Hurdles to Successful Fundraising, and How to Jump Them


April 4, 2013
By Rachel Koren, Research Assistant, PXE International
This article will be published in the April 2013 eNewsletter.

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I have not been good at asking for things, especially things that are precious, like money and time. I don’t want to be a bother to others. And it’s probably true that you don’t want to be that person who is always asking for donations. But as my father always tells me, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” You might be surprised how many people out there are willing to lend a hand.

Hurdle #1: 
“I don’t think anyone would be interested / 

No one is going to show up!”

Fundraising for a cause unfamiliar to others can be a challenge.  Jump this hurdle by letting people know why they should care. An easy way to do this is to share your story with people that care about you. Even if they can’t pronounce pseudoxanthoma elasticum by the end of your fundraising event or letter, when you give people a better understanding of your passion for this cause, then your passion becomes contagious. 

Dinner might not be the best place to get into the details of the ABCC6 gene, but your friends are going to care about your story. Consider making a short speech during your event about why their time and donations mean so much to you personally. Or, if you’re doing a quieter fundraiser, craft a heartfelt letter or email to send out with your donation request. It will be more motivating for your recipients to conceptualize the help they are giving a friend than if they think they are just donating to another random charity. 

Send out invites early and a few reminders too

As a residential advisor and philanthropy chair of a student group, most of my fundraising experience involves 18 year olds. Parents of college age kids will confirm that getting teenagers do something is like herding cats. You poke and prod, suffer the whining, and there had better be food wherever it is that you’re taking them.

Hosting an event for a crowd that is a little older and much wiser probably means that they are even busier, but let’s assume that the same rules apply.  Get on people’s calendars early, especially if your event is themed around a holiday – those times fill up quickly.  If you are sending out paper invitations, as the event gets closer, consider making a short reminder call. Or send out a brief but noticeable email reminder. Fit the reminder into just the subject line of an email so that your guests don’t even have to open it to get the message.

Involve your friends in events that are fun for them

Everyone is busy, and most of us have to be very careful about how we budget our time.  However, friends also enjoy spending time together, especially when that fun involves no planning of their own.  Admittedly some events will take some coordinating on your part, but showing your friends a good time will make them feel compensated for their donation.  See below for specific event ideas. 

Involve your friends in events that are already part of their regular routine

Does your group go out to dinner once a month? Use one of those dinner nights for your fundraiser. Ask them to donate what they would have spent going out to dinner and then notice that you’ve inflicted no burden of extra time or money onto your friends. See below for dinner fundraiser ideas.

Hurdle #2: 
“I don’t have the time!”

Fundraising doesn’t have to be a time-consuming ordeal. There are plenty of quick and easy ways to raise money. 

Combine fundraising ideas with activities that you already do

Send out Christmas cards or birthday party invitations asking for donations to PXE International instead of gifts.

Already walk your dog every morning?  Offer to walk your neighbor’s dog too and ask for a donation in return. 

Offer to carpool to work or to drive a friend’s children to school, and ask them to donate the money saved on gas to PXE International.

Take the neighborhood kids trick or treating with your own kids in exchange for a donation to PXE International.

Got teenage kids?  Hold any one of the events below with a babysitting component.  Invite your friends to bring their children to the event and have the older ones babysit while the adults enjoy the event.  Offering the babysitters a flat rate for their efforts will encourage some people to attend and donate what they might have paid a babysitter.  Or offer the babysitters compensation other than money, such as a few days off from chores, in order to maximize the amount you are able to donate.

Raise money on your own

For one month eliminate coffee shop drinks from your morning routine.  This is not only good for you overall, but you might be shocked at how much money you can save. 

Make a “Bad Habit Jar” out of an old water jug.  Pick any habit you’d like to get rid of, like biting your nails or using swear words, and donate a quarter to the jar every time you slip up.  Have a friend or family member help keep you on track as it might be difficult to self motivate. 

Or even make it a family affair! Have each family member donate some change to the jar each time they leave a mess in the kitchen or leave personal belongings around the house. 

Raise money without hosting an event

Invite people NOT to come to something – also known as a “phantom event”. The classic is a phantom tea party.  Enclose a tea bag in the invitation, which reads, “Come to a tea party!  Have it whenever you want and invite whomever you want.  Use this teabag.  Before sitting down with your friend, write a check to PXE International and put it in the enclosed envelope.”

Phantom events are fun if you can describe an event that people really don’t want to go to.  “You will not have to get dressed up or find parking.  You will not have to balance a plate of raw vegetables and dip and a drink while trying to shake hands with people you don’t know.” 

The appeal is designed like an invitation, so few words are used.  A phantom event works when the people receiving it are familiar with the organization and don’t need a long explanation about what the work is. So this might work best with close friends or as a follow up to an actual event.  Include a return envelope and a reply device which continues the fun: “I won’t be there.  I am so looking forward to that!  Here’s my gift.  Thanks for letting me stay home.”

Or try our Dollar Bill Fundraiser – No event necessary.  Take a little time to personalize our fundraising form letter found on our website (  Then mail out letters that contain a single dollar bill and the fundraising letter explaining the cause. Ask people to either keep the dollar as payment for taking a moment of their time, or mail back the dollar with a donation of their own.  One parent of a PXEer raised $10,000 this way!

