Murder mystery games for large numbers of guests – Fundraising

Very often we’re answering queries about how to use a murder mystery for fundraising. So this blog post is going to delve a little into two types of kit we routinely point fundraisers at.

However… before we go into detail… here are a few quick FAQs we answer a lot to start us off:

1)      Should I hire in an acting team to run a fundraising event?

You can, and we regularly DO get hired in to provide murder mysteries for fundraising evenings, but we don’t recommend it unless you have a very wealthy audience!  Which is why we spend a lot of time explaining our DIY kits.

Event managed murder mystery evenings cost anything between £520 and £2000 per evening, and while it guarantees everyone a quality night’s entertainment, that figure puts a significant dent into the amount you can raise as the upfront costs are so high. Once you’ve factored in food, venue hire and the marketing, you need to raise an awful lot of money to make any great donation to your chosen cause. By comparison a downloadable murder mystery script is just £49.99.  So already you’ve raised between £480 and £1950 by doing it yourself!

That isn’t to say you can’t hire us in, and we’ve helped at numerous black tie murder mystery fundraisers over the years, but if you’re a small group, with limited funds, we never recommend hiring in a group in the first instance, purely because of costs.  Rather we’d suggest looking at our DIY options where the prices are cheaper and the returns much greater.


2)      Do I need outside caterers or hire a restaurant / hotel?

Murder mystery events don’t necessarily require food. We’ve run murder mystery evenings as part of cabaret nights, or with finger food buffets, or wine and canapés before.

Catering is another one of those hidden costs in running a fundraiser, and while it’s great if everyone gets fed, again you need to decide if that’s a cost you can do without to ensure more money goes to your chosen cause.

You might decide that the food will be provided by the fundraising group e.g. a church may decide to have members of the church provide the food. This keeps costs down – but remember, if you’re charging for the food you do need to adhere to food health laws in your own country! (You might be able to circumnavigate food hygiene restrictions if the “cost per ticket” is a “donation” rather than for the food, and have the food provided “free” as part of the event. But it’s something you’d need to check with your local food health departments.)

You can create a really great evening with pre-packed food from supermarkets. A lot of supermarkets do big dish lasagne etc, which makes for an ideal main course, garlic bread for starter, ice cream for dessert, and you’ve kept your food bill to under £2 per head!

Also – don’t forget – you could always just get a fish and chips or take away delivered, rather than use caterers.


3)      Do I need to hire a venue?

Venue costs are again one of those hidden costs in fundraising. The simple answer is no. You can run a really effective multi-room mystery in someone’s own home without going to the expense of hiring a venue.

We’ve helped customers with venues in church halls, school halls, even outside barbecues and under marquee before, so the venue is not essential either.

The best venues are FREE ones, and I’d suggest when you start planning for a murder mystery, you visit a number of venues to see if any will donate the venue free, or at a lower cost as you are raising money for charity.

You could also run a murder mystery marathon or relay (see below for more information) in which case you don’t need a venue at all – rather you just need people’s houses!


4)      Should I get sponsorship?

Why not? You don’t NEED it, but getting various aspects of your fundraiser sponsored by companies will mean more money can go to your chosen charity as sponsorship is paying for advertising, or the venue, or the caterers etc.

If you think it’s unlikely you’ll get any local businesses to pay you in cash for aspects of the murder mystery event, then at least ask them for raffle prizes. Many retailers have stock they will be willing to dispose of for charitable causes. Just remember to thank them, and ensure any donations received are attributed to their organisation. Most businesses love a bit of free advertising, and can write off charitable donations against tax. Don’t expect it though! Quite often if you write 50 letters you’ll only get 5-8 responses for raffle prizes.


5)      Should I run a raffle?

Unless you are really opposed to raffles, either on religious grounds or just because you don’t like asking for more money once someone is “in the door”, then a raffle is a sure fire way of raising additional fundraising on the night. Most people will buy a strip of tickets worth £1. And you can get donations for prizes from within your organisation or by approaching businesses local to you.

One thing worth pointing out – don’t just have 1 raffle ticket book. If you have 3-5 colours, then you’re more likely to sell 3-5 strips of tickets!

Also – we’ve been at events where the organiser at the end of the evening has totted up the amount raised so far, and then challenged the audience to donate just a little more to get it to a bigger target. E.g. “If I put in £10 more to this donation jar, will anyone else do the same?” With a good group of people in the room, this will quickly raise £100 more on the evening.


6)      Should I allow alcohol?

That’s very much up to you – but we’d say yes. Tipsy people part with more money.

You may find you can negotiate a percentage from the bar takings! (Some hotels offer to do that for you if you ask!)


So… that’s our FAQ’s out of the way… which means we’re back to the problem of:

Can I run my own murder mystery fundraiser?

To which the quick answer is “yes” and – No, you don’t need a commerical license to do so!

We have two styles of murder mystery game we suggest to fundraising organisers. These are:

“Dinner Party Style games” and “Skit and Clue Based games”. The reason we suggest these first before anything else is that they are EASY to run.

