Q: I'm a volunteer for a local start-up nonprofit that goes into elementary schools and summer camps to teach kids about energy conservation, organic gardening, recycling and basically anything they can do to participate in making the world a better, cleaner place. All the teaching activities we do with the kids are very fun and hands-on. I've been placed in charge of the end-of-summer fundraising drive for the organization and I need some creative ideas that will (a) raise a lot of money, (b) speak to our mission, (c) get the kids involved, and (d) put the ‘fun’ back in ‘fundraiser’! I'm so tired of bake sales! Any ideas? 

A: An excellent question and I hear you on the bake sale burnout thing. Bake sales, or “cake stalls” as they’re more charmingly known in England, with actual homemade baked goods can be yummy, fun and all — they’re certainly not worth banning — but the act of marking up a pan of Duncan Hines brownies for a charitable cause has become somewhat tired especially now that the little ones will soon no longer be able to bake said brownies using incandescent light bulbs.

You could keep with the whole selling-of-baked-goods thing but with a twist that speaks to your organization’s mission with a vegan bake sale. But to be completely honest, although they’re increasingly popular, particularly among eco-conscious organizations, I just don’t know how much dough that slices of vegan red velvet cake will ultimately raise, if you know what I mean. Although vegan cookery has come a long way, people often like their baked goods — and their bake sales — to be “traditional” and that usually involves things like eggs and heavy cream. Still, it’s something to think about or to at least try on your own.

Vegan bake sales aside, here’s some more ideas:

An eco-fashion show

Hold a charity clothing drive through a group like California Clothing Recyclers. At around the same time, host a corresponding fashion show fundraiser at a local community center or event space that features secondhand creations styled by the kids and modeled by adults from your organization. Charge for admission and serve organic wine, healthy nibbles and perhaps even some vegan baked goods. Depending on how glam you want to get, you could even auction off some of the kid-designed ensembles. Find yourself a skinny blonde who does a spot-on Heidi Klum imitation and who is willing to emcee, a killer DJ and you’re good to go.

An outdoor film festival

Here’s an idea: Find yourself a suitable outdoor space – the humungous, grassy backyard of a rich friend/benefactor would work nicely. Rent a giant inflatable movie screen and a projector (or buy ‘em if you think you could make this an annual thing) from a company such as FreshAirCinema, FunFlicks or Open Air Cinema that specializes in outdoor film events. Pick a family-friendly movie — perhaps the kids could have some input in this although be careful or you’ll end up screening “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” — and promote, promote, promote. Require a minimum donation for admission and offer valet bike parking, concessions (those vegan baked goods again) and perhaps some form of pre-show entertainment.

A waterless carwash

Carwashes are the quintessential fundraising activity but can take quite a toll on local ecosystems especially in areas dealing with drought and groundwater contamination. A fun, eco-friendlier alternative to traditional carwash fundraisers that still involves kids are waterless carwashes. Companies like Eco Touch offer comprehensive waterless carwash fundraising programs and you could put a fun spin on it by giving discounts or free waterless carwashes to patrons driving electric or hybrid vehicles. And although not waterless, the Puget Sound Carwash Association in Washington has a fundraising program where participating nonprofits sell tickets to environmentally responsible professional carwashes in the area instead of washing the cars (and potentially polluting waterways) themselves.

Yard flocking

Although more pink in nature than green, Flamingo Flocking Fundraisers are an increasingly popular way to raise funds while terrorizing unsuspecting victims with atrocious yard décor. Personally, I think those gazing globes are much more aesthetically offensive but pink plastic flamingos are certainly cheaper and easier to transport (and can be used again and again). If the flocking campaign is a success, you could donate part of the proceeds to a local bird sanctuary or conservation society. Involvement of the kids here is key since they can’t get arrested and thrown in jail for trespassing and criminal mischief (I’m only semi-kidding).

Selling stuff

Like carwashes, selling random products to neighbors and family members is an effective, ages-old form of fundraising (I vividly remember going door-to-door peddling sausage sticks, See’s Candy, Entertainment Books and wrapping paper as a kid) that brings out the competitive, entrepreneurial spirit in kids, although the door-to-door thing really doesn’t exist nowadays with the advent of e-commerce. Several companies such as Greenraising and Mother Earth Fundraising and Green Irene offer strictly eco-friendly merch like reusable shopping bags, fair trade certified coffee, soy candles and gift wrap of the recycled variety.


These are just a few fundraising ideas, and I know there are many more out there that are fun, speak to your organization’s most excellent mission, and are a bit more attention-grabbing than a run-of-the-mill pancake breakfast or spaghetti dinner (cow pie bingo anyone?) Let me know what you end up doing and how it goes!

— Matt

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Photo: micklpickl/Flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Have any ideas for an eco-fundraiser?
I need some creative ideas that will (a) raise a lot of money, (b) speak to our mission, (c) get the kids involved, and (d) put the ‘fun’ back in ‘fundra