Fundraising: Trends, Best Practices, and New Ideas

Soaring temperatures set against the relative quiet of campus can mean only one thing: Summer has begun, and student union leaders are taking advantage of the slow season by focusing on projects that will prepare them for the busy fall semester.

These projects take many forms. The Office of Facility Management at the University of Louisiana–Lafayette, for example, will use modified summer hours to allow for construction within the school’s student union, which will include the addition of highly requested dining options. Similarly, Arkansas Tech University is starting work this summer on a new student union and recreation center designed to enhance community engagement, facilitate greater wellness, and recruit and retain students.

Other student union professionals are using the balmy weather and free time to brainstorm, schedule, and even host fundraisers that will support community-building in the school year ahead. In a recent discussion on ACUI’s Open Forum, a member looking for fresh fundraising ideas for a summer project asked for some advice. Here are some ideas The Bulletin compiled through comments from forum participants and other higher ed, student-focused resources.

Know the Rules

When pursuing any student union fundraising activity, it’s essential to make sure you’re playing by the rules in terms of local, state, and federal laws. Then, examine your university’s fundraising policies and guidelines.

At the University of Minnesota, for example, “A group’s privileges of engaging in…fundraising activities is subject to immediate cancellation if the methods used interfere with general university operations, are disorderly, improper, obstruct traffic, or if they otherwise interfere with an individual.”

Among other rules, the University of Minnesota also requires sponsoring student groups to prominently display their name on all fundraising-related advertising and communications pieces, as well as all reserved event spaces and contact tables, which must be staffed at all times by student group members. Check your school’s policies and guidelines to ensure you operate within the intended guardrails.

Keep up with Trends

Now, more than three years after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic, educational fundraising is on the rise. According to the most recent Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Voluntary Support of Education survey, higher ed institutions received 12.5 percent more donations in 2022, representing the most significant year-over-year increase in more than two decades.

While the donations in the study were given to schools for scholarships and research projects, the trend may bode well for higher education fundraising success in general, possibly even at the student union level.

Another fundraising trend student union leaders shouldn’t ignore is the power of digital fundraising. According to the Blackbaud Institute’s latest Charitable Giving Report, online giving increased by a whopping 42 percent from 2018-2021.

As this Bulletin article notes, mobile technology serves as a bridge for connecting educational leadership with newer, more digitally savvy generations, such as Gen Z. Bolster any fundraising campaign with opportunities for digital peer-to-peer donations through platforms like GoFundMe, and advertise your fundraisers through all of the most popular social media sites.

Payment technology is another critical consideration. Some educational institutions allow student organizations to collect funds through peer-to-peer mobile payment apps like Venmo, CashApp, and Zelle for specified purposes. Others prefer to use official, university-sanctioned payment apps that deposit directly into a university-owned bank account.

Aside from digital technology, another trend in student organization fundraising involves teaming up. In 2022, Colorado State University’s Black Student Alliance (BSU) supported other on-campus student organizations, including Africans United and United Men of Color, through a fundraising gala designed to raise money for Black success.

The event was marketed toward all students. “We’re advertising this event as celebrating and recognizing Black excellence, but that doesn’t mean that this event is only for Black students,” sophomore Shaza Mohamed told the Rocky Mountain Collegian at the time. “All students are welcome and encouraged to attend.”

Experiment with New Ideas

While homemade cake sales are often the staple of student org fundraisers, branching out with other sweet treats may result in higher returns. Consider partnering with your culinary arts department to sell tickets to all-you-can-eat events such as Eastern New Mexico University’s “Chocolate Sundays.”

Or, for a summer twist, consider partnering with a local ice cream shop that agrees to contribute a portion of the proceeds when the student organization is mentioned. Don’t limit yourself to food: car washes, fun runs, field days, and Fourth of July-themed raffles offer alternative summer fundraising options.

Jenn Cook, Leadership and Community Engagement, Western Washington University, said retaining an element of fun is important.

“Our students get a kick out of pie throwing, whether it’s at each other or administrators,” Cooke wrote. “One club held a pumpkin-smashing event.”

Cook said merchandise sales are becoming increasingly popular: Think succulents, candles, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and reusable bags. “Buy low, sell higher, and have a catchy phrase,” Cook said.


  • Christine Preusler

    Christine Preusler, Managing Editor at The Wyman Company in Gainesville, Florida, writes The Lead for ACUI's biweekly newsletter, The Bulletin. Christine uses more than 15 years of experience in publication management and a master’s in mass communications from the University of Florida to highlight the latest industry news and create thought-provoking content. Contact her via email ( with story ideas and announcements you'd like to see in the newsletter.