How to Hold a Fundraiser for Cancer-Tips for Success

by Heather Erickson

Cancer can take a terrible toll on a family’s finances. One way of lightening the load is to hold a fundraiser or “benefit.” I’m often asked about ideas for raising finances for a cancer patient. I thought I’d share not only those ideas but our personal experience as, well.

Erickson Family

Do you have the Support?

The biggest key to success is support. When choosing a benefit, consider whether or not you can get people to participate. People are more likely to participate if they have a personal interest in your situation. Even if your circle of friends is small, if those friends can be mobilized, you can still have a successful benefit.

If any of them belong to community organizations or churches, they may be able to get more people on board to help out the cause. Even more important is to get a natural organizer to head things up. You know that person. The one who can think of ten different possibilities at once? They have ideas you’ve never dreamed of and connections to get things rolling. That’s the person you want to lead the way. It can’t be you. You have your plate full already—fighting cancer if you’re a patient, and supporting your loved one if you are a caregiver.

Make it what you want

A benefit to raise financial support for a cancer patient can be simple, or it can involve several components. Consider a combination of ideas that can offer opportunities for friends and family to volunteer to help with the benefit, as well as a variety of ways to offer financial support. The best thing to do is have an initial brainstorming session. Think about the assets your supporters have, and how to best utilize them.
For example, is there a local small business owner who is willing to back a fundraiser? They often have specials they can run, where a percentage of the proceeds are donated to you.

Is there a grocer that will let a group of teens bag groceries for donations toward your fundraiser?
Could you wash cars for donations?
Consider any of these other ideas and how they can be integrated into your benefit.

Have a Meal

Supper Fund Raiser

Spaghetti dinners are very popular, but you can have whatever fare fits your style. Other ideas are barbecues, sub sandwiches, pizza parties, etc. The possibilities are as endless as your palette. Of course, some meals are more expensive than others, potentially cutting into the bottom line.

We had a benefit picnic. We served kosher hot dogs, chips, and soda, purchased from a warehouse club. Another idea for a picnic is to have a potluck. People love the variety of foods at a potluck. Family and friends can contribute a dish or two.

Paying the Bill

Some people choose to sell a "meal ticket." Lots of charitable organizations have benefit dinners that are done this way. It helps with planning how much food to have on hand. A more casual approach is to ask for a donation. You can suggest a donation or leave it open to whatever the donor wants to give. This second option is what I would recommend. For one thing, you will be amazed at the kindness of others.

When we had a benefit for my husband, we chose to let people eat as much as they wanted, and donate as they saw fit, using envelopes strategically located on all of the picnic tables. We wanted everyone to feel welcome, and to donate financial support as they felt comfortable. People were truly generous.



While entertainment isn't necessary, it can make a benefit more enjoyable. People also tend to stay longer if there is some form of entertainment. You probably have some very talented people in your circle of friends and family. You could do a combination of speakers, and musical or comedic talent. Always be aware of your audience. You don't want off colored jokes that will offend people.


My husband’s son is an amazing musician. He and his band played the music for our benefit picnic. We invited everyone we knew to come. The music created an atmosphere that made people want to stick around and talk with each other. Someone even brought their puppies which were a big hit with everyone—especially the kids. The best part of this was that we got to visit with people, some of whom we hadn't seen in a long time. The benefit did more than raise financial support. It raised our spirits, as well.

Additional Things You Can Include

Raffles are great. You can ask local businesses if they would like to donate:
• Merchandise
• Services like haircuts, car washes, lawn care, etc.
• Meals
• Tickets
• Anything you can think of

Our real estate company donated some beautiful gift baskets to raffle off. Our nieces created hand-made cards that they sold. All of this contributed greatly to an account that helped pay our expenses. 


It's important to keep track of money that is donated, as well as expenses. A family member set up a PayPal account so that people could donate online. Funds were kept in a special account. There are things like Go Fund Me that can solicit donations of financial support online for a fee (usually a percentage). Check with your tax advisor if you have any questions at tax time.

What didn’t work?

We had a garage sale and asked that people contribute whatever they felt was appropriate. This wasn't successful. Because we were dealing with strangers, a lot of people were suspicious. You could see they thought we might be scamming them. We also had to endure a lot of unsolicited advice and recommendations for miracle cures that my husband should try.

A garage sale that could work

One thing that could work is a multi-family garage sale, (or even better) garage sales in multiple locations. People could donate items to sell, knowing that the proceeds would go toward financial support for the cancer patient and his or her family.

My takeaway on raising financial support:
Whatever you, do, it will need to involve people you know. They care. Strangers don’t care and usually won’t give a dime. Anything you can think of has the potential to work, as long as people care.

Your turn
What are some ideas for fundraisers that you've seen? Share them in the comment section below!

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer , is available on
I blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace

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