[Last updated September 2020]
As we continue updating this article, our nonprofit community still faces plenty of uncertainty. It's certainly been a tumultuous several months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that your own nonprofit has found stable ground to continue fundraising and engaging donors. Many organizations have already found great success with virtual fundraising ideas, and donors are still eager to show their support for the causes they love.
However, social distancing guidelines and economic disruption will continue to impact the nonprofit sector for the foreseeable future.
If you haven't yet pivoted your plans and explored new virtual fundraising strategies, now is definitely the time. With the year-end giving season approaching, having a solid online fundraising and engagement strategy in place is more essential than ever before.
We've compiled a comprehensive list of our favorite virtual fundraising ideas, campaigns, and events to help you keep revenue flowing while we continue navigating today's challenges.
We've broken our virtual fundraising ideas down into these core categories:
- Virtual fundraising ideas for events
- Virtual fundraising ideas for campaigns
- Easy virtual fundraising ideas
- Unique virtual fundraising ideas
We'll also walk through the essentials of virtual fundraising and resources to keep learning more. Let's get started.
Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Events
Virtual events have quickly become an effective alternative to in-person engagement for many nonprofits. Using the right online fundraising software alongside livestreaming platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live, you can create an engaging experience for donors that strengthens ties and raises much-needed support.
Here are a few of our favorite virtual fundraising ideas for events, with plenty of pro tips sprinkled throughout.
Virtual Walk or Run
Many organizations use the great outdoors for an opportunity to bring community together for a fundraising and movement building moment. In the current coronavirus situation, nearly all of the typical walk event, run event, or endurance event is canceled as we do our best to maintain social distance. Replacing these types of events can be tough, as the physical connection of people moving together is a critical component. That said, there's a number of ways organizations are becoming creative about building virtual fundraising events that can be time-shifted or done solo.
For instance, the Animal Welfare Association of New Jersey typically hosts its annual FunDay, where owners and pets join together for a Paws and Feet walk. Since COVID-19 made it impossible to schedule bringing the full community together, AWA NJ decided to continue forward with the event but in a virtual manner, in which participants can do the walk at any time, and then take photos to share with the community. Here's they'd brought it all together.
Create a unique landing page
Much like what we've seen with other organizations, have a unique landing page on the website specifically for the event is important. This gives you a custom URL to drive traffic to a unique landing page, and provides a reference point that is specific to the event for easy bookmarking.
Design straight-forward call-to-action options
On the landing page, the call-to-action options are very clear, and include making an immediate donation or signing up to participate. Keep it simple, make it easy.
Explain the instructions clearly and easily
Right beneath the call-to-action buttons is the clear guidelines recommending how to participant. Since it's virtual, it's all on the honor system of when the walk is completed and how far you go, but of course, it's for a good cause, so we're betting most folks do the right thing. By taking a selfie with your pet, and holding up fingers to represent the type of walk you finished, the organizers can easily count participant impact.
Remind participants of their impact
Finally, they've wrapped it up with reminding the virtual fundraising event participants why they should complete the event, and how supporting the organization leads to the betterment of the animal welfare community in New Jersey.
Even if your organization doesn't have such photogenic animals to encourage people to participate in a virtual walk or virtual run, keeping it simple and providing clear guidelines can make this a fun and effective virtual event swap to make for your organization.
Sure, it might not bring with it the same dinner plating and dressing up for a night out with your friends, but providing a way to bring your community together for a virtual gala can keep them engaged. Consider reaching out to your board members and community leaders to host virtual gala tables, and spread the word.
Using peer-to-peer fundraising tools, you can have your board members become table captains, and then rally their network to support the virtual gala. Best yet, you’re not limited to the number of seats at a table for your fundraising needs!
This might be one of the most direct correlations between a traditional in-person event and an offline event. If you were looking to host an auction for your event, you could use new software to quickly convert it to an online auction. This would give you the same benefit of allowing your community to support your organization by purchasing gifted items, delivering the same value.
If your nonprofit has its own facilities, try offering supporters a virtual tour to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes to support your mission. Social media livestreaming tools will make it easy to walk and talk, but be sure to make frequent donation appeals before, during, and after your tour. Recording your virtual tour gives you handy digital content to save for later use, too.
This virtual fundraising idea is best suited to organizations like animal shelters and museums, but get creative to find the right twist for your own nonprofit! A behind-the-scenes look at your mission is an enticing idea for all kinds of audiences.
Multi-day Virtual Conference
For many nonprofit missions, a multi-day virtual conference is a perfect way to strengthen ties with your supporters and facilitate valuable discussions.
Recruit organizational leaders, community figures, and local experts. Then, build an exciting schedule of discussions, presentations, and virtual mixers. Set up a website for your event and heavily promote your registration form to supporters and partners. Charge a registration fee or ask for a suggested donation to raise money.
Organizing a virtual conference will require a heavier investment of time and technology than other simpler ideas, but it's also highly flexible. Think about your mission and the impactful stories and conversations you can facilitate within your community. This is a great way to deepen your supporters’ connections with your mission during a time when staying in touch is more important (and more challenging) than ever.
Facebook Live Fundraising Event
In the age of social distancing, many bands, comedians, artists, speakers, and other people are turning to online platforms like Facebook Live to host entertaining events.
Perhaps one of the most popular recent online events was John Krasinski’s virtual senior prom for the class of 2020. It featured a full celebrity line-up with Chance the Rapper, Billie Eilish, and The Jonas Brothers.
Take advantage of everyone being at home to offer some exclusive online entertainment or education opportunities. Your organization probably can’t just call Chance the Rapper to show up to your live online event. Still, I bet there’s someone that people in your network would love to engage with online! And, many of these people have much freer schedules now that concerts, speaking tours, and other in-person events are canceled for the foreseeable future.
Steps to get started
- Consider inviting professors or authors who are experts in something related to your cause to give a talk and lead a Q&A. Ask a local band to put on a virtual show (while following social distancing rules, of course). Don’t be afraid to ask your audience who they would want to hear from!
