Polar Bear Plunge Fundraisers

A Dip In Icy Waters Is Sure to Heat Up Your Fundraising Efforts

Each year, in the dead of winter, a small (but always increasing) segment of society gathers around lakes, rivers, and swimming holes around the countryside, wrapped in blankets, drinking hot chocolate, cheering on the bravest (some might say "craziest") souls to ever pull on a swimsuit. Polar Bear Plunges, during which the courageous plunge themselves into icy waters of not more than 44˚ F, are wild fundraising events that can see a great return for your church or religious organization, especially those located in the northern latitudes.

How to Run a Polar Bear Plunge
Polar bear plunges raise funds in one of two ways. Participants either pay a flat entry fee (for which they can solicit donations, if they desire) or gather contributions through pledges, often for minutes (or seconds) spent in the water. The sheer temerity of the pledged action often leads to fairly high collection rates.

To run a polar bear plunge fundraiser, you'll need about three months of planning, and the following items:
  • A local body of water in which people can swim, with water temperatures of 44˚ F or lower for an official Polar Bear Plunge.
  • A volunteer committee to help with advertising, money management, and cleanup.
  • Advertising materials such as posters and fliers for gathering participants and announcing the event.
  • Participants looking to really wake up.
***Important Safety Note: It's a good idea to have a medical professional on hand at a polar bear plunge. Though complications are rare, cold water can be a severe shock to some people's bodies, which may cause physical or emotional distress. You may consider having participants sign a waiver relieving your organization of liability in the event of an emergency.

Polar Bear Plunges and other Fundraisers
Polar bear plunges are often paired with bake sales - being outside in the cold makes the people who come to see the event hungry and thirsty, so items like hot chocolate, coffee, and hot, fresh baked goods (like funnel cakes and fry bread) sell very well.

Gathering Polar Bear Plungers
About three months before the event, begin to start looking for participants -- first in your congregation and then throughout the community at large. Depending upon the cause for which you're raising money, consider asking local celebrities and public officials to participate. Mayors are often popular choices for polar bear plunges, if they're amenable - after all, only someone of particular haleness and vitality could survive in that freezing water!

The more participants you are able to gather, the more profitable your fundraiser will ultimately be -- these people will bring their friends and family to the event, to whom you may be able to sell your baked goods, coffee, and hot chocolate. Though the first year is often slow in terms of participation, the number of polar bear plungers tends to grow year after year in places where the events are annual. There are more fearless friends out there than you might think!

Advertising a Polar Bear Plunge
Advertising will help you to gather participants, as well. Make up fliers with internet clipart and all of the relevant information you need to provide for anyone who might want to participate or simply come and see the Big Dunk -- what the event is, who it's for, why it's being held / who it will benefit, where and when it will be, how people can participate, and so on. Make sure that your church's name and contact information also appear on the sheet, i.e. "For More Information Contact First Methodist at 111-222-3333".

If you have room, also include a small map of the area where the event will be held. Research shows that this small item greatly increases how many people come to your event, so be sure to find a spot for it if you're able.

Think about ways to make this event a festive one, something that people in the community will look forward to year after year. Are there local musicians (brass quartets are great choices!) out there willing to brave the cold for a good cause? Could you contact a local radio station or newspaper who might be interested in covering an event of this kind?

There's something fascinating about people willing to plunge themselves into such cold water, and many media outlets are looking for stories of just this kind. Allow your event to start small the first year, but stick with it and your numbers (and profits for your fundraising drive) are sure to grow.

Written by: Bob Robertson