Planning a Fundraiser for a Cancer Patient

How to raise money for someone who has cancer

White cancer ribbon for lung cancer awareness
ThitareeSarmkasat/iStock/Getty Images

If you want to raise money for a cancer patient, planning a fundraiser is a great way to begin. And lest you find the idea overwhelming, we know of several people who raised thousands of dollars with only an afternoon or two of preparing. The need to raise funds goes without saying. Life can be challenging enough financially when you are healthy, but with more expenses (cancer treatment is expensive) and less time to work (due to treatments and side effects), the math is easy. Less in. More out.

People can find themselves in the red very quickly, and the financial burden of cancer is only getting worse as health insurance covers less while the price of care skyrockets. That said, the benefits of hosting a fundraiser go beyond assisting your loved one financially.

Having a fundraiser allows you to do something. A common complaint from loved ones of people with cancer is the feeling of being so helpless. (This goes both ways, and cancer survivors often claim that they wished their loved ones would just sit with them or listen, rather than trying to fix things that can't be fixed.) A fundraiser can give you a very concrete way to help.

At the same time, the people you invite can benefit as well. A fundraiser can give your loved one with cancer the chance to mingle with friends that she hasn't had energy to visit or even contact. There is something very reassuring to friends when they see that even though your loved one is in the throes of cancer treatment—she is still alive and kicking.

What it Takes to Plan a Fundraiser for a Cancer Patient

  • A few friends
  • A little time and effort
  • A place to gather
  • That’s about it

Getting Started

Ideally, you’ll have several weeks to plan your benefit, but don’t let a lack of time discourage you. Many fundraisers are done with only weeks or a few days to plan.

Where to Begin

The first step is the hardest, and choosing an event coordinator is a must. Do you know someone who loves to plan and delegate? Since the goal of a fundraiser is to raise money for your loved one's treatment and so she can heal, try not to assign her any jobs. (Note that while we are using "she" here, the same information applies to a male friend with cancer.)

Once you've chosen an event coordinator, try to think of four or five good friends who are “doers” and share their contact information with the coordinator. From that point on the group will probably want to meet in person a few times, but leave that up to them as much as possible. With today's technology, fundraisers can be planned virtually with ease.

Set up a Donation Site

You don't need to wait until your fundraiser to begin raising money. Set up a GoFundMe or similar fundraising account. Include the same information listed below.

Set up a Website or Facebook Page

As soon as possible, set up a Facebook page or a website that details information about your event. On the page, include:

  • Logistics: The date, time, and location of the fundraiser
  • The purpose: A description of why the fundraiser is being held as well as a short bio is essential, and frequent updates will be informative for those who are following while increasing traffic to the site
  • What the afternoon or evening will be like: Will you have a silent auction or raffle? If so, you may wish to add a list of items as well as images if available.
  • A suggested donation amount: Having a suggested donation rather than a set cost to attend your event is common practice. You don’t want to turn away people who wish to visit but can’t afford to pay your suggested donation. On the other hand, you don’t want to limit people who wish to donate more — and many will.
  • Other ways to contribute: Not everyone will be able to attend your event. Make sure to provide ways in which they can donate anyway, and provide a link to your GoFundMe or other site that you've already set up.

The Location

When choosing a location, a 5-star hotel may seem classy, but what is your goal? As you make decisions, try to keep in mind that your event is being held to raise as much money as possible to help defray the costs of cancer. A hall that is less expensive to rent means more money left for the recipient of the benefit.

Decide ahead of time whether or not you wish to have alcoholic beverages served. If you do so, a cash bar reduces the cost. Some establishments rely on their cash bar to defray the costs of letting their hall be used for a benefit. Whether or not to have alcohol is a very personal choice with arguments on both sides. Try to think of a location central to the people who will be attending. Is there a VFW, a community center, or an American Legion in your community?

The Food

When it comes to food, keep two things in mind: Make it easy to prepare, and make sure you have adequate refrigeration. In some cases, your location will dictate your food choices—the venue will require that you have them cater the food. In other cases, it will be left up to you. Are there enough people willing to bring food to make it a potluck? Large trays of fruits and vegetables are always welcome and healthy as well.

In some cases, restaurants may be willing to donate some food for your event. Many bakeries, however, are inundated with requests to donate to private fundraisers, and spreading the shopping and buying among a few friends might make more sense.


Piping in music adds to the ambience of your fundraiser, but live music is even better. Do you have friend who is in a band or do you know of a start-up band in your community. It may be worthwhile to pay a small price, but many young (and older) musicians are willing to donate their time for the exposure it provides. They type of music is less important (within reason), and you don't need to seek out a perfect group or one that plays a very specific type of music. You may need to keep reminding yourself of the purpose for the event. Nobody will judge you (or at least those with compassionate hearts won't) as if it were a black tie affair. Instead, they will appreciate what you are doing to help your loved one's journey with cancer go just a touch smoother.

Spreading the Word

As early as possible, create a flyer detailing your event. Some businesses will require a flyer when they make their donation. Purchasing a P.O. box where donations can be mailed helps to centralize the donations. When you are ready:

  • Post flyers at local businesses, local malls, the library, and other locations where it will be seen
  • Ask your friend with cancer for a list of friends with email addresses. Remember, you want to spare him or her work. Ask what you may or may not say in an email.
  • Ask your friend if you may send out an announcement to her Facebook friends. Send out an announcement to your friends as well. Encourage people to use the share feature to further spread your net.
  • If you are on Twitter, consider tweeting about the event.

Keep Talking

Many people feel uncomfortable (at least initially) "reminding" people about the upcoming event. Yet, if you are using social media, it is essential. Some people seem to live on social media, whereas others sign on only sporadically. In your follow-up posts, tweets, calls, emails, or whatever, provide information that gets people excited. You may wish to talk about new donations you've received for a silent auction. Or you could share that you've met an initial goal on GofundMe. Certainly, if people comment on your posts take the time to respond. Engage as as many people as possible.

