Small towns without large employers and other well-financed sources of revenue may find it necessary to take a more grass-roots approach to fund-raising.

Offering people a range of inexpensive products or services in exchange for small donations is an effective form of fund-raising. If you can get local merchants and even community service providers to participate for free and volunteers to help hold events, the costs of running them will be minimal, allowing you to keep most of what you raise.


Take a page from the playbook of local civic organizations and stage a feast. Boy Scout chapters and Lions' and Rotary clubs often hold spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts, and fish fests to raise money for local projects. Sell oranges and grapefruits shipped straight from Florida or California during the winter, raffle turkeys near Thanksgiving, or sell flowers at Mother's Day. Target those with a sweet tooth. Hold a dessert-tasting dinner, or get a local radio station to have people call in during an on-air pie auction. In short, be inventive ... and flavorful.

Games of Chance

Capitalize on people's penchant for gambling, especially if they can do so for small stakes and a good cause. The Lafayette, Louisiana, chapter of the United Way raised more than $57,000 by staging a small-town poker tour that players paid to enter, according to Poker-driven events range from training sessions with professional players to mini-tournaments and poker boot camps. Ask businesses to donate food and other services or products to sell during the events to up your take. Ask for corporate sponsorships, and charge players who want to buy more chips when their pile diminishes.

Hold a silent auction, which lets participants decide how much they'll offer for donated items. Invite people to estimate how many marbles are in a large jar. Hold raffles or allow folks to spin a wheel for unknown (donated) prizes.

Service/Product Donations

Ask local businesses to donate products or services for a day. Offer free hair cuts, tanning sessions, manicures or pedicures, or dog-walking or pet sitting, for which recipients pay a fee. Get local tarot card readers and fortune tellers involved. Ask personal trainers to donate boot camp sessions or to lead hikes or bike rides that people will pay to participate in. Persuade gyms to donate one-day admission to their facilities. Get car-washes, cleaners, dance studios, and coffee shops to pitch in for a day. Donating-for-a-day is a great way to raise a business's visibility and expose potential customers to what merchants have to offer.