Every nonprofit staff member and volunteer knows that successful fundraisers are essential for the survival and growth of any organization. For this reason, it’s imperative to choose the event type and components carefully in order to minimize costs while maximizing donor engagement. This is no small feat; it requires considerable forethought, attention to detail, and collaboration with local businesses and community leaders.

Fortunately, fall is an excellent time of year to solicit support for your nonprofit. Unencumbered by any hectic holidays until its end, autumn is full of bright colors and a wealth of vibrant seasonal traditions. The best fall fundraisers will tap into all things fun and festive, and the choices are virtually endless. If you want to err on the side of pandemic-related caution, bring in long-distance donors, or simply make your event more accessible, you can even opt to take your fundraiser online

Here are some ideas to consider for fall fundraisers. Choose the one that works best with your location, budget, mission, local culture, and donor demographic:

1. Bonfire. A bonfire event is a great way to transition from summer to autumn, and it works equally well in warm or chilly weather. Choose a place with convenience, safety, and atmosphere in mind, and be sure to look up and follow all local fire regulations. Activities can include contests around making s’mores, roasting marshmallows, telling scary stories, singing, dancing, and more.

2. Tailgating. If your community members are passionate about their local football team, consider holding a tailgating event complete with catered food and beverages. Tailgating lends itself especially well to fundraising: it’s all about eating, drinking, playing games, and above all else, building excitement. Just a few donation-generating possibilities include lawn and tabletop games, team spirit or mascot costume contests, and scavenger hunts. Tailgating events are also perfect for raffles as well.

3. Fall festival. You can capture the essence of all things harvest-related with a fall festival fundraiser. Although these may involve more moving parts than other fundraiser types, they also allow for greater variety. In addition to entrance fees, your organization can make money selling fall crafts and produce as well as seasonal foods and beverages such as Oktoberfest or pumpkin beer. For activities, you can incorporate everything from hay rides and ring tosses to face painting and potato sack races.

4. Escape room. Arguably the best part about organizing an escape room fundraiser is that you can design the room decor and puzzles however you like. You can align these with your organization’s mission and choose from any number of spooky themes, from haunted houses to cathedral crypts. Some escape room companies routinely work with nonprofits and can help you organize the perfect event. Alternatively, you can opt for a virtual escape room.

5. Pumpkin carving. Nothing says harvest season like a classic pumpkin carving contest, and this one is easy to hold in person or on a virtual meeting platform. You can have multiple themed categories, and if you stream the event, you can run it like a reality show contest. Prizes can involve anything from high-end sweets to pumpkin farm passes to stays at bed and breakfasts during prime leaf-peeping season.

6. Gingerbread decorating. Who says gingerbread houses are only for winter holidays? Halloween candy is perfect for decorating haunted houses, castles, graveyards, laboratories, or whatever scene your participants desire. You can organize this fundraiser much the same way as you would a pumpkin carving contest and offer gift cards to candy stores and bakeries or home improvement and home decor stores.

7. Porch and home decorating. You may need to hold this event over the course of a few weeks in order to give contestants time to decorate and send in their photos, but the potential payoff is worth it. Participants who live in houses can decorate their front lawns, porches, or stoops; those who live in apartments or condos can decorate an interior room or their door. Non-contestants can vote for the winners with their donations.

8. Halloween costumes. Of course, the king of all fall fundraisers is a good Halloween costume contest. Consider prize categories for both kids and adults, and don’t forget to include one or two mission-related categories. You can also hold a costume parade in a busy central location, such as downtown or in a popular park. Depending on your event size and location, you may even be able to arrange local news coverage of your fundraiser. 

No matter what kind of fall fundraiser you choose, you’ll need to plan it carefully; depending on the magnitude of the event, you may need to start several months in advance. Be sure to take venue costs into consideration and avoid scheduling your fête concurrently with other major local or national events to ensure maximum attendance rates. If you are looking to hold an annual fall fundraiser, you can change the event type, theme, and activities, but if at all possible, keep it on the same dates each year so donors can reliably plan for it in advance.

Need more tips? You can find more information on how to make your next fundraising event a success here.