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2. Building Sustainable Income for Small Charities: Community Fundraising

Developing sustainability through community fundraising: events and challenges for small charities

As a charity consultant, I see more and more small charities feeling in crisis over future funding, as they face the challenge of developing sustainable income streams. For a long time, it's been a worry how many have focused on contracts and the delivery of health and social care services as the way forward. Alongside short-term grants, this can put small charities on a financial rollercoaster ride, which is precarious for services as well as charity staff.

In this special series for Small Charity Week, The Boiling Frog blog will look at diversifying income sources, to build essential unrestricted funds and create long-term financial stability. This second post in my series explores the ins and outs of community fundraising, and specifically events and challenges. It offers deeper insights into why it's a universal tool for all charities, yet particularly well suited for some. I also offer practical advice, case studies, and strategies to maximise this income stream while avoiding common pitfalls.

Be mindful that at a local, small charity level, community fundraising is rarely a leading income source, and it can also be extremely time consuming, but under the right person it is streets ahead in terms of its ability to nurture a sense of community and build visibility for your cause.

Colourful abstract banner with the headline 'Small Charity Week 2024: 24-28 June'

Why Community Fundraising Works for All Charities

First, what do we mean by community fundraising? In a sentence, it involves engaging the local community in activities that raise funds for the charity. It offers a versatile and accessible income stream that can be tailored to fit charities of any size or focus. Here’s why it’s an invaluable resource:

Broad Appeal: Community fundraising events and challenges appeal to a wide audience. They offer something for everyone, from fun runs and bake sales to elaborate galas and extreme challenges. This broad appeal makes it possible for any charity, regardless of its mission, to find a niche that resonates with its supporters.

Strengthening Community Ties: Events and challenges foster a sense of community and belonging. They provide opportunities for your existing and potential supporters to connect with the charity’s mission on a personal level. This connection often translates into long-term support, as participants feel more invested in the charity’s success. (Note: 'supporters' here is used as a generic term that goes well beyond donors, and includes staff, volunteers and beneficiaries.)

Flexibility and Creativity: Unlike more rigid funding streams, community fundraising offers a wealth of opportunity for individuals on your team to get really creative, and that in itself can make it a rewarding experience. Charities can experiment with different types of events and challenges to see what resonates best with their supporters. This flexibility can lead to innovative fundraising ideas that stand out and attract attention. You may never surpass the amazing ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014, a social media viral sensation that spanned the globe, but you can always try!

Enhanced Visibility: Hosting events and challenges increases a charity’s visibility within the community. Media coverage, social media buzz, and word-of-mouth promotion can significantly boost a charity’s profile, attracting new supporters and donors. Though, going back to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, you may want to avoid creating a monster where people seem to remember the challenge rather than the original cause. Keep your cause centre stage.

Inclusive Participation: Community fundraising enables participation at all levels. Not everyone can make large donations, but many people are willing to contribute smaller amounts, volunteer their time, or raise funds through peer-to-peer activities. This inclusivity can lead to a broad base of support and makes everyone feel valued.

Why Community Fundraising Suits Some Charities Better Than Others

While community fundraising can be beneficial for all charities, it tends to be particularly effective for those with a strong local presence or a cause that naturally engages the public:

Local Charities: Local charities often have deep roots in the community, which can make mobilising local support easier. Their missions are directly relevant to the people they serve, which can lead to passionate and enthusiastic participation in fundraising activities. At the same time, local charities should always be aware of their limitations too, specifically when resources within the organisation are already spread thinly.

Cause-Specific Charities: Charities focused on causes that have a broad appeal, such as health, education, or environmental issues, may find it easier to attract participants for events and challenges. These causes often resonate widely, making it simpler to engage the public. Again, going back to the example of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, that event defied this point and well done to them, but it was an exception rather than the rule.

Charities with Strong Volunteer Bases: Charities with an established network of active volunteers can leverage this resource for community fundraising. Volunteers can help organise events, promote activities, and participate in challenges, providing essential support without significant financial outlay. At the same time - and, yes, it's probably stating the obvious but I'll say it anyway - do opt for an event that will engage your volunteer base: a Three-Peaks Challenge is not for everyone.

Case Studies: Success Stories in Community Fundraising

Case Study 1: A Deaf Charity’s Inclusive Race Nights and Quiz Nights

I own up to blowing the trumpet for my own former charity here, but seriously we used to smash community fundraising Race Nights and Quiz Nights, for their enormous fun and inclusivity. I take little personal credit for this, it was largely due to a perfect alignment of staff at the time, with two particularly fun-driven and charismatic staff doing front-of-house cheer leading for the audience. Our events were so successful during this time that we briefly considered going on the road with them to help other local charities raise money. Sadly, we didn't have the resources to do that but we certainly raised our organisation's profile.

Case Study 2: A Hospice Fun Run

Can you ever have too many Fun Runs? I don't think so. One hospice, a small local charity, organises an annual Fun Run to raise funds for its palliative care services. By engaging local schools, businesses, and community groups, the event seems to grow year-on-year. Participants range from serious runners to families looking for a fun day out, each raising sponsorship from friends and family. The fun run not only provides an important boost to the hospice’s income but also has become a cherished community event, strengthening ties and raising awareness of the charity’s work.

