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15 Pandemic-Friendly Christmas and Holiday Fundraising Ideas


    It’s that time of the year again!

    Lights and sparkles, festive cookies, and a palpable sense of excitement spreading -- even amongst those grumpiest of us.

    The holiday season is also the time of great and jolly potential for nonprofit fundraising, but it also often comes with long hours, heightened stress, and burnout.

    So why is the holiday time ripe for nonprofit fundraising?

    Simply put, people give more during the holidays.

    In fact, according to neonone.com:

    • Nearly one third (31%) of annual giving occurs in December.
    • 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of the year.
    • 28% of nonprofits raise between 26 – 50% of their annual funds from their year-end ask.

    However, just because people are feeling more generous during holidays doesn’t mean that there’s no work to be done to ensure successful fundraising.

    People will still want to give to organizations that are on top of their minds (meaning the organizations they hear from throughout the year, not just during holidays), that they trust, that they find credible, and finally… The organizations that ask them to.

    Therefore, for this potential to be utilized, holiday fundraising needs to be thoughtfully planned and executed. This is especially true in 2020 when a lot about how we live has shifted.

    Thespec.com reports:

    “Data shows 2020 has been a tough year for organizations that rely on fundraising. According to a September report by Imagine Canada, a charity that promotes work in the non-profit sector, 37 percent of regular donors in Canada reported giving less amid the pandemic. By contrast, eight percent said their giving had increased.”

    So, if you’re ready to get the most out of your end-of-year fundraising this year and you’re a bit stuck on ideas, here are a few of our favorite Christmas and holidays nonprofit fundraising ideas:

    1. Snow gala dinner

    Gala dinners might not be amongst the most innovative fundraising initiatives out there, but they’re popular for a reason.

    People coming together, even if online, makes a difference. It’s usually more effective, especially when compared to Internet campaigns or challenges where a donor only interacts with a website or a social media post.

    To make a gala-dinner pandemic-friendly, make sure you follow your local government’s guidelines and laws. For example, if gatherings are still allowed under certain conditions, you can go ahead and organize an in-person event where people maintain the recommended physical distance. On the other hand, if in-person gatherings are not allowed or are strongly discouraged, move your party online!

    Hop on Zoom and invite all your closest supporters, including your board, volunteers, donors, partners, etc. Have a theme, like Snow Gala Dinner, and invite your attendees to dress up. Having spent so much time at home, your supporters will likely appreciate an opportunity to wear something other than sweatpants for once. Charge for tickets and invite further donations. You might even want to consider turning the gala dinner into an online auction to raise more funds!

    Pro tip: To go the extra mile, and if feasible for your nonprofit organization, send each attendee a themed box (with fake snow, confetti, Christmas cookies, or other festive items) to make the experience feel more special.

    2. Test your resolve challenge

    This is an easy-to-do-online fundraising idea that appeals to a wide audience.

    Invite your audience to go without something for a month (e.g. a month leading up to Christmas) and donate the money they’ll save to your nonprofit organization.

    Here’s a list of things you can invite your supporters to temporarily give up in order to raise money for a worthy cause:

    • Alcohol
    • Eating out
    • Coffee
    • Chocolate
    • Cigarettes
    • Meat
    • Shopping
    • Sugar
    • Takeout meals

    You can either run a campaign that invites your audience into giving up the same thing (e.g. #30daysofnosugar) or let them choose what they want to give up.

    Come up with a branded hashtag, as well as ready-to-use images your supporters can use on social media. This will increase the shareability of your campaign, therefore also increasing the reach of your organization and the number of donations that come in.

    Branded hashtag campaigns give you the chance to dominate the search feeds for relevant phrases. It’s much easier to be the first brand shown when you’re sharing your own branded hashtag, rather than something like #MerryChristmas — where you will be competing with thousands of other organizations for a user’s attention. 

    Pro tip: Supercharge this holiday fundraising idea by turning it into a matching donation campaign. Partner with corporations that will match the donations made by your supporters.

    3. The outdoor event

    Over the holidays, especially in colder climates, it’s easy to spend weeks and months being cooped up inside on the couch.

