Planning a Fundraiser for a Cancer Patient

How to Raise Money for Someone Who Has Cancer

Even with great health insurance, cancer treatments can quickly get expensive. Add in lost wages from being unable to work when you are sick and people with cancer can quickly find themselves in the red. If you have a friend or family member with cancer, one of the more practical ways to help is fundraising.

There are endless ways to raise funds for a loved one with cancer. You can make it as easy or elaborate as you'd like from simply online crowdfunding and selling T-shirts or homemade goods to a gala benefit event.

And while hosting a fundraiser for a friend with cancer can seem like a daunting task, it is a concrete way to help out. All it takes is a few friends or family members, a plan, and some promotion.

This article provides an overview of how to plan a cancer fundraiser as well as dozens of fundraiser ideas for cancer.

White cancer ribbon for lung cancer awareness

ThitareeSarmkasat/iStock/Getty Images

Cancer Fundraiser Ideas

The first step in raising funds for someone with cancer is to decide on the type of fundraiser you want to have. Keep in mind any people who might like to help and the special skills they may have.


The easiest way to get started raising funds for cancer is to create an online crowdfunding campaign on a site like GoFundMe.

To do this you will need a short detailed story about your loved one and their financial needs, photos, and a realistic fundraising goal. Ideally, you should start with a smaller financial target than the beneficiary needs. As the campaign gets close to the goal, you can increase it.

Before setting up a crowdfunding page, make sure you have your friend or family member's permission. You do not want to share another person's private health information on the internet without their permission.

Another important decision is who will collect and distribute funds. Online fundraisers can be set up to disburse money raised to a bank account. You will need this information when you set up the fund drive.


People are often eager to show their support by buying T-shirts, tote bags, bracelets, or baked goods. It is relatively easy to set up a sales fundraiser online at a site such as Bonfire, which offers printed apparel and other items.

Other potential ways to raise funds for cancer through sales include:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Baked goods
  • Bracelets
  • Candles
  • Candy
  • Custom calendars
  • Cookbooks
  • Flowers, plants, or bulbs
  • Handmade knitted hats, scarves, or other items
  • Used books
  • Yard sale

You can set up ongoing sales, plan single-day events, or recurring events, such as weekly bake sales until the fundraising goal is reached.


Hosting an event to raise money for a loved one with cancer can be a real morale booster for the person who is ill and the people in their life. In addition, a large event can bring in a lot of money all at once. Events can be anything from a car wash in a school parking lot or a fancy, dress-up gala with silent auctions and live music.

Some fundraising event ideas for cancer include:

  • An auction
  • Art show
  • Bingo
  • Carwash
  • Casino night
  • Community barbecue
  • Concert
  • Duck derby
  • Gala
  • Game night
  • Girls night out
  • Field day
  • Funny photo contest
  • Lantern release
  • Luminary light the night
  • Movie night
  • Pocketbook bingo
  • Restaurant night
  • Silent auction
  • Trivia night
  • Walk-a-thon

How to Plan a Benefit

If you plan to host a fundraising event, there are a few things to consider early in the planning stages.

The first is choosing a coordinator and identifying friends who are good at getting things done. The group should meet together in person or in a virtual meeting to hash out ideas.

One key point in organizing is deciding how the group will communicate with one another. Emails, group texts, What's App, and Facebook Messenger are common ways groups can communicate on planning.

The more hands helping out, the easier the event will be. The fundraising coordinator should delegate tasks, so no one feels they are taking on too much work.

Date and Time

One of the first things you'll need to decide on is a date and time for the event. Depending on the scope of the event, you will want to give yourself ample time to plan and promote the event. The venue's availability will also be a factor.

When picking a date, consider other events that are going on in the community. You don't want to plan a fundraiser at a time when many people already have plans. For example, avoid booking a fundraiser on a holiday weekend when many people go away. You want to plan for a time that you can get the biggest turnout.


When choosing a location, keep in mind the goal of the event is to raise as much money as possible to help defray the costs of cancer. Hosting the event in a five-star hotel may will eat up much more revenue than a local VFW hall.

Some places may be willing to donate or give you a discount on the rental space. If the person with cancer is a member of a community organization or church that has meeting or banquet space, check with them first.