If you’ve played a dinner party murder mystery at home before then the leap to entertaining a group of 80 isn’t too difficult using our dinner party style kits. These kits run exactly like a standard dinner party game, but instead of the questions and answers being run across a dinner table, the questions are split off from the “suspects” and provided to the rest of the guests who act as detectives.

These dinner party style games run incredibly well, and are very popular with fundraising groups. You can have anywhere between 7 and 13 cast taking part, OR if you’re super confident at playing the comper, you can run these without any cast support at all, and recruit suspects from amongst the paying audience.

With the dinner party style games, the murder happens pre-arrival. There’s no blood, no gore and no acting needed as such. So they’re really easy to run. The cast don’t even need to get together to rehearse as they can keep their script on them all night!

The skit and clue based games are an easy introduction to more theatrical productions. These require a cast of 7 who act out two short skits. These are popular with groups as it’s a more dynamic a performance. There’s screaming, there’s fainting, and there’s a dead body midway through the evening.  So they’re more fun to watch.

The cast don’t have to worry about learning any back story as they will never have to be interrogated by the guests. Instead information is released in paper clue form, which the guests exchange between teams, this encourages some really devious behaviour as they negotiate exchange, as well as various shenanigans and cheating as they try and swap clues with each other, see things they haven’t seen before, and try to keep track of the information.

Of the two formats we personally favour the Skit and Clue based games for numbers over 40, and the Dinner Party Style for numbers under 40.

Also available are what we call Multi-room murders. These are under our “Experienced” section – but can be pulled off with very good amateur performers, and a confident event manager.

These games are ideal for use in people’s homes. They provide a good alternative for venue hire, and we even have one we provide free of charge called Fete Accompli – which is set to run in a field at a village fete or show. This has been provided free to download and is designed to raise money for Cancer Research, though can be adapted to raise money for any charity with a bit of artistic license and re-writing of back stories for the cast.


Other options?

Dinner theatre scripts – are great for professional or Am Dram theatre groups – but are not the first choice for novices due to the amount of rehearsing, back story and line learning needed.


Dinner party games – rather than run a fundraising event, why not run a series of dinner party games in individuals’ homes.

Sometimes these are called “Murder mystery relays” or “murder mystery marathons”. With each participant inviting around 6-10 guests at a time, and charging their friends a “donation” towards the entertainment and food they provide. It’s a good way of making the dinner parties people would host anyway, into something fun and fundraising at the same time. It keeps overhead costs to a minimum as there’s no venue hire or catering costs – hosts provide their own venue and cooking.

If you want to run a marathon event of your own we can provide you with a special rate on more than 10 murder mystery kits purchased at one time – just contact us for details.



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Flexible and fun!

We contacted Red-Herring-Games for a party for a special occasion. Why going to restaurants to eat is the preferred activity to mark milestones is beyond me and my friends.   The choice of mystery was obvious, looking at the options from New Zealand on the web Red Herring stuck out from the international options.  A quick look at the site and games showed subtlety as well a range of choices.  The numbers you could have for each evening was important,  Red Herring had scaling options a good range of scenarios but most importantly were Jo and team being flexible, responsive and helpful.

Rachel McWilliam, Arts Development Officer, Lincs Inspire

Thank you Red Herring Games for the marvellous 'Murder!  Cargo Connections?' event that you organised for us as part of Museums at Night at the Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby. The whole evening went so well and was brilliant fun.  I know from all the feedback that our visitors had a fantastic time. It was really good working with you and I have no doubt that we will do again in the not too distant future.  

A. Nonymous (council employee)

I would like to thank you and your colleague for helping contribute towards our successful conference last month.  Everyone really seemed to enjoy the evening and it was rewarding that so many delegates were able to participate in addition to the main "Actors".  Our conference evaluation froms included the following comments:
  • "Enjoyed the evening entertainment!"
  • The evening entertainment was great and the confusion made it great fun!"
With thanks and best wishes.

Sarah Spencer (Cleethorpes Chronicle)

I had no idea what to expect before purchasing a ticket for Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, which was being staged at a nearby hotel, and feared it might involve taking part in some way. However thankfully for me no acting was necessary, just some amateur sleuthing. "Wedding guests" of which I was one, were called upon to move from room to room in the hotel in groups, questioning a number of possible murderers with the aim of solving the mystery of the dead bridegroom. The interviewees were really fun characters and gave us all some good laughs. Of course they all had motives and it was a case of identifying the shiftiest. The wedding theme was particularly good, as it fitted well with the venue, the buffet that was part of the evening (with a wedding cake in the middle) and the fact that everyone had been able to dress up to fit in without going to the trouble of fancy dress. I didn't think I had enough "evidence" to actually accuse anyone but later regretted not even writing down my first guess as it wouldn't have been too far off the mark. The evening was great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it and take part. I would definitely recommend Old, New, Borrowed, Blue as good for getting even reluctant or first-time mystery party-goers involved.  

Alan Young (Personal Touch Mortgages)

What a cracking nights entertainment! We don't get out much nowadays with 2 kids and this was exactly what we were looking for in a good night out. Lots of fun with tongue firmly in cheek and everyone kept guessing whodunnit right to the very end. Would definitely attend another!!!!!  


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