Spice Up Your Next Fundraiser with Pay-to-Play

Have you had the same fundraising event year after year?

The same chicken dinner? The same gala venue? The same silent auction? How do you change things up this year? Are there new and creative ways to generate revenue?

Yes, they do exist! One way to mix it up is to have a Pay-to-Play fundraiser. There are many variations on this theme, but in general, guests pay a fee to participate in a very exclusive activity.

There are two general categories: (1) Pay-to-Play something at a later date or (2) Pay-to-Play something at the actual fundraising event.

A common “Pay-to Play later” event would a situation in which gala guests pay for an exclusive event like a future date for a golf game at a coveted championship course. It differs a bit from a silent auction item that would feature a golf game. In the silent auction, a ritzy golf game and golfing package is auctioned off to a single winner. In a Pay-to-Play scenario, an exclusive golf game is secured at a fabulous course for let’s say 10-15 players. Fifteen of your lucky event goers can pay a single ticket price as a Pay-to-Play option to participate in the exclusive golfing group. It’s easier if everyone pays the flat “entrance” price to the Pay-to-Play event, but some events run it as a bidding war; the top 15 bids win a day on the course. This option works really well with golf games, sporting events, and concerts. Someone from your organization will have to secure a donation way in advance, or at least pay a reduced ticket price for a large group.
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Here are some specific examples:

  • Find a donor who has football season tickets and a skybox. Ask that person to donate the tickets and a skybox for one home game.
  • Buy tickets to a greatly anticipated music concert, or ask the ticket venue to donate or reduce the ticket price for charity.
  • Pay to get a seat on a chartered plane to an exotic vacation destination.
  • Pay to draw: people buy a ticket to enter into a prize drawing; for example pay to draw a ticket to fly in an F-16 airplane.

However, Pay-to-Play fundraisers work best when they are “live” at the actual event. This generates great excitement and ultimately more money at your event.

Here are some great ideas:

  • Create a giant Monopoly game board at your venue. Guests pay an entrance fee to play.
  • If you have a casino fundraiser, create a High Stakes area where guests pay for exclusive play, just like the high rollers in Vegas.
  • Have a dunking booth or pie in the face booth. Guests pay-to-play, or in this case pay-to-pie! Obviously this works better at informal fundraisers like a school event where you might have a long line of students ready to dunk the principal. However, it has been known to occur even at black tie events; there’s nothing like throwing a pie at someone who is wearing formal attire!
  • Schools offer a sports or game day, and students pay-to-play to get out of class for the day.
  • Music themes: Guests pay to have a piano player or singer play or sing a certain song, or pay the singer to stop singing a terrible song.

These events generate lots of live action excitement and are relatively easy to run. The hardest part is securing the exclusive items you are offering, like the golf games and concert tickets. At the event, it’s very much like charging an admission fee, so minimal staffing is needed to pull it off. Mix it up. Have fun!

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