4 Unique Fundraisers for Colleges and Universities

In times of tight budgets and cutbacks, fundraising is critical for colleges and universities looking to maintain their programs and services. However, with so many schools competing for donations, it can be challenging to come up with unique fundraising ideas that set your institution apart. That’s why we’ve put together this list of creative and effective fundraising ideas that engage donors, maximize donations, and create memorable experiences for everyone involved.

Whether you’re a seasoned fundraising pro or just starting out, this guide is the perfect resource to inspire your next campaign. Ready to take your fundraising efforts to the next level? Let’s get started! 

1. Alumni Giving Auction

If your goal is to boost alumni giving, consider hosting an auction exclusive to former students. Then, encourage them to give back to their alma mater using these tips:

  • Choose unique and appealing items. To generate interest and maximize bids, choose items that appeal to your alumni base, such as signed memorabilia or private campus tours led by prominent faculty members. 
  • Set minimum bids. Auctions naturally create a sense of competition and excitement around fundraising, encouraging alumni to give more than they might otherwise. However, by setting minimum bids or reserve prices, you ensure that items are sold at or above their value and maximize the amount of funds raised.
  • Make the auction interactive. Consider hosting a live event where attendees can bid in person, and add an online platform where bidders can see the current high bid and engage in friendly bidding wars. You might also offer incentives or rewards for the highest bidders, such as personalized thank-you notes or recognition on your institution’s website.

Not only does hosting an auction help you raise valuable funds for your higher ed initiatives, but it also allows you to build meaningful relationships with alumni. The competitive atmosphere creates a memorable experience for donors, inspiring them to reconnect with your institution on a deeper level. 

2. “Through the Decades” Gala 

A “through the decades” gala is another form of alumni fundraising that celebrates the history and legacy of a college or university over multiple decades. The event typically includes decorations, music, and entertainment that reflect the styles and trends from each decade. This fun and engaging atmosphere can draw a wide range of alumni from different eras, encouraging community and connection across generations of graduates.

To get started, decide on a specific fundraising goal, such as raising $100,000 to provide underprivileged students with scholarships or collecting a certain number of major gifts to construct a new facility. Then, work with your team to:

  • Choose a venue. Select a venue that can accommodate the number of guests you hope to host, fits your budget, and adds to the ambiance you hope to create. For an alumni-centered event, choose an on-campus venue that will bring back fond memories for attendees. 
  • Create a fun atmosphere. Consider adding live entertainment, raffles, and a “best dressed” contest to the gala. This type of creative approach can make the event more entertaining for attendees and help generate more support for your cause.
  • Segment promotional materials. AlumniFinder’s donor data guide defines segmentation as the act of grouping supporters based on shared characteristics and tailoring your communications accordingly. When hosting a themed gala, consider segmenting alumni by graduation class and sending  personalized invitations like: “Class of 1990, join us for an evening of fun, food, and festivities as we come together to renew old friendships and make new connections.”

In addition to helping you achieve your goals, this event provides an opportunity for alumni to network and reconnect with old classmates, which can ultimately increase their commitment to your institution.

3. Campus Cleanup

A campus cleanup fundraiser works by encouraging students and members of the community to come together and clean up a designated area of campus. Participants can solicit donations from family, friends, or other supporters based on the amount of waste they collect, or you can organize a general campaign to fund the cleanup initiative.

Here are some steps to organize a successful cleanup:

  • Plan the event. Determine the area on campus that will be cleaned up, the date and time of the event, and the logistics for organizing participants.
  • Recruit volunteers. Reach out to student organizations, members of the community, and alumni and encourage them to participate in the cleanup event for a set donation amount. 
  • Secure supplies and equipment. Gather appropriate supplies and equipment like gloves, bags, and cleaning tools. Donations from local businesses are a good way to secure these items without expending your resources.
  • Conduct the event. On the day of the event, distribute supplies to each participant and provide instructions on how to properly handle waste or recyclable items.
  • Wrap up the fundraiser. Once the event is over, dispose of the collected items properly and report the success of the event to the participants and on social media. Before and after pictures are a great way to show impact.

Hosting a campus cleanup allows students, alumni, and supporters to come together and make a positive impact on their campus community. This event also promotes environmental awareness and encourages students to take an active role in adopting sustainability practices. 

4. Continuing Education Seminar

Continuing education seminars are designed to provide individuals with professional development opportunities relevant to their careers. By hosting a seminar, colleges and universities can generate revenue while also providing valuable education and networking opportunities for professionals in a specific field.

The first step is to choose a topic that appeals to your target audience. For instance, if a large number of donors work in technology, you might offer high-demand credentials in IT support, UX design, and cybersecurity.

Then, invite well-known faculty and experienced practitioners in the field to conduct the seminars. This will ensure that the seminar is of high quality and that attendees will learn from the best in the field. Charge a fee for attendees to participate in the seminar, whether it be virtual or in-person, and receive a certificate of course completion

There are a variety of unique fundraisers that your college or university can choose from, each with the potential to generate significant revenue. Remember to get to know your supporters and align your fundraiser with their preferences. With creativity and dedication, you can achieve your financial goals while also building lifelong connections with donors.

May 3, 2023

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