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7 Tips for a Successful Outdoor Movie Fundraiser

Closeup of popcorn container and old time movie reel.

Outdoor movie fundraisers are a fantastic, fun way to raise money for your school, church, scout troop or organization. What better way to spend a warm spring, summer or fall night than to raise money while strengthening the bonds of your community? Beyond renting the outdoor movie equipment, there’s a host of things to consider - here are the top 7 tips to making sure your fundraiser is a smashing success:

People gather on blankets in large backyard and watch movie on projection screen.

1. Don’t just plan one outdoor movie event

Avista does a number of outdoor movie events for schools and churches throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles. What we have found is that the most successful events are the ones that are not only done yearly (with audiences growing each year), but events that are done in a series (think 3rd Fridays of each month between May and September). This allows for word of mouth to build more excitement with each new movie, which is the best marketing there is.

2. Have a big organizing committee (then divide and conquer)

Utilize your resources as effectively as you can on all fronts.  This starts with dividing up your labor so everyone has a specific job and knows what to do.  The main areas of responsibility we typically see are:

1) Ticket sales (and handling all the money) – even if you’re not selling tickets and having a free outdoor movie, someone needs to be in charge of collecting whatever funds are being used for the event and making disbursements to vendors.

2) Marketing – this is for flyers, posters, and online media posts.

3) Sponsorships – this takes dedication to round up local vendors that might want to advertise before the movie or otherwise sponsor the event. If you don’t plan to do a lot of these, this role can be handled by whomever is handling marketing.

4) Concessions – think popcorn, hot dogs. If you aren’t bringing vendors to do these, this person can coordinate getting all the supplies and lining up volunteers to help sell the snacks.

5) Logistics – this person will arrange for the outdoor movie rental, secure the film rights, make sure parking is covered, reserve the field for the movie (and make sure the automatic sprinklers get turned off!).

3. Advertise early and often

In order for your fundraiser to gain traction and have a large attendance, people need to know about it!  It’s important to create various event pages on social media pages that way you can do mass blasts to everyone you would like to attend and make it public if you can buy tickets to attend. At a minimum, you should have posters, hand-out flyers, an email campaign and a Facebook event page.

4. Pick the right movie

Movie selection is key and choosing the right movie could be the difference between a stellar night and a starless evening.  In order to capture the largest audience you will want to have blockbuster or cult classic film that everyone loves.  The most popular movies tend to be animated movies from Disney and Dreamworks, but cult classics work well too depending on your audience. When you choose a cult classic movie or a well-known film it brings back happy memories that you can then relate with your various fundraising activities.  You can go all out with themes as well if it appropriate for the setting such as having an middle ages feeling similar to a renaissance festival or a Disney animated film including all the classic characters.

5. Get the rights

Even if you aren’t selling tickets or trying to make money on your outdoor movie, every time you show a movie to an audience (that isn’t considered a “private viewing”) you are supposed to obtain the rights for that showing. Some movies aren’t even always available to show, although if a movie is available on DVD, it is generally available to license. The cost ranges widely, from $250 to $600+, depending on how many people you expect to watch and whether or not you are charging admission. The process for getting the rights is relatively easy, and most movies are handled by two agencies: and Once you’ve arranged for the showing, they will send you a special DVD copy of the movie, which you will have to return after the showing.

6. Pick the right showtime

Create a schedule for your event and stick to it.  At large events it is easy for time to get out of hand and to delay the screening.  This will lessen the experience for the audience and take away from the event.  You should peg the start of the movie for 15 minutes after the official sunset time for the day of your outdoor movie.

7. Have multiple ways people can spend money

The ultimate goal of any fundraiser is to raise money for your cause.  The most effective ways to do this at a movie fundraiser are to first sell tickets.  Once attendees are inside the event you can have various concession booths with popcorn and candy which are staples to any night out at the movies.  You can add festival and carnival games for a more family environment and sell sponsorship space for tents or space to showcase other products.  Other fun ideas are raffles that will be held during an intermission to keep the audience intrigued or having costume contests to encourage attendees to get into the movie spirit.

Large crowds watch outdoor movie on park lawn with projection screen.

If you follow all these steps you’ll ensure that your outdoor movie fundraiser will be the talk of the town.  For assistance setting up your AV equipment and making sure your show is foolproof, contact Avista – over the past 10 years we have done hundreds of professionally managed and do-it-yourself outdoor movie events for schools, churches, scout troops, neighborhood associations, apartment complexes, parks and recreation department, and for individuals. For more information, check out our outdoor movie rental page at

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