Hurdle #3: 
“I don’t have any event ideas.”

I am here to help with that.

Admittedly, hosting an event might be more time-consuming than other methods of fundraising, and some of these might require that you put down some of your own money to start. However, hosting an event that’s fun for everyone can make asking for donations easier because your guests will feel as though they are getting something in return.  Further, a successful event might even turn into a PXE fundraising tradition.

Host a brunch

Brunch foods are less expensive than dinner foods and often easier to prepare, which makes this idea host-friendly.  Ask for donations with an RSVP, or ask your friends to donate whatever they might have spent going out to a restaurant for brunch.

Bakeries are sometimes willing to donate their leftover breads and pastries from the day to anyone willing to come pick them up. As a residential advisor, I once fed 54 hungry 18 year olds for only $15 this way.  After picking up about 60 free bagels from Einstein Brother’s Bagels, all I had to do was buy the schmear and orange juice.  I have had similar success with smaller local bakeries as well. 

Now sure, the college kids at my brunch were getting a free meal, so bagels and cream cheese were sufficient, but you might also consider something a little more elaborate to compensate your guests for their generosity. 

Try a “How do you like your eggs?” fundraiser.  With each invitation include a little order form that lets them describe how they would like their eggs cooked, or even an omelet menu. Ask that they mail or email back the order form as their RSVP.  Having the orders in advance will minimize the money you put down up front because you will know exactly how much of each ingredient to purchase.  Ask for the donation with the RSVP or at the event.

Host a Dinner

A potluck is a classic method of fundraising.  Everyone brings one dish to the party, limiting the cost to each attendee, and thankfully the host too.  The tricky part is asking guests to pay for a meal that they themselves have helped prepare. 

Assure your guests that while you are asking them to bring a dish, it need not feed the entire group.  If there are 15 guests and each guest brings a dish that serves four, then there will be more than enough food to go around.  Then ask each guest to donate what they might have spent going out for a meal, which is sure to be significantly more than what they spent preparing one dish.

Ask local restaurants if they will give you a discount if you are buying a dish from them for a charity event.  Many restaurants are great about this, but I’ve had particular success with newer restaurants by agreeing to post their promotional material at my event.  People are probably going to ask you where you got the food from anyway, so offer to pass out take-out menus for the restaurants that give you a discount.

Or, you can twist the old classic into something even easier for your guests:

Taco bar potluck

Each guest need only bring one ingredient for the tacos. Assign the more expensive ingredients like ground chicken or ground beef to more than one person to limit the cost even further. 

Make it a fiesta!  Extra tortillas are inexpensive and can be fried up with a sprinkle of salt and cayenne pepper for cheap homemade tortilla chips.  You might even consider serving up some frozen margaritas before asking for donations. 

Soup potluck

Each guest brings one prepared ingredient for chicken noodle soup: “one small onion chopped,” or “2 carrots, peeled and sliced”. Most people will already have these ingredients in their refrigerators, so asking for a little extra prep from your guests won’t be an inconvenience. 

Here’s a tip from my mom. Have the noodles and chicken already cooked when your guests arrive.  Boil the noodles separately so that they don’t absorb all the soup broth.  To keep the noodles from sticking together, set them aside in a little bit of the starchy water you used to cook the pasta.  Pre-cooked chickens are an affordable time-saver and are available at most supermarkets.  Remove the skin and cut up the meat before your guests arrive.  This way, all you have to do is sauté the veggies and add the broth.  This will limit your stress level at the event as well as the waiting time. 

Other similar ideas: A mother-daughter tea party, a gingerbread house party, or an Easter egg hunt.

Super Bowl Sunday/Monday Night Football

Serve tailgate favorites and ask your friends to place “bets” on how the game will go.  Guests wager on winning team, team with the most penalties, team with the most enthusiastic crowd, or team with the most fumbles.  The money wagered will go to PXE International, but you can also give the person who gets the most bets correct a themed prize such as a new football, or a hat with their team’s name on it.

Movie night

In this age of 3-D re-releases and megaplexes, going to the movies can cost upwards of $15 for the ticket alone. So why not move the fun to your house?  Find a projector and host this event in your backyard.  Project the movie against a real screen or a white sheet hanging on the side of your house or garage.  Or just do this in your living room with a group of friends.  Ask your friends to stay in to watch a classic on a night you might ordinarily go out to the movies, and have them donate the money they saved on tickets.  This can easily be a family friendly affair depending on the movie you choose.  Charge admission for tickets and serve up easy movie snacks like popcorn and candy.


Fundraising does take some effort.  No amount of ideas or advice that I or anyone else can give you will change that.  But putting in the time to send out letters or Christmas cards, or even to host an event, can also be beneficial for you.  The money you raise goes directly into funding research for PXE as well as the support services that PXE International provides.  Without donations from passionate members like you, the work we do at PXE International would not be possible.  And we can show you what a difference your contribution makes.  Please see our Where Does My Money Go? for more information about how donations are used and why your contributions mean the world to us.  We appreciate everything that you do!

If you do host an event or organize a fundraiser of any type, we want to help you inspire others.  Please contact us to let us know about your fundraiser: how it worked, what you did, and if there are any pictures, we’d love to see those too.  Please contact us at to share your fundraising stories and ideas.