Case Study 3: Environmental Charity Abseil Challenge

Another charity, this time dedicated to environmental conservation, hosts an abseil challenge off a local landmark. This event attracts thrill-seekers and adventure enthusiasts, each required to raise a minimum sponsorship amount to participate. The charity partners with local outdoor adventure companies for equipment and safety training, ensuring a professional and exciting experience. The abseil challenge not only raises substantial funds but also attracts media attention, significantly increasing the charity’s visibility.

The Crucial Role of the Community Fundraiser

Now here's my caveat. If you want to succeed in events and challenges, you need an exceptional community fundraiser in your organisation. No question about that. This means someone who is naturally charismatic and a team cheerleader. That isn't to say, your community fundraiser needs to be loud and gregarious. No, but they do need to have the kind of magnetic and warm personality that others always want to say yes to. From personal experience, I would say the talent and personality of your community fundraiser is so fundamental to the success of your events and challenges. If you don't have a natural community fundraiser on your team, I am personally not convinced you should go in for events and challenges until you do. Pay what you need to in order to attract talent: the investment will pay back many times over.

Making Community Fundraising Work for Your Charity

To maximise the potential of community fundraising, small charities should think about the following strategies:

Know Your Audience: Understanding your community and what excites them is crucial. Tailor your events and challenges to the interests and preferences of your supporters. Surveys and feedback from past events can provide valuable insights.

Leverage Partnerships: Partnering with local businesses and organisations can enhance your fundraising efforts. Businesses can provide sponsorship, in-kind donations, or volunteer support. Collaboration can also increase your reach and visibility.

Promote Widely: Utilise all available channels to promote your events and challenges. Social media, local newspapers, community bulletin boards, and word-of-mouth are effective ways to spread the word. Engaging stories and visuals can help capture attention.

Encourage Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: Empower participants to raise funds on your behalf. Provide them with tools and resources to make fundraising easy, such as online donation platforms, templates for emails and social media posts, and tips for successful fundraising.

Focus on Experience: Yes, raising money is your overall goal, but it's also very much about creating a memorable experience for participants. When I think about my time working for a charity, it's the amazing events and challenges that stay with me, not the contract or grant wins. Whether it’s a fun run, a bake-off, or an abseil challenge, ensuring that participants have a positive and enjoyable experience can lead to repeat involvement and enthusiastic promotion.

Thank and Recognise: Never, ever forget to show appreciation to your participants and supporters. Thank-you notes, recognition on social media, and post-event celebrations will help build lasting relationships and encourage ongoing support.

Involving Beneficiaries in Fundraising

One often overlooked aspect of successful community fundraising is involving beneficiaries themselves. When beneficiaries are actively engaged in fundraising activities, it fosters a deeper sense of ownership and connection to the charity. Here’s how you can do this:

Involve Beneficiaries in Planning: Engage your beneficiaries in the planning stages of fundraising events. Their insights and experiences can shape activities to be more inclusive and relevant.

Beneficiary-led Fundraising: If appropriate, encourage beneficiaries to lead or participate in fundraising initiatives. And give them practical support from the wings. This is not just empowering, it can provide a powerful narrative that resonates with potential donors.

Share Stories: Highlight stories of your beneficiaries who have taken part in fundraising efforts. This not only showcases their involvement but also personalises the cause, making it more relatable to supporters.

Avoiding Over-Reliance on Individual Fundraising

Individual fundraising efforts can be significant,but you want to avoid putting too much onus on individuals, which can lead to burnout and frustration. Here’s how you can avoid over-reliance:

Diversify Fundraising Methods: Don’t rely solely on individual fundraising. Incorporate a mix of events, corporate partnerships, grants, and direct donations to spread the workload and risk.

Provide Support: Offer robust support to individuals who are fundraising on your behalf. This can include training, resources, and regular check-ins to ensure they feel supported and valued.

Recognise Efforts: Always acknowledge and celebrate the efforts of individual fundraisers. Public recognition, thank-you events, and small tokens of appreciation can go a long way in maintaining morale and commitment.


Community fundraising, through events and challenges, offers small charities a dynamic and inclusive way to generate sustainable income. Its flexibility, broad appeal, and ability to strengthen community ties make it an essential tool in the fundraising toolkit. By understanding the unique strengths of your charity, making use of local partnerships, and focusing on creating memorable experiences, you can maximise the potential of community fundraising while building lasting relationships with your supporters.

The key to success lies in creativity, genuine engagement, and continuous appreciation of those who contribute to your cause.


Head and shoulders photo of the blog writer

Hello! I'm Jenny Hopkins, a charity consultant, creator of The Boiling Frog and 'Tools for Charities'. After an early career in publishing, I moved to the charity sector as CEO of a regional frontline charity. Over a period of ten years, I was able to transform it into an award-winning organisation and trusted partner of local health and social care statutory bodies. I stepped back a few years ago to undertake a part-time PhD research study on - yes, you guessed it! - charities, alongside my work mentoring leaders of small charities. My ‘Tools for Charities’ is a unique resource aimed at saving you time and stress associated with some of the regular and not-so-regular tasks associated with charity leadership and governance.

I use The Boiling Frog blog as a way to reflect and challenge my own experience and perceptions about the role of charities in society today. I am a director of Penleaf, a B-Corp accredited business consultancy. I also volunteer as a trustee of two local charities.


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