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How to Plan and Host a Chili Cook-off Fundraiser

Throughout my life I have organized many events, including kite festivals, luaus, and chili cook offs. It's a great way to meet people.

Hosting a chili cook-off could help you meet your fundraising goals.

Hosting a chili cook-off could help you meet your fundraising goals.

Chili Cook-offs and Fundraisers

Planning and hosting a Chili Cook-off for a fundraiser can be a fun, exciting, and rewarding event for everyone involved.

Having planned many fundraisers throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to meet the most wonderful individuals whose talents are insurmountable. When you are fortunate to have these types of amazing people be a part of a committee and workforce, your event is sure to be very successful.

But no matter how wonderful your group is, if you don't have a well-thought-out plan put in place, you can run into headaches, procrastination, too many chiefs, money problems, and so much more.

Who doesn't love a delicious chili?

Who doesn't love a delicious chili?

Why Host a Fundraiser?

Fundraisers are generally held to raise money for a worthy cause. Non-profit organizations are famous for having fundraisers to raise money for their operations, to help those in need, and to assist other organizations who may need additional help. A good example would be the Girl Scouts annual cookie sale. I love the Girl Scout program and all that it has to offer our young women today. I make sure I purchase at least 6 boxes every year to help out with their fundraising efforts. (It also helps my craving for my sweet tooth!) Other worthy organizations would be animal rescues, Boy Scouts, Soroptimists, and Family care centers which feed and clothe the needy. Any one of these groups could organize a Chili Cook-off as well as your own organization.

A Chili Cook-off is a great fundraiser for five reasons:

  1. Promotes a worthy cause for your organization
  2. Everyone loves to eat
  3. Social gatherings bring good revenue
  4. Everyone loves entertainment
  5. Everyone loves to help out a worthy cause.

Planning Your Chili Cook Off

So where does one start when planning a fundraiser as well as a Chili Cook-off?

By following this step-by-step guide for hosting a Chili Cook-off Fundraiser, you will have a wonderful and successful event that everyone will attend, have fun with, and be happy to donate to.

Let's get started!

Selecting Your Fundraiser Committee

Every fundraiser needs a good committee. They must be totally dedicated and have the desire to make the fundraiser successful. Many times, it is very easy to have a committee with "big egos", and where their hearts are in the right place, sometimes their egos can butt heads and the planning can come to a standstill, feelings can get hurt and before you know it, members of the committee are dropping out. We don't want that to happen. After all, the sole purpose of the fundraiser is to raise money for a worthy cause, right? RIGHT!

Once your committee is selected and then asked to be a part of the fundraiser, it is very important to have a small get-together, perhaps over lunch or a small dinner at your home to give everyone the opportunity to meet and get to know one another.

I personally like to have everyone over for dinner for a meet and greet. Once dinner is concluded, I introduce each one again and the position they have been asked to assume for the fundraiser. As I explain a little bit about their position, I hand them a small packet with their responsibilities, contact numbers, and any other pertinent information they might need to fulfill their obligation.

After everyone has been introduced and packets handed out, I then proceed with a little pep talk on how important this fundraiser is, and how much I appreciate each and every one that has agreed to help make this fundraiser successful. I go on to explain that we need to work together as a whole unit, leave our egos at home, and support each other. We all have the opportunity to input our ideas and support each other as we put together a successful event.

Criteria in Putting a Good Committee Together

As a chairman for any committee fundraiser, it is so important that you seek out those who meet the following criteria:

  • Have the desire to devote their time and talent to the cause.
  • Have some experience in fundraising or event planning
  • Have community connections (example: Schools, Rotary, Boy and Girl Scouts, Local Fire and Police Department, Media, etc)
  • Experience in the field of the position you have selected them for (example: Secretarial skills, advertising background, website design, etc)

How to Search for and Organize your Committee

Once you have made your list, then it is time to make your calls and invite those who you'd think would make a good fit on the committee. But where would you find these extraordinary individuals? The following suggestions should head you in the right direction:

  • People whom you have worked with on previous fundraisers
  • Recommendations from other individuals
  • Co-workers that you know have the proper experience (such as bookkeeping skills)
  • People you know from another organization who you know have been a participant in fundraising
  • Place a small ad or notice in the local paper about seeking a fundraiser committee and hold interviews
  • Attend a fundraiser and make inquiries from their committee for recommendations.

