7 Fundraising Event Themes that Never Go Out of Style

July 16, 2019
7 minutes

Classic. Eternal. Timeless. 

Yes, we're describing your _-a-thon. Walk-a-thon, Bowl-a-thon, Dance-a-thon, Shop-a-thon, Sleep-a-thon, all the a-thons. 

How do you take something as *done* as an a-thon and turn it from So-Last-Season to Cooler-Than-Cool? Come, let us show you the path to re-using and re-re-invigorating those events that once made you shiver with not-coolery.

You will have the coolest classic fundraising event around, trust. 


You're never going to get away from holiday-related events, and you shouldn't try! But look at the holidays differently than the way you always have. If your annual event is a Christmas-time gala with swags of greenery and bowls full of jelly, switch up the theme. Make up your own holiday figure and start a new tradition that's yours alone, like pre-selling holiday cakes and delivering them at the event. 


Ahhh, competition. The sweet sweat of great gaming. You can turn literally anything into a competition. Take eating, for example. Or speed shoe-lacing. Or window cleaning. Make an obstacle course out of home improvements. Or give a prize to the best cheerer-on-er. Whatever you do, make sure you schedule time to emphasize everyone's accomplishments instead of kicking 'em out as soon as the competition's done, cuz people love to win, but even more, they love to celebrate!

Great outdoors

They don't call it "The Great Outdoors" because it's the worst. Planning an outdoor event is gonna be different depending on your location, the season, and your attendees, but relying on Mother Nature's unique venue and decorating is one way to make the most of your budget.

Pinterest has plenty of romantic/quirky/colorful ideas, but we encourage you to think of outdoor events as more than just one-off themed events. Choose a location and grow your decor over the years... think it's possible to grow vines in the shape of chairs?


The word "carnival" evokes different things for different people, but we would bet a donation to your org that, most often, a carnival vision is colorful, active, and full of food. Putting on a carnival, therefore, while fun, is a big ol' mess of planning. If you want the carnival feel without the carnival hassle, bring on the funnel cake to your gala and have just one midway game. Or replace all the prizes with something that goes directly to your constituents. Take that one element that resonates and go big.

Illustration of cake with a prize-winning ribbon on it.

Costume party

Who doesn't love a costume party? It's one of those things that allows everyone to be someone different just for a night. It can be family-friendly, a competition (see: "You can make literally anything into a competition."), themed to your organization, and... cheap! Obviously, this is going to be an eternal favorite, but its value to you is that you set the theme and then the attendees do most of the work—costumes combine to be both decor and entertainment!

Casino night

We've been to a lot of casino night events (a lot) and we will always go when we're invited (invite us!!) because there's such a sense of possibility at these events. Keep the sense of anticipation and excitement but make it new by keeping it low key instead of James Bond-formal. Finger foods aren't usually the way to go when people are handling cards and chips, so bring your attendees a new experience by offering barbeque and games that can handle the mess.

Obviously, if you're a nonprofit dealing with addiction, this may be one to stay away from. That's ok, your event is going to be amazing in some other way.


Did we grab your attention earlier when we suggested some a-thons? Think of something that doesn't cost you a bundle and that your attendees are able to do, and run with it! We suggest asking a-thoners to bring in their own tools, like their video game systems or dancing poles, and setting them off to the races. You just provide food and encouragement. And don't forget to take pictures! 

Bonus: Got an event that, despite your best efforts, is being railroaded into uncool territory (ahem, that board member who just. doesn't. get it.)? Get a great speaker or entertainer—it doesn't have to be Queen Bey, just check locally and get someone who makes everyone laugh. 

Bonus-Bonus: If you're still teetering on the edge—maybe you've got an old, outdated video that you can't get out of showing or your fashion show is turning into a leisurewear expo—lean into it! Seriously, don't take yourself so seriously. During the video, serve up a classic corn-and-cheese casserole and announce that the video is so cheesy and corny that only this recipe would do for the salad course. (And ask for funds to update the video, obv.)

Fawcett up your models' hair, rename the fashion show "At Your Leisure", and provide passed hors d'oeuvres from your local 1972 Junior League cookbook while looks are walking the runway. See what we mean? Whatever you have to work with, take it alllll the way.

There's a small segment of event themes that are perpetually appealing in the nonprofit world. We still continue to work 'em and make them unique, and that's why they'll never go out of style.

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