    While cozy rest is important, it’s not always the healthiest for our bodies and minds to go without physical activity for extended periods of time. Challenge your supporters to get outside, stretch their legs, and breathe some fresh air. Why not combine these wonderful benefits of the great outdoors with fundraising by hosting an outdoor event?

    Plus, outdoor events allow for socializing with distance, which can be hard to get by in the current pandemic times.

    Your event doesn't necessarily have to be a race, as long as it’s outdoors and gets people moving –- it counts! Charge an ‘entry fee’ or sell tickets to raise money for your cause.

    Here’s a list of outdoor events/activities you could organize to raise funds for your nonprofit:

    • Walking
    • Running
    • Hiking
    • Trail running
    • Kayaking
    • Ocean/river/lake swimming
    • Bouldering and rock climbing

    4. The big art project

    Being in and within communities has never been more needed, at this time when we’re advised to maintain a physical distance from each other.

    With feelings of anxiety and isolation rising, imagine the positive effects of a collaborative community art project!

    Come up with an idea for an art project that is collaborative by nature, like a large mural or an art installation.

    For example, you can set up a big chalkboard wall with a sentence that community members can complete (e.g. “Before I die I want to…” or “When the pandemic is over I will…”).

    Invite people from all walks of life to get involved and ask for contributions to your cause. Ideally, your collaborative art project would be related to your mission.

    Pro tip: Talk to your local council/government before getting started, as you’ll likely need a special authorization/permit.

    5. The holidays gift catalog

    Imagine a wedding registry, only for holiday donations for your nonprofit!

    This holiday fundraiser is probably more suited to organizations that accept in-kind donations or those nonprofits whose impact can be easily ‘translated’ into items. For example, say you’re an educational nonprofit working with primary school children in Vietnam. To your holiday’s gift catalog, you might add items such as ‘1 art therapy workshop for 5 children’ or ‘10 tables and chairs for our new classroom’. If you’re a wildlife nonprofit, you might add items such as ‘new house for monkeys’ or ‘1 month worth of food for lions’.

    World Vision uses a smart charity gift catalog that allows you to donate and purchase one of their catalog items. A personalized card with the purchase can be sent to a loved one.

    For other nonprofits, such itemization might be harder – but this idea is still worth considering and customizing! Its value lies in its ability to turn something abstract, such as ‘positive impact on the world’, into something more tangible, easier to visualize.

    Furthermore, donors care about transparency and credibility. They want to know how their donations are being used and whether your organization is the best choice amongst often (many) others that are pursuing a similar mission. 

    Pro tip: Create a Q&A-style hashtag such as #AskUsAnything (but with your organization’s name in the hashtag) and interact with your audience by directly answering their questions or responding to their concerns. For example, you might invite your audience to ask you anything about any of the items on the gift catalog. This puts the focus on donors and your impact, rather than on fundraising. Remember: The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.

    6. The holidays peer-to-peer fundraiser

    Peer-to-peer fundraising is a great fundraising method at any time of the year, but it can be incredibly powerful during holidays.

    Create a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign in which you’d ask your supporters to ask their friends and families for donations to your nonprofit instead of holiday gifts, having them raise money to help your cause. Tailor the theme and goal to your nonprofit’s unique needs.

    Birthday fundraisers have already become quite popular, but the same principle can be used for holiday fundraising!

    Using peer-to-peer fundraising will increase the reach of your campaign, bringing in the much-needed donations and spreading the word about your work.

    And people will love the feeling that they’re doing something good!

    7. Virtual holiday concert

    Many in-person events this year have been canceled in light of the pandemic and quarantine, including most concerts and performances.

    Sprinkle some joy into an otherwise difficult year and bring the community together for a joyful holiday concert online!

    Many are guaranteed to want to attend and hear their favorite musicians play, especially if the proceeds go to a worthy cause.

    Try to get the musicians and artists to donate a few hours of their time so that you can get most of the proceeds from ticket sales.

    Sell tickets online well in advance, to allow your supporters to plan it in their busy holiday schedules.

