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Due to social distancing policies, many nonprofit organizations have had to cancel, postpone, or rethink fundraising events that they depend on to keep their doors open.
Social distancing, excessive hand washing, and Zoom birthdays might have become our new normal, but that doesn’t mean fundraising is doomed.
Virtual fundraisers aren’t just workable alternatives to in-person events. They can actually be more effective, as well as easier to organize than in-person fundraisers.
To start with, virtual fundraising events are usually less expensive to put on and more accessible to a greater number of people. With the help of modern technology and a little creative thinking, there are still plenty of ways for your nonprofit to raise money.
We’ve put together a list of 20 of our favorite virtual fundraising ideas that focus on raising money for your nonprofit and keeping your supporters engaged – all without leaving your home.
All of these are easy to launch and designed to succeed – no hassle and no confusion.
So, are you ready to raise more with less effort through your virtual walk, gala dinner, or a social media challenge?
The #1 thing you need to do before getting started:
Before getting started with virtual fundraising, in whatever shape or form, it’s crucial to ensure you have a robust online donation platform and a compelling, functional website.
Create a dedicated landing page for your virtual fundraiser with a single focus or goal, known as a call to action (CTA).
To create a high-performing donation landing page, write an attention-grabbing headline, use compelling visuals, and lead with a clear explanation of your work and your mission.
Testimonials and impact statistics can also help boost your credibility and build trust.
Then, you can choose a virtual fundraiser from the list and get started!
20 simple but effective virtual fundraising ideas for nonprofits
1. Virtual concert
Just because we’re living through a worldwide pandemic doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our favorite artists performing live!
Bring musicians together and host a concert or a mini-festival benefitting your organization. It’s wise to choose artists who support your cause – their passion will come through.
The bigger the artists, the wider your potential reach. So, now is the time to work that network!
Live stream the performances and ask people to purchase a ticket to view them. Not only does this bring in the much-needed funds to your nonprofit organization, but it helps bring people together in a positive and uplifting way at a time when that type of connection is very much needed.
Pro tip: Organize behind the scenes meet and greets with the performers – all online of course – for additional donations to your cause.
2. Online gala dinner
Wait...Don’t cancel your gala dinner! Instead, host it via video call.
If your gala dinner is reasonably-sized and you have sufficient resources to do so – ship each attendee a “party in a box” for a festive atmosphere on the screen (with hats, leis, tiny decorations paper lanterns, mini-umbrellas for drinks, or even food and drink mixes).
For events involving food, organizations are continuing their fundraising efforts via take-out and delivery in addition to socially-distanced in-person events. Your food orders can count even more if you partner with a local restaurant for a percentage night, where the restaurant donates a percentage of your group's sales back to your cause. You can find fundraising restaurants near you and book your date online through the restaurant fundraising platform GroupRaise.
If you already ordered catering that would otherwise go to waste, see if it’s feasible to distribute the food to each of your guests.
You can also ask the guests to donate the money they would have spent on travel, a new outfit, a bottle of wine, or a gift if they attended the gala in person.
3. Online auction
To run an online auction, set up a page where all of the items available can be reviewed and bid on.
Coordinate bids beforehand and then announce the winners via one of the other virtual events such as a live stream, webinar, or gala dinner.
Take some time to help people understand why you are raising funds. This will make them feel more involved in the process. When people feel connected to a cause, they are more likely to bid higher.
Pro tip: Put a twist on it and only auction off gift cards or merchandise from local businesses and restaurants who have been impacted the most by COVID-19.
4. Virtual race
Walk-a-thons, marathons, dance-a-thons, and ride-a-thons can all be adapted and made virtual.
Virtual races help further your cause and are a good workout at the same time. Virtual races work just like in-person racing events, but they allow participants to join in on their own. This virtual fundraiser encourages supporters to stay active while also staying in line with social distancing. And of course – it raises money and awareness for your cause!
Ask people to donate in proportion to how many miles they’ll walk or how many hours they plan to dance. Encourage them to send in pictures or videos of them completing their activity and share those on social media.
For example, if you’re a local nonprofit organizing ride-a-thon – you could give your bike riders several days to complete the challenge at a time of their choosing.
Ideally, let your participants choose between a beginner, intermediate, and advanced route and provide them with a starting point and a route.
5. Virtual movie night
This is a virtual fundraiser that’s easy to organize and likely to appeal to a wide audience.
Set a time for everyone to start virtually watching a movie together, while also joining together in a chat room. Then, have someone from your team answer their questions and facilitate discussions during the movie.
