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How To Make Fundraisers Go Viral

Several nonprofits have figured out how to make their events the buzziest of the year, while also raising some cash. We talked to some to get their secrets

Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen
Sips & Suppers


The sold-out two-day event kicks off Jan. 30 (postponed from this weekend) with “Sips” on Saturday night at the Newseum and “Suppers” on Sunday night in 35 private homes. DC Central Kitchen spokeswoman Erica Teti-Zilinskas says the eighth annual event has raised over $2M since its founding. 

The Saturday night event, which features drinks and food samples from DC restaurants, tends to draw a younger crowd, each paying $125 for general admission or $200 for the VIP lounge. 


Suppers features seated meals prepared by well-known chefs from DC and other major cities served in private homes for 15 to 25 guests. Those tickets run $600 per person, and it's a bit more intimate that the Sips event. 

Erica (above) says the events are successful because they raise money for two well-established DC organizations and draw from both sets of supporters. Another benefit is being able to draw renowned chefs and restaurants for both nights. Being able to choose between two different ticket prices ($125 for one night; $600 for the second night) also makes it attractive for different people.

Tip: Start early—get a date set and start lining up people to promote the event. 

Covenant House
Sleep Out


Covenant House, which helps homeless teens all over the country, has always been involved in peer-to-peer events, like endurance races, where people commit to a fundraising goal on behalf of the organization. But the organization wanted to build its own platform, so it created Sleep Out, a one-night event where professionals experience what it’s like to sleep on the streets

The event started with 50 executives in New York and has grown to 20 cities and six or seven major Sleep Outs per year, says Covenant House development SVP Tod Monaghan. It’s grown to include Broadway stars, real estate executives and moms. It’s also raised $16M over the past five years

“I’ve come to realize that regardless of someone’s ability to give, they start to get tired of the typical structure of a gala, dance or chicken dinner,” says Tod. 


Tod and CHNY's Brandy Zahner, with Keith, a resident, after running the NYC Half Marathon.

The sleep-out allows participants to talk to the homeless youth involved with Covenant House. Then at 10:30pm, they’re given a box, a trash bag and a sleeping bag and told to find a place to sleep within a certain zoned off, secured area outdoors. The next morning they eat breakfast together and talk about the night's challenges

Tod (above) says the program has been so successful because it not only introduces participants to the people that Covenant House serves, but also allows them to experience what life is like for the teens in a controlled setting. 

Tip: Look for creative ways to show people the mission, from a homemade video that can be texted to bringing them in for discussions on what the organization is doing. 

Children’s Tumor Foundation
Cupid’s Undie Run


Running through the streets of a major city in your underwear sounds like one of those crazy dreams you tell co-workers about the next day.  

But Cupid’s Undie Run is a real event that draws thousands of people running about a mile in their underwear to raise money for neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body. The race was started by Chad Leathers six years ago in DC in honor of his brother Drew, who died of the disease last August. 



The founding team behind Cupid's Undie Run, including Chad (left).

Children’s Tumor Foundation communications VP Simon Vukelj says the event is fun for the families affected by NF, but also attracts a good amount of media attention, which helps to shed light on the disease. It’s held in 36 cities and raised $3M last year, drawing 17,000 pant-less runners. This year the goal is to have 25,000 runners. 

Tip: Simon says it’s important to offer a variety of fundraising opportunities for people. Some donors would rather put on their best threads to attend a gala rather than strip down to their underwear. 

“We put ourselves in discomfort to honor what these families are going through,” Simon says. “It’s for some and not for others and that’s OK. Everyone needs to choose the way they’re jumping in.”