Sustainable Fundraising: Guide to Annual Fundraisers

Wayne Elsey

September 30, 2022

About the Author

Wayne Elsey

Wayne Elsey is the founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises (EE) and a member of the Forbes Business Development Council. He is also the founder and CEO of Funds2Orgs, which is a social enterprise that helps schools, churches, nonprofits, individuals and other organizations raise funds while helping to support micro-enterprise (small business) opportunities in developing nations.

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As a nonprofit professional, you know how important fundraising is to keep your nonprofit running smoothly. Not only do fundraisers encourage your supporters to give and help you raise funds, but they are also important sites for community connection.

Like traditional fundraisers, annual events can help unite your community under a common cause. With the right annual fundraiser, your organization can rely on a consistent source of funding each year to help with everyday operations and initiatives. These fundraisers can also boost awareness of your organization over time, especially if it becomes an important community event. 

Despite the many benefits of fundraising, these campaigns can harm the environment if your nonprofit doesn’t take the proper steps to limit its carbon footprint. Focusing on reducing waste or using a fundraising idea that seeks to help the environment can make your annual fundraisers more sustainable. In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know about organizing a sustainable annual fundraiser:

When it comes to annual fundraising, keeping your events sustainable is more important than ever. Moreover, your nonprofit can create a more sustainable world, all while raising money for its cause.

Sustainable Fundraising Basics

Sustainable fundraisers should take environmental sustainability into account every step of the way. For example, consider how environmentally-friendly the campaign is as you choose a unique fundraising idea and start planning it. Ideally, your nonprofit should begin implementing sustainable fundraising practices early in the fundraising process. 

While there are many ways you can make your fundraisers more sustainable, these are a few easy yet practical suggestions to make your annual fundraiser more eco-friendly:

  • Sell environmentally-friendly products: If you launch a product or merchandise sale, consider choosing a product that won’t harm the environment. For example, try selling reusable bags with your organization’s logo so your supporters can skip plastic bags at the grocery store.
  • Avoid excessive waste: Some fundraisers, particularly large events, can create a large carbon footprint simply through the volume of trash and other waste they produce. One way to reduce waste is to avoid using single-use paper and plastic products. For instance, switch to biodegradable or reusable cups, plates, and cutlery at your next picnic fundraiser. 
  • Choose a sustainable idea: Select a fundraiser that helps the environment. Events that promote sustainability, such as a shoe drive fundraiser or community clean-up day, can have a big positive impact because you’ll get more community members to help. 

Be sure to consider sustainability from start to finish. For example, it’s much easier to implement other environmentally-friendly best practices with a sustainable fundraising idea. Remember to look at the processes your organization normally takes when planning and implementing fundraisers. Ask yourself how you can make changes to these processes with the environment in mind.

4 Sustainable Annual Fundraiser Best Practices

If your nonprofit has ever hosted a fundraiser before, you know how vital following fundraising strategies like implementing multi-state registration are to increase revenue. 

However, following best practices for improving your fundraisers’ sustainability are just as important. These best practices can make your fundraising efforts more eco-friendly, grow your donor pool, and help you align the fundraiser closer to your mission statement.

Review past fundraising efforts.

To plan a sustainable annual fundraiser, start by taking a look at your nonprofit’s past fundraising ideas and strategies. As Re:Charity’s guide to fundraising strategy says, these strategies should form a concrete plan for how your nonprofit will raise funds, and it’s essential to ensure that plan accounts for sustainability. 

Analyzing how your nonprofit usually handles fundraising can highlight your strengths and weaknesses in sustainability. As you review past campaigns, ask yourself the following questions to get started:

  • Which existing processes are effective?
  • Which methods need to be tweaked, improved, or removed?
  • Are any strategies or fundraising ideas you use harmful to the environment?
  • Is there any way to introduce new, more sustainable practices?

While these questions aren’t exhaustive, they provide a good starting point as you review and critique your nonprofit’s current approach to fundraising. 