Committee Positions and Responsibilities

When I select a committee, I first draw up a committee roster of positions and responsibilities before I even consider contacting anyone. The reason for this is to make sure you have all the positions listed that you will need for that particular fundraiser/event. For a Chili Cook Off, the following positions would be needed to assure that every area is covered:

  1. Chairman (yourself): Invites and puts together a strong committee, runs all the committee meetings, makes sure that every committee member is following through with their responsibilities, assists any committee member with anything they may need, attends local meetings of other clubs to meet and greet and get the word out there about the fundraiser. Visits the local organization that the fundraiser is for. Responsible for finding and booking a location for the fundraiser.
  2. Secretary: Attends all the committee meetings, keeps accurate notes of each meeting, takes attendance, and reads the minutes from the previous meeting. Write correspondence, makes calls, etc on behalf of the committee, and keep all forms of communication open between committee members.
  3. Advertising/Media: Responsible for creating and writing advertisements for local papers, online papers, etc. Contacts the local radio and television stations to have the event put on their calendar and invite them to attend the fundraiser. Create Posters, mailings, special invites to the Mayor's office, etc
  4. Bookkeeping: Keeps an accurate profit and loss account of the entire event. If your group is a non-profit organization, be sure to have a current 501c3 certificate and make a copy to keep at all times just in case it needs to be produced in an instant. If your group is not a non-profit, but helping non-profits raise money, be sure that their 501c3 is current. Make sure that insurance for your organization is current or purchase insurance for the event itself. Reports account totals at every meeting (including, income from sales and donations, and expenditures (making sure that all receipts are accounted for).
  5. Website: Design a website for your organization and the fundraiser. This way the URL can be printed on all media for people to go straight to the site and purchase tickets and apply for the cook-off. Makes sure that they are linked to other websites that have to do with the event. (Back-linking is so vital)
  6. Volunteer & Event Set-up and Tear-down Coordinator: Recruits volunteers to help with the setup and tear-down of the event. This would include, tables, chairs, cooking stations, ticket booths, tents, a stage, judges' table, an entertainment area, trash receptacles, etc.
  7. Entertainment Coordinator: Search and invite various entertainment throughout the course of the event. Scheduling performance times, if you have more than one stage (depending on how big the event is), scheduling which stages each performer will be on.

Be sure you have sound equipment for all stages and for the performers. Make sure your entertainment is listed in the media packets and if they are being paid for the event, that contracts are drawn up for their performance fees and schedule.

Location! Location! Location!

There are so many different venues available today when trying to find a place to hold an event. Of course, you need to think about a few details when choosing the venue to make sure that it will suit all your needs.

  1. Estimation on how many people you expect to attend the event. Especially when you use an indoor facility, there will always be a maximum capacity, and per your insurance and fire regulations, you will not be able to go over the designated amount.
  2. Rental cost. If you are unable to find a free location and are forced to rent, be sure to make sure you have enough time allotted in your rental contract for pre-event setup and tear-down. Also, you will need to know what is available with the facility (ex. restrooms, parking, kitchen, stage, tables, chairs, trash cans, etc)
  3. Exhaust all your options for free venues before you commit to renting. The following places will sometimes offer their facility for free if they are mentioned in your ad or on your posters, etc:
  • Churches
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Service Clubs, such as Rotary, Elks, and Lions Clubs
  • School Auditoriums, Parking Lots, or Ball Fields

It's always a great idea to evaluate the cost needed to rent or buy tables, chairs, trash cans, etc. even when you get a facility for free with the cost of a facility that you will rent that comes with everything you need. In the long run, it may be cheaper to rent the facility.

Getting the News out: Advertise! Advertise! Advertise!

