Crowd Ice Breaker – Multi-Player Thumb Wrestle

I recently travelled to Perth to speak at a conference on the topic of ‘How Creative Fundraising Connects Communities’. One of the things I spoke of was the importance of ice-breaker activities to put people at ease, add some fun and create a sense of connection.

I since came across this TED talk which shows a simple ice breaker in action. I think it is a fun idea that translates well into fundraising events. The speaker, Jane McGonigal, is a game designer and speaks in the video about the power of breaking down barriers by playing multi-player thumb wrestling with a crowd of people.

All of the fundraising or community events I have organised have started with an ice-breaker, and I have used a variety over the years. Ice breakers are suitable at anything from trivia nights and gala events to parent welcome evenings and barbecues. The type of event will determine the type of ice-breaker you choose.

I confess to being an introvert (this surprises many!), and so I engineer social occasions to cater to fellow introverts as well as people who are new to a situation or who are there on their own. That way everyone can feel at ease straight away and get on with the job of becoming an important part of your community.

The multi-player thumb wrestle involves each person playing thumb wrestle with two others – each of your hands must be connected to another. The game does not begin until every hand has found a foe. In the video, the entire TED audience stands up and is guided through the process of finding their thumb-partners. The facilitator asking anyone with a spare hand to hold it up until everyone has found a match. The wrestle then lasts for only a minute, accompanied by much laughter.

In her TED talk, Jane McGonigal performs an analysis of the journey that such a simple activity can take you on. She claims that this one game can arouse as many as ten emotions in one minute. She says they are joy, curiosity, excitement, creativity, contentment, awe, surprise, pride, love and relief.

To be honest, I don’t know about all of that, but I do know that ice-breakers can very quickly close the gap between strangers until they look more like allies, members of a team, perhaps even early-stage friends. To my thinking, they look very much like people that can start to work together towards a common goal. They look like your new volunteers and supporters.

In some upcoming fundraising tips, I will share some of the ice-breakers I have used through the years that have had good results. Please email me ones (click here) that you have used. In the meantime, I include a bonus tip below ūüôā

Happy Fundraising!

Mandy Weidmann

Publisher of the Fundraising Directory and author of the Practical Fundraising Handbook for School and Club Volunteers.


One ice-breaker that I have used to good effect is the ‘Human Bingo’. It is easy to organise and can be used in just about any environment.

Prepare bingo cards using a 5 x 5 square grid. Make one copy for each person attending the gathering. Have pens or pencils handy also (buy cheap packets of felt pens to stretch your dollar further).

On the bingo cards, you will have a series of generic questions, along the lines of the following:

  • owns more than two¬†pets
  • commutes to school/work
  • has never smoked
  • has visited another country
  • has ever won something
  • has ever been on the radio or television
  • has worked in another State

You then tell everyone the rules – interview somebody else until you can check off one box on your card. That person must sign your card, but may only sign one box – you must then move on to find someone else until you have filled every square on your card. The first to complete their card yells ‘bingo’!¬†

I like letting the game continue until most or all people have finished their card. An idea is to give everyone a ticket in a draw to win a small prize once they present their completed card.