People love coming together for a good cause, and hosting a fair booth to fundraise is a classic activity that raises incredible amounts for charities big and small around the world, in every culture. Here in America, fairs are a much-loved event and there’s a lot of competition for people’s attention when it comes to booths.
From school fun fair game ideas to booth ideas for foundation day, there are all kinds of schemes you can adopt. If you’re looking to raise money, you’ll need to consider what can win hearts and pull in the big bucks for your chosen cause.
Kinds of Booths: What’s Allowed?
Before you begin planning how to raise money for your charity, you’d better find out a few things first. You’ll need to know how much space your booth will have. It will need to fit your displays, games, tables, staff, supplies and more.
You’ll need to see if there are any rules that impact your choices – maybe nuts aren’t allowed because it’s a school event or perhaps there’s a mental health or bullying angle that means some popular events, such as a dunk tank, could be tone-deaf. Do food safety regulations allow for cake or cookie decorating events?
Once you know what the overall rules are, you might have a better idea of how to proceed. Then, you’ll need to know what’s provided by the booth rental. Depending on what’s already provided, it could keep your costs down for getting your fundraiser off the ground, putting more money in the hands of your charity.
A Few Booth Ideas
Never overlook games because people love booths where you throw darts at balloons, toss a ring around bottles or any number of classic old carnival-style games. You can always make these more interesting by changing an element or two – instead of just throwing the ring on a bottle, the ring toss is how you choose the drink you’re buying with a hot dog. If you miss the bottle, you can choose the drink you like but it costs double, with all proceeds going to charity, of course. Some other ideas include:
- Casino Booth: People love to play cards and gamble a bit. Deal up some Blackjack to please the crowds, but don’t forget to charge them to play. To make sure everyone gets a chance, give people a time limit for playing.
- Paper Airplane Challenge: Let people pay up to make paper airplanes and battle it out to see whose plane flies best and furthest. With 500 sheets of paper costing just a few bucks, this is a booth you won’t have to spend much money to run, but you’ll need entertaining booth hosts to draw a crowd.
- Bake Sale: Who doesn’t love tasty, delicious things? From cakes and pies to cookies and tarts, well-baked goods are always a crowd-pleasing booth idea. But any time you can offer a “custom” idea, it’s a chance to charge more and make more for charity. Perhaps you could sell ready-made cakes but let people choose their icing flavor for an extra $5 – get creative!
- Painting/DIY Booth: From Christmas decorations to little birdhouses, there are all sorts of things people could paint. This is the sort of thing where time is money, so you’ll need to foresee the possibility that some people doddle when creating. Therefore, setting a time limit is wise. You can simply let people know that X window of time costs Y dollars and they get this amazing thing they’ve custom-painted at the end.
- Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Challenge people to go bald for charity. Organizations like Locks of Love take donations of hair for making wigs for kids with medical conditions that cause baldness, such as cancer. Collecting cash donations alongside the locks is a great idea as people will pay up when they see their friends and family hacking off their hair for kids.
- Silent Auction: Always a popular event, you’ll need donations for people to bid on. At the end of the event, the highest bid wins. To make it more fun, though, you can always put together some “mystery boxes” for bidding. The catch is, you’ll need to state what a suggested retail value is and give a minimum bid amount for each mystery box.
- Face Painting: You’ll need some talented face painters to pull this off, but these are notoriously good at raising funds. Remember, artists need to work for a living, so you may have to pay the face painter for their time.
- Greens for Greenbacks: See if you can buy plants or tree saplings at a reduced rate through your local nursery, then resell them at the event at a profit for your charity. Keep the season in mind as that influences when things can be planted. There are always houseplants for year-round ideas, though, and seasonal things like pumpkins for Halloween and poinsettias at Christmastime.
There are all kinds of other tried-and-true booth ideas too – like a “hugs” booth, flea market, gift-wrapping booth and so much more. Even just selling classic boiled hot dogs with some condiments can bring in a lot of cash.
Booth Ideas for High School
Age is a big factor in choosing your booth idea for a high school event. Teens don’t want anything too cutesy or youthful, so keep that in mind.
