College Fundraising Ideas: Events, Contests, Merch, and More

Most college students have tight budgets, so you’ll need to get creative with your college fundraising ideas.

A significant amount of money goes into higher education causes. In 2022, education fundraising increased by 12.5 percent to $59.5 billion. However, most of these funds went directly to universities, with clubs and student organizations attracting much smaller sums.

At Sickening Events, we’ve helped thousands of creators host fundraisers and promote fundraising events worldwide. In this guide, we’ll help student clubs, fraternities, sororities, and student organizations find unique college fundraising ideas. We’ll cover events, contests, merch sales, and more.

College Fundraisers Targeting Businesses and Organizations

Many college fundraising ideas revolve around raising money from local businesses, charities, and organizations. In 2022, 61.3% of total higher education fundraising came from organizations, so the potential here is huge.

Sponsorship Opportunities

Businesses often invest in sponsorships — from events to organizations and clubs — to support their community and promote their business. Sponsors can benefit by having their logo displayed on club clothing or displays, increasing awareness of their business in the community. In turn, you benefit from an infusion of cash from a local business.

Consider reaching out to local businesses that may have some connection to your club or organization. Potential targets could include businesses that are:

  • Owned by friends or family of your club/organization members
  • In industries related to your club
  • Have sponsored other clubs, charity events, or nonprofits in your area
  • Have issued branded scholarships or supported college scholarship drives before

For-profit businesses are typically the most effective to target with sponsorship requests. But connecting with nonprofits can be useful, too.

Nonprofit Partnerships

Partner with well-funded nonprofits in exchange for providing volunteer student support or partnering in events.

While nonprofits generally won’t be able to sponsor your club directly, partnership opportunities may exist. Clubs and nonprofits could partner to oversee research projects, run local charity events, and host fun runs. This could help promote awareness of your organization and potentially attract donors in the community.

Networking Events

Hosting community networking events is valuable for attendees and organizers alike.

For example, a university business club might host a professional mixer, while a film club could host a film industry networking night coinciding with a local film festival. The target audience for these events can include local business owners, community members involved in the relevant industries, and fellow college students.

Networking events are valuable for several reasons:

  • Your club or organization can raise funds by charging admission.
  • Students can network with community members who could provide valuable connections and job opportunities.
  • Your college can benefit from engaging more closely with the local community.

For example, Rowan College of South Jersey’s Internship & Career Planning regularly hosts networking and speed interview events to connect students with career opportunities and draw interest from local business owners.

Branded Scholarships

Branded scholarships offer a unique way for college clubs to raise funds.

Local businesses, like radio stations or zoos, can sponsor scholarships in the club’s name, promoting community engagement and supporting students. For example, a local radio station could sponsor an “Excellence Scholarship for the Communications Club.”

Clubs can reach out to potential sponsors and negotiate terms that might include internships or collaboration on events. By teaming up with local businesses, clubs secure funding and build lasting community connections.

College Fundraising Events to Target Alumni

Past students are a key source of donations for colleges and universities. In 2022, 22.7% of total higher-education fundraising came from alumni. Student clubs can also leverage alumni connections.

Personalized Outreach Campaigns

The simplest way to raise money from alumni is to reach out and ask, making sure to personalize and tailor your outreach messaging.

Identify past members of your student club or organization who may be suitable targets for alumni fundraising efforts. A good example is a past club member who has started a successful business. They may have fond memories of your fraternity, sorority, or club and may have the financial means to donate.

Hopefully, your club leadership has kept records of past members. If not, check with your college’s alumni and donor relations department to see if you can obtain some contact details.

From there, it’s all about personalization and a tactful approach. Maybe you reach out looking for success stories and ask the alumni if they’re willing to share their stories. Or perhaps you share updates about your club/organization or even invite past club members to your event.

During this process, remember that successful alumni may already receive fundraising pitches from your college. To improve your odds of success, try the following:

  • Use club/program/organization-specific language. Make it clear that you’re raising funds for your specific group and not the college itself.
  • Try a soft approach. It’s best to reach out and connect with alumni personally before asking for money.
  • Paint a picture. When you ask for donations, provide updates on your organization’s plans and describe what your organization will do with the donations.

Rather than sending out a big email blast to all your club/organization alumni, it’s best to send separate emails to each individual using a tailored approach.

Class or Club Reunion Events

Another popular college fundraiser idea for college clubs, fraternities, and sororities is hosting reunion events.

They’re a fantastic way to connect with past members, engage your community, and raise funds. There are two potential approaches:

  • Partner with your college to host a class-level reunion
  • Host a club-level or organization-level reunion, such as your fraternity or sorority

Many colleges and universities host class reunions, often at the 10-year mark and beyond. But in many cases, colleges rely on individual students and clubs to plan and market these events. Some colleges may have a small budget to utilize — and clubs could be well-positioned to help host these events, mobilize club volunteers, and potentially fundraise at the same time.

It’s worth contacting your college’s alumni or donor relations department to pitch for help with a class reunion. Your college may be able to contribute directly to your club, or you may be able to fundraise at the event by selling tickets or refreshments.

