5 College Fundraising Ideas (That are Fun and Easy!)


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College Fundraising 101: Where to Start

Oh, the college years. What a fun, informative and (sometimes) stressful learning experience those times were! Between paper deadlines, tests, and not over-sleeping for your 8:00 A.M. lecture, it’s easy to stress out. Guidance counselors exist for that exact reason. Do you remember being nurtured and guided through your college experience? If so, you probably have fond memories of that university.

For universities, successful fundraising is dependent upon fostering these fond memories and making a lasting relationship with students. After all, today’s students will be tomorrow’s alumni, and alumni donations are one of the most important revenue streams a school has.

In this post, we’ll review some of the top ways your school can lay the groundwork for future fundraising success. Our suggestions include:

  1. Hosting a barbeque
  2. Holding a community service event
  3. Hosting a flea market
  4. Selling branded apparel
  5. Competing in challenges
  6. Bonus: Staying in touch
  7. Bonus #2: Matching gifts tools

An emotional connection drives alumni into being long time donors. But, college fundraising is difficult. Think about how many students are in and out over the years. How is it possible to keep up with each graduate? Simple answer: it isn’t. People move, and their salaries will vary.

To make college fundraising more of a success, they start donations before graduation. It makes for a fun and memorable experience for the student. This also allows for donations to continuously improve the school. We came up with several simple yet efficient types of college fundraisers that do exactly that!

1. Hosting a Barbeque

Everyone loves food, this is a given. It’s especially true for students!

This event can be held on campus at the student center. Charge per plate or an admittance fee and have staff/student programs donate utensils and food items. Make the fee affordable, since many students struggle for money. Not only is this engaging for students, but it also provides them with a delicious meal they probably haven’t had in a while. (We get it–Ramen is totally a food group in college.)

You can also invite members of your community to attend your barbeque. It can help you raise a little more and can build relationships with the people in your area.

2. Holding a Community Service Event

Students like to feel like they’re valuable. Giving back to the community provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Organizations and universities have close ties to one another. To leverage this relationship, the organizations can sponsor a community service event for students to come together and help the people around them while also raising funds.

A great example of this is at a local university here in Tampa — The University of South Florida. Moffitt Cancer Center is a nonprofit research center located on USF’s campus that’s a part of their health department. “Miles for Moffitt” has been hosted on campus for the last twelve years (now being moved to downtown Tampa as of 2018). It is a run/walk for those wanting to participate to raise funds for the facility and department. Volunteers are needed for water stations and cheering on participants.  Money might be tight for students, but giving time is free.

3. Hosting A Flea Market for Students and Staff

This is a great way for students to sell their own materials. Some students in the art program can sell their unique creations. Others might be amazing bakers and sell their treats alongside the artists. Think of this like a university’s own farmers market. Students get to express themselves and make connections while also earning extra money.

How does this raise funds for the college? Throw in a university coffee stand and watch your funds soar. College students RUN on coffee. Remember that emotional connection mentioned earlier? Students will feel valued by earning extra money and showcasing their skills, while the school is able to fundraise alongside them.

4. Selling Branded Apparel

Team spirit is one of the biggest facets of college. Each university has their own mascot and theme. Sporting events are a living and breathing representation of that. Students typically go to these games for free or at a discounted rate, which makes for an easy weekend activity!  

Take this opportunity to sell branded merchandise with the school’s logo or tagline at these games. Everyone is amped up with team pride and will be more than willing to purchase an additional shirt or item to bring to future games. This might be one of the most utilized college fundraising efforts, and that’s because it works. 

You can even set up a simple online store to sell merchandise before and after the big game. Students, faculty, and parents alike will love the chance to make sure they’re geared up before big events!

5. Competing in Challenges

Since these events are mostly peer-to-peer events, these fundraisers can help students and staff connect with each other and create a memorable relationship. Challenges are a really great way to do this. Include staff in different departments alongside students to raise money.  

Here’s one idea: invite different departments to create their own teams. The department that raises the most money can name a new building/campus feature. How neat would that be? Years after graduation, a part of each student’s experience will still exist at the university. 

Social media is also a way to create challenges and raise funds. For example, the University of Vermont went to social media to pose a unique idea that would both raise funds and increase community engagement. The “Move In Day Challenge” welcomed new students via social media while also raising money from younger alums. A challenge like this gives the school a human presence online, which makes donations more of a reality. 

Need additional social media inspiration? Check out these 36 higher education social media campaigns to get inspiration to create your next fundraising hit!

Bonus Tip: Staying in Touch

One of the best ways to stay top of mind with your alumni supporters? Create an alumni association website! Whether you create a single website for all your school’s alumni, or individual websites for organizations like fraternity chapters, these tools help your team stay in touch with students well after graduation. Ultimately, this means a longer period of engagement with your students in which you can make the case for them to donate. 

Bonus Tip #2: Maximize Your Donations

Want to get the most out of your fundraising events? Try matching gift software!! Using this kind of tool can help your alumni identify if their company can match their donation, point them towards the appropriate paperwork, and guide them through the process. This means more matching gifts, less revenue lost to complex paperwork, and more funds for your university! 

Final Thoughts

A student graduates and moves on, but their memories do not. College fundraising should be fun! But, while it should be fun, the student should also know it was for their benefit. These donations support various programs within the school to ensure the best education possible for each student. Hopefully, it instilled a deep sense of pride and connection to the university for years to come. Nurture these relationships while they are students, so that they become long time donors as alumni. 

Looking for additional resources to help you on your higher education fundraising journey? Check out the resources below: 

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