- Once you have your online entertainment lined up, start inviting people to attend! The fundraising part comes when you send the invitation and include a very specific donation request. Be very clear about your fundraising goals and what you plan to accomplish with the money. You should also make asks during the live event, sharing with attendees about your cause and how you’ll use their donations.
- This fundraiser will require more direct asks during the live event, but if you organize a virtual event that people will be eager to attend, there’s excellent fundraising potential with minimal financial risk.
TED Talk-Style Virtual Event
Have a star speaker, or series of guests, which could make for a great hour of inspiring presentations? Consider hosting a livestream presentation where you can have each speaker present from the friendly confines of their own home to your community. You can have a new set of speakers each week, and make it light and easy for speakers to contribute without needing a full presentation deck. Before and after the presentations, include links to call-to-actions for fundraising requests to make it easy for your virtual attendees to provide an online donation to your nonprofit organization.
Virtual Talent Show
If your organization is in the creative and performing arts communities, a virtual talent show might be a great way for the community to still see the great creative efforts of your team without needing to crowd into a theatre setting. Simply request registrations in advance using an event registration app, and then provide a virtual ticket to access the talent show via a link you provide.
Using a service like YouTube Live, you can live stream your event to the attendees, and let your performing community shine!
Virtual Happy Hour
For a more casual virtual event, take a happy hour online! These are among the easiest virtual fundraising events to organize. All you need is a sign-up form, a livestreaming or virtual conferencing platform, and a loose schedule of conversation topics. Pulling together a list of fun themed drinks and snacks to suggest to attendees can’t hurt, either.
Set up your registration form, and charge a small sign-up fee or ask for a suggested donation for attendance These events work best for smaller groups, so consider hosting weekly or monthly virtual happy hours to give all of your supporters a chance to join in.
Virtual Book Club
A virtual book club is a great way to engage supporters and build community among your supporters.
Pick a book that relates to your mission and that will resonate with your donors. Then, set up an online forum or discussion board for readers to share their thoughts and engage with one another. Schedule weekly virtual events for participants to tune in and discuss the book together. Don’t forget to provide a direct link to your donation page within the virtual meeting center, too!
Virtual Film Screening
For nonprofit organizations that already have a movie that is important in their community, consider hosting a virtual movie watching event. To support this, you can set a time for everyone to start virtually watching a movie together, while also joining together in a chat room. Then, have a special host from your team answer their questions and facilitate discussions during the movie. It’s like a pop-up chat expert ready to explain and support meaningful exchanges during the movie.
The Global Fund for Women has an amazing video series called Fundamental which highlights grassroots movements and community leaders who are standing up for our fundamental human rights. With such an amazing set of movies, they have provided their community a number of virtual ways to get involved.
Create a unique landing page
First, they provide a unique landing page on their website that makes it clear that this isn't just about watching a movie, but rather supporting a global movement. They have just a few key calls to action, including signing up for email updates, donate, hosting a screening, and getting involved by taking action.
Design an email sign-up opportunity
With a drive to grow their community of supporters, their call-to-action for signing up to stay involved with updates is clean and easy to access. This will give them the ability to continue their outreach efforts long after the watching of the movies.
Develop a customized donation page
For those that have watched the movies and want to financially support their efforts, they have created a distinct donation page specifically for this virtual fundraising event. As we've seen in the other examples, they are concise and effective in their messaging to encourage someone to give.
Enable hosting opportunities
Their supporters that are towards the top of their ladders of engagement have an opportunity to really make an extra effort to contribute to the cause by hosting a showing. In our COVID-19 world, this could also be done through gathering friends remotely and timing a start time to watch the movies.
Deliver an external action that empowers supporters
Finally, for those that have watched the movies and want to take action, the Global Fund for Women provides advocacy tools to convert that potential energy into kinetic energy by communicating with decision makers right away.
Now, it's likely that your organization might not have a dedicated film series that you've created. That's okay! Adopt a documentary that aligns with your organization's mission and cause. To help drive a virtual fundraising experience, you can use different points in the movie as calls-to-action based on the subject a particular scene.
If your community is highly engaged on key issues you’re tackling, consider bringing together a group of them to discuss. With more social isolation time, people are going to yearn for more togetherness time.
Using online virtual meeting tools such as Zoom, you can create different rooms for groups of discussions.First, you can welcome everyone to the virtual event, and then make a request for a contribution via a link embedded in the meeting system.
Virtual Open Mic Night
When it’s your community that has the knowledge and creative talents to share, how about turning the camera and audio on them? You could host an open mic night, where attendees can all join a group video meeting, and then virtually raise their hand to host the microphone. Give the evening a topic, bring together participants, and away you go!
Virtual Wine Pull
Wine pulls are classic fundraising activities that many nonprofits incorporate into their in-person events. These events work by collecting a variety of wines ranging in values and arranging them so that their labels can’t be seen. Then, donors purchase tickets to pull a random wine bottle and see what they’ve won.
Adapting this activity to take place virtually isn’t as challenging as it might initially seem. You’ll still collect a variety of wines, but instead of presenting them in-person, you let supporters purchase a numbered mystery bottle through your online store or virtual event center. Once all the bottles have been purchased, send each donor a message to tell them what they’ve won.
This is an engaging addition to all kinds of virtual fundraising events like galas and auctions, but it can be easily adapted as a standalone, raffle-style event, as well.
Online Gaming Tournament Fundraiser
Say what you will about online video games, but the people who play them have a long history of philanthropy and generosity. The streaming platform Twitch estimates that users raised more than $75 million for various charities between 2012 and 2017. That number continues to grow, especially as online gaming continues to grow in popularity.
Why this fundraiser works
This fundraiser works because it brings people together around a common interest and a common cause. It enables them to use their hobby to make a positive impact in the world. And competitors won’t even need to leave their homes! It’s also a very versatile event that lets you create something as simple or complex as you can handle.
