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54+ Easy & Cheap Fundraising Ideas (+ Free Fundraising Ideas)

March 14, 2022
12 minutes

A lot of us have grand fundraising aspirations. A masked gala. A murder mystery dinner cruise. A labradoodle auction. But while these prodigious fundraising ideas may bring in mucho moolah, they’ll also cost your nonprofit quite a bit of change. Instead, why not focus on cheap fundraising ideas? You’ll raise some much-needed funds, and you won’t have to sell all your old beanie babies (wait, is that a great fundraising idea? We’ll get back to you). If you’re convinced, read on for fundraising ideas that won’t break the bank.

The 42 best cheap fundraising ideas

Today only,* we’re sharing our best cheap-and-cheerful fundraising ideas. Check ‘em out—they’re cheap at twice the price.

* Okay, okay, these ideas will last all week. And maybe all year. And probably well beyond that. But still, you should jump on them ASAP!

Our favorite cheap fundraising ideas

Looking for a deal? Or maybe a steal? We’re kicking things off with a few of our favorite cheap fundraising ideas.

1. Change drive to drive change

Every penny counts, so start collecting those coins with a change drive. Gather volunteers to decorate donation jars; then, distribute them at local businesses, asking shop owners to encourage customers to donate their change. You’d be surprised how quickly a few quarters can add up!

2. Spend-nothing challenge

This fundraiser saves you money and doesn’t cost your supporters an extra cent—technically speaking. Ask your supporters to spend no money for one whole day. That means no grande soy lattes, no grocery runs, and no artisanal bath salts (it’s hard, we know). Instead, ask them to give whatever they would have spent to your organization. Gamify the experience by issuing a double-or-nothing challenge: if they do spend money, they donate double that amount to your cause!

3. Pet rock adoption

Once, they were all the rage. Now, they’ve been forgotten. Well, no more! Gather a bunch of rocks. Write up a little adoption card for each one with their name and interests. Hold an adoption event. If any rocks don’t get adopted, please, please don’t send them to a farm upstate.

4. Li’l Sebastian impersonator

Remember the Harvest Festival in Parks and Rec? Yeah, those were the days. Hosting your own Harvest Fest would cost a pretty penny, but you can capture the magic by hiring a tiny horse to woo your donors. If he’s lucky enough to look like Pawnee’s prized pony, Li’l Sebastian, your investment will pay off big. 

Easy & cheap fundraising ideas

So you’re short on cash and short on time—welcome to the world of nonprofits, friend. We see you, and we’ve got plenty of cheap aaaand easy fundraising ideas. Put away that credit card and set a timer for 15 minutes—you can do this! 

5. Puppy kissing booth

For a donation, lucky folks get to smear some organic PB on their face and let adorable doggos lick them. You can include a kitten cameo, but make sure everyone signs a waiver first—sometimes, a scratch is a lot like love. 

6. Singles swap

Whoops, that came across a little more risqué than expected! Though technically setting singles up makes for cheap and easy fundraisers. Aaaannyway, we meant a clothing swap, but everyone only brings their single pieces of clothing—a lonely sock, a solitary boot, or a solo glove. “Why?” you ask. The right question is “Why not?”

7. Chick naming contest

Adopt some chicks (you can get the boys for free, and if you don’t know why, we’re not explaining it to you #childhoodtrauma) and host a fundraising contest to name them. Winners get to take home their li’l Chicken McBuckfaces. 

…wait, did we get confused with the easy no cost fundraising ideas thing? Cheep cheep! 

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Also: difficult & expensive fundraising ideas

Now that you’re well rested with a full coffer, you’re probably thinking, “Those ideas were so cheap and easy! I’m ready for difficult and expensive.” Of course you are! Here are our top incredibly challenging and ridiculously overpriced fundraising ideas.

8. Truffle auction

You’ll need a trained truffle dog or pig to hunt for the truffles, most of which are in far-flung locations around the globe. Then, you’ll need a really good lawyer to bail you out when you try to smuggle the truffles back home. Yeah, it’s a ton of effort, but have you ever had truffle mashed potatoes? #worthit

9. Fundraising cruise

Don’t you just hate it when donors leave your event early? Well, we’ve got a solution. Host a fundraising cruise! Three days of auctions, three nights of galas, and no one gets to leave. Par-tay!