    Pro tip: If you’re organizing a concert with holiday music, make sure to include various religious traditions, so that everyone feels included.

    8. Holiday gift baskets

    Holidays are the time for giving, but choosing and getting gifts for those closest to us can sometimes be a stressful experience –- especially if we wait until the last minute.

    Take that burden away from your supporters and they will really appreciate it!

    Curate a variety of gift boxes, of different sizes and responding to different budgets, and sell them online.

    Lake Champlain has a number of tasteful gift baskets you can browse for inspiration.

    Here are some ideas:

    • Cake mix cookies gift basket
    • Flavored salts gift basket
    • Cheese lovers gift basket
    • Hot cocoa gift basket
    • Christmas baking kit gift basket

    Or think of your own!

    Get creative and mix and match cheeses, fruit, nuts, crackers, jam, flowers, wine, and chocolate, coffee, granola, pancake mix, gummy candies, assorted nuts, and lots of chocolate-covered deliciousness.

    If you don’t want to go the food route, there are plenty of other options: kitchen gadgets, slippers, socks, mittens, books, and more.

    You can even sell gift cards in your shop!

    9. Live holiday quiz

    Another staple of nonprofit fundraising, quizzes are a safe option for many different nonprofits.

    Make sure to find prizes that your audience will like to bring in more participants! Partner with a business and have them donate a prize (e.g. a gift voucher at a local spa) that the winning team will get.

    There are several video apps being favored right now but Zoom seems to be the easiest-to-use of the lot of them.

    When promoting the live holiday quiz you’ll need to include details such as the video app being used and the start time. Get your participants in the party mood by suggesting everyone dresses fancy and offering points for the most creative headwear! You could also try having a theme.

    Create several rounds, estimating that each round will take about 10-15 minutes between explaining the questions, repeating anything unclear, giving players time to think about their answers. Five questions per round is a good number if you’re unsure.

    Have participants pay a registration fee to raise funds.

    10. Online store

    If gift baskets aren’t your cup of tea, you can also organize a craft sale, sell holiday wreaths, or knit scarves, hats, mittens, and candles online.

    Shoot your products with wintery props and festive backgrounds. Create a simple festive flat lay (perfect for promoting your products on Instagram). Use evergreen branches, festive lights, ornaments, and ribbons and take sharp, high-quality product photos.

    Your supporters want to know their orders will arrive on time and error-free, especially if they’re being shipped directly to the recipient. Reinforce your nonprofit store’s trustworthiness via security badges, customer testimonials, and active social media accounts.

    If you don’t have experience selling online, consider getting help from experts, potentially those offering their consulting services pro bono.

    Pro tip: Social media plays a key role when promoting online stores. Don’t be afraid to dive into the world of social media ads to really get the most out of this holiday fundraising idea!

    11. Drive-in movie

    Drive-in cinema is a great and innovative way to have people engage in a nostalgic and meaningful activity, and in a way where they can maintain their physical distance too.

    Goochland Drive-In Theater in Hadensville, VA

    You can plan a small or large scale event based on your unique fundraising needs. And best of all, a small outdoor cinema isn’t too hard to organize. You can make the event drive-in or otherwise simply an outdoor cinema where guests sit far enough apart – depending on your location

    Start by defining an objective and then choosing the right location. You might want to organize the cinema at a garden area, a beach, lakeside, a countryside home, or anywhere else where you deem appropriate and appealing.

    Once you have identified the location, it’s imperative to choose the right movie and to then think about how you’re going to create a cozy and festive atmosphere for your guests (e.g. with lights, glass, or bunting lanterns in the garden).

    Here’re some of the best holiday movies out there that you might want to consider for your outdoor cinema:

    • It's a Wonderful Life
    • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
    • A Christmas Story
    • White Christmas
    • Home Alone
    • Scrooged
    • Bad Santa
    • The Nightmare Before Christmas

    Raise funds by selling tickets online in advance. To raise even more, sell food and drinks on the spot!