Steps to get started
Start by figuring out which online game people in your network would be excited to play for a great cause. It should be a multiplayer game with scores, and there should be some kind of time limit, so your tournament doesn’t go on indefinitely.
Some examples of games people have successfully used in tournaments are: Call of Duty, Rock Band, Mario Kart, FIFA, and Halo.
Once you’ve hammered out all the particulars like date, time, tournament format, and what game you’ll use, you can start getting participants registered!
Launch an event registration and donation page
Whether you decide to have an entry fee or run it as a peer-to-peer fundraiser (where each competitor raises money toward your cause), you need a custom event registration page.
You’ll also need to be able to accept online donations for the event. A custom online donation page is easy to make and excellent for participants to share with their friends and family. If you plan to run the fundraising event as a peer-to-peer fundraiser, each participant will need their own unique donation page.
One way to sweeten the deal is to offer the tournament winner a small cut of the proceeds. Be sure to include all these details on your event page. You might consider asking local game stores and restaurants to offer some discounts for participants and spectators to purchase food and equipment for the event and support a local business at the same time!
Use an email campaign and social media to get the word out
Send an email to your entire community broadcasting the event and letting them know how they can participate, even if they aren’t into gaming. It’s essential to keep your entire community updated on all the virtual fundraising activities you host, the outcome, and what you’ll be able to accomplish with the funds.
Creating a social media event broadcasts your event beyond your established network. It allows competitors and donors to invite their friends and family. Be creative and think of some ways to engage the gaming community and share about your cause. Invite them to use their gaming skills to make a difference in the world!
Virtual Paint or Craft Night
Similar to the virtual cooking class, this virtual fundraiser is entertaining and gives people a chance to create fun art for a good cause.
Many people are familiar with the "wine and design" events where you go to a painting studio and sip wine while the instructor leads you through step-by-step instructions to paint a picture.
Doing it from your kitchen isn’t quite the same, but it’s a great way to engage your audience, raise some money, and give people something to do from home. Even when group events are allowed again, this is an excellent fundraiser to bring your supporters together that are scattered around the country.
Consider creating a painting that somehow reflects the cause or theme you’re supporting, so participants have a beautiful piece of art that reminds them of your organization’s great work. If you don’t feel that your organization has the right skills to pull this off, reach out to a local Wine and Design studio or college art department to find someone who can run the art instruction part of this event.
Steps to get started
This type of event requires advanced registration because you’ll need to send (or deliver) the painting supplies to each participant. Create gift bags with all the art supplies and some resources from your organization.
Create an event registration page
Some painting class locations have pre-designed fundraising opportunities. If you’re organizing your own event, you’ll need an event registration page for people to sign up, pay for the class, make donations, and invite their friends. If possible, give an example of the painting everyone will be creating so they get excited about the project.
Don’t forget to add an option to make an additional donation when people are paying online. This will increase your fundraising potential!
Send email invitations and create an event on your social media pages
Send an email blast to your entire list, inviting everyone to register for the event. Creating an event on your social media pages helps people share the invitation with friends and family, which increases your visibility.
Consider coming up with a catchy name for the event that incorporates your cause, like "Paint Out Hunger" or "Painting Freedom."
Send clear instructions before the event
Don’t forget to send clear instructions to all the registrants before the event so everyone will know how to log into the online event and how to set up their painting supplies. Encourage people to have their favorite snack and drink at hand and "attend" in comfy clothes. You can even add a dress theme or invite people to wear fun party hats to jazz up the conference call portion of the event.
Tell participants about your cause and thank them during the event
At some point during the online gathering, have someone from your organization give a very brief explanation of your nonprofit and the specific cause you’re raising money for.
Thank everyone for participating and supporting your cause. Gratitude goes a long way to build trust and encourage people to continue engaging with your organization.
Virtual Local Business Fair
During times of economic uncertainty, taking steps to support your nonprofit’s broader community effectively brings people together in spirit. It helps to strengthen your local economy and communicates to donors that you care about the community as a whole, not just your donors and mission.
Similar to a virtual gala or conference, organize a virtual business fair for local businesses and artisans to present their offerings to your audience. Ask for a suggested donation from attendees to raise money, and be sure to offer your nonprofit’s own merchandise for sale, too!
A virtual business fair will require more planning and coordination than other types of virtual events, but the engagement benefits and potential for building new partnerships make it worth the effort. If you think this virtual fundraising idea is a smart move for your own community, start by reaching out to local partners and businesses to gauge their interest. Other organizations might jump at the chance to co-host the event, reducing the upfront expenses of planning it on your own.
Virtual Scavenger Hunt
For a fun, virtual-friendly activity to engage donors, try an online scavenger hunt. This idea is particularly fun for schools, but any organization that wants to help supporters learn more about its mission can easily adapt it to suit its audience.
Take some time to develop a scavenger hunt that guides donors around the web (especially your own website) to find clues relating to your mission. For instance, they may find a clue hidden in a picture on your About Us page. Or, maybe they'll find a secret message below your mission statement. Get creative with your scavenger hunt and be sure to offer a prize to the first person who can find all of your hidden messages!
Creative Virtual Marathon Fundraiser
Several years ago, podcaster and editor, Jesse Carey, did two "ultimate tests of endurance" to raise money for one of his favorite nonprofits, Charity:Water. He listened to the entire Nickelback catalog on repeat for 7 days in a row. In case you’re keeping track, that’s 168 hours of nonstop Nickelback! His self-imposed musical torture topped $36,000!
The next year, Jesse decided to host another "test of endurance" on behalf of Charity:Water. He locked himself (and a few of his friends) in a room and watched 24 consecutive hours of Nicolas Cage films. He live-streamed his feat, providing commentary and inviting friends, family, and donors to watch along with him. In just 24 hours, Jesse and company raised $30,953. He leveraged his creativity and pension for humorous stunts to change the world.
