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The best over-the-top office fundraising ideas

October 10, 2018 by Stacy Lee Kong

Fundraising champion
Illustrations by Jackie Besteman

Is your annual bake sale getting stale? Here are seven outrageous (and outrageously successful) ways to raise money for a worthy cause

Last year, U.S. Buzzfeed writer Patrick Baker did whatever his co-workers asked him to for one week—including eating a raw onion during a meeting and rattling a tambourine every time he ended a conversation. It was an office fundraising idea that wound up raising $100 (each “task” cost his co-workers five bucks) for Red Nose Day, an annual initiative that aims to end child poverty through humour.

If, like Baker, you’ve been longing to put the “fun” back in “fundraiser” in your place of business, now’s your chance. Here are seven fundraising event ideas that will have your co-workers singing your praises—and opening their wallets for a good cause.

1. Share a fair wage

Back in 2004, a doctor at Markham Stouffville Hospital—Dr. Jane Philpott, now Canada’s federal Minister of Indigenous Services—came up with the ultimate office fundraiser: Give A Day to World AIDS. The campaign allows participating employees to donate a day’s pay to the Stephen Lewis Foundation or Dignitas International. When Michael Fekete, a partner at Toronto law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt, heard about Philpott’s idea, he was inspired to do the same thing at his own firm. It was the height of the AIDS/HIV pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, Fekete says, so getting involved was an easy decision.

Osler has participated in Give A Day to World AIDS ever since (and encouraged other Canadian law firms to take part, too). Last year, the firm’s donations topped $125,000, and its total donation is more than $1.5 million. Employees can contribute via payroll deduction, online donation or cheque—it has become a hugely popular fundraiser. “The success of the campaign at Osler is attributable to broad support among staff, associates and partners,” Fekete says. “The campaign allows us to work together so that—in a small way—we can make the world a better place.”

Fundraising coin jar

2. Say a bad word

In 2015, the Kingston chapter of The Canadian Hearing Society raised $3,500 for United Way…by swearing. (Every expletive cost them all their coins in a company swear jar.) And they’re not the only business to ban bad language for a good cause. In 2014, Calgary-based software company Acurve challenged one of its directors, Jay Gohill, to “go an entire day without swearing”—something other staffers bet almost $400 that he wouldn’t be able to do. Luckily, they were wrong. Gohill and other directors matched staff donations, so the company could contribute $1,900 to Women In Need Society, a not-for-profit “shopping alternative” that helps provide basic needs to women experiencing poverty.

3. Take a pic of your pet

There’s a reason the internet is clogged with photos of furry creatures just generally being cute. So, when an HR staffer at the Chalk River location of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories suggested a cutest pet contest in 2015, small wonder it was a massive success. CNL employees sent in photos of their pets for consideration in one of three categories: dog, cat and other. Top contenders included a hedgehog named Sweet Pea, a Guinea pig named Icing and Gracie, an adorable spaniel who was the winning entry. The entry fee is $5, and all proceeds go towards the company’s annual fundraising campaign for United Way. That first year, CNL’s total donation was $140,000—and this year saw more than 90 entries.

4. Throw a ball

Paladin Security Group has partnered with Make-A-Wish for years, says Chris Campbell, the company’s director of marketing and communications, and generally takes its cue from the interests of the child they’re supporting. In 2015 when Paladin’s Canada-wide workforce raised more than $11,000 so a four-year-old named Jace could go to Disney World, many offices focused on initiatives they thought Jace would approve of. “Jace’s favourite food was spaghetti, so several of the branches had a spaghetti dinner event,” Campbell says. The Toronto office focused on his love of sports—and organized a hugely successful dodgeball tournament. “The staff loved the idea of throwing balls at management,” Campbell says. “It was a fun, creative way to blow off steam, come together as a branch—and all for a good cause. We actually had to turn people away because we only had so much time and gym space.”

Fundraising idea - throw a ball

5. Get your game on

Screen-savvy parents, take note—playing video games all night is sometimes a good thing! During Extra Life, an international gaming fundraiser that benefits local hospitals in the Children’s Miracle Network, participants commit to playing video, card or board games for a full 24 hours, raising money via pledges. Last year, a small but mighty group of staff and students at the University of Prince Edward Island took part in this successful event, raising $200 for IWK Health Centre in Halifax. And Extra Life has plenty of potential for fundraising greatness; there’s an Edmonton group of gamers that raised $75,000 this year.

6. Stand your ground

In 2014, advertising agency FCB came up with a creative way to support the World Wildlife Federation’s arctic conservation efforts: They created an “Arctic Escape” challenge that required staffers to stand on an “iceberg” (a round rug with a picture of an iceberg on it). They couldn’t step off the rug for an hour—unless they could call, email or social media stalk their friends and families and convince them to donate $50. (It sure beats another popular ice-themed fundraiser: Polar bear dips in Lake Ontario in mid-February!)

7. Get cooking

For the past eight years, ViVitro Labs and StarFish Medical in Victoria, B.C. have raised money for the Mustard Seed food bank, thanks largely to big pots of chili. The rules are simple: participating staffers cook up a warm crockpot of chili or curry, then everyone heads to the “highly exclusive chili contest sampling arena,” where, for a $10 donation, they can taste all the offerings and vote for their favourite. “The winning recipes vary from year to year, but a complicated version involving chocolate has received top marks multiple years,” says StarFish’s head of marketing, Mike Camplin. “Unfortunately, the chef still hasn’t divulged her recipe!”

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