Uncharted waters

A first-time fundraiser introduces Kiwanis to a whole new flock.

Story by Julie Saetre
Photos by Marsha Kemp Photography

One of the biggest fundraisers for the Kiwanis Club of Tampa, Florida, is an annual barbecue chicken lunch, a staple for 49 years. So perhaps it’s surprising that the club launched a new feathered fundraiser dubbed the Incredible Duck Race.


The chicken lunch event generally attracts a corporate crowd, so 2016–17 club President Amanda Malinowski hoped to expand members’ reach to families who might not be familiar with Kiwanis and its mission.

Enter the ducks.


The club decided to host the race on the Hillsborough River, which borders a downtown park—a choice that required not only a city permit for the park, but Coast Guard approval for the water. GAME—the duck-rental company—provided a how-to workshop for the club. Each numbered, sunglasses-wearing duck could be “adopted” for US$5, with proceeds going to the club.

On race day, the duck pack was released on a cordoned-off section of the river and traveled 100 feet. The first three ducks to be funneled into the winners’ circle earned their adoptive “parents” cash prizes, including $5,000 for first place.

The club set a goal of 5,000 rubber-duck participants; by race day, 7,041 ducks bobbed in the water at the starting gate, adopted by people from 24 U.S. states.


“We could have sold 10,000,” Malinowski says. (That’s now the goal for the 2018 race.)

On race day, more than 1,000 Tampa-area residents turned out to enjoy the race and its festival-like atmosphere. By the day’s end, the club had accomplished its two goals: The race netted a projected $20,000 and introduced Kiwanis to a new crowd. Plus, at least six news outlets promoted and reported on the race.

“(Many duck) sales came from people who didn’t know anything about Kiwanis,” Malinowski says.

On the event day alone, the club gained one new member and at least one other prospect.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Malinowski, “and much more successful than expected.”

This story originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

2 thoughts on “Uncharted waters

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  1. What a great fun project. How does our club get noted in the magazine? We will be having our 3rd Annual Duck Race & KidFest on April 7, 2018. We had to make a river and we host a free day of fun, games, etc. for kids. While it’s a small fundraiser (@$2,500 with a couple of thousand ducks adopted) it’s a service to the children of our community and it’s held at Kiwanis Park in Charlotte County, Florida. In addition…our Shoes for Kids Project is huge…nearly 7,000 pairs collected and distributed to all schools in the district.

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