10 New Ideas for Creative Fundraising Thermometers

If you want to achieve a goal, what steps do you take? Well, first you write it down; second, you work on it every day; and third, you track your progress. This process should apply to every fundraising activity you undertake. By setting clear goals, you give the people in your organization a definite understanding of what they’re out to accomplish and motivate them to get it done.

Tracking a fundraising campaign’s progress has traditionally been accomplished using a thermometer. The goal amount is placed at the top, and the tube is colored in as more funds are raised. It’s a very simple idea that can provide excellent motivation for those raising the money.

There’s no reason to stick to the basic, bland mercury thermometer archetype. If you want people to take notice of your cause, then it’s time to ditch the work of Daniel Fahrenheit and embrace some newer ideas. Here are 10 creative ideas for your next fundraising thermometer:


1. “Pie” Graph

Selling baked goods — pies, cakes, pastries, even pizzas — is a common source of funds. So why not set up an empty pie pan as your thermometer? Place your goal at the top of the pie, and have each slice denote a certain dollar amount. You can use it as a selling tool: “if you buy four pizzas, we get another slice added to our pie.” You’ll have that whole pie before you know it!

2. Build a Phrase

The first step in this one is to concoct a phrased based on your fundraising cause. If, for instance, you are raising money for breast cancer research, the phrase could be: “Please help us raise money to help prevent and cure breast cancer.” From there, you divide your goal amount by the number of characters in the phrase; each letter costs that amount. To make things even more interesting, you can keep the phrase a secret, and have the members of your organization buy various letters to solve the puzzle. It will be your own personal Wheel of Fortune!

It is particularly helpful to create a longer phrase for this kind of thermometer. This way, the dollar amount for each letter is lower. It is always advisable to break down a large goal into small bits, as to make the smaller goals more attainable (like setting long-term and short-term goals).

3. Roadmap

If your group is raising funds for travel expenses, creating a road map is the perfect way to track your progress. The simplest way is to draw dots at your starting and ending point, and color in as you accumulate money. Taking this further, you can make a model car or plane to move along as funds grow.

Another interesting twist of this idea is to plot intermittent points along your route. Say you’re starting in New York and your organization is planning a trip to San Francisco. Points along the way could include Cleveland, Chicago, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, and Reno. By adding a dollar amount to each city, you can display how much further you need to get to reach your goal. It also adds a bit of motivation to the people in your organization raising the funds: “We’ve got enough to make it to Salt Lake City. Help us raise enough to make it down the home stretch to San Francisco!”

4. Filling the Grandstands

A perfect fundraising thermometer for sports teams is to use a picture of empty grandstands. When you raise X dollars, paste a person into a seat. This can be fun for your organization, as they can either draw the people to paste into the stands, or use pictures of friends and family. Keep it up, and soon the stands will be filled with fans waiting to cheer on their favorite team.

5. You Must Be This Tall to Ride

This fundraising thermometer works best in an online forum, since the requires alterations to an image. The idea is to have a small boy standing on line for a carnival ride, but is far shorter than the minimum height requirement. As funds pour in, the boy gets taller and taller, until he’s finally tall enough to ride. This is particularly useful if your organization is selling tickets to an entertainment event.

6. Christmas Tree

A common fundraising thermometer during the holiday season is a Christmas tree. In a similar fashion to the picture-building thermometer, this usually comprises an outline of a Christmas tree, with portions being colored in and the star representing the goal. That’s all fine and good, but why not take it a step further?

You can set up a very dynamic way of tracking your fundraising progress by using an actual Christmas tree. You and your organization can string it up with lights, but without the bulbs in place (make sure the lights aren’t in series, or this won’t work). When you reach one of your intermittent goals, screw in a light bulb. Once you’ve reached your goal, plug in the star.

7. Picture-building thermometer

In essence, a traditional fundraising thermometer is just building a picture; for each dollar you earn, a bit of the picture is filled in. Why not make your thermometer more cause-specific?

If, for instance, you are raising money for an addition to your church, draw an outline of the entire church, including the addition. As you make progress, fill in the outline for the new section. Once you’re complete, fill in the entire church to signify that the building is whole and that you have succeeded in your efforts.

8. Andy Warhol Canned Food Drive

While the term fundraising implies money, sometimes a campaign can be as simple as a canned food drive. Even so, you still want to track your progress. A fun and easy way to accomplish this is to use Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can paintings as your thermometer. If your goal is to collect 500 cans of food, you can make each painted can represent five collected cans. Boy, will that canvas look full once you’ve succeeded!

9. Move Up in the Standings

Another idea for a sports fundraising thermometer is to post fake standings, with your team at the bottom. Ahead of them will be their most heated rivals, each with a dollar amount assigned to them. Once you reach a team’s value, you move ahead of them. Not only will this track your progress, but it will serve as motivation to raise more money. After all, you can’t let Valley sit atop the standings for long!

10. Behind Door No.1

We’ve mentioned that setting intermittent goals and determining what can be accomplished with those funds is a good way to motivate your organization. But what if they had to work to reveal what those funds can get them?

After each milestone is achieved, the dollar amount can be replaced by what it can bring the organization. So not only is everyone working to achieve the main goal, but they’re also plugging away to reveal what’s next.