Choose a movie that’s linked to your cause – ideally a documentary. The movie should be both entertaining and informative.
When promoting the event, make it clear that this event isn't just about watching a movie, but rather supporting your cause.
In addition to (or in place of) tickets, you can also have a “donate” button displayed, subtly encouraging people to donate. As the movie progresses and people learn more about the cause, they will be more likely to give.
Pro tip: If your community is highly engaged on key issues you’re tackling, consider bringing together a group of them to discuss the movie on Zoom the same day or the day after.
6. Birthday fundraiser
Birthday fundraisers have become big these last few years, but today they’re more relevant than ever.
Ask your supporters to organize a fundraiser for their birthday or holiday. In lieu of gifts, your supporters can set up a personal fundraising page where their friends and family can leave a donation.
Birthday fundraising with Facebook is a really simple (and popular option) but birthday fundraisers don’t have to be limited to this platform.
Pro tip: Suggest to your supporters to organize a birthday party on a platform like Zoom and collect donations that way. This increases the fun (and therefore donations)!
7. Online pub quiz
Invite your supporters to grab their favorite drink and pre-dinner snack and join you live for a fun online quiz.
Choose a quiz theme that relates to your mission and your core work.
You can make the tickets affordable and run the quiz weekly to keep the funds coming in. Partner with businesses to offer prizes for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.
Pro tip: Combine this virtual fundraiser with peer-to-peer fundraising and invite your supporters to organize their own quiz night - gathering friends on Zoom or HouseParty and testing their skills for a donation!
8. Virtual book club
Encourage your supporters to set up a virtual book club with their friends.
The supporters would find a regular slot for their virtual book club and decide how frequently they’d want to host them (this could be weekly, fortnightly, or monthly).
Club meetings would be hosted on video calling platforms such as Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.
Ask your book group to make a donation to your online fundraising page ahead of each group meeting. You could ask them to simply donate the amount that they would usually spend on drinks if the meeting was being held outside, or to donate the amount that they would spend on getting the bus or taking the car to the host’s house.
9. Coronavirus jar
We are all likely fed up with a certain word by now!
Why not invite your supporters to make a ‘coronavirus swear jar’, and give $1 every time they or their family say the dreaded word?
10. Game night
A game night is one of the easiest virtual fundraisers. Games bring people together to socialize and play, making them ideal for fundraising in a time of social distancing. Pictionary, Trivia, Bingo, online board games – there are several options to connect and play virtually.
You could also organize a gaming tournament – which will surely be a hit amongst many! Figure out which online game would your audience be most excited to play to support your 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.
Then, once you decide on the date, time, tournament format, and what game you’ll use, you can start getting participants registered!
11. Virtual class or workshop
With so many pictures of food posted online, it’s not a big leap to offer a cooking class to your supporters.
(How about Facebook Live or Instagram Live?) Put on an apron and channel your inner Jamie Oliver. Or invite a professional to donate an hour or two of their time to a good cause and stream the class from the comfort of their home – with all the proceeds going to your cause.
If cooking is not your jam, fret not! How about yoga, meditation, exercise, knitting, a foreign – or just about anything else? Think about what your audience would enjoy the most and go with that.
Pro tip: Offer tiered donation levels for watching the class, various take-out dishes, gift cards, etc.
12. Peer-to-peer fundraising
Peer-to-peer fundraising can be an incredibly effective fundraising method for nonprofit organizations of all sizes.
The principle is simple: encourage your supporters to set up personal fundraising pages and fundraise for your nonprofit.
When your donors fundraise for you, they build credibility for your cause. Basically, peer-to-peer fundraising helps scale relationship-building by tapping into your current supporters’ networks—their friends, family, and colleagues. Since your supporters vouch for you, that works as a kind of shortcut to trust with their networks.
Finally, when your supporters spread the word and share your story, this will carry your message and mission to new audiences in one of the most effective forms of marketing—word of mouth.
There are many different types of peer-to-peer fundraisers, but we found that challenges work really well with this type of fundraising.
Create an online peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, and invite your supporters to join it. These campaigns run for a fixed period of time and have an overall fundraising or impact goal.
You could ask budding musicians amongst your supporters to ask for donations to give a live performance on social media. You could also start a readathon, an all-day game challenge, or a physical challenge like doing a number of push-ups or holding a plank for a certain amount of time.
Not only will this help you create a stronger relationship with your supporters, but by encouraging your supporters to get their friends and family involved, you expand your network and increase donations for your nonprofit.
13. Webinar or talk
Many organizations, for-profit and nonprofit, already host webinars to educate and keep their audience up to date.