Another thing to consider is the location's proximity to where the person lives and try to pick a centralized location.

Food and Drinks

Before securing your location, you should also have an idea of what type of food and beverages will be served. If you are having a fundraiser in a catering hall, you will want an idea of the menu options and cost.

If you a planning a barbecue, you need a location where you can set up a grill and coolers for drinks. For a pot luck or covered dish event, you'll want to make sure there are enough electrical outlets for crockpots and refrigeration for beverages.

Whether or not to serve alcoholic beverages is a decision to make ahead of time. It is common to have a cash bar at fundraisers. Some establishments rely on a cash bar to defray the costs of donating or discounting the hall for the benefit.


Music can enhance the ambiance of your fundraiser. The type of music will depend on the people you expect to be there. You may need to rent or borrow sound equipment if the location does not have an in-house sound system.

You can pipe in a playlist, have live music, or hire a deejay. Local bands and deejays are often willing to donate their time (and sound system) for a good cause or play for a reduced rate. For an all-day event, you may want to split up the music with a few different acts.

Promotion: Key to a Profitable Fundraiser

Whether you are crowdfunding, selling items, or planning an event, getting the word out is crucial.


As soon as possible, set up a Facebook page or a website that provides details about your fundraiser. Include the following information:

  • Purpose: A description of why you are raising funds, with a short bio and photos.
  • Logistics: If you are having an event, include the date, time, and location. If you are selling items, including links to where you can buy or donate.
  • Details: Flesh out the information on the fundraiser. If you are having an event, what will take place. If you are hosting an auction, provide a preview of the items.
  • Suggested donations: It is common practice to have a suggested donation rather than a set price for events and items. Many people will donate more than the suggested price, and some people may want to participate but do not have a lot of money. With a suggested donation, you often come out ahead.
  • Other ways to contribute: Make sure to provide ways to donate and provide a link to your GoFundMe or other crowdfunding campaign.


As early as possible, create a flyer detailing your cancer fundraiser. Post flyers at local businesses, libraries, schools, houses of worship, and other locations where it will be seen.

You can also mail flyers to family and friends of the beneficiary. Ask for a copy of their address book or Christmas card list.

You can also make a digital copy of the flyer to post on social media and email to people who are interested.

Local Media

Reach out to your local newspapers, regional magazines, television news, and radio stations. Local media typically likes feel-good stories and spreading the word about fundraisers. You may be able to get a press release, calendar listing, or feature article to cover an upcoming event or ongoing fundraiser.

Call or email the media outlet well in advance of an event to ask how to submit a press release or article.

Word of Mouth

Many people feel uncomfortable reminding people about the upcoming event. But the more you spread the word, the more money you will be able to raise for your loved one.

Social media is one place where you need to post frequent reminders. After your initial post, continue to post again with more information. You can post about auction items, health updates (with the patient's permission), thanking individuals for their generous donations, and progress reports on meeting fundraising goals.

Asking Businesses For Donations

Raffles and silent auctions of donated items are profitable in fundraising. Asking businesses for donations can be daunting at first, but it is for a good cause and the worst thing that can happen is they say no. Don't get discouraged. You may be surprised by how many businesses offer to help.

Some businesses will require documentation of your fundraiser (often a flyer suffices). You can call or email to request donations, but sometimes a face-to-face meeting is best.

Some businesses to hit up for donations of gift certificates or items include:

  • Artists: Consider asking for donations of paintings, pottery, books
  • Ballroom dance studios
  • Bowling alleys
  • Climbing gyms
  • Golf courses
  • Gyms or fitness clubs
  • Hair salons
  • Restaurants: Independent, family-owned businesses are often easier to approach than chains.
  • Tickets to sporting events
  • Theater and movie tickets
  • Spas and beauty salons
  • Specialty shops: The type that you or your friends frequent

As Your Cancer 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 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 Fundraiser

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. Share that with your followers when you reach a goal (say, perhaps 50% of what you'd hoped to reach).

Other Ways to Raise Money for Someone

Your friend may still need help to get out of the red after a successful fundraiser. Another way friends can help is by simply giving loved ones 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 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 and 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.

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.

By Lynne Eldridge, MD
 Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patient advocate, and award-winning author of "Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time."