    Pro tip: Before the guests arrive, take time to test everything including the screen projector, speakers under the screen, and play on your film. Furthermore, your neighbors may or may not be comfortable with the event. In this light, communicate early enough and get permission to host the event.

    12. The e-commerce model

    Partner with businesses and retailers whose websites will be very visited by those looking to shop during the holiday season.

    Nonprofits can join Benevity's platform that helps nonprofit get access to corporate giving, grants, and volunteering programs.

    For example, every year online shops pay millions in sales commissions to other websites that direct shoppers to them anyway. With this model, these commissions are turned into donations for your nonprofit, at no extra cost to the donor.

    Give as you Live Online offers shoppers the opportunity to donate through their usual shopping site. By going through the digital fundraising platform to shops like Boots, Argos, Asos, Amazon, chosen charities receive a percentage of funds from the retailer.

    This holiday fundraising idea might take longer to implement than some others on this list, as it generally takes time to develop partnerships that would make this possible.

    If you’re looking for a quicker fundraising turnaround, contact businesses (local or otherwise) asking them if they would be interested in donating a percentage of their holiday profits to your cause.

    13. Virtual crafternoon

    Get someone crafty from your team (or recruit external help) to host a virtual crafts workshop. The workshop can be focused on knitting, stitching, or creating Christmas wreaths – the opportunities are endless!

    Sell tickets online and let your participants know in advance which materials will be needed.

    Alternatively, you can do what Mind.org.uk did and turn this into a holiday peer-to-peer fundraiser.

    They provide their fundraisers everything they might need to host their own Crafternoon with their friends and families, from posters, invites, and social media banners to tasty recipes to try. They also provide festive templates for fundraisers to choose from, including Christmas cards, crackers, and paper wreaths.

    On their website, their fundraisers can also pay in donations, ask questions, join the Facebook group, or see how their work makes an impact.

    14. One donation double the impact

    Raise more donations than ever by running a donation matching campaign.

    For example, Acet UK is organizing a week-long campaign to protect children and young people in Africa and the UK and are inviting donors to give between midday on the 1st December and midday on the 8th for their donation to be matched.

    Limiting the campaign to a day or a week can work wonders, as deadlines often do. Make sure you communicate the impact the campaign will have on the intended beneficiaries if the goal is achieved.

    Pro tip: Like Acet UK has done on their campaign page, make it an option for potential donors to receive a reminder on the first day of your campaign! This will make an enormous difference to the success of your campaign.

    15. Silly jumper day

    As made popular by Save the Children, this fundraising idea is fun and affordable and can potentially bring in a lot of donations.

    Invite your supporters to head to your website, make a donation of $5 and promise to wear a funny looking jumper/sweater on a specific day in December.

    What made Save the Children’s campaign successful (raising hundreds of thousands of dollars since it began in 2011) is their partnership with Amazon. Amazon created ‘The Christmas Jumper Day Store’ where participants could easily browse all sorts of silly holiday sweater options and make purchases. Amazon then also donated 20 percent of the net purchase price of all eligible products sold to Save the Children.

    However, you don’t have to have a partnership like this one to make this fundraiser work! You can simply link several places where supporters can buy silly Christmas jumpers if they don’t have one already.

    Pro tip: This holiday fundraiser has the potential to go big on social media! Create a hashtag and ask donors to take the funniest picture they can think of in their sweaters and then share it on social media.

    Summing up

    Holiday fundraising is a time of great opportunities for nonprofit organizations of all sizes and types.

    To capitalize on this special time of the year and advance your cause, start planning early and choose an idea or few that will resonate with your audience. While the ideas we shared in this article will work for many organizations, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to break the mold sometimes!

    So, focus on personalized communications, get creative, and put your donor at the center of everything.

    However, no fundraising campaign online, no matter how creative and well-planned, will work unless you have the right online donation software. This is really the moment to get your online fundraising spruced up!

    GiveForms lets you create a seamless donation experience for your donors, starting off this relationship on the right foot. Use GiveForms to embed a donation form on your website, allowing visitors to donate using a credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, or bank transfers. With a focus on intuitive, human-centered design, our goal is to help you increase your online donations.

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