You can plan the world's best fundraiser and pull out all the stops and whistles, but if you don't have good advertising, you might as well not have one. How else will people know of your event, unless you tell them? There are so many opportunities for advertising these days, and believe it or not, most of them are FREE or cost very little. As the Advertising Committee member, it is worthwhile to ask for help from friends and volunteers who can be instrumental in helping you get the word out! The areas that you will want to focus on would be:

  • Internet
  • Mailings (Flyers, postcards, etc)
  • Emails
  • Local Radio
  • Local Newspapers
  • Local Rotary Club
  • Local Officials
  • Schools
  • Churches
  • TV Stations

The internet has opened a wide variety of FREE advertising and it is up to us to utilize it!
Facebook is a great way to create a page for your fundraiser. Be sure to include the link in your emails and print the URL on your flyers and posters, etc.

Mailings are a perfect way to reach your continuing supporters on your mailing lists. The very reason you have a mailing list is that your supporters want to know when you do have events. You can actually create postcards or flyers and more on the USPS website and have them mail them out for you. They have a great step-by-step instruction guide called Click2Mail which is user-friendly. Posters are a great way to advertise. If you do not have the means to print at your facility, you can create the master poster (8."5 x 11" or 11.3" x 17.3" is recommended) and take it to printing services like Staples, Office Depot, or any online printing service such as UPrinting. Searching the Internet will lead you to the best prices available for your budget.

Local Media (TV and Radio) have had a proven track record in getting the word out when trying to get a volume of supporters to attend your event. The really cool thing about local media is that they usually will report or announce fundraisers for free. This also depends on the cause so be very specific in your information. If they do charge, it will be a nominal fee in helping you to keep within your budget. One thing to remember, local media eats up on fundraising for worthy causes. This is where the Chairman will be needed as he/she will be the one to be interviewed or go in and set up a recording for the radio station. Be sure to invite your local media to attend the event so they can cover it (after all, advertising after the event is just as important) Offer them free tasting, or even better yet, ask one of the DJs or reporters to be a judge. One of the best ways to get the radio stations involved would be to ask them to do a remote setup for the event and invite people to come and enjoy the Chili Cook-off and enjoy some wonderful entertainment.

Local Officials including your Mayor, City Officials, Fire Chief, Police Chief, and School Principals are the best way to get the word out. Take them all the information as well as posters to be placed.

Your Local Clubs such as Rotary, Lions, and Elks are fabulous for fundraising. Not only can you get great ideas from these wonderful organizations, but they are also professional in getting the word out. With their meetings held weekly, everyone will have a constant reminder about the event and also be reminded to invite their friends and family to the event. Also, many times they will donate their club facility, tents, and tables, and even pull you under their insurance for the event as long as they are recognized in all the advertising. This is a great way to save money and save your budget!

Fundraiser Information Is Important

Be sure to have the following listed on your press releases for the newspapers, radio, TV News, Fliers, Posters, and mailings:(Example)

  • Name of the Event Ex: "Middle School's PTA Holds Chili Cook-off Fundraiser"
  • Date: (be sure to have the day and date) Ex: Saturday, June 12, 2009
  • Time: (be sure to stipulate am or pm...even if it's obvious) Ex: 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • Location: (be sure to spell out everything- State can be abbreviated) Ex: Birdseye Park and Pavilion 555 State Street, San Diego, CA 55555
  • Contact Phone number(s) Ex: (555) 555-5555
  • Website: Ex:
  • Sponsors: (Be sure to list all the sponsors who have donated for this event) Ex: A Special Thanks to Our Sponsors Rotary Club, Chief Williams~FD, Your Town Middle School, Local Radio, etc
  • Entertainment: List all the entertainment and *times of their performance(*optional)
  • Ticket Prices (if charging) Ex: $5.00 per person (includes tasters cup from all the contestants, beverage, bread)
  • Other activities happening during the event: Game booths, Dessert Booths, Popcorn, Beverage Booths, etc.

Selecting the Right Judges

Besides organizing fundraisers and cook-offs, I have also organized beauty pageants, vocal and acting competitions, writing competitions, etc. I have also been a Judge many times for both local and national events. There is one thing that I always vow to myself and to those involved as judges for any competition and that is to choose a panel of judges that are as impartial as they can possibly be, have some form of experience in the field of your competition, and always give positive reviews.

