Get Real, Get Fundraising: 27 Reality TV-Inspired Fundraisers

June 6, 2022
8 minutes
A lonely old-style large TV sits on the ground in front of a brick wall. Hauntingly, the screen projects a hypnotic white light in an otherwise yellow-and-red image.

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as reality TV. But for better or for worse, those days are long gone. Now, we buy Kardashian-approved lip gloss, attend Drag Race world tours, debate the worst Love Is Blind couple over Slack, and post and re-post so. Many. Memes.

You might be wondering: What does that mean for the nonprofit world? Easy: It means reality TV-inspired fundraisers are sure to be a hit and a hoot! The best fundraising events are all about creating buzz, so check out our real-awesome fundraising ideas below, and make it work, fundraisers.

Top Chef Fundraiser Ideas

Food fundraisers? Tasty. Top Chef-inspired food fundraisers? Delectable. Everyone’s sure to pack their knives and come to these sweet and spicy fundraising events.

Quickfire challenge
All you need to host your very own quickfire mini cooking challenge is a few supplies, some eager participants, and a sprinkle of creativity. Whether it’s creating their own flavor of ice cream in 30 minutes or logging onto Zoom to make a gourmet dish from whatever items are on the third shelf of their pantry, you’ll test your supporters’ skills in the kitchen and raise some serious dough.

Actual top chef cooking class
Ask around at local restaurants to get a real-life top chef to host a cooking class for supporters, either online or in person. We have a feeling that folks would be particularly excited by a lesson in how to make edible foams—or is that just us?

Mise en place relay race
Whose kitchen prep skills reign supreme? Find out with a friendly mise en place challenge, which pits teams against one another to see who can prep food the quickest—and the next person can’t start on their task until the first is done. In Top Chef, the mise en place challenges usually include shucking oysters and breaking down artichokes. Keep things a bit less spiky (and a bit less pricey) with challenges like chopping onions, peeling eggs, and destemming and slicing mushrooms. At the end, give a prize to the fastest cooks in the kitchen, and donate everything to a local food bank.

Amazing Race Fundraiser Ideas

While you probably can’t host an actual race around the world (but if you can, call us!), the Amazing Race still provides some amazing fund-racing inspiration.

Race around town
If you’re feeling ambitious and you want a truly memorable fundraising event, host your own Amazing Race around your city or town. For this perfect peer-to-peer fundraising challenge, you’ll need to write clues, plan pitstops, add roadblocks, and gather a small army of volunteer drivers and witnesses. But hey, go big or go home, right?

Cheese hill
In this famous Amazing Race challenge, contestants had to carry 50-pound wheels of cheese on their backs down a steep hill in Switzerland. Do a slightly less terrifying spin on the event by hosting a cheese bowling challenge: Participants roll wheels of cheese (or bowling balls) at pins, with the winning team taking the prize. (And in case it wasn’t obvious, the prize should be a large amount of cheese.)

Photo challenge
A slimmed-down version of a full-on Amazing Race fundraiser, this event requires teams to complete a checklist of photos all around town, from taking a photo at a specific place at a specific time to snapping a selfie with another team without their noticing. Get creative, support local businesses, and be sure to share all the real-life photo fun across your social media channels.

Food challenge
Food challenges have always been an Amazing Race mainstay, from eating intestines (no guts, no glory!) to consuming an entire pot of fondue (probably sounds better than it feels). All you need to do to create your own food challenge is to find an unusual food and host a good old-fashioned eating contest.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Fundraiser Ideas

In the words of RuPaul, “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” Host a fabulously inspiring and slightly over the top (but in the best way) fundraiser with these Drag Race fundraising ideas. Can we get an amen up in here?

Drag brunch
Bottomless mimosas, plenty of hashbrowns, and entertainment from your drag queen hostesses: That’s a recipe for fundraising success if we ever saw one.

Speed makeovers
Partner with your local drag queens to host speed makeovers. After all, who doesn’t want some false lashes and expert contouring before hitting the grocery store?

Lip sync for your life
At the end of every episode, contestants on the chopping block need to lip sync for their life to stay in the competition. Host your very own lip sync-off, in a March madness-style contest. Audience members can “tip” the performers with donations, and a panel of local celebrity judges can grade the performances. No matter who wins, in the end, everyone gets on stage and dances.

American Idol Fundraiser Ideas

Even if you don’t have a Kelly Clarkson among your supporters, here are some American Idol-inspired fundraising ideas that are sure to be music to everyone’s ears.

Karaoke night
Keep things simple with an open mic karaoke night. All you need is a venue, a karaoke machine, and plenty of popcorn for the audience.

Sing-along karaoke
Make it a group event by hosting a singalong fundraiser. Choose a theme (e.g., 80's, musicals, one-hit wonders, musicals, disco … did we that we’re partial to musicals?), share the lyrics on a big screen, and get ready for an evening of dissonant delight!

Singing contest
And of course, you can host your very own American Idol-style singing contest. Just keep it nice—this is all about doing good and feeling good, not, y’know, crushing people’s dreams.

