How to hold a successful car wash (and not break the bank doing it)

When it comes to fundraising of any sort, it’s often a gamble as to whether your event will actually be a success. There is always the worry that you will put more into the event financially than you can make back, as well as the stress of planning everything involved. There are no guarantees in fundraising- people are either going to support your cause or not- but there are ways to ensure you are doing everything you can to be successful. There are a million and one kinds of events of you can hold to raise money for your cause, but when it comes to quick and easy, a car wash is always a safe bet.

Plan Ahead. When holding a car wash, you definitely want to make sure the weather is going to be conducive. Nothing worse than having an outdoor event on a day it’s going to downpour- besides, who needs their car washed when the rain will do it for free? After setting a date and time, check the forecast a few days beforehand to make sure the weather is going to hold. If it does look like rain, try and make arrangements to reschedule. These types of events are the ones you market last-minute, so you don’t have to worry about notifying attendees about the date change. If you’ve planned the wash at a local business, check with them to see if rescheduling is a problem; most won’t give you a hard time if the weather is supposed to be bad.

You also want to make sure you have the proper supplies, including man power. Try and keep costs low by getting car wash supplies donated by friends or local businesses. Some businesses, like Advance Auto Parts, actually sponsor car wash fundraisers, and will set you up with a location and supplies for free (nothing like free advertising for their business, too, right?). The point of a car wash is to raise money for your cause or organization, not spend your own out-of-pocket. Make sure you have plenty of soap & sponges, and the proper towels for drying. Bath towels tend to leave fuzz behind on cars, so try and find towels made specifically for automotive use, like the ShamWow or the Absorber. You can find similar products at most auto stores for around $10, and investing in a few for future use (or even your own, personal use) is never a bad thing. But remember, free is always better, so try and get them donated or at the very least loaned for the event. Make sure you have enough hands to help with the washing, rinsing & drying, as the line of cars can back up quick, and people have little patience these days for anything. Recruit your friends and family members to come out for a few hours and lend a hand. Remind them it’s for a good cause and that they owe you for all the hours you spent helping them clean out the back of their dingy garage. Having about 8-10 people to help should suffice, but more is always better, so don’t be afraid to have a lot of people come out.

Advertise. Make sure you create signs to hang the day of the event. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive, but they do have to be legible. Try and make the lettering as big as possible. Buying white poster board is your best bet. Keep it simple with the basics, time, location, etc., and use black sharpie to ensure it’s visible from the road. If you have access to a Xerox machine, creating flyers is also a good way to let people in the area know you are having a fundraiser. Visit local businesses to inquire about leaving hand-outs the day before the event to get the word out to more people. Check back the day of the event to restock your flyers as necessary. Reach out to friends and neighbors through social media sites like Facebook. Creating an event and sending it to your Facebook friends is a fast and effective way to let everyone in the area know what you’re doing. Craigslist ads are also a free and easy way to get the word out to people in your neighborhood you might not know. Consider advertising the car wash as free, with donations accepted (make sure you name your charity). You stand a better chance of raising more money if you don’t set a price for a wash. People are likely to give more if you don’t ask for a specific number- no one likes to look cheap in the face of charity- so make sure your ads scream loud and clear that the fundraiser is free.

Location, location, location! Even with proper marketing and advertising, you still want to make sure you choose a good location, something accessible and in a busy area. Make sure it’s easy to see and easy to get to, and that you have plenty of space to get things done. You are likely to have more traffic in an area people are already driving by, so scout out a few locations before settling on one.

Consider additional fundraising add-ons. In addition to the car wash, consider other options that will draw in passers-by. People may be walking or biking down the street or getting off the bus, so you want to take advantage of driving foot traffic to your event as well. Just because someone doesn’t have a car doesn’t mean they might not stop and donate; they are just more likely to if you have something to draw them in. If you have the space, consider setting up a few tables with smaller, yard sale-type items to sell for donations. If you can get drinks and snacks donated by your local grocer, you can even sell those for a small price. Include information about your cause that people can take away with them, including contact information or a way to donate to you on their own time.


No matter how you choose to handle a fundraiser, it’s always important to remember that any donations are better than no donations. Stay level-headed and realistic about your goals, that way when you surpass your dollar amount, you will have more appreciation and satisfaction for all the hard work you put into making your event a success.

And if you’re simply looking for a good place to donate, check out Charity Navigator and find the cause that’s right for you.


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Filed under advertising, car wash, charity, fundraiser, how-to

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