Preserving historic sites and artifacts is an admirable practice but it can be an expensive one. Historical societies often seek out grants, but the funds rarely are sufficient for all the expenses of the organization, so creative, engaging fundraising activities are a necessity. Because not everyone may be as interested in history as your organization's members, include events and sales items that entice those donors as well.
Traditional fundraisers such as bake sales often are labor-intensive with low returns. However, product sales are some of the simplest fundraisers. Look outside the box for unusual products or venues for sales. Consider holding a “Treats on Main Street” event during which you collect an entry fee and participants can eat all they want from vendors along the street. You might create a calendar with local historic sites and local celebrities to remind folks of your needs all year. Add a little humor by hosting a “no-bake bake sale”; donors donate the cash value of the ingredients they are not using to bake goods.
In addition to the usual live or silent auctions, consider pairing your sale with a spring tea, a fall luncheon or summer barbecue. Hold a “Wine Down” dinner at which the ticket price nets the attendee a steak dinner with all the trimmings as well as a bottle of local wine and access to a silent auction of donated items, including paintings or photographs of historic sites. Host a “Taste of Our Town” in which local restaurants, service organizations and home cooks provide samples of a signature dish. Encourage one or two cooks to select historic dishes, especially those that reflect the heritage of the community, while others may prepare food that appeals to more modern tastes. For example, someone might prepare pasties for a Welsh community or tamales for a community with a Hispanic background. Set up a table with a historical society-produced cookbook to go along with the theme. In place of a regular auction, consider a 50/50 raffle, in which the prize is 50 percent of the ticket sales, meaning you don’t have to ask or shop for prizes..
Involve local artists and crafters when you ask them to decorate rocking chairs, birdhouses, purses or other items you then auction to patrons. You might set a historic theme for the decorations, such as Victorian or Arts-and-Crafts designs for birdhouses. Recruit Scouts or a high-school service organization to paint house numbers for a fee and share the profits with them. Call on writers or wannabe authors to participate in a “write a book for the historical society” in which donors make pledges based on the number of words or pages the writer completes during the event. Combine that with a book fair featuring books about local historical topics or those written by local authors.
Offer guests a “cobweb chase” tour of historic buildings or other sites, ending with a light lunch or tea service. If you have historic cemeteries, turn the tour into walking theater with actors playing the deceased and sharing the history of your town through “grave yarns.” Classic home tours often are popular, but you can expand the opportunities by adding garden tours or if you have restaurants in old buildings, providing a kitchen tour.
Combine history and partying with themed events such as a black-tie, World War II hanger dance, complete with big-band music and ballroom dancing. Or go a little naughty with a Roaring '20s theme with card games, slot machines and a mock jail. Give guests a designated amount of play money for gambling with the purchase of their tickets and have more “cash” available for purchase during the night; encourage them to dress in period style. Rubber-duck races, turtle treks and fish floats provide inexpensive entertainment for those who sponsor a floating contestant for a modest fee. Hold a suitcase raffle in which everyone comes to the party with an overnight bag and passport. The winner of the raffle is swept away in a limo and taken directly to the airport for a spontaneous weekend in the Bahamas or some other exotic destination.