Hosting a Winning Kentucky Derby Fundraising Event

Hosting a Winning Kentucky Derby Fundraising Event

Hats, Horses, and Hope: How to Host a Winning Kentucky Derby Event

The thrill of the race, the mint juleps flowing, and the outrageous hats – there’s something undeniably fun about the Kentucky Derby event. And what better way to celebrate the iconic  150th Anniversary of the Kentucky Derby than by hosting a fundraising party with a purpose? Here’s your guide to throwing an unforgettable Kentucky Derby-themed fundraiser that will raise money for your cause in style!

Setting the Scene: Derby Event Decor Kentucky Derby Party Decor Inspiration

Transport your guests to the heart of Churchill Downs with creative decorations. Think seersucker tablecloths, jockey silks draped over chairs, and centerpieces overflowing with red roses (the official Derby flower!). String up festive bunting in Derby colors (red, white, and black) and don’t forget the iconic horseshoe archway for that perfect photo op. Add a big screen to project the actual Kentucky Derby Race for the ultimate viewing experience.

Mint Julep Signature DrinkMint Juleps and More: A Derby-Inspired Menu

No Kentucky Derby party is complete without the signature drink – the mint julep! Batch some ahead of time in a large silver julep cup for a touch of authenticity. Offer non-alcoholic versions for a wider audience.

Food-wise, think Southern comfort with a twist. Deviled eggs, mini chicken and waffles, pimento cheese sandwiches, and bourbon BBQ meatballs are all crowd-pleasers. Don’t forget the sweet treats! Set up a dessert table with pecan pie bites, miniature red velvet cupcakes, and of course, Derby-famous chocolate bourbon balls.

Fundraising with Flair  Best Dressed Hat COmpeition

Incorporate the theme from your Sponsorship package names and perks through engaging revenue enhancers at the event.  Here are some of our favorite event day ideas:

Best Dressed Competition:

Encourage guests to go all out with their Derby attire. Find a Best Dressed Sponsor to provide Best Dressed award prizes and have judges award prizes for the most creative hats, Best Dressed Individual, Best Dressed Couple, Filly Category ( if you have children attend). Allow the sponsor to announce the winners and get photos to share for next year.

Silent Auction

Partner with local businesses or collect unique experiences to create a silent auction.

Auction Packages Church Hill Downs ExperienceLive Auction

Take your live auction to new heights by auctioning off the opportunity to attend next years Kentucky Derby in person! Our friends at Auction Packages have an incredible Kentucky Derby package that will bring your winning bidder right to Churchill Downs with reserved seating in the Stakes Room. They’ll get to name a race and be in the Winner’s Circle and see the horses up close and personal. You can also sell this package multiple times to your bidders to really increase your event profit.

Horse Race Game

Design a mini racetrack using cardboard or felt. Guests can purchase “horses” and have them race (dice or another method) to win prizes like gift cards.

Horse Plop

This one really depends on your event venue. A horse plop is a very simple revenue enhancer where you draw a grid in a horse pasture and let a horse roam. Guests purchase a square corresponding to the grid where they think the horse will make the first “plop”.  When the horse makes his or her decision whoever has that square wins your prize!

ROSÉ Garden

As previously mentioned the rose is the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. A fun take on that is to set up a special lounge space in your venue to serve Rose in a special keepsake glass that guests can purchase for free refills throughout the event. This is also an excellent option for a sponsorship.

Derby Dash

This is a rebranding of the popular dessert dash. You’ll want to curate a table of prize baskets which can be wrapped or unwrapped. Include things like gift cards, wine, donated items, etc.

Create a bid sheet on brightly-colored paper for each table. Include the table number, spaces for each person to bid (bid number and amount), and a space for the total bid amount for the table.

As soon as guests sit down to dinner, encourage them to bid for their prize. Explain that the table with the highest bid amount gets to choose first. Your auctioneer can help generate excitement for the prizes. Try to have at least one highly sought after prize like a trip or high value item.

Each table selects their “jockey” that will run to the prize table when their table number is called. Have the tables decide which prize they want and select a runner.

The auctioneer calls out the table number for the table with the highest bid amount. That table’s jockey gets to the prize table as quickly as possible and selects a prize by placing their table flag on it. As the first runner has entered the open space between the tables and prizes, the auctioneer calls out the table with the second highest bid and so on. A good auctioneer will add to the comedy with play-by-play commentary.

Check out more fundraising game ideas in our revenue enhancers downloadable guide.

Mint Julep Making Contest

Hold a friendly competition where guests create their best mint julep recipe. Let attendees vote on the winner (with a fee) and offer a prize.

Entertainment Extravaganza Live Entertainment

Live music sets the perfect tone for a lively fundraiser. Hire a bluegrass band or a jazz trio to get toes tapping. You can also have lawn games like cornhole or giant Jenga for some friendly competition.

Spread the Word: Marketing Your Kentucky Derby Event

Get the party started with a creative marketing campaign:

  • Derby-Themed Invitations: Design eye-catching invitations with seersucker patterns, horseshoes, and mint julep illustrations.
  • Social Media Blitz: Create a dedicated event page and share it on on social media platforms. Share photos, videos, and updates to build excitement.
  • Host a Giveaway with a partner: Examples could be anyone who buys their ticket by a certain date is entered to win hair and make up services for 2 on the day of the event at a participating salon, limo transportation to the event, wine for their entire table, etc.
  • Local Outreach: Reach out to local newspapers, radio stations, news outlets, and magazines to promote your event. If you have highly influential people in your community see if they will post a photo of themselves in a Derby hat or with your invitation to promote the event. Create a post for sponsors and donors to use and post on their own social media that announces their partnership with your event.
  • Create a branded hashtag: Put your hashtag on everything! Your invite, printed program, any swag, on our website, social media are all great ways to spread the word and get people interested in engaging with your event.

The Final Furlong: Making it Memorable

Photo Booth

Set up a fun photo booth or photo op with a backdrop flower wall and Derby-themed props for guests to capture memories. 360 photo booths are very trendy right now and are set up to send guests an instant snapshot to remember the evening. Most photo booths have branding abilities which allow for great exposure for a sponsor and the nonprofit.  In our recent survey nonprofits revealed event photos are commonly used to promote on social media, market next year’s event, and share with guests as a thank you.

Favor Bags

Send guests off with small favor bags filled with Derby-inspired treats or tokens of appreciation from local vendors, and some more information on how they can get involved and support your nonprofit throughout the year.

With a little planning and creativity, you can host a Kentucky Derby fundraiser that’s both fun and impactful. So, get your fascinators ready, mint juleps chilled, and let’s raise a glass to a successful fundraising event!


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