Planning a Fundraiser for Someone With Lung Cancer

How to Plan a Benefit for a Friend With Cancer

people wrapped around trampoline with a white ribbon
How can you plan a fundraiser for someone with cancer?.

It goes without saying that having cancer is expensive. The costs of treatment (even with good insurance), traveling to treatments, medications, and more are just one side. On the other is the reduced or inability to work during treatment. The math is easy. Less in. More out. Cancer is pricey.

There are some good sources of financial help available (see the links below), but these are often limited to people without insurance or with the greatest need.

An option that can work for nearly anyone is to have a personal cancer fundraiser.

It may sound overwhelming, but take it from someone who has been involved in more than one of these: It doesn’t have to be. One friend of mine raised thousands of dollars for a friend of hers with cancer after spending only ​one afternoon preparing. Another plus of a fundraiser that’s not mentioned often is that a benefit may give you a chance to mingle with friends that you haven’t had the energy to visit since your diagnosis. And mingling isn’t just for you. There is something very reassuring to friends when they see that even though you are in the throes of cancer treatment, you are alive and kicking.

What Does it Take to Host a Fundraiser?

  • A few friends.
  • A place to gather.
  • That’s about it.

Where to Begin

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 days or a few weeks to plan.

Choosing an event coordinator is a must. Do you have a friend who loves to plan and delegate? Since the goal of a fundraiser is to raise money for your treatment and so you can heal, don’t assign jobs to yourself.

Once you have an “event coordinator” chosen from your group of friends, think of 4 or 5 good friends who are “doers,” and share their contact information with your coordinator.

From that point on they will probably want to meet a few times in person, but leave that up to them as much as possible.

As soon as possible, set up a Facebook page or a website that details information about your event, including the date, time and location, what the fundraiser is for (a short bio is essential), what the evening will hold (will you have a silent auction or a raffle?) and a suggested donation for your event. Having a suggested donation rather than a set cost to attend your event is a 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.

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 the goal of your event is to raise as much money as possible to help defray the costs of having 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?

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.

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
  • Ask your friend for an email list of friends. 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.
  • If you are on Twitter, consider tweeting about the event.

Fundraiser Day Ideas

Try to make it 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 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. Don’t get discouraged. Some businesses will require documentation (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
  • Ballroom dance studios
  • Theaters –- especially smaller community theaters and dinner theaters
  • Hair salons
  • Artists -– paintings, pottery, books
  • Specialty shops –- ones that you or your friends frequent

The Week Before

Many people will ask what they can do. 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 3 to 4 people who can collect money and deliver items 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.

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, give yourself this day to rest up.  A fundraiser isn't a performance that is given a star rating. 

Support for Your Loved One With Cancer

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.

I 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.


American Association for Cancer Research. How to Find Financial Aid and Advice.

National Cancer Institute. Managing Cancer Care.

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