Create Fundraising Events With a Twist

How two associations are creating unique experiences for their donors that raise money for their programs and services at the same time.

How many different events has your association held to raise money for its foundation, scholarship fund, advocacy efforts, or whatever else? Golf tournaments and silent auctions often top the list of fundraising activities. You know what normally isn’t on the list? Putting your donors and members behind bars. But doing that has yielded tremendous results—in the form of donations and community engagement—for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

With economic uncertainty looming and changing member demographics, creating unique experiences is becoming increasingly important for associations that are looking to meet their fundraising goals.

MDA Lock-Up is a program that takes place in communities across the country throughout the year and asks business and community leaders to “agree to be put behind bars for good.” In order to get out, they ask their vendors, coworkers, family, and friends for donations that will go toward their bail. That bail money is then used to assist the association with providing research, medical clinics, and accessible summer-camp experiences to individuals and families affected by neuromuscular diseases.

The amount of bail that each prisoner is required to raise varies. For instance, some set it at the cost of sending one or two children to MDA’s annual summer camp (about $800 per child), while others will go smaller or larger. And jailbirds aren’t required to raise all their bail money that day: They can raise money in the weeks prior on their personal fundraising webpage.

On the day of the Lock-Up event, jailbirds typically are put behind bars at a local restaurant  where they are sometimes booked by a judge, have their mug shot taken, and use cell phones to continue to collect their bail money. While there, they also have the chance to talk to fellow participants and meet the individuals and families who they’re helping to raise money for. So not only does this event benefit MDA, it also gives participants the chance to network with other leaders in their communities: a win-win for all involved.

But MDA is not the only group out there creating unique fundraising events. The American Lung Association had also done it with its Fight For Air Climbs. These climbs, held in skyscrapers, stadiums, and arenas across the United States, involve climbing multiple steps—in some cases, hundreds and thousands. Individuals or teams can sign-up for these “vertical road races” and collect donations from friends, family, and coworkers, which support ALA’s research, advocacy, and education efforts. Climbers not only get a good workout, but they also experience firsthand how important their lung health is.

Recent events had participants climbing the 41 floors of One Boston Place, raising more than $400,000 for the association, and reaching the 52nd floor of the 555 California Building in San Francisco, which brought in more than $300,000.

While both of these examples come from large healthcare organizations with a large donor base and national recognition, fundraising events can be scaled up or down for associations of all sizes. What both of these events show is that two things contribute to a successful fundraiser: (1) making the event unique and (2) showing donors that not only are they contributing to the collective good of your association but that they also get something out of it—whether that’s a networking opportunity or a workout.

With economic uncertainty looming and changing member demographics, creating these experiences is becoming increasingly important for associations that are looking to meet their fundraising goals.

What type of unique fundraising events has your association tried out and had success with? Please share in the comments.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association's MDA Lock-Up, which puts business leaders behind bars in an effort to raise donations, has proven a popular fundraising approach. (iStockPhoto)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!