With college students you have several advantages. An active existing college community means there are many resources available and existing relationships with possible sponsors and partners. You often have access to a bit more of an initial investment, along with a really big group to work with who can do most of the planning and set-up.
Sales can really be unique for the college crowd, given a little more leeway on what participants can do. Having more resources available such as art departments and school papers means easier advertising to a wide audience along with the chance to use some fun ideas.
While car washes are popular, you can also have students put together a calendar for the cheerleading or football team. Raffle off prizes you already have on hand like a team helmet signed by the quarterback. Auctioning students off for a day is another crowd pleaser, and with supplies in the art department you can set up a puppet show and sell tickets.
Competitions are a good opportunity to get staff, and especially faculty involved. Here you can have students donating time to force faculty to do stunts, which means fun for students and crowds alike. Get kids sponsored for tournaments or endurance tests like marathons, skipping contests, or trivia face-offs. Then have staff swear to shave their head, swallow raw eggs, or wear stupid costumes once sponsorships hit a certain level.
Video gaming is also popular for the college crowd, and you can work with the audio-visual department and students own game systems to make it happen. Round up some televisions, consider renting several copies of a game and borrowing some systems, and have it projected on screens for the crowds to watch. Set this up in the student union building, talk with your existing fast-food and coffee vendors, and make a night of it.
The college crowd offers a great opportunity to take examples directly from television shows such as Survivor, and will appeal to those who are glued to their favorite episodes. Set up obstacle courses with the help of the sports department, make your own “So You Think You Can Dance”, or work with the culinary department to set up your own “Hell’s Kitchen”. Sell tickets, ask for sponsors, and advertise in your college papers and community.
Errands are another fundraising tool that works well with college students who often have more mobility (cars and existing bus passes) and can do harder work such as house-painting or snow-shovelling. Get students to donate a few hours to helping people move, walk dogs, or clean up trash. Community involvement is always a big winner and allows students to rack up some volunteer experience as well as helping with fundraising. Town councils, local businesses, and other community groups will sponsor in exchange for getting their name out there.
Events and workshops make a great opportunity to combine existing relationships with college fundraising. Is a popular author coming to the bookstore and willing to come out to an event at your college as well as a favor, knowing that the added exposure is great for them too? Will local businesses sponsor speakers for you, or even offer one of their own employees to do a talk one night? How about one of your well-known alumni; will they be willing to offer some time to a home-town event? Staff could also pitch in by offering one-night workshops or participating in special events. Can you partner with a favorite coffee shop to have your professors serve students one day?
Definitely see what members of the student union can offer as well. College students can arrange movie nights, pillow parties, dance lessons, or any hobby you can think of and invite everyone in town. Remember younger days by making gimp bracelets or having an 80’s party with scrunchies, big hair, and ripped jeans. The sports team can help people make bandannas in college colors. Grab computer programming students and some projection equipment to host a “beginners guide to the ‘net” workshop.
Maybe the fashion department can help make costumes, or arts can help make decorations. This is an excellent time to encourage students to gather volunteer work on their resume, and businesses to contribute for some media attention. Canvas departments and think of ways each can find a way to fundraise that is fun and matches the department’s focus. For example, student nurses can “check vitals” for donations, culinary departments can donate baking results (that would be a good time to taste-test early on), and environmental students can clean up the park or have a bike-a-thon to raise awareness about alternative transportation.
Avoid the obvious, mundane, or so-completely-over-it fundraising activities that everyone has done time and time again. College students offer more opportunities to do something exciting, and will be more motivated by egg drops or head shaves then selling candy bars. Gaining participation will be easier when people aren’t rolling their eyes at yet another car wash. If you have to go that route at least spice it up by getting the football players to do it in full gear (how easy do you think it’d be to cleaning up nooks and crannies with all that extra padding and helmets too?). Fun is foremost, and leveraging existing sponsorships and resources can make fundraising cooler.