Cheap fundraising ideas for schools

If you’re looking for fundraising ideas for schools, you probably don’t have the funds for a live production of High School Musical or a Sixteen Candles-themed gala. Close the wallet, step back, and try your hand at these cheap fundraising ideas for schools.

10. Art sale

Selling kids’ art is a surefire way to raise funds for your school—and the only cost is the art supplies. You can ask the art teacher to host a one-day workshop for each class; then, have an opening night party during which you display all the art in the gymnasium. This is one fundraiser that’s sure to sell out. After all, parents have to buy their children’s art or else they’ll be paying therapy bills forever!

11. Historic tour

Get a volunteer from a local museum or historic site to give kids and caretakers a tour of the town in exchange for a donation. Maybe they’ll even wear an historically accurate costume!

12. Marathon ask-a-thon

The best cheap fundraising idea for schools is to have kids ask, repeatedly, in their most annoying voice, “Please? Please? Now? Now?” They have so much stamina! It’s worked on us many, many times, and it’s almost completely free. (You’ll pay with your sanity.)

Cheap college fundraising ideas

It’s no secret that a college education comes at a premium. But here’s the good news: you’re investing in your future! Oh, and also, you can offset a (very) small percentage of those costs with our cheap college fundraising ideas. 

13. Coffee and donuts sale

Wait until finals, buy a bunch of day-old donuts at the local Wawa, and brew a pot of strong coffee (buy it on clearance). Then, sell them to bleary-eyed students who have no time to get breakfast and no time to sleep.

14. Song cameo

$10 gets you a 30-second video of the athlete, singer, fraternity member, professor, or club member of your choice singing. Be sure to pick something with a lot of high notes!

15. Lip sync for your life

We’re quoting the immortal RuPaul here, folks. Host a lip-sync fundraising competition where aspiring non-singers get on stage and give it their all. Make it a bracket, with winners facing winners until you have the supreme chanteuse. And if you haven’t seen Drag Race, get thee to a television, pronto.

Cheap fundraising ideas for kids

Whether you’re raising money for kids or trying to get your kids primed for a career in nonprofit fundraising, we’ve got you covered with a variety of cheap fundraising ideas for kids.

16. Clean-a-thon

Clean up your town and raise money for a good cause with a clean-a-thon fundraiser! It’s like a walk-a-thon, but everyone needs to wear heavy-duty gloves and bring hand sanitizer. Make it a peer-to-peer effort with supporters pledging a certain amount for every bag of trash collected—and bonus donations for recyclables!

17. Santa, Hanukkah Harry, Kwanzaa Kenneth, or Solstice Sally

Every kid loves to meet Santa Claus, but we’re keeping things inclusive here. Have a few teachers or parents dress up for the holidays and offer phone photos. Happy Festivus to the rest of us!

18. Jellybean hunt

Kids pay an entrance fee to spend a fun-filled afternoon searching for jellybeans and other prizes. Make sure nothing’s toxic or a choking hazard for local fauna!

19. Potato hunt

Kids pay an entrance fee to spend a fun-filled afternoon searching for potatoes and other root vegetables. The grand prize? The rutabaga.

Also: cheap fundraising ideas for kid goats

You’ve got some cheap fundraising ideas for kids, but what about the other type of kids? Yep, we mean baby goats. They have needs, too!

20. Goat yoga

Because every yoga class is better when you have goats jumping on your back. All you need is a pastoral setting and some friendly kids! 

21. Llama yoga

Like goat yoga, but much more painful and with more spitting. Still, the photos will look amazing on Instagram.

22. Lawn care 

Gather your goats, bring them to an overgrown lawn, and let them tidy up the place. You can thank them by including a few blackberry bushes in the mix.

Now, for some no-upfront-cost fundraising ideas

For another spin on things, here are some fundraising ideas with no money down, best ideas in town. That’s right: it’s time for all-you-care-to-eat, no upfront cost fundraising ideas.

23. Cutest plant contest

Dogs and babies seem to get all the attention these days, but no more! Host a plant contest, encouraging supporters to submit photos of their cutest little succulents and shrubs. You charge to submit a photo and/or make a donation for each vote. Ask the winning petunia’s plant-parent to post an acceptance speech once the contest’s over.