Why this virtual fundraiser works
You don’t have to get quite as crazy as Jesse Carey (though his stunts did garner national attention). But inviting people to do a "marathon" event to raise money is an excellent virtual fundraising opportunity! One of the great things about this fundraising strategy is you can tap into your audience’s strengths and interests. Whether it’s music, Nicolas Cage movies, cooking, or anything else, you can turn it into a marathon fundraising event from home! You can create a group marathon event or empower people to develop their own personal challenges.
However you decide to structure it, this virtual fundraiser works because you’re inviting people to use their time and talents. Some people might not have money to offer, but they can generously give their energy and abilities to a great cause.
Here’s an idea of how to get a marathon fundraising event started.
Steps to get started
Create a landing page for your event
Every fundraising event needs a unique landing page with all the details and donation options. This also gives you a URL that’s easy to remember and share. For example, Jesse Carey used the URL "TrappedInTheCage.com." People visited the site to vote on which Nicolas Cage movies Jesse would have to watch, get links to live-stream options, donation information, and more.
It’s much easier to drive traffic to a unique landing page than to just tell people to visit your organization’s website and look around until they find the right page.
Create a clear call-to-action
What EXACTLY are you trying to accomplish? Jesse set a very specific goal of raising $24,000 by watching 24 hours of Nicolas Cage. What’s your goal, and how can people help you accomplish it?
An excellent way to engage your audience is to write a specific statement and give three particular calls to action.
"I am riding 4,000 miles on my indoor bike trainer to raise $4,000 to fight childhood hunger. Here are three ways you can help:
- Donate $40 to sponsor 4 miles! That will provide meals for 4 kids for a week!
- Every donation of more than $100 will receive a custom "marathon badge" (or whatever you decide to give as an incentive).
- Ride with me and help us grind out child hunger!
Adding a way for people to participate with you and set their own fundraising goals. This will exponentially increase your fundraising potential.
All these specific calls to action need very clear instructions that make people really believe they can do one or more things on the list.
Virtual Cooking Lessons
Right now, most of us are trapped at home, waiting for the global pandemic to subside. Many people have extra time on their hands (or kids to entertain), and they’re eager to try new things, learn new skills, and just have a little fun. Take advantage of this opportunity by offering virtual cooking lessons as a fundraiser!
Really, this fundraiser isn’t limited to cooking. Whether you find an excellent cook, an impressive seamstress, or an origami master, as long as you can live-stream the lessons and the people who sign up can order the supplies, it’s a great idea.
People will be excited to learn something new and support a great cause. You can ask someone in your organization to lead the class (if they have that ability), or you can find a celebrity chef to offer professional instructions.
Why this virtual fundraiser works
This fundraiser works because people tend to be eager to "buy" services to support a cause they care about. Even people who feel that they don’t have room in their budgets for charitable giving are more likely to support a good cause if it also meets one of their felt needs (in this case, the need for entertainment and good food).
Here’s how you can get started planning this fundraiser today!
Steps to get started
Launch a custom online registration page
Once you decide what kind of lessons to offer, who will teach, the date, time, and other details, you’re ready to start getting people signed up! You’ll need an event registration page so everyone can get all the details, sign up in advance, and invite their friends.
You can decide whether to charge a set registration fee or offer a suggested donation amount and let people choose how much to pay. There are pros and cons to either option. No matter which one you choose, you’ll need to have the ability to process online payments and collect everyone’s contact information.
Make sure your registration page includes all the critical details:
- How to attend the class online (detailed instructions that technologically inept people can follow)
- What supplies they’ll need to participate (be as specific as possible)
- A sharable link for them to invite friends and family
If you invite a celebrity chef or an excellent local cook, make sure you highlight their achievements and where you can find them when restaurants are reopened!
You should also offer more ways to support your cause. Perhaps you would like to sell raffle tickets for an additional prize package that you’ll give away during the lesson.
Help attendees get all the ingredients and materials ahead of time
Since we’re working with limited shopping options during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll need to make sure everyone can gather all the right ingredients (or suitable substitutes). One option is to sell the required materials in a package for a small fee.
Another simple way to raise a little extra money is to add affiliate links to your supplies list. If people order online using the affiliate link, your organization receives a small kickback.
Tell your audience about the cause before, during, and after
As always, be clear about your "why" as you invite people to register for your online event. Then, during the event, have someone in your organization give a brief explanation of your organization and how you plan to use the money from the fundraiser. Keep it short, simple, and clear, so it doesn’t derail the class.
After your virtual fundraising event, email all the participants to thank them for supporting your cause. Share how much you raised and what you’ll be able to accomplish because of their generosity. Include a link to your online donation page, so people have the opportunity to make additional donations. If possible, include an invitation to your next virtual fundraising event and add them to your email updates list.
Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Campaigns
A longer fundraising campaign might be the perfect way to raise support, engage donors, and incorporate a variety of virtual elements into your nonprofit’s plans. Online fundraising campaigns have long been a mainstay for nonprofits, but the new necessity of remote engagement has made them more important than ever.
Here are a few of our top virtual fundraising ideas for campaigns. Each of these ideas can be adapted to fit all kinds of missions, audiences, and toolkits, so get creative!
Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Campaign
If you’re in the position of not needing to cancel an already existing gala event, you’ve got a chance to move forward directly on a virtual fundraising campaign. One great way to do this is to drive forward with a peer-to-peer fundraising effort that can leverage your entire community, rather than solely board members and key influencers.
Giving your team some runway, you can build a multi-month virtual campaign focused on first finding the online influentials in your community. Once you know the right folks to help spread the word, you can help them optimize their outreach effort to better gain traction. This could involve building teams with captains to compete against each other to raise money for your organization.
Virtual Giving Day
Giving days are a classic nonprofit fundraising campaign because they allow you to hyper-focus your efforts. Giving Tuesday is the classic example, helping nonprofits of all sizes reach more donors annually to help support their missions over the year to come. However, giving days can be organized and held any time of year. They just require careful preparation and a lot of marketing.