- Dunk Tank: Giving kids the opportunity to spend a fiver and dunk their teachers in the dunk tank is always a popular idea. But the bang-for-the-buck element in a dunk tank is a little lopsided, so you need to get creative about stretching this out. Maybe take bets on how many throws will be needed for dunking or let students pose in front of the now-dunked teacher and sell them photo prints of their mockery.
- Cookie Decorating: It’s sugar and teens – what else do you need to know? Have a great range of decorating options, but keep in mind that you’d want food safety practices and you’ll have to budget for all the food costs. In retail, it’s common to charge 100 percent over wholesale for overhead and profit, so add up your costs and charge up to double as a minimum donation for a cookie they can decorate. People will generally pay more for charity, but they better be some tasty cookies!
- Vintage Clothing: Selling some great vintage clothes and records for charities will always go over well. You can make the booth more fun and popular by having a dress-up trunk where they can pose for photos. Charge $1 for a selfie or $2 to take their full-frame photo when they're goofing off.
- Duct Tape Booth: For a dollar, you get a foot of duct tape for taping the school principal or a teacher to the wall! The catch is, you can’t do a heck of a lot with just a foot of tape, so most people will spend at least two dollars.
- Pet-a-Pooch: Have some doggo volunteers that people can spend a few dollars to buy some time with for puppy snuggles or doggy licks. Featuring a couple of pets up for adoption could help two charity organizations at once. Cats are okay too.
- Bra Pong: With some busty bras attached to the walls, cups out, it’s easy to toss a ping pong ball and hopefully get it right in the cup. Obviously, this will be a hit with some teen boys! Great as a breast cancer awareness booth too.
What Not to Do
Being successful in fundraising isn’t a given. It’s easy to think “Oh, it’s a good cause! People will support it!” but there are folks who spend their lives working in fundraising who'll tell you that a good cause means nothing if you fail to plan well for raising money for charity. Here are six big things to get right if you’d like to rake in the big bucks for your good cause.
- Leave Time for Planning: If it’s too close to the event, you’ll run into hiccups, especially if you’re counting on donors for gifts and other prizes. They have budgets they’ve set in stone long before now, and if you’re sallying in with no notice and expecting them to be generous, you’ll learn the hard way that business owners often can’t just donate without a lead time. Alternatively, even if you budget full price to pay for the products you're reselling at a fair, you could get burned if you don't plan ahead so the business you're buying from can cover the stock you need in time for your event. Always pre-organize such things.
- Budget Wisely: Planning means thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong and having a contingency plan. It also means being accurate with the budget and anticipating proper expenses. The booth may need everything from tickets and prizes to promotional literature for your cause. Be sure you’ve factored in everything before you add up the budget.
- Don’t be Cheap: Sure, you want to raise money, but you often have to spend it to make it. By making your booth fun and exciting, you’ll attract more visitors and hopefully make more money.
- Plan Properly: It’s easy to get caught up in executing your booth idea, but what happens when the fair gates open? What happens six hours into the day or on day two or three? Do you have enough of a plan for how things should evolve well into the event? If not, you could miss vital steps, run out of supplies, run out of volunteers or worse.
- Don’t Just Educate: Sometimes booth operators get so keyed up in teaching people about their cause that they completely forget to drive action. Focus on your booth idea and having fun, too, so that your supporters will feel like bringing more people around, and you'll get their money!
- Don’t Expect the Cause to Sell Itself: Just because you love and believe in your charity doesn’t mean it resonates with others. You may believe your community gardening organization is changing lives at a profound level, but someone else’s beloved charity might be the SPCA, a veteran’s organization or cancer-related. None of these make your cause invalid, but know how to sell your charity and communicate its importance to others.
Be Vocal, Be Engaging
In the end, sometimes it’s less about the booth idea than it is about making sure you’ve got friendly, vocal, eager people manning the booth. Be communicative, be catchy and make sure people know what they’re supporting when they pony up the big bucks at your booth. Be fun and easy to chat with so people are inclined to linger and spend money.
Factoid: Carnival or Fair?
Some people use the words “carnival” and “fair” interchangeably, but they’re not the same, actually. A carnival is always a traveling event with rides, “carnies,” booths and games. Fairs are essentially the same components – rides, booths and games – but they set up in the fairgrounds and stay for weeks or even a whole season.
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Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.