24. Sock puppet tour de force (part 1)

Are we really telling you to fundraise with old socks? When you’re looking for no money down fundraisers, you do stuff like host a sock puppet decorating workshop (online or in-person.) 

25. Sock puppet tour de force (part 2)

Volunteers put on the entirety of “Phantom of the Opera” starring the sock puppets. If your audience doesn’t like musicals, you can go with “Hamlet” instead.

26. Sock puppet tour de force (part 3)

Now that they’re famous, auction off the sock puppets (with their consent). 

Even more low-cost fundraising ideas

WE KNOW. You’re like, “How do you have so many amazing low-cost fundraising ideas?” And we’re like, “Well, it’s 2:00 AM and inspiration struck after our fifth espresso!” 

27. Chopped competition

In Chopped, chefs get a basket with out-there ingredients and compete to make the most palatable dish. This is a great low-cost fundraiser for a food pantry—have participants use food that expires that day to avoid food waste and save funds. Charge an entry fee for participating or for tasting the delectable creations.

28. Bad wine tasting

Wine tastings are a popular fundraiser, but who’s got the funds for all those pricey bottles? Not us. Instead, embrace your lack of money and wine knowledge! Buy all the bottom-shelf wines and have someone who knows absolutely nothing about vino host a tasting. This Manischewitz definitely has notes of gouda and Kleenex…

29. Speed friending

How many times have you heard people moan, “It’s so hard to make friends nowadays!” And they’re right. Why not be a part of the solution by hosting a speed-friending event, where donors sit and chat with many potential friends for 30 seconds each? At the end of the night, everyone writes down who’d they’d most like hang with and swaps contact info accordingly.

The best free fundraising ideas

Well, you’ll still be paying for the internet, and time is money, so technically there’s no such thing as a free fundraising idea? But these ones come pretty close. We have some stellar fundraising ideas for free, while supplies last.

30. 53/47 raffle

Yeah, we mixed up the typical 50/50 raffle because we’re rebels like that. Sell tickets to your raffle with the winner receiving 47% of the funds and your nonprofit getting the rest. Do your own Rebel Without A Cause impression and change the numbers to reflect stats that are key to your mission.

31. 34/33/33 raffle

Now we’re just getting wild. It’s like the raffle above, but 34% goes to you, 33% goes to the winner, and 33% goes to another nonprofit organization because community over competition! A free fundraiser with a side of free warm-and-fuzzy feelings? We’ll take several.

32. Playlist fundraiser

Anyone can hold a peer-to-peer playlist fundraiser in which sponsors pay to add songs to a fundraiser’s playlist. This works especially well in conjunction with a 5k or a step challenge, but you can also introduce it as a way to jazz up supporters’ summer road trips. Finally, a way to make everyone listen to the 10-minute version of Tay-Tay’s classic “All Too Well. Which brings us to another idea… 

33. Terrible playlist fundraiser

Sure, introducing a friend to new music is fun. But isn’t it more fun to introduce a friend to music you love but almost everyone else hates? As a bonus, a terrible playlist might inspire your runner fundraisers to run faster, as they desperately try to cross that finish line before Phish begins their next jam session. (But seriously, some Phish songs are great. Just give ‘em a chance!)

Free fundraising ideas for schools

If you read those cheap fundraising ideas for schools and thought to yourself, “Okay, big spender,” then we apologize and promise to do better. We’ll start with these free fundraising ideas for schools.

34. Eco-art competition

Families bring in a bag of their garbage (nothing sticky or smelly, please and thank you), and then everyone makes upcycled art! Charge an entry fee and auction off the finished pieces.

35. Improv comedy night

Invite kids to tell their best jokes live on stage. We prefer this one for the under-10 set—you never know what they’ll say next, but it’s guaranteed to be funny.

36. Ice cream flavor contest

Partner with a local ice cream shop for this free school fundraiser. Every kid submits their dream ice cream flavor and everyone votes. The ice cream shop sells the winning flavor for a limited period of time, with a percentage of sales going to your school. Mmm… we love a scoop of Oreo-Cheeto-marshmallow topped with Sprite whipped cream.

Easy no-cost fundraising ideas

Kick back, relax, and try out these easy free fundraising ideas.

