When I worked for a nonprofit organization, the holiday season was by far the busiest time. When we weren’t searching for unique and fun Christmas fundraising ideas, we were reaching out to big donors who gave every year.

There’s a reason why the development team of my nonprofit — and every other person I knew in the industry — reached a furious crescendo of activity in December. Donors motivated by giving to charity before the tax year ends often wait until the last minute to decide which good cause will be the lucky beneficiary.

Check with the financial professionals on your team, and you’ll likely discover a substantial percentage of donations arrive in the last month of the year — and especially in the last three days on the calendar.

‌The end-of-year push for donations is worth it, but it can also be exhausting. The way to be most effective is to decide on specific Christmas fundraising ideas for nonprofit programs and general administration that speak directly to your donors.

‌To resonate with the people who care about your programs, connect your outreach and fundraising initiatives directly to your mission. Be creative about ways to remind current and future donors about the impact you — and, importantly, they — are making on those who benefit directly from your services.

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10 Christmas fundraising ideas for your most productive holiday fundraising season yet

1. Virtual baking classes

‌Part of the quandary with this upcoming holiday season is, of course, having to negotiate around the health precautions that have arisen from the coronavirus pandemic. The “new normal” has likely thrown your nonprofit business plan into a tailspin.

‌One solution is holding virtual classes for donors to help them feel more connected with your work. A fun holiday-themed idea is an online baking class. Even if someone doesn’t enjoy baking, chances are they enjoy tasting the results. Organize a class through Zoom or a live event on Facebook or Instagram and send a box with ingredients — or the finished product — to those who donate.

‌If it’s appropriate to your mission, you could also organize a virtual wine tasting as another of many online-based Christmas fundraising ideas. High-dollar donors may appreciate being sent a package with wines chosen by a wine connoisseur. Don’t forget to add in surprises like cheese and chocolate that pair well with the options. Part of resonating with your donors is knowing what thoughtful touches they’ll appreciate.

‌2. Christmas craft auction

‌In-person, white elephant auctions may be on hold, but online versions don’t have to be. Christmastime is when many people pull out their traditional crafts, many of which may be hand-me-downs from previous generations of their family. Why not encourage potential donors to share or add to their collection?

‌Send a direct email invitation to your donor list with details about the auction day. Use an online auction program or simply have a live event on social media to bring in the donations when people are most likely to give.

‌3. Dry January pledge

‌Many people put an end to the excesses that come from so many holiday parties by spending a month without alcohol at the start of the new year. If it makes sense with your nonprofit mission, use Dry January as a hook for fundraising in December. 

Started by Alcohol Change UK, Dry January can be done as a fundraiser for your nonprofit.

Organized like a 5K, this virtual event encourages donors to ask their friends to financially support your organization while they do the hard part of avoiding drinking — or skipping dessert or any other challenge — for the next month. Don’t forget to organize a celebration for participants on February 1.

‌4. Outdoor performance

‌When nonprofits hold events, they bring in money beyond entrance tickets. It’s also an opportunity to gain sponsorships. This year, get creative with holiday performances by hosting one outside at a nearby park, where people will feel safer. Sponsorships are often marketing acts by local businesses, and owners may now be even more interested in letting their customers know they support you.

5. 5K race

‌If your donors are active or family-oriented, they may love the opportunity to join a race in support of your organization. 5K races aren’t the most original idea, but they have a high return on investment.

‌If you live in a community that’s too cold during December, consider partnering with a local big box store or even a gym with plenty of treadmills. It could be different and fun to hold the race indoors.

‌6. Christmas tree decorating contest

‌Almost everyone who celebrates Christmas will want a tree, but not everyone likes to decorate one. Consider holding a decorating contest in which the participants beautifully adorn trees to be auctioned off for the benefit of your organization. You can document the big day with a video posted on your website.

The nonprofit Tykes & Teens hosts a “Festival of Trees & Lights” Christmas fundraiser every year.

7. Holiday gift catalog

‌If someone doesn’t know what to get their loved ones, your development team can help. Host a Christmas gift catalog on your website or social media profile to encourage potential donors to include your nonprofit in their holiday spending plans. You can partner with local retailers to get items donated for your catalog. They can even donate a little extra for some of your volunteers to wrap and deliver the presents, Santa-style.

‌8. Homemade Christmas cards

‌To be honest, I prefer sending homemade cards to nonprofit donors and contacts over Thanksgiving, not Christmas. This ensures that everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation, feels included. However, cards are one of the most traditional Christmas fundraising ideas. Slip in a donation form with every card so your organization stays top-of-mind during December.

‌9. Holiday movie showcase

‌Another fun idea for Christmas is showing favorite holiday movies on a big screen. Host a donation-based film series outdoors, if the weather allows, or work with a local movie theater. 

Need ideas for a holiday movie favorite? Good Housekeeping has a list of the 63 best.

Announce the benefits of your nonprofit to the crowd during intermission.

10. Small group ‘galas’

‌Most donors are steering clear of large gala dinners, but that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your top donors to host small dinner parties with their friends on your behalf. You can do the extra work by sending invites, organizing professional chefs, and even picking up the wine — and they’ll invite people they know who are likely to donate to your cause. This idea can work for your more established, mature donors and young, newer donors alike.

Christmas fundraising ideas to maximize your end-of-year donations

‌Whatever you decide for a fundraising effort at the end of the year, see if you can find a match — someone who’s willing to match donations dollar-for-dollar up to a certain amount. This is a surprisingly simple yet effective way to encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise think to donate.

‌Sit down as soon as you can with your development team to review this list and brainstorm other creative ideas that may be even better for raising money for your nonprofit organization’s particular mission. Don’t wait until the end of November — create a timeline as far out as possible. Distribute tasks among many volunteers and staff members to make everything easier.

‌Also, don’t forget to get the email address of everyone who participates‌ in your Christmas fundraising ideas. That way, you can keep in contact with them for the rest of the year. Remember, Giving Tuesday is right around the corner!