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Fundraising Tricks and Treats: Raise more than the dead this Halloween

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Halloween is an ancient tradition that has today become a multi-billion dollar industry – and it’s only growing. More than two-thirds of Canadians celebrate the holiday, and this year families with children plan to spend an average of $75 on things like costumes, decorations, and candy. Sweets alone bring in some $330 million annually. But businesses aren’t the only ones to profit.

The energy and thrill of Halloween make October a great month to hold fundraisers, and that’s exactly what charities across the country are doing.

“I suppose Halloween is a good time to fundraise because people are happy and genuinely thankful for the opportunities they have,” says Sharon Avery, chief of development at UNICEF Canada. “As a way of giving back, they generously support our work to help the world’s most vulnerable children in the most inaccessible of places.”

It’s almost impossible to talk about fundraising at Halloween without bringing up UNICEF. Its Trick-or-Treat program – known for its iconic orange collection box – has been a proud Canadian tradition since 1955, and through it the organization has raised more than $100 million.

But door-to-door collecting is only one means of raising money this time of year. Since people of all age groups celebrate Halloween wholeheartedly, there are many ways you can go about fundraising. So how exactly can your organization get in on the big business of this holiday? Here are some ideas.

Creative takes on established Halloween traditions

Between costumes, decorations, and pumpkin carving, it’s easy to come up with creative contest ideas around Halloween. These can be a great way to fundraise.

It’s important to note that while some contests can stand on their own as fundraisers, others work better if you include them as part of a bigger event. A costume contest, for example, might be something that draws guests to a larger party or dance, while a pumpkin carving contest can be big enough to raise money all on its own.

Either way, the success of your contest will depend largely on what you can offer as prizes. If you want people to pay to enter, it helps if there’s some kind of fun incentive. In keeping with the theme, consider approaching local psychics or haunted-walk companies to see if they have anything to offer. Palm-reading sessions or ghost hunting adventures are great prizes that will surely draw a crowd, and companies will usually be open to making these donations in exchange for small advertisements.

Depending on how big your contest becomes, you might be able to raise more money by charging people to see it take place. A costume contest could be turned into a pretty interesting fashion show that people would pay to attend, and a carving contest could rapidly turn into a pumpkin parade by lining paths along a park with the lit-up creations and charging people to walk through.

If you’re passionate about pumpkins, why not consider organizing a pumpkin patch fundraiser? Though these can be labour intensive, they’re fun for the whole family and can bring in lots of money. The idea is to purchase pumpkins from a wholesaler at a discounted rate and then make an event out of selling them from a park-like location. Play music, organize games, provide hot apple cider, and sell other crafts and decorations. Add a costume contest to bring in more people and charge extra for a small haunted house.

Use a few online tricks

Whatever you decide to coordinate – get it online! Social-networking tools were designed to connect people, so use them to get the word out about your event. Sites like Twitter and Facebook will help generate excitement about your fundraiser, and the Halloween theme gives you the chance to get creative. You can also use the internet to collect donations online.

Take UNICEF, for example. In 2006 the orange collection boxes that had been carried door-to-door for more than 50 years moved online to make it easier for Canadians to donate no matter where they live. It has since spread into a comprehensive campaign that extends throughout the month of October and involves much more than trick-or-treating.

“Over the years, we have tried to meet the changing needs of our community,” says Avery. “After soliciting feedback from our supporters, we revitalized the campaign to provide a more meaningful, educational and engaging experience for Canadian children.”

The shift online has made the annual fundraising drive more flexible and it now better reflects the reality of today’s school environment. The campaign’s site has portals for kids, parents, and teachers, encouraging them to get involved by organizing fun-for-kids events like pumpkin-carving contests, puppet shows, bake sales and dances. This year more than 2,000 schools have signed up, which means almost half a million elementary students across the country will be working to raise money for children around the world.

“I think UNICEF still holds a special place in people’s hearts this time of year. For many Canadians, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF was their first charitable experience – and it’s an experience they want to share with their kids.”

It’s not all about the kids

Not all Halloween fundraisers need to be focused on children. Adults can get quite caught up in this haunted holiday, and recent polls show that those aged 18 - 24 are actually the most likely to spend more this year than last. Why not reach out to this demographic?

To appeal to this slightly older crowd, try organizing a zombie walk. Dressed up with severed limbs, oozing blood, and rotting faces, participants gather in a predetermined location before rising from the dead and hitting the streets. Zombies can collect pledges leading up to the event, or simply make a personal donation in order to take part.

If you want to add a little something extra, why not plan a flash mob to Michael Jackson’s Thriller or another Halloween favourite? Have the undead spontaneously breakout in dance, while others disguised as civilians join in halfway through. Film the whole thing, insert some text explaining how to donate, and post it on social networking sites to get the word out about your cause.

Another great option for a more mature crowd would be organizing a zombie race like Run for Your Lives. This is a large event that’s one part 5 km race, one part obstacle course, and one part escaping the clutches of zombies. Depending on the size of fundraiser you’re looking to coordinate, you could adapt this idea to your own resources and goals.

Haunted houses might be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but they never fail to bring in the dough at Halloween. If you want to shake it up a bit, you could try organizing a haunted hike instead! These typically take place after dark in a forest along a wooded path, making them extra scary, though kid-friendly hours could draw in a day-time crowd as well. You can charge a cover or ask for donations, and again don’t be afraid to seek sponsors in return for minor advertisements and product placement.

Raising money this time of year can be fun and fruitful. Whether you get kids involved or target an older crowd, there’s no shortage of fundraising ideas at Halloween. People are expecting the unexpected, so use your imagination and don’t miss the chance for your organization to get a piece of this multi-billion dollar pie!

Photos (from top) via iStock.com. All photos used with permission.

Please note: While we ensure that all links and email addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other websites and email addresses may no longer be accurate.

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marina@charityvillage.com marina@charityvillage.com
Here's an example of a family that runs an annual haunted house and collects donations for charity: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/metro/North+coupl e+chases+charity+chills/7461562/story.html
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maggie@charityvillage.com maggie@charityvillage.com
Thanks for these ideas, Rachel. I also spotted another Halloween-themed idea that played on humour to raise toilet paper donations for a crisis centre in the States. Find the story over at: http://www .nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog/2012/10/25/the-c risis-center-with-a-sense-of-humor/
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