With the shift to the virtual sphere, take a flexible approach to creating your most engaging giving day campaign yet. Heavily promote your giving day a month or more in advance using email and social media. Partner with other organizations and local businesses to spawn a mini-movement that grows your audience and raises awareness for your mission.
For the big day, create a full schedule of engaging virtual activities like livestreamed appeals, online raffles, social media contests, and more. Just make sure you have a robust donation app in place to handle the increased traffic!
Virtual Awareness Campaign
Sometimes raising awareness for your mission and growing your audience is the top priority. In this case, a virtual awareness campaign can help you achieve this goal.
Create multimedia content explaining your mission, why it matters, and how you work to achieve it. Double down on your storytelling strategies to generate more clicks and shares on social media, and be sure to include a link to your donation page so that readers who feel inspired can lend their support. Steering supporters towards your monthly or sustaining giving program can also help generate more long-term value from your campaign.
Consider anchoring your awareness campaign with a virtual event. Whether you’re raising awareness leading up to a seasonal event like a gala or simply looking to boost support at any time of year, livestreamed celebrations, presentations, and recognition ceremonies are excellent additions to awareness campaigns.
Partner Crowdfunding Campaign
This is corporate fundraising with a twist… and it works even when everyone’s working from home! Typical corporate fundraising campaigns help build teamwork and camaraderie among the employees at the company, and it builds a relationship between the business and your organization. You can benefit from all that with a virtual partner crowdfunding campaign!
You can even use one of the other virtual fundraising ideas to kick off your partner crowdfunding campaign! For example, host a virtual fundraising cooking class for the company to launch the fundraising campaign, then keep the campaign going by offering another prize to the employee or department that raises the most money.
Steps to get started
- A virtual "launch" event allows the business to do something together, learn about your organization, and get excited about the fundraising campaign. Make it fun, engaging, and include all the information about your nonprofit and their fundraising goals. If you plan to make it a competition among employees or departments, you’ll need to help people set up individual donation pages.
- Send regular updates on the fundraising progress and current leaders. Some organizations offer incentives throughout the "contest" (like a small prize to the first department or employee to reach 75 different donations). You can also send tips and tricks to teach employees how to be a great crowdfunder. This will empower and equip them to be great fundraisers for your organization and any other cause they’re passionate about.
- Pro tip: check to see if the business you’re partnering with offers a qualifying employee matching grant! That might significantly increase your fundraising potential.
Similar to a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, a virtual ambassador campaign takes the tactic one step further. Rather than allow all of your supporters to create their own giving pages, actively recruit a smaller group of well-connected ambassadors in your community.
This technique works especially well to secure registrations leading up to a major event like a virtual auction or gala. However, get creative to adapt this fundraising method to your own goals or schedule.
Empower your ambassadors with their own custom donation or event registration pages, engaging content to share online, and specific goals to reach, then let them loose! Check in with them periodically to review progress and provide support. During your virtual event, publicly recognize and reward your ambassadors for all their hard work.
Matching Gift Drive
Corporate matching gifts are a highly underutilized source of revenue for many nonprofits, so try building a mini-campaign to raise awareness of these programs and drive more matches to completion.
Develop a campaign to promote matching gifts to your donors via email and social media, explaining how these programs work and how donors can check their own eligibility. Then, see how many matches you can receive during a specific timeframe. This virtual campaign idea can deliver significant long-term value both by generally educating your donors about matching gift opportunities and by helping you identify match-eligible donors to focus your future stewardship efforts on.
Wishlist Drive Fundraiser
In-kind donations are often just as valuable to nonprofit organizations as financial donations. If your nonprofit could use more physical supplies to help you further your mission, creating a wishlist drive fundraiser is an easy way to let supporters know.
eCommerce platforms like Amazon make it easy to create a wishlist of items that your nonprofit needs and allow donors to have their gifts directly shipped to you. You might also set up a special in-kind donations page on your website for donors to purchase specific items by making donations that cover the cost.
This virtual fundraising campaign is low-effort, provides direct support for your work, and gives donors a much more tangible sense of their contributions' impact. When promoting a wishlist drive, focus heavily on communicating the impact of specific donations, like the number of shelter animals that one case of food can feed per month.
Virtual Raffle Fundraiser
Running a traditional raffle is challenging, stressful, and time-consuming. A virtual raffle can happen anywhere, is easy, and just about any nonprofit can run it! It works very similarly to a traditional fundraising raffle, but everything happens online, so it’s much easier to keep track of all the donations, and nobody will need to go door-to-door selling raffle tickets.
This virtual fundraiser is great when you’re trying to mobilize a lot of people to participate and contribute small donations (which add up quickly). While there’s nothing glamorous or extra unique about this fundraising strategy, people are very familiar with charity raffles.
This might work to the advantage of many nonprofits who need to raise money but don’t feel like they can host a large virtual event. It also might be advantageous to use a fundraising strategy that people know and understand during a season of uncertainty and fear (like the COVID-19 pandemic). Sometimes offering familiarity is an asset. Virtual raffles are also much cheaper to run because you don’t have to pay for raffle tickets, events, and other expenses.
Of course, you’ll need to offer a prize for the raffle winner. Some organizations offer a portion of the money raised. Other organizations come up with gift baskets, experiences, and other prizes. The key is to provide a prize that many people will want! To lower your overhead costs, you can find a corporate sponsor to donate a grand prize.
Steps to get started
- Here’s how it works: Set up a custom donation page for the raffle campaign. For every $1, $5, or $10 someone donates (or whatever increment you’d like to use), the individual receives an entry into the raffle drawing, just like a standard raffle fundraiser.
- Make sure you broadcast the virtual raffle far and wide on social media and in your email updates. Create fun, sharable content that your supporters can use on their social media to help you fundraise and raise awareness about your cause.
- Don’t forget to announce the winner at the end of the contest! If possible, share a photo and name of the winner on your social media platforms and in the email update. Broadcasting the winner builds trust and confirms that you actually did hold the drawing (especially if the prize is a portion of the money). Of course, hosting a virtual raffle means you can make everyone a winner by offering discount codes or other small prizes to everyone who buys a ticket.