Fundraiser Day Ideas

The most successful fundraiser is one that is fun. Certainly, the “games” you have will raise money, but don’t make that your only goal. It’s not uncommon to have cash donations far exceed those brought in through an auction or a raffle. Some ideas include:

  • Silent auction: Baskets with themes such as “Superbowl Sunday,” “luxurious bath time,” “coffee lover,” and such work well 
  • Raffle (for a few bigger items)
  • Envelope draw : This works well for compiling smaller donated items

Ask your friends what has worked well at previous fundraising events in your community.

Ideas for Silent Auction Donations

When you begin to seek donations, the best advice is to just ask. What’s the worst thing that can happen? People can say no, but don't get discouraged. You may be surprised by how many businesses offer to help. After all, most of us have had some exposure to cancer in relatives or loved ones and feel compassion for those who are struggling.

Some businesses will require documentation of your fundraiser (often a flyer suffices) while others will not. You may be able to find email addresses online but may also wish to call the business and ask about the best email address to use. Some ideas include:

  • Restaurants: Independent, family-owned businesses are often easier to approach than chains, which often require a greater lead time.
  • Bowling alleys
  • Golf courses
  • Climbing gyms
  • Other gym memberships
  • Tickets to sporting events
  • Theater and movie tickets: Smaller community and dinner theaters are more likely to respond as donating tickets also works as a form of advertising for them.
  • Ballroom dance studios
  • Hair salons
  • Artists: Consider asking for donations of paintings, pottery, books
  • Specialty shops: The type that you or your friends frequent

Brainstorm by thinking about the businesses near you in strip malls. You may want to look through your local phone book. Ask others who have had a fundraiser in the past for more ideas.

As Your Fundraiser Nears

When the day of your fundraiser gets closer, it's time to pull together last minute items. Keeping a spreadsheet with timing can be priceless.

The Week Before

Many people will ask what they can do, but some of these people won’t have much time. Ideas to delegate might include:

  • Purchasing (or asking for donations of) plastic utensils, plates, and napkins
  • Hanging signs for your event in the community, and at the door of the venue
  • Providing boxes (wrapped with slots) for the raffle
  • Providing printed sheets (on pretty paper backing) announcing the value of, and price to begin bidding at, for donated items
  • Find three to four people who can collect money and deliver items (if needed) from the silent auction
  • Flowers can be done at little expense with a little planning. Does anyone have a collection of inexpensive glass vases? If not, Goodwill may be a good option. Someone could pick up flowers at a local farmer's market or cut them from their garden in season. Consider “giving away” flowers at the end of the evening for a small donation.
  • Find people who you can designate for clean up duties as well as others who can tally up and hold on to cash or checks received after the event.

These are just a few suggestions for getting started, but the most important thing is to start somewhere. In this economy, finances can be stressful enough without the double-edged sword of a cancer diagnosis. Your friend with cancer will be grateful for your efforts for years to come.

The Day Before

Those who haven't lived with cancer may not understand how cancer fatigue is different from ordinary tiredness. Even if things haven't come together completely, your loved one with cancer should give herself the day before the event to rest. A fundraiser isn't a performance that is given a star rating. 

Talk to your loved one about whether she would be willing to prepare a short speech, or at least a sentence or two, in which she thanks those who have taken the time to come to her event.

The Day of Your Event

On the day of your event, plan to take it as easy as possible. If you ever sleep in, this would be a good day to do so. It's amazing how tiring a few hours of a fundraiser can be even for those not coping with cancer. If you haven't found enough people to help with clean-up or who can help tally up the total raised, reach out to someone you trust at the event. If people have lent you dishes or other supplies, try to make sure that these are at least labeled so you can return them to the right person later on.

After Your Event

After your event, you will want to think about who to send thank you notes. Many of the commercial businesses that provide donations don't really expect a thank you note, but you will know whether this is a good idea based on the specific venue.

Do make sure to send thank you notes to all who helped plan your fundraiser. Personalizing these notes with a few sentences about the way in which a person helped is much better than simply thanking a person for helping. We all like to be appreciated, and your friends who helped will feel validated by mentioning specific chores. 

Even though the event is over, you will still have your GoFundMe account. You can continue to update friends on your loved one's progress, each time providing a link to the account. When you reach a goal (say, perhaps 50% of what you'd hoped to reach), share that with your followers.

Other Ways to Meet Financial Needs

Your friend may still need help to get out of the red after a successful fundraiser. Another ways friends can help is by simply giving loved one's permission to seek out assistance. Perhaps you could travel with her to her cancer center to talk to a social worker about options. There are several, but most take significant legwork.

While there is abundant information on financial resources for people with cancer that can be found online, many of these forget a very important resource: tax deductions.

With medical deductions now limited to those that exceed 10% of gross adjusted income, it's surprising how often that is reached with cancer. The total can include not only your cancer-related expenses (including travel for care), but the rest of your family. Families with teens, especially will find that adding together braces, contacts, and much more quickly raises the total.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that emotional support is as important as physical and financial support. Take some time to check out these tips for supporting a loved one with cancer, as well as to try and understand what it's really like to live with cancer.

We often hear that the sentence "what can I do to help" falls into the list of things NOT to say to someone with cancer. Living with cancer involves so many decisions, and responding to this question is one more decision. Instead, people living with cancer often prefer specific offers of help. For example, asking if you can come over a week from Wednesday at 3 pm and wash some windows for them. Aiming for specifics will be equally helpful as you plan your fundraiser.

Was this page helpful?
0 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.