Great British Baking Show Fundraiser Ideas

You’ve watched the episodes, drooled over the pastry cream, and cried at the soggy bottoms. Embrace the one thing that unites us all—a fervent love of baked goods—by hosting a GBBS-inspired fundraising event. On your mark, get set, fundraise!

British bake sale
It’s a bake sale, but everything’s British! We’re thinking Bakewell tarts, sticky toffee pudding, and lemon drizzle cake. Be sure to sell tea, too.

If you always want to reach through the screen and grab a slice of pie mid-episode, this fundraiser’s for you. Host a Zoom screening of a favorite episode, then pause after each bake for a lesson from a local baker. Attendees can participate or just enjoy the double show.

Showstopper raffle
Are there some truly excellent star bakers among your supporters? If so, take advantage of their skills by asking them to bake a show-stopping masterpiece for your cake raffle. And may we suggest hosting this event right before a big holiday? Just scrumptious.

Project Runway Fundraiser Ideas

Could your fundraising strategy use a bit of a makeover? Keep things chic—but leave the drama at home—with a Project Runway-inspired fundraiser.

Unconventional materials challenge
In the ever-popular unconventional materials challenge, designers have to create a fabulous outfit using anything but actual bolts of fabric. Challenge your supporters to do the same, arming them with recyclable materials, pantry ingredients, or even old clothes (as well as scissors, glue, and thread) with which to create their own haute couture. When time’s up, host a mini fashion show.

Couture raffle
Chances are a few members of your talented nonprofit community can actually sew. Ask them to create a one-of-a-kind look and raffle it off. In the days leading up to the drawing, be sure to advertise the heck out of those gorgeous garments.

Fashion show fundraiser
Work with local businesses and designers to host your very own, super-inclusive runway show. To up the PR inspiration, have a panel of volunteer judges “grade” each ensemble—but, in an unexpected twist, everything they say has to be nice!

Pet fashion show fundraiser
Replace the human models with pet models and you’ve got one adorably stylish event. Want to really embrace the theme? Dress a few pets up as Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Christian Siriano.

Project Runway Junior!
Oh, it's a real thing. And those kiddos have more style in their tiny pinky toes than we do in our old, wrinkled bodies. So, if you've got some youngsters who'd like to try it out and make it work, our suggestion is to film it and send it in after the fact—maybe one of your youthful designers will make the cut!

Survivor Fundraiser Ideas

While we wouldn’t advise dropping your donors off in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves, you can adapt challenges from the show into fundraising events.

Puzzle party
Before going on Survivor, you’d better be a puzzle expert! Channel that puzzling energy by hosting a puzzle marathon (how many can you do in 10 hours?) or purchasing an enormous puzzle for a great team-building (and fundraising) exercise. Make it more Survivor-esque by having participants complete a scavenger hunt to find the puzzle pieces first.

Gross food challenge
Instead of eating mystery meats, host a “gross smoothie” challenge. You’ll need lots of ingredients and several blenders. Folks divide into pairs and make each other truly disgusting smoothies—and if you don’t finish it, you donate! Have you ever combined orange juice with garlic? What about mustard with banana? Now you can.

Other Reality TV Fundraiser Ideas

Still with us? Great, because now we’re moving on to some of our more creative ideas.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians
The Kardashians have given us many iconic moments over the years. You could throw a bunch of costume jewelry into a pool and have attendees dive for it, as an ode to when Kim lost her $75,000 diamond earring in the ocean. Or, go less niche, and partner with a local makeup studio to do makeovers (and maybe a little botox?) for a good cause.

The Bachelor
Remember carnation day at school? You could buy a carnation for $1, and on carnation day, it would be hand-delivered to your chosen recipient. Sure, some folks got no carnations and some got a flower farm, but still—it was fun! Anyway, our point is that you should host a similar event but with roses.

Real Housewives
We suggest an over-the-top, borderline-tacky gala. Encourage everyone to wear their fanciest clothes and shiniest baubles. Definitely serve martinis. We'll take water in our martini glass, thanks... we see someone across the room who needs a drink to the face.

So You Think You Can Dance
All you need are a few local celebrities (and if you ask us, everyone’s a celebrity in their hearts!) and a generous team of local dancers. The couples practice, everyone presents their dances, and then you host a big event in the town square—entry fee required. To vote for your favorite dancers, donate.

Jersey Shore
Host a GTL (that’s gym, tan, laundry, in case you didn’t know) fundraiser. Donors attend an exercise class outside, then you get a local laundromat to do their laundry while everyone enjoys a sugary drink in the sun.

Reality TV-inspired fundraising ideas: Key takeaways

  • When it comes to fundraising, you want to host events that people actually want to attend. Since people love reality TV shows, using the latest show as inspiration is a great jumping-off point.
  • Reality TV shows are often over the top, but remember to keep your fundraising event safe, fun, and accessible for everyone.
  • Hosting a screening of a reality TV show finale or a marathon of a few classic episodes are also great fundraising ideas. Don’t forget to sell snacks!
  • For reality competition shows, you can send out brackets to your supporters with a suggested donation to participate. The winner gets a percentage of the total pool.
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