A Short History of Raffles

It's a simple idea

Your service club or little league needs some visibility and a lot of funds. You decide to print and sell tickets for a charity raffle. The members of the group gets involved. The community gets involved. The prize may be big or small, but everybody feels good when they buy a raffle ticket. After all, they get to help out a group they care for, and winning is always a real possibility. Prize giveaways are a useful and easy way to raise money for any organization. The cost of ticket printing and promotion is low in comparison the money made. Raffles are a time tested method of fundraising that seems to have always been a part of our culture.

But, have you ever wondered how raffles first began?

Raffles have been around in one form or another since possibly the beginning of human civilization. As fundraisers, they have a long history and have been used by individuals and heads of state.

Even before lotteries had been invented or the first raffle tickets were printed, The Old Testament tells us that Moses used a lottery to award land West of the Jordan to his people. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans alike loved playing raffle like games of chance, using dice or bones to cast lots and draw winners. Soon, these simple games of chance evolved into endeavors with real fundraising potential. Around 100 BCE, during the Hun Dynasty, the Chinese invented Keno, a form of lottery, which is still popular today. The money from Keno draws was used for defense and civic projects including the construction of the Great Wall of China. Talk about one big fundraiser!

In 1446, after the death of her husband, the widow of Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck sold tickets and raffled off her late man's remaining paintings in one of the first recorded raffles.

The idea of using raffles to raise funds really caught on after that, and why not? Printing raffle tickets and selling them are great way to fund big projects for organizations of any size! Belgium took to the idea in the late 1460's and held lotteries which funded the building of churches, public facilities and civic projects. Then in the 1500's Florence, Italy hosted its first lottery, and in 1568 Queen Elizabeth I held a raffle as well. The prizes were a tapestry, china and cash. Over $400, 000 raffle tickets were offered for sale. Raffles and lotteries were recorded throughout Europe from that time forward. They are said to have flourished in France, and the Netherlands lays claim to the longest running lottery, started in 1727.

Raffles were soon brought to the New World. The first raffle in the United States took place in Virginia in 1612. Like many raffles of today, the funds were put back into the community.

Today church groups, service clubs, community organizations and more print tickets and still participate in the time honored tradition of holding raffles as fundraisers.