You could also host a reunion specifically for alumni of your student organization, club, or fraternity/sorority. This will provide more direct control over the event and can provide fundraising options in various ways.

Club-level reunions are rare, but if your organization has a list of past members, this can be a fun way to re-engage your community. You can raise money directly by selling tickets to the event, or you can make the event free and ask for donations.

College Club Fundraising Ideas Targeting Students, Families, and Community Members

Plenty of college fundraising ideas involve raising money from students, their family members, or anyone else from your community. In 2022, 16% of total fundraising came from non-alumni individuals, so there’s a substantial opportunity here!

Here are some effective community-focused fundraising ideas for college organizations.

College Fundraising Contests and Competitions

Competitions and contests mobilize support and generate excitement. Some contest-related fundraising ideas for colleges include:

  • Club fundraising contests: Club members compete against each other to see who can raise the most money through donations or product sales. Club/organization leadership coordinates these.
  • Interclub fundraising contests: Clubs compete against one another to raise the most money. These may be coordinated in partnership with the college itself or student government organizations.
  • Fun student competitions and tournaments: Clubs or organizations host general competitions for students and community members. This could be a Super Smash Bros tournament with a $5 buy-in, a doubles ping-pong tournament, trivia nights, or other fun college competition ideas.

These events are often popular, making it easier to get students excited. Promoting these events on social media is key to drumming up interest.

When you create events via Sickening Event, you can access a suite of marketing tools to help promote the fundraising event on social media, via email, and even paid ads. Sickening Event makes it simpler to create Instagram story ads, design promotional materials with Canva, and more.

Plus, your events will be easily accessible to Sickening Event users browsing for events in your area. Creators who used Sickening Event’s suite of event marketing tools sold 63% more tickets to their events, on average.

Fundraising Sales and Auctions

Bake sales and auctions are classic fundraiser ideas for colleges. And they do indeed work — especially if you get creative.

Everyone’s seen a bake sale on-campus or elsewhere raising funds. But here are some additional ideas:

  • A succulent plant sale
  • A booth selling fresh-roasted coffee beans
  • A vintage fashion market

Clubs and student organizations can easily host these kinds of fundraising sales. All it usually takes is checking in with your university to get approval, figuring out when and where to set up, and then sourcing (or making) products to sell.

Auctions and virtual auctions are another angle for fundraising. For auctions, hosts often source donated items from the community — like gift cards to local restaurants or artwork from student artists. The auction is then promoted online and on campus, with bidding coming from parents, faculty, and community members. Silent auctions and online auctions are more popular than live-format auctions these days.

Campus Fundraising Events

Hosting college events on-campus can engage your community and raise money. Events could include:

  • Concerts and artistic performances, like those held at the Black Box Theatre at Edmonds College, which hosts choral concerts, student showcase performances, and orchestra concerts.
  • Festivals and conferences
  • Open mic nights, like those hosted by Advent Collegiate through a recurring event series on Sickening Event
  • Community days

Campus events can help college clubs and student organizations raise awareness to attract new members while raising money at the same time. With events, groups can raise funds through a variety of approaches, including:

  • Ticket sales are priced appropriately for the target audience (try to keep tickets cheap if your main audience is fellow students).
  • Merch sales of your club’s or organization’s gear (see below).
  • Refreshments and food at the event — try running a bake sale or selling coffee. Think about the time of day and what type of refreshments your audience may want or need.
  • Renting booths to vendors in the community. Craft vendors and food vendors are generally good businesses to target.
  • Finding fundraising event sponsors like local businesses or even your college itself. Think about the type of attendees your event will attract and what type of sponsors may want to have their message in front of those people.

Because these events typically utilize campus resources/venues, club leaders should obtain approval from the college before planning an event.

Branded Merchandise

Creating and selling branded merch is another fundraiser idea for college clubs and student organizations. While your college likely already sells branded merch, there might be an opportunity to sell merch branded specifically with:

  • Your club
  • Your fraternity/sorority
  • Your student body organization

You can look into print-on-demand services to avoid the upfront cost of buying merch for resale. Alternatively, you could find a sponsor willing to front the cost in exchange for including their logo on your merch.

Community Events and Classes

Another college fundraising idea is hosting events and classes for the broader community. Whether on-campus or off, events can raise funds through ticket sales, donations, sponsorships, and merch sales.

Popular off-campus events include:

  • Fun runs and 5k races
  • Social mixers
  • Speed dating events
  • Art shows

For example, Utah State University Extension Carbon County regularly hosts cooking classes to benefit its members and connect community members to resources.

Leverage Your Group’s Uniqueness for Fundraising Success

No two colleges are alike, nor are the student bodies and communities who support them.

To make a difference in your fundraising efforts, think outside the box and leverage the things that make your club or student organization stand out.

If hosting in-person, hybrid, or virtual events is part of your fundraising strategy, Sickening Event is the all-in-one platform you need to successfully plan, promote, and sell tickets to your next event.

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