Before choosing a sustainable annual fundraiser, your nonprofit should research and plan the event. Ideally, you’ll implement the fundraiser annually for years to come, so it should capture your supporters’ attention and attract new donors. You may need to research your audience to tailor the ideal you choose to your supporters.

The fundraiser should also fall within your organization’s budget and provide a good opportunity to accrue revenue. Research other organizations’ experiences with the type of fundraiser you’re looking at and evaluate whether you think the opportunity is the right fit. A recurring, annual fundraiser should be a profitable fundraising opportunity, not one where you lose money or break even.

Align with your mission and values.

Ideally, your nonprofit should choose a fundraising idea that aligns with the nonprofit’s specific mission and values. While it doesn’t have to reflect your mission statement perfectly, an idea that calls back to your cause can help supporters make the connection between your brand and the fundraiser.

For example, let’s say your organization runs a community closet that distributes things like professional clothing and children’s clothes to the community. Your organization could choose a fundraiser like a clothing donation drive or a shoe drive fundraiser to raise money sustainably. 

To hold a shoe drive fundraiser, your organization won’t need to track down a venue or find a caterer. These fundraisers are budget-friendly and don’t require extensive organizing or volunteer efforts. If your organization decides to host an annual shoe drive fundraiser, you can break the process into a few simple steps:

  1. Partner with a shoe drive fundraiser coordinator.
  2. Place collection materials around your community.
  3. Ask your supporters to drop off their gently worn, used, and new shoes.
  4. Contact your shoe drive fundraiser coordinator to pick up the shoe bags.
  5. Receive a check for the shoes your organization contributed.

A shoe drive fundraiser is a simple way to fundraise, especially if you partner with a shoe drive fundraiser coordinator. As Funds2Orgs’ guide to getting rid of old shoes explains, these fundraisers are very sustainable because they accept shoes people might otherwise throw out and send them to small businesses in developing nations. 

Engage your supporters.

Most fundraisers have at least one thing in common: they rely on donors to be successful. So, when deciding which annual fundraiser to launch, it’s best to customize it to your donor base. Not only will this attract your supporters to your annual fundraiser, but it will boost overall engagement with your nonprofit. 

An engaging fundraiser is more fun for you and your supporters. It can also have a direct impact on your donor pool by:

  • Attracting new donors: An attention-grabbing, engaging fundraiser has the potential to attract new supporters to your nonprofit. Be sure to include sites where people can learn more about your organization at the fundraiser to encourage them to interact with you in the future.
  • Building long-term support: An annual fundraiser should give your supporters something to look forward to regarding the event. Not only will your supporters anticipate this event each year, but it will also provide a time for all your supporters and staff to be together in one place.

Remember that the number of supporters your fundraiser has can also impact how sustainable it is. The more participants you recruit, the bigger the positive impact. In something like a beach clean-up, for example, a team of 50 supporters can accomplish much more than a team of just five.

Keep timing in mind.

While you can fundraise any time of the year, keeping timing in mind can help you tailor your efforts to the period where your annual fundraiser falls. Seasons, weather, and holidays can influence the activities people are interested in and how inclined they are to give. For example, many people are more motivated to give during the end-of-year holiday season due to initiatives like Giving Tuesday.

Similarly, weather can also dictate which fundraisers might be best. If your nonprofit needs a boost in revenue during the spring or summer months, consider hosting something outdoors like a fun run. Active, outdoorsy fundraisers are perfect for people looking for fun activities to get them outside. Plus, your organization can make the event more sustainable by having participants donate a pair of shoes or bring recycling materials as part of their registration.

Whether your organization already prides itself on being sustainable or you’re just getting started, it’s never too late to start implementing more eco-friendly practices into your nonprofit’s operations. By reflecting on your past and current fundraising strategies and choosing the right fundraising idea, your organization can host a lucrative annual fundraiser, while reducing its carbon footprint.

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