hours.


3) Become a medical or recreational marijuana dispensary.

(This idea was suggested to a church)

Good idea! We could also become ANY type of retail business and then…wait. 


4) “We have an anonymous syringe exchange program that works primarily with homeless substance users. It was once suggested by a funder that we take pictures of all of them and make a coffee table book.” 

This is genius. Can we also teach them to dance for a flash mob at the mall as part of the book launch?

Read More: 200+ Fundraising Ideas Any Organization Can Use 

5) Host a naked cycling race for sponsorship. 

For those of us headquartered in Portland or 1969.


6) “Have you ever heard of crowdfunding!??!?” 

Yes, yes we have.

Psst... While you're here, read our actual guide on crowdfunding for nonprofits


7) Hold an onion peeling competition with sponsorships to see who can last the longest without crying.

Hmmm…and who is going to pay whom to sign up for this? Or do we charge admission to the most boring competition ever? Or, how about we get an onion farmer to be our title sponsor?!


8) “Hire only very attractive young women with nice bodies...it works for pharmaceutical reps?" 

Dear Human Resources,

This person should be monitored for violation of a number of basic company policies and for offending everyone reading this post.


9) “Just write a grant!” 

Let me grab a pen and write this down. A grant you say. Hadn’t thought of it!


10) Create a heartwarming animated film about cats to make some extra cash. 

Step 1, successfully fundraise for production costs for said heartwarming film...


11) “What if you challenged people to dump ice over their heads?” 

Sounds oddly familiar...


12) Make an indoor pool "nude" for one night only and charge admission. 

I’m more scared of seeing my neighbors in line to buy tickets than I am of losing my fundraising job.


13) “Just ask [sponsors] nicely.” 

I suppose we can all take a break from our typical boorish sponsorship calls and give this a shot!  


14) Offer lap dances to your biggest donors. 

Oh. My. Goodness. Really?


15) Agree to be tasered, charging $1,000 for each second of shock. 

Good idea! Maybe we could charge $15,000 for backing over their toes with a bus after that!

It’s quite obvious those suggesting these fundraising ideas had little (to no) experience with how to hold a successful fundraising campaign. And I doubt any of these ideas would actually work (especially the airplane toiletry one). Fortunately, I know many nonprofits that have successfully raised hundreds to millions of dollars using simple, effective strategies that work.

If you’ve got a fundraiser coming up, I’ve listed three of the best pieces of advice I’ve come across that can dramatically boost your funds. Here they are:


3 Simple Fundraising Strategies That Actually Work

Fundraising Ideas That Work

1) How to Make Your Campaign Easy to Remember

There’s a reason “annual” galas and events protect their turf on the community calendar – people are creatures of habit. While it may not be sparkly and viral, focusing on your organization’s accomplishments and mission – and passionately telling that story –  while pairing it with a simple, easy to remember campaign ask will help ensure consistency and growth. To see what times of the year most nonprofits are holding their annual galas and fundraisers, check out this nonprofit calendar, in which I analysed and summed up over 1,000,000 nonprofit events.


2) How to Maximize Donations

Recently, the Long Beach branch of the Boy Scouts raised a whopping $48,000 by offering donors the chance to give online or by sending a quick text from their smartphones. Creating a mobile-friendly, simple website for donations makes giving quick and sidesteps the “no cash, no checkbook” dilemma. It’s also a must for modern nonprofits as more and more donors prefer to give online every year. If you haven’t set up online donations yet, or could use some extra tips, here are six steps to create an amazing donation website for your nonprofit.

 Fundraising Ideas 

3) The Easiest Way to 10x Funds Raised

There will also always be power in numbers. Consequently, peer-to-peer fundraising, or utilizing your existing donors’ networks by encouraging them to reach out to their own friends and family for potential donations, allows you to spread the message of your organization to exponentially more people. One tenacious mom in Chula Vista, CA raised over $8,000 for her child’s football team by emailing 100 club members about the need for new helmets and asking each of them to send that same email to 10 more of their own contacts. In the same way, look for opportunities to use your current donors to help spread the word.

In short, great fundraising campaigns have a message that stands out, simple logistics for collecting money, and utilize networks to maximize donations.

Do you have your own story about ridiculous fundraising ideas from (clueless) acquaintances? Share in the comments!


Additional Resources:

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

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Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • Lori L. Jacobwith, founder of Ignited Fundraising:
    Oh my! Unfortunately some of these, or variations of these, I continue to hear regularly.

    One of the best strategies to add to this list is to put a FACE on my (your donor's) impact. Share a mission moment example about a "real" person whose life is different because your organization exists. Share a bit about something they've said and felt. Help your community have a passion-retread moment where they feel great about their initial gifts and feel compelled to give again.

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