37. Hike ‘n’ bike

Chart an exciting course for fundraisers to use their wheels and their heels. Everyone bikes to a trail, then everyone hikes it. And then everyone has a nice cold beer because that sounds exhausting. Make it a race, a peer-to-peer fundraiser, or even a virtual event where everyone shares their pics online.

38. Scream-a-thon

Life is stressful, isn’t it? But never fear; we’re here to help. Get out that stress and raise money for a good cause by hosting a scream-a-thon. All you need is an empty field or vacant lot where your donors can stand and scream their lungs out. Whew, that felt good!

Bonus: If someone has access to an old punching bag, or a gym with great acoustics, get in on that action!

39. Fermentation class

Stock up for winter with a fermentation class fundraiser. All participants need is a starter and some basic ingredients, most of which they’ll already have in the kitchen. From kombucha to sauerkraut, everyone will leave feeling healthy and virtuous.

Also, the worst free fundraising ideas

There are a lot of ways to fundraise for free, and some of them are truly terrible. Oh, you still want to learn more? Cool, cool.

40. Amateur piercing night

All you really need to pierce ears is ice, a needle, and a potato. But also… that’s not hygienic, and it’s a terrible, terrible idea. We all saw that scene in “Grease.” Don’t do it. Go to a piercing parlor, please.

41. Fish petting zoo

Take everyone to a lake so they can pet all the fish in exchange for a donation. (Disclaimer: wild fish don’t like to be pet, and petting them is not particularly satisfying. Trust us, we’ve tried.)

42. Blindfolded obstacle course

It sounds adventurous, doesn’t it? But when have you ever seen Indiana Jones wear a blindfold as he escapes from certain doom? Never, that’s when. Getting your donors bowled over by a boulder isn’t the way to get more donations. 

6 cheap things to sell for a fundraiser

So you just want to do a good old-fashioned fundraiser, where you get some things, sell them for a profit, and donate the extra funds. We respect that. Here are our favorite cheap things to sell for a fundraiser.

1. Cookie dough

First on our easy things to sell for fundraising list is a classic for a reason: cookie dough. And here’s our top tip: make it without eggs because 90% of your buyers are eating it right from the tub.

2. Pet treats

Easy to make and easy to sell! And sure to be a hit with your not-super-picky target audience.

3. Decorative pinecones

How are they different from regular pinecones, you ask? We’re not at liberty to say.

4. Candles

Fact: you can never have too many scented candles. Never.

5. Jam

Maybe throw in some chutneys or pickles or krauts while you’re at it. 

6. Hugs

Preferably from a consenting sloth. They have long arms. 

Also: 5 expensive things to sell for a fundraiser

What?? One of your donors just won the lottery and donated it all to your nonprofit but they asked that it all goes to the development team? Guess you’d better start selling some super-high-end items at your next fundraiser. Here’s what we’d sell. (And, incidentally, what we’d buy.)

1. Teacup pigs

Most of them will grow to be 300 pounds, but they sure are cute for a few months!

2. Mattresses

You sleep on it every night, so invest in a good one. Your back will thank you.

3. Boats

Once all your donors have boats, they can host fundraisers on their boats. So much winning.

4. Cookies covered in gold leaf

Maybe add some Dom Pérignon to the batter for good measure. And make sure that gold is ethically sourced!

5. Parking spots in Manhattan

Tell us the truth: how did you find them? We’ve been driving around the block for the last three hours.

How Funraise can help with your cheap & no-cost fundraisers

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Inexpensive fundraising ideas: final points

If you’ve already slashed the avocado toast line from your nonprofit’s budget, we hope these cheap fundraiser ideas have sparked your creativity. Remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so don’t let a lack of funds stop you from making an impact.

Cheap fundraising ideas FAQs

What’s the easiest, cheapest fundraiser?

Getting your community to fundraise for you! It costs you next to nothing to have your supporters raise money for your cause. Just put the call out and let them do most of the heavy lifting.

Can I fundraise with no money?

Absolutely, though you’ll have to make up for it with a little extra effort. Here are a few ways to fundraise with no money: organized outdoor activities, partnerships with local businesses, crowdfunding campaigns, and matching gift campaigns. Wishing won’t cut it. 

What can I sell to fundraise?

Anything and everything, but you’ll do best with items you can buy in bulk and sell at a bigger profit or items that are homemade or one-of-a-kind.

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