Dinner Fundraiser

This is a tried and true favorite fundraising for most churches and many schools.  It can be very successful for any organization that has access to a hall with kitchen facilities and willing hands to prepare and serve.  Everyone likes to eat and enjoys getting together.  You can choose any meal; breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anything in between from high tea to ice cream social.   Make it as  formal as a black tie gala or as casual as a picnic cookout.  It can be catered or home-cooked.  Make it a one-time event or an annual affair.

It often helps to combine a fundraising meal with some other activity such as a dance, choir concert, lecture series, or a fundraising auction.  Providing a meal may make it easier for families to attend a week night church service or special school assembly.  Serve a pancake breakfast after an early church service; coffee and dessert after a concert or boxed lunches during a conference. When used as a prelude to some other activity, the meal need not be spectacular, merely filling and wholesome, served hot and timely.  Spaghetti or meat loaf, soup and salad come to mind.

Spaghetti can also serve as a stand alone fundraiser, with your special sauce, salad and garlic bread.  To be really successful, your dinner should offer something a bit unique (or considered difficult, time consuming, messy, or requiring special knowledge to make).  The best events often capitalize on some cultural heritage (i.e. Italian ravioli, Texas chili, Southern fish fry,  Louisiana crawfish boil).   Develop a signature dish or go with a theme (Irish dishes for St. Patrick’s Day, a German Octoberfest, authentic international meals from a different country each year).  If you hit on the right recipes, these events can become yearly standards, anticipated throughout the community.   Once established, you can increase profits with both plate service and take home portions or cartons.

If you want to attract the general public, make sure you appoint a publicity chairman to get out flyers and posters in neighborhood stores.  Submit your event for inclusion in the community calendar in your local newspaper and on the radio.  If you’ve chosen a unique menu, you might even get a ‘human interest’ article.  Also encourage your members to invite friends and neighbors.

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You’ll have to decide how to serve your fundraising meal.  Table service is more formal and allows for closer time scheduling, since everyone is served at once (or as closely as possible) but it takes more workers to serve everyone.  A buffet is less formal, but often your best choice logistically.  Cafeteria style works  fine for more informal events. is  It’s a good idea to have separate cooks and clean-up crew.  Spreading the work around keeps volunteers from burning out.

Tickets. You’ll need to sell tickets ahead of time for more formal and catered events, at the door for others.  The price should be set to cover your costs and provide a profit or its not much of a fundraiser.

Here are some sample meals and ideas to get you thinking:

A Formal Affair Fundraising:  A formal dinner calls for linen tablecloths and napkins, as well as centerpieces.  We decorated our church fellowship hall in formal black and white. The menu was: Prime Rib, baked ham, baked potatoes, green beans, glazed carrots, salad, fruit cup, variety of breads, a dessert table with elegant desserts, ice cream, coffee, tea. Donations given at the door. Youth helped prepare and serve the meal. Most food donated.

Amish Turkey Dinner Fundraising:  Amish turkey, buttered potatoes, peas, applesauce, pie and ice cream. Everyone invited to stay. Youth make applesauce from donated apples.

Soup and Pie Supper Fundraising: Soup is made at church and parents bring the pies. We have it after church on Sunday (like the Sunday we have the annual meeting).

Soup Cellar Fundraising: Made homemade soup and served it on three Sundays at noon (once a month). Received $1,170 through free-will offerings. We found that people in general gave more through giving an “offering” than if a set charge was made per bowl of soup.

Soup, Salad, and Dessert Fundraising: Had a salad bar, chicken noodle, cream of broccoli and chili soups, rolls and Jell-O dessert, the youth bring in the food. Fellowship enjoyed by congregation.

Taco Salad Bar Fundraising: Taco salad bar with all the trimmings, decorated the fellowship hall with streamers, tissue flowers, etc., played Mexican music and dressed in colorful clothing and hats. Meal was by donation.

Talent Show and Dinner Fundraising: Made a meal for the congregation on a Sunday after church. After the meal we held a talent show and a pie auction. The congregation donated money for their meal as well as bid on the pies. Some pies sold as high as $20.

Youth Sunday Sandwich Meal Fundraising: A tradition for us is to serve a noon meal on the day we have youth Sunday. Youth are in charge of the service, plus serve a meal of hot sandwiches, Jell-O, chips, relishes and ice cream. By donation.

Soup & Sweets Fundraising: Tickets to the Soup & Sweets are sold for “$X” each.   For this price the purchaser may choose a soup of their choice in the buffet line, sample a sweet from the dessert table and have coffee or tea.  Following the luncheon the person may remain for a some type of scheduled event at which donated door prizes are presented. Six months or a year prior to the luncheon, the committee in charge arranges for a location for the event.  One month beforehand, the Soups Committee contacts local restaurants to see if they are willing to donate “X” gallons of their specialty soup for the luncheon.  The number of restaurants will vary with the size of the luncheon.  The restaurants will usually be glad to co-operate if the “cause” is one that appeals to the community as a whole.  An alternative is to have members of your organization make various soups in quantity with ingredients financed by the group.  When the soups are donated by the restaurants, this fact may be used for effective publicity for the affair.  With the permission of the restaurants, recipes for some of the soups may be given in the newspaper release advertising the Soups & Sweets. A Sweet Committee arranges with members of the organization to make a variety of deserts for the buffet.  They need to encourage elaborate and special desserts – with members donating these (or you might use restaurants as well to supply these). Each member of the group should be responsible for selling a definite number of tickets.  This serves the double purpose advertising the luncheon and giving the approximate number of those planning to attend.  The group may sell a limited number of tickets at the door on the day of the event.  Any soup that is left over can be packaged in Styrofoam containers and sold.

Two-Buck Lunch Fundraising: Most people go out to lunch with other people from their office and spend lots of money on costly meals every week. Help them and help your youth group at the same time. Pick a week and make announcements to the offices in your area that you will be selling sack lunches. Have your group make enough lunches for all the offices in your area. Take about 20 lunches to each office (this number may vary depending on how many people work there). Put a flyer in front of the lunches explaining what you are earning money for and what comes in each lunch. Sell the lunches for $2.00. (You could even sell them for $3.00 if you feel like it’s not too much.) Leave a box or something where they can put their money. Be sure to keep close count of how many lunches you leave and how much money is earned each day. This could turn into an ongoing relationship between you and certain offices. Let them know that they are free to call with orders and you will provide lunches according to what and when they order.  Sources: Youth for Christ/USA (Englewood, California) and Mennonite 1999 Youth Convention (Elkhart, Indiana)

We have included a number of do-it-yourself fundraising ideas in this section that offer a break from traditional product sales.  They were developed by groups just like yours in an attempt have a little fun with their fundraiser. Some of them are tried and true while others show a lot of creativity … and even wackiness in some cases.  All of them are obviously not appropriate for every group, but sometimes, with only a little modification, your might find some fund raising ideas that are perfect for your group. If you have an idea for a do-it-yourself fund raiser you are willing to share with others, please send it to us via email. Include anything and everything you would want to know if you were hearing the idea for the first time.