Remote Collection Drive
Collection drives are a classic way for supporters to directly support your mission without making financial gifts. With the shift to virtual, a remote collection drive is still do-able, but it will require some extra planning and strategy.
If your organization doesn’t have physical office space (or if your office is closed), coordinate with local organizations and businesses currently open to the public to host your collection bins. Schools, coffee shops, and grocery stores all might make excellent partners. Promote your drive to your supporters, and ask your partners to promote it to their audience, too. You might even ask dedicated volunteers to host collection bins themselves in their garages.
The exact items you ask supporters to contribute will vary based on your mission. Canned goods, school supplies, and gently used shoes are all classic examples, but get creative to find the right fit for your unique audience and cause.
Online Pledge Drive
Pledge drives are an effective way to generate a burst of energy around your mission and reach wide new audiences of supporters. The main idea with these online campaigns is to motivate supporters to pledge future donations by connecting with them emotionally, emphasizing the importance of your mission and your work.
Pledge drives are often held in direct response to crises, but they can be adapted to fit all kinds of fundraising contexts such as virtual annual campaigns or to raise money for specific projects. Heavily promote your pledge drive online, and make it easy for supporters to pledge their support.
By offering a quick, seamless donation process, you’ll likely see that many supporters choose to complete their transactions at the time of pledging, reducing the amount of follow-up your team will need to do later. Pledge drives are also extremely effective for connecting your organization with new supporters who are motivated by your mission, creating an ideal audience to promote your next campaigns and events.
Easy Virtual Fundraising Ideas
Sometimes a quick and easy virtual fundraising idea is just what you need to energize your supporters and generate donations. By relying on the tools already at your disposal and tapping into new, easily accessible resources, you can launch all kinds of quick fundraising events, drives, and online campaigns.
These are a few of our favorite easy virtual fundraising ideas for nonprofits.
Birthday Challenge Virtual Fundraiser
This one isn’t really a fundraising event, but it is a very widely successful online fundraising strategy. Organizations like Charity:Water invite people to use their birthdays to raise money for a great cause. So, if you’re turning 32, you can invite all your friends to make a $32 donation to your Birthday Donation Page in place of gifts.
Why this virtual fundraiser works
Legend has it this style of a peer-to-peer fundraiser took off when a little girl asked all her friends to give $10 to her favorite charity instead of bringing birthday presents to her 10th birthday party, proving that this fundraiser works for people of all ages! And, in the age of social distancing and pandemic quarantine, birthday parties are being canceled or postponed. Why not take advantage of this by helping people celebrate their birthdays and make an impact!
One way your organization can take this up a notch is to offer to throw a virtual birthday party for anyone who can raise a certain amount of money before their birthday. It really won’t cost your nonprofit much, and you’ll get a lot of interaction with the virtual party guests. Use your organization’s Zoom account (or another online conferencing platform) to gather all their friends and family for free. Thank them for their generosity and maybe plan some fun party games. There are loads of free or low-cost ways to take this virtual fundraising idea to the next level.
Steps to get started
Make sure you can set up peer-to-peer donation pages
Make sure your organization can let donors set up personal donation pages. This virtual fundraiser really only works if they can set their own fundraising goal, promote their birthday fundraiser, and share everything easily with their friends.
Email your supporters to invite them to take the "Birthday Challenge" (or whatever you decide to call it)
Once you decide how your organization wants to run the virtual birthday fundraiser and all the perks you’d like to offer, create a unique page on your website with all the details. Include details about how people can set up their personal donation pages.
Once everything is ready, send an email to your network inviting people to take the birthday challenge! Increase the chances of success by letting people choose their favorite cause or campaign to support with their birthday fundraiser.
Consider offering some birthday swag and bragging about them online
Consider offering some branded swag to the birthday person. A great t-shirt or something really fun and useful that they can either use at their virtual birthday party or wear after the event that honors them for their fundraising efforts.
If appropriate, make sure you have a few kid-friendly swag options to encourage children to leverage their birthdays for good. (Of course, if your nonprofit focuses on issues that aren’t kid-friendly, this suggestion isn’t for you.)
Bragging is free! When someone decides to host a birthday fundraiser, make sure to broadcast their efforts far and wide on your social media platforms--especially on their birthday! Thank them publicly for their generosity.
Social Media Contest
A social media contest is a quick and easy way to engage donors, and it can be held either as a standalone activity or as part of a broader campaign or event.
Encourage supporters to share pictures or posts relating to your mission and to tag them with a unique hashtag that you’ve determined in advance. Selfies of supporters wearing your merch, pictures of cute pets, and inspirational stories about your mission are all great ideas for a social media contest. When the contest ends, look through all your submissions and pick a handful of winners. Then, announce your winners and reward them with prizes like free merchandise or virtual event tickets.
To get the most out of this virtual fundraising idea, ask supporters to include a link to your website or donation page in their submissions and to encourage their own friends and family to share their posts, as well.
Virtual Shopping Sale
For those organizations that support communities of merchants, farmers, creative artists, or others with physical items that typically are sold in person, designing an virtual fundraising event that provides an engaging online shopping experience for your supporter community could be a great fit.
When the Tilth Alliance in Seattle realized that its May 2020 in-person Edible Plant Sale needed to be reimagined due to the coronavirus, the team went to work quickly to formulate a new strategy. First, they quickly communicated with their supporter community via email about the necessary change, and gave a foreshadow to the next steps.
With the community now informed, and with about a month and a half runway ahead of them, the team quickly moved to creating an online store for the community to come together to view the plants for sale and find safe pick-up spots to pick up orders.
Your organization might not have a community of farmers or gardeners, but if there's a way to bring your community together to sell items, it's another great way to drive traffic to your own website and encourage visitors to engage and give when they're visting.
Google Ad Grants
As a free and easy way to boost your organization’s online visibility, ad grants from Google are a great way to grow your audience and maximize donations from online visitors.