When selecting your judges for your Chili Cook-off, think about the following as you make your selection:

  • Have experience in some fashion in the field that your competition is (In this case, it would be cooking, baking, restaurants, etc)
  • Have a positive disposition and very communicative with you and the other judges
  • Really have the desire to want to be there and be a judge.

Applicants, Entries, and Cooks, Oh My!

As you begin your campaigning for your Fundraiser, you will want to start early enough (at least 2 months) to advertise the Chili Cook-off and where the applicants can pick up and send in their entry forms. I suggest having it available both online and through physical mail (perhaps putting the entry forms at restaurants, Rotary club, Fire Dept. and supermarkets, to name a few. Be sure to have all the important information you will need from the applicants and the set of rules you and your committee will establish for the Cook-off.

Rules, Guidelines, and Awards

With every application, there should be a set of rules and guidelines for them to follow. It's important that they follow the rules or their entry can be disqualified. This is to keep everyone honest and on an even competitive playing field.

The following rules are similar to what I have used in the past. You can delete or add to your own specifications that pertain to your own fundraiser. Be sure that every committee member and every judge has a copy of these rules and guidelines:

  1. Each Applicant must fill out the entry form in pen and answer every question.
  2. Entry fee is $20.00 and must be submitted with the entry form no late than Monday, June 1, 2009.
  3. Each entry is allowed to have a maximum of 4 people per application.
  4. The chili recipe must be the original recipe of the applicant.
  5. Chili recipes must be typed out on 8,5" x 11" paper in 12 font (Tahoma) and have 4 copies available for judges on the day of the Cook-off.
  6. Applicants must supply their own stoves, hot plate, cooking pots, and all utensils needed to prepare chili.
  7. All applicants are required to make one full pot (at least 4 quarts) of chili.
  8. All applicants must supply their own ingredients and all ingredients must be visible to judges.
  9. All applicants are required to set up and start cooking 2 hours prior to the start of the Chili Cook-off. (10:00 am)
  10. Tents, trash cans with 3 liners, two tables, four chairs, bowls, spoons, and napkins will be provided to each applicant.
  11. All applicants will be judged at 12:00 pm and awards will be presented at 3:00 pm.
  12. Awards will take place center stage. Each applicant must be present to accept awards.
  13. Awards are as follow $500—1st place; $250—2nd place; $100—3rd place
  14. All Applicants are responsible for cleaning their area.


There are so many types of awards that can be offered to the contestants. The best way to get the community involved is to have your local businesses donate money, products, and/or services to give as rewards. In exchange, they can set up a booth to sell their products during the event, have a mention in your advertisement, or both. Businesses love that. They already have the merchandise and feel as if they are getting a lot with their donation, not to mention that you will have them as a devoted follower for future events.

You will want to gather the merchandise, certificates, and cash prizes early on before your advertising is out so you can include what the winners will receive. This is a great incentive for those who are contemplating entering the Cook-off.

Some of the prizes I have offered in the past would include:

  • Cash
  • Gift Cards
  • Trips
  • Car rental for a week
  • Gift Certificates at favorite Restaurants
  • Theatre Tickets
  • A ticket package for 4 to Disneyland
  • Brand new Stainless Steel Cookware
  • Gas Cards

Every area is different and the prizes can vary, but one thing is for sure: businesses love to donate and be recognized!

To Charge or Not to Charge?

That is the big question that should be discussed in your committee meetings.

The whole idea is to make some money for your fundraiser and hopefully offset the costs that you will incur to put the event on. So I say... CHARGE!

But be careful what you charge. This is where your bookkeeper needs to be on their toes. You will need a complete list of all costs followed by a grand total. Take the grand total, times it by 3, then divide it by the approximate number of people you expect to attend. For instance:

Event Cost Total $2500.00
Times by X 3
Total $7500.00

Divide by 500 (people expected to attend)
Amount to charge $ 15.00 per person

This would include taster's bowls to try all the contestant's chili, beverages, bread, and entertainment.

Don't forget that you can have extra revenue come in with game booths, dessert booths, etc.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Liz Rayen