Branding for Nonprofit Fundraising Events – Part 2: Out of the Box Event Ideas

Julia ReichYesterday, Julia Reich of Stone Soup Creative gave us tips for organizing a successful, well-branded fundraising event.  Today, Julia shares some more ideas on throwing a unique event that will be sure to sure to make your occasion unforgettable. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Julia Reich of Stone Soup Creative

Charity supporters flock to witness or participate in fundraising events held by organizations whose missions they support and feel loyal to. These events have their proven place in the pantheon of fundraising ventures – along with other tried-and-true efforts such as direct mailings, grants, and individual donations.

It’s likely that your school, church, community organization, social service agency, or other type of nonprofit holds an annual special event. The purpose is generally two-fold: a) to raise money, and b) to raise awareness for your nonprofit and its mission. Events play a unique role in your organization’s brand by helping shape your image in the eyes of the public – by creating awareness, action and loyalty (aspects of event branding I covered in Part 1).

Fundraising Events of the Typical Variety

From a random sampling of  Stone Soup Creative’s clientele:

  • Extreme sports
    Finger Lakes Mud Run at Everest Park, a fundraiser for the Brian Bisgrove Home of Courage, which provides free week-long vacations – in a log home on 160 acres – as a respite and retreat for families with children who suffer from serious illness or life-altering conditions

Brand-building with Events

Not that the above aren’t compelling, successful affairs, but have you considered a unique event – one that is more distinctive, memorable, or unusual in some way?

“Signature events come in endless varieties. They can be cultural, educational, athletic, recreational, spiritual, community-oriented, service-oriented, or just really goofy,” says Gwendolyn Freed in her article on the topic, for higher education institutions.

This type of affair (and ideally, all your events) should be about having participants connect deeply to the organization and “about the experience of the cause – not the experience of fundraising. The more people feel the immediate joy of the larger mission, the better,” observes Katya Andresen, wisely, on

Freed also says special events “constitute…competitive assets that are valuable, rare, imperfectly imitable, and nonsubstitutable” – in other words, they are perfect branding fodder, since one of the main goals of branding is to set your non-profit apart in people’s minds by differentiating it from others.

Swimming and Cooking

Here are just two examples of creative, fun events with strong connections to the community (both from my region in Central New York):

Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare

(photo credit: David Makar)

300 women signed up to jump in Cayuga Lake at dawn on August 10, 2013 to swim 1.2 miles across the lake. They were escorted by 170 boaters and greeted on shore by friends, family, and scores of volunteers. But the swim itself is only part of this experience. Each of those 300 women raised money to support Hospicare and Palliative Care Services (HPCS). Prizes were given to those swimmers and boaters who raise the most money in sponsorships.

Hospicare is a nonprofit hospice providing medical expertise and compassionate, respectful care to anyone in the community who is facing a life-limiting illness, and to support their loved ones through the illness and grief. Many of the women swimming do so in memory or honor of someone they loved. Some of those loved ones received care from Hospicare or a hospice somewhere else.

The first Women Swimmin’ 10 years ago raised over $54,000 for HPCS. In 2012, the amount was an amazing $370,000 – a demonstration of the incredible generosity of people in the community and their recognition of the importance of HPCS.

What draws people to cross Cayuga Lake in support of Hospicare & Palliative Care Services? Swimmers say:

“I believe in the good work Hospicare is doing. This event brings together people from the community in such a touching, supportive way.”

“It brings me closer to members in my community. It also allows me to honor loved ones who have passed and support friends who are battling illness.”

“I look forward to the event every year. It’s a very special celebration of life and love.”

EnvIRONmental CHEF Homegrown

(photo credit:

(photo credit:

This culinary cook-off features chefs from Syracuse, NY-area restaurants creating dishes using local ingredients, plus one mystery ingredient revealed at the start of the timed competition. The event simultaneously celebrates the abundance of locally grown foods in Central New York, the area’s finest chefs – and of course Baltimore Woods Nature Center, a beloved institution for environmental education. Tickets are $75 with proceeds benefiting their ‘Nature in the City’ science education program.

Outdoor sampling tables set up throughout the event are hosted by local food producers and growers to showcase their products. After everyone has had a taste, the audience votes to declare the winning chefs.

Chris Kuhns, one of the winning chefs, had this to say about the recent 2013 cook-off:

“Without a doubt, for a chef living in this community, it is a real privilege to have the bounty of such beautiful produce and meats available to cook with, and for such a great cause. The event really helps keep money local and connects chefs with local farmers and patrons with the region’s farms and CSAs.”

The Conversation Continues

Event outreach does not stop once the event itself has ended. Continue the conversation with attendees after the event – and try to turn them into active brand ambassadors such as volunteers, donors, or board members. Engage them with social media. Ask them what their experience was, and offer a place to post photos or share their experiences in other ways.

These are just a few examples from my community. What is your organization doing? Have you heard about or attended a unique fundraising event? Please share your ideas and experiences!


Julia Reich is the Principal and Creative Director of Stone Soup Creative (formerly Julia Reich Design), which was founded in 2001 to serve the nonprofit sector with design, branding and marketing services.

This post originally appeared on the Stone Soup Creative blog.

© 2007-2017, Nonprofit Marketing Guide. All Rights Reserved.

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