This program gives your nonprofit free ad space at the top of search result pages for keywords that you select. For small and mid-size nonprofits, choose keywords related to your community or mission, like “New York animal shelter” or “Washington DC food bank.” This level of specificity will help ensure that searchers have a closer connection to your mission and will be more likely to donate.
This guide to Google grant management walks through the entire process of applying for and implementing your free ads. This is a valuable opportunity that many nonprofits overlook. The ability to show up front and center on search results can provide a long-term boost to your fundraising and engagement efforts, particularly when it comes to acquiring new donors during high-visibility awareness campaigns or giving days.
Free Digital Download with Donation
This is the 2020 version of the "free tote bag or coffee mug with a donation" that NPR and other radio stations made popular so many years ago. Fortunately, online donation processing makes it easy to offer free digital downloads as donor gifts at a very low cost for your nonprofit.
Offer something desirable to anyone who makes a donation! Books, artwork, local artisan food, coupons, discount codes, or a gift that reflects your organization’s work are some common physical gifts in exchange for donations (which are still perfectly great fundraising incentives). You can even offer things like access to an exclusive webinar or free consultation session. You get the idea!
Whether you offer a video download, a digital book, a printable poster, audio file, image, or some other digital donor gift in exchange for a minimum donation. You can even offer different rewards for various giving levels.
Steps to get started
Prepare your digital gift and add an image to your donation page
Create a donation page that includes all the details about your digital downloads. It helps to add thumbnail images or samples so people can see what they will receive if they make a donation. Fortunately, with customizable donation pages, it’s easy to add and update this kind of information on demand.
Send an email campaign about your digital gift offer
Create an email campaign to broadcast your digital download offering! This is especially true if you’re offering exclusive access to an event. Explain why you chose the donation gifts you’re offering and why you’re excited about them.
Don’t forget to also send thank-you emails to everyone who makes a donation and receives the digital downloads! Gratitude goes a long way to continue strengthening your relationship with your supporters.
Online Merchandise Sales
Branded merchandise is a classic way for nonprofits to raise funds both in-person and online. Create t-shirts, hats, tote bags, coffee mugs, and more all featuring your logo, and offer them to donors.
To sell merchandise online, you might partner with a third-party merchandising platform that can print and ship your products themselves. For greater control over the long run, consider setting up an online shop on your nonprofit's website. The ability to quickly launch new branded products can provide a built-in revenue booster for any future campaigns or events you host, so it pays to develop even a small range of merchandise to offer your community.
Unique Virtual Fundraising Ideas
With so many other nonprofits and businesses vying for your donors’ attention online, competition can be fierce! Standing out from the crowd will be necessary for success with virtual fundraising. Taking a creative approach or tapping into the emotional connections of community can go a long way to help your virtual fundraising efforts rise above the crowd.
Check out our favorite unique virtual fundraising ideas that will engage supporters and generate more donations for your mission.
Rubber Duckie Race Virtual Fundraiser
This one goes by a lot of different names, "sailboat race," "rubber duckie race," etc. No matter what you call it, there’s nothing like a little healthy competition to get people excited to participate and bring in the donations.
Here’s how it works: choose four specific projects you’d like to get funded that cost about the same. Then, challenge donors to give to their favorite project! The "race" is to see which project gets fully funded first.
Why this virtual fundraiser works
This fundraiser creates a sense of urgency in the fundraising process. Some nonprofits add small incentives, like a gift to the people who gave to the winning project. However you decide to do it, it’s a unique twist on virtual fundraising.
Steps to get started
Create a donation page with progress bars
Make a donation page and form for each of the projects you are fundraising for. Use a different image for each form--sailboats, rubber duckies, bicycles, anything works! Set donation goals for each project. Communicate what you’ll do with the money raised for the non-winning projects (many organizations redirect that money to the general fund, but it’s really up to you).
Advertise the "race" through email campaigns and social media posts
Broadcast the fundraising "race" far and wide with email updates, social media posts, and every other advertising method you use. Keep everyone updated on the progress so people can get their friends involved. Empower people to invite others to give toward their favorite project (sort of like crowdfunding).
Follow up with a thank you and an update
At the end of the "race," send a thank-you email to everyone who donated! Share about the winning project on social media and in your next email update. If possible, include details and updates about the progress of the winning project. Supporters love to see what their money accomplished.
Local Discount Cards
A classic fundraising idea for schools and community organizations, local discount cards can be easily adapted for the virtual fundraising era. Ask local businesses to offer discounts and deals for shoppers who have your card or coupon book, then heavily promote your new offering to donors. Sell your cards at a reasonable price that covers the cost of printing or creating them.
Many businesses have opened back up to the public in varying capacities, and others have been able to keep up by shifting to eCommerce or delivery models. With today’s economic disruptions, supporting local businesses is more critical than ever. A discount card can help raise valuable support for your mission, give local businesses a boost, and show donors that you care about the community as a whole.
Social Media Takeover
This relatively new virtual fundraising idea is a free and easy way to mix up your marketing strategies and engage supporters. Allow someone else to take over your nonprofit’s social media accounts for the day to share their own stories, explain why your mission matters to them, and ask for donations.
Get creative to come up with the perfect social media takeover candidate. Local public figures, celebrities, and leaders of other organizations are great options, but try putting even more of a twist on this idea when possible. For instance, an animal shelter might hand over their accounts to a dog or cat and write posts in their voice to highlight your mission from a new perspective.
Community Cookbook Fundraiser
A tried-and-true fundraising idea that translates well to the virtual sphere, creating a cookbook is a great way to raise money while letting supporters feel involved in building community around your mission.
Ask supporters to send in their own family recipes, then compile them into a book to be printed and sold online. This idea is best suited for smaller organizations like community groups, schools, and churches, and it’s especially effective around the year-end season. If you’re creating and selling a cookbook for the holidays, make sure to get started well in advance!
