Your Guide to the Best Food to Have at a Fundraiser

Nothing brings the people running like a tasty treat! So, if you’re planning on hosting a fundraiser, you need to know how to satisfy your guests — sweet tooth and savory tooth alike! Unless you’re a trained chef or professional cook, this might sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. We have some practical tips on the best food to have at a fundraiser, fundraiser dinner ideas, and even suggestions for some easy food to sell and make money as your guests are supporting you from the comfort of their own home.

best food to have at a fundraiser
Looking for food to serve at a fundraiser? There are a few surefire hits to consider.

As you plan, remember that the two biggest concerns for a food-focused fundraiser are cost and preparation. Whether you’re bringing people to a meal or inspiring others to purchase food for use at home, you want to make sure you keep your costs low and your profits high in order to select the best food for fundraising events.

Location is also critical! If you’re hosting a dinner at home, your menu options will be very different than those you would select if you’re trying to bring in as many guests (and dollars) as possible. Same with options for easy food to sell to make money. Here, your options should be as simple as possible to avoid spoilage or other problems. Boxes and dry goods are best — after all, those Girl Scout cookie sales are really on to something!

Why should I have food at my fundraiser?

It might sound simple, but hungry people being asked to give time and money aren’t happy people — they’re hangry people. And hangry people aren’t typically inspired to be generous! 

Happy people, however, especially those enjoying a wonderfully-organized opportunity to enjoy some delicious food while spending time with their neighbors, colleagues, and friends, are more likely to give.

But the main goal here is balance; you need to make sure you understand the best food to have at a fundraiser in order to keep the guests happy with the noshes, but also keep focus on the opportunities for giving — not just on the food!

The best food for fundraising events

So what does that balance look like? Well, it depends on the kind of event. Let’s look at some of the more popular options for both events and menus, and soon you’ll be planning your event, scheduling your sale, and being generally more confident about the best food to serve at a fundraiser (faster than you can say “spaghetti dinner” or “bake sale”).

1. The all-you-can-eat community banquet

best food to have at a fundraiser
Few phrases sound as sweet as “all you can eat”.

Whether it’s a spaghetti dinner, a pancake breakfast, or an old-fashioned fish-fry, these kinds of fundraiser dinner ideas are typically held in low-rent (preferably free!) locations with easy access to parking, comfortable seating, and included kitchens.

This means you’ll be looking for school cafeterias, church halls, or community centers — and you’ll want to have a big group of helpers who can monitor tables, keep the coffee hot, and help you make another batch of meatballs, scrambled eggs, or coleslaw to go with the menu choices.

2. The popcorn, cookie, or pizza-kit distribution sale

When it comes to easy food to sell to make money, these three items are tops on the list, in part because there are so many organizations and agencies that cater to this exact need. One company even tracked over 40 years of historical data about which popcorn kernels provide the best fundraising value!

The main consideration here is getting the goods to your participants with the least amount of time, cost, and trouble. If you’re selling pizza kits nationwide on social media, make sure that your preferred vendor offers reasonable (and eco-friendly!) refrigerated shipping options; nobody wants a melted, soggy package on their doorstep!

3. A hometown, old-fashioned bake sale

Sometimes the best food for fundraising events is the kind that makes people remember happier times. Just like Anton Ego in Ratatouille or Marcel Proust’s madeleine cookies in Remembrance of Things Past, the foods of our childhood make everything a bit sweeter.

If you sell the kinds of treats that make your buyers (and donors) think of days spent in the kitchen with their grandmas, conjuring up all the ooey-gooey chocolate memories of holidays gone by, you can make some real magic with your food-focused fundraiser — without needing to do anything too complicated, fancy, or expensive.

4. The DIY nacho, taco, or sundae bar

best food to have at a fundraiser
Better budget for extra guac!

In terms of set-up, the DIY food bar is also an “all-you-can-eat” experience and the basics for space and staffing are essentially the same. And, when it comes to the easiest food to serve at a fundraiser, you can’t get much simpler than nachos or tacos!

In fact, you could even combine the two into one event, since most of the same ingredients apply. It’s also super simple to organize a fun (and playful!) sundae bar; just remember the most important ingredient for a sundae, other than the ice cream, is to have plenty of toppings…and chocolate!

5. A gala event or a sit-down formal dinner

This event is by far the most cost-intensive choice when it comes to fundraiser dinner ideas, but this allows you to ask for more money from your diners and donors. You can book a hall in a hotel or event space (or, have the event in somebody’s home), but the key to the formal sit-down dinner or gala is having the right mix of menu options, ambience, and opportunities to give.

One popular option involves a silent auction during passed appetizers and cocktails, with the appeal for “open checkbooks” taking place during coffee and dessert. To keep yourself free to manage the details, you might even ask a local chef to host in their restaurant, letting them manage the costs and staffing — perhaps even donating some of the food costs to your cause!

Related: What’s the Best Day of the Week to Host a Fundraiser?

6. The breakfast or brunch buffet

Whether you’re hosting a breakfast or brunch, the key to the buffet format is to include a wide range of sweet and savory tastes. For breakfast or brunch food to serve at a fundraiser, think waffles with cream, made-to-order omelets, or breakfast Bahn Mi sandwiches; your only limit is your imagination.

Hydrating fruits are always a must, and the non-food items should include things like fresh flowers, good lighting, and even some live music to keep the morning sparking. Pro-tip: Plan to have fresh beverages (think juices, sparkling waters, agua frescas, coffees, teas) to keep everyone feeling light in the face of so many salty or sweet foods.

7. The light lunch (or cocktails and noshes)

best food to have at a fundraiser
Finger foods and easy cocktails are some of the best food to have at a fundraiser.

For this option, think tea parties, finger sandwiches, and lightly-dressed salads — maybe even fascinators and tea hats, champagne cocktails, and petit-four. Here, you’re looking for just enough food to serve at a fundraiser to keep people from getting cranky, but not enough that they’d actually get full.

Polite portions means mini bagels with lox and a smear, not a big ol’ breakfast sandwich version of the same. These kinds of fundraisers appeal most to people who want to be social, but not dedicate an entire evening to the cause. The ideal way to frame this is as a power-lunch for would-be donors to sip some things, eat a bit, and give generously.

8. The theme-based dinner

This kind of event is perfect if your fundraiser has a specific destination. For example, if you’re trying to raise money to travel to Africa for a safari, why not share some traditional African dishes, like muamba nsusu (chicken peanut soup), with your intended donors?

Planning to teach English in the Philippines? Your fundraiser dinner ideas could include a menu with chicken adobo for one of the main entrees and halo halo for dessert.

The best part of this kind of food-focused fundraiser is the opportunity to bring your guests and potential donors into the experience with you. They might not get to join you on your travels, but they can certainly share in the culinary elements of the culture you’ll experience when you’re there.

Use FundMyTravel and skip the food!

No matter what destination you choose for your next meaningful travel experience, you can make your trip even more affordable by launching a targeted travel campaign on FundMyTravel

From the toolkit of free resources to the access to other successful campaigns for inspiration, it’s the perfect solution to helping you pay your way to your next adventure — without putting you in the kitchen or at the bake sale booth! 

And, when you partner with the FundMyTravel platform, it’s just a matter of four easy steps to launch your campaign. You’ll soon be on your way to whichever country calls to you next!

These fundraiser dinner ideas are making us hungry!

best food to have at a fundraiser
Don’t forget about the classic crowd-pleaser — a cheese plate!

Sometimes the best meal can be found right at home, at your own table, while you plot out all of the places you want to visit, experience, learn from, and share. And, when you post your campaign on FundMyTravel.com, you’ll maximize the potential for budget-friendly opportunities to find their way to your laptop (sort of like your virtual doorstep), ultimately resulting in more passport stamps, more in-country culinary adventures, and more fun!

So if cooking up a storm sounds like fun — that’s great! One of the options listed above should help you kick off some great ideas about the best food to have at a fundraiser. If selling somebody else’s food is a bit more your speed, there are all kinds of options for easy food to sell to make money.

But if sitting back with some popcorn, or some leftover pizza is more your speed, that’s fine too! Just let FundMyTravel do the heavy lifting while you get your list, make your budget, create a campaign, and get started today.

Want more great fundraising tips? Head to FundMyTravel.com to sign up for our Newsletter!

andi sciacca

This article was written by Andi Sciacca. Andi is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband and their four-legged family. She works with inspired professionals who are expert practitioners, experienced educators, and well-known contributors to their field. Andi helps them take ideas and put them into practice. When not working or writing, she loves to experience music, see the world, and learn new things. Andi’s favorite places to travel include anywhere she can eat good food—and swim.

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