Merch Design Contest
Similar to other social media contests, this virtual fundraising idea involves accepting submissions from supporters for new designs for your nonprofit’s branded merchandise, like t-shirts, hats, and tote bags.
Post announcements for your contest, laying out any guidelines to follow and a deadline for submissions. Once submissions have closed, pick a few top entries and conduct a poll on social media or your website to get your supporters’ opinions.
Once you have a winner, create custom merchandise using an online merchandising platform (ideally one designed for nonprofits) and present it to your community. Top platforms should make it easy for supporters to purchase your merch online and have it shipped directly to them, reducing the logistical challenges of placing bulk orders and shipping them yourself.
Getting Started with Virtual Fundraising
If virtual fundraising is a new undertaking for your nonprofit’s team, you might have a few questions about getting started. Our complete guide to nonprofit fundraising walks through all the essentials you’ll need to begin laying out a successful online campaign.
To get started, however, here are a few of our top virtual-centric tips for fundraising:
- Review your data. Your nonprofit’s donation and engagement data is invaluable when planning any type of virtual campaign or event. With more data-driven insights on donor demographics, average donation sizes, and past performance, you can build a more effective strategy that targets your donors and sets you up for success. This is why using integrated tools and a database or CRM platform is so important for nonprofits, as they’ll drastically simplify the process of generating and analyzing this data.
- Update and expand your toolkit. Virtual fundraising naturally relies more heavily on technology than traditional or in-person fundraising. Everything from your donation page and payment processor to your marketing software need to be in tip-top shape to ensure success. You might also need to invest in new tools, like online auction or livestreaming software to support your virtual events. When planning a new virtual undertaking, audit your tech stack early in the process to identify any gaps in your digital strategy or necessary updates. Free and inexpensive nonprofit software has made it easier than ever for organizations of all sizes to benefit from professional-grade tools during the era of virtual fundraising.
- Reach out to partners. Your own organization has faced its share of challenges over the course of 2020, and so have other organizations and businesses in your area. Partners can help sponsor your virtual events, match donations during fundraising drives, provide in-kind support, co-host your virtual events, and more. If your nonprofit hasn’t worked with many partners in the past, now is definitely the time to reach out and explore your options. Other nonprofits, in particular, will likely be eager to join forces and boost the visibility of both of your missions.
- Double down on marketing. Promoting your campaigns and events has always been important, but it’s especially critical when it comes to online-only undertakings like virtual fundraising. Incorporate concrete marketing strategies into your plans for all virtual fundraising and campaigns that you host, and stay on the lookout for ways to boost online engagement whenever possible. This is why peer-to-peer tactics are so valuable in the virtual era, as they allow you take a more decentralized approach to spread the word and reach wider audiences.
Virtual Fundraising FAQ
Newcomers to virtual fundraising events and campaigns often have a few common questions. Let's review some frequently asked questions about virtual fundraising ideas and techniques:
What are the benefits of virtual fundraising?
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the most immediate benefit of virtual fundraising is that it allows you to comply with social distancing guidelines. Aside from showing donors that you value their wellbeing, virtual fundraising also has the major benefit of opening up your events and campaigns to much broader audiences. With the ability to join in online, donors from all over can get involved with your mission from anywhere, whether at home or on-the-go. This increased accessibility can help you grow your audience and raise more over time.
What are the drawbacks of virtual fundraising?
Of course, virtual fundraising ideas do have a few drawbacks. The inability to engage donors in-person can make it more difficult to keep their attention, especially in a competitive online space. Plus, nonprofits of all sizes will likely need to invest in one or more new tools when shifting to virtual fundraising for the first time, increasing initial expenses. However, building solid digital engagement strategies and a virtual fundraising toolkit will help you to continually grow the impact of your events and campaigns over time. Like all new undertakings, virtual fundraising takes preparation and practice!
How do I pivot to virtual fundraising?
The exact process you follow will vary greatly based on your nonprofit's needs, audience, and pre-existing plans. However, very few nonprofits will need to start from scratch. If you've already conducted online fundraising campaigns and relied on digital marketing tactics in the past, your existing infrastructure of tools and platforms is the perfect place to start!
How do I adapt an event to take place virtually?
For events that you've already planned to host in-person, shifting to virtual is certainly a challenge. Understand that while you can't fully recreate the in-person experience for attendees, you can still host an engaging event that they'll enjoy and remember. What's the main goal of your event? Think of ways to reach that goal through a combination of new virtual tactics. Livestreaming, social media engagement, a strong web presence, and mobile-friendly tools for attendees will all be helpful. Additionally, prioritize communication around your virtual fundraising event to ensure donors know about it, what to expect from it, how to get involved, and why their support will be so impactful.
What do I need to implement virtual fundraising ideas?
Virtual fundraising naturally requires more technology than traditional fundraising techniques. If you've already been working with a solid online fundraising toolkit, making updates won't be too difficult. Think about what else you'll need to conduct virtual campaigns or events, like livestreaming platforms. Are there any gaps in your broader digital marketing strategy that need addressing? Spreading the word about your virtual opportunities will be critical, so double down on your marketing and engagement techniques.
Virtual Fundraising Resources to Learn More
As we continue navigating the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic disruptions, having the right resources on hand will be more valuable than ever for nonprofits. Keep learning and building your virtual fundraising arsenal with these additional resources:
- Essential Tactics to Connect with Donors during the Coronavirus
- 20 Free Tools for Nonprofits during COVID-19
- 8 Tips for Hosting a Virtual Fundraising Event
- How to Write a Fundraising Plan that Converts More Donors
- 5 Simple Tips to Improve Donor Relations
- How to Organize a Virtual Run Fundraiser
- Giving Tuesday Ideas: 25+ Tips to Maximize Support
For weekly roundups of the very best nonprofit fundraising resources and tips we can find, be sure to subscribe to our Fundraising Weekly newsletter. Knowledge is power, so equipping your nonprofit with the right insights and strategies will serve you well now and amid any new challenges that get thrown our way. Happy fundraising!