In addition to being informative, webinars and talks can also be powerful fundraising tools. Reach out to speakers, experts, or community leaders, and ask them to put together a short webinar related to your mission or current events.
They’d donate their expertise and you’d charge your supporters a small fee to access the webinar/talk.
Make it clear that the fees are charged to raise funds for your mission. Consider offering donation tiers to get the most out of this virtual fundraiser and offer more people the opportunity to access the webinar/talk.
14. Social media campaign
People are spending more time and more money than ever before on social media, so it’s essential that your nonprofit makes good use of these channels.
Start by coming up with a social media strategy. Choose which platform you will focus on (by understanding where your audience spends most of their time) and then create compelling content for each of those channels.
On social media, visual content reigns. So, invest in producing high-quality images and videos to help you tell moving stories of your impact.
Lead your followers to your donation page through social media posts, and be sure to take advantage of platform capabilities created specifically with nonprofits in mind.
For example, Facebook allows both individuals and organizations to create Fundraisers and gather support for a specific cause. On Instagram, people can now make donations directly from your profile, or you can add a “Donate” sticker to your Instagram stories or link directly to your donate page from the Instagram story.
If you have the budget, take advantage of placed advertisements to reach a brand-new audience.
Pro tip: Challenges work really well on socials. Ask your followers to do something specific — the task can be fun, challenging, unusual, or anything in between — and then take a photo or video of them doing it. For example, the UN stepped up to the fight against world hunger by inviting young people to #danceforchange on TikTok to persuade global leaders to do more to invest in rural youth and agriculture.
15. Donation matching
Donors love to know that their money has the most impact possible, and with matching gifts, they’re essentially giving two gifts for the “price” of one.
Reach out to local or national companies, and ask if they’ll match a percentage of donations you receive during a specific time period. This is particularly effective if you have strong relationships with specific businesses or larger companies through your Board of Directors.
Pro tip: Matching gift campaigns are especially effective mid-campaign if and when you notice that donations are starting to taper off since they keep the excitement and momentum going.
16. Virtual coffee break
Partner with a business and run a virtual coffee break (or a virtual happy hour) with employees donating the price of their favorite drinks.
Once a $3 oat milk iced coffee and a $9 cocktail could now be funding your nonprofit’s mission.
17. Virtual craft workshop
Crafting is an excellent way to get your supporters engaged, and it can also provide much-needed entertainment for families.
Decide on what your craft will be and think about what supplies you will need.
Create an event page where people can register, pay, and even invite their friends. You will also need to select your platform for participants to log on to. Then, send out emails and create an event on your social media pages.
Send clear instructions to the registered attendees before the event so they know how to log in and which crafting supplies they need to gather.
Pro tip: If possible, put together ‘crafting supplies boxes’ containing everything the participants need for the workshop. Sell these on your website.
18. Email campaign
Email fundraising is certainly not new or creative per se, but its fundraising potential shouldn’t be underestimated.
It’s one of the most cost-effective and conversion-rich forms of digital marketing today. It’s potent, persuasive and can get your organization great results.
In 2019, global email users amounted to 3.9 billion users (Statista, 2020). This figure is set to grow to 4.3 billion users in 2023 (Statista, 2020). That’s half of the world’s population.
There’s no surprise that with the widespread popularity and indisputable benefits of email marketing, the return on investment is massive. A well-thought-out email marketing strategy will help you raise funds.
For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $42 (DMA, 2019).
For best results, run a blitz email campaign. Choose a day that possibly has some symbol of importance to your organization (e.g. Earth Day for environmental organizations). Leading up to the day and on the day of the blitz, send out a series of emails soliciting donations. These emails should include an emotional story, compelling visuals, and a call to action that expresses urgency.
Pro tip: Focus the email campaign on encouraging your donors to give monthly or quarterly. Then, this fundraiser will give back all year long!
19. Social media takeover
Organize a social media takeover by asking a sponsor, a partner, or a celebrity if they would be willing to “donate their social media” to you one day of the year.
With a takeover, your team can post content throughout the day that links back to your organization’s donation page. This method can help increase brand visibility to an audience that might not be familiar with your organization.
You can also do this the other way around. Invite an influencer, a celebrity, or a well-known expert to take over your social media accounts for a day – sharing their passion for your cause. They’d promote the takeover on their socials, inviting their followers to head over to your social media accounts.
Pro tip: If taking over someone’s socials, have high-quality images and posts written ahead of time so you can make the most of the takeover. If working with others to take over your socials, make sure to align with them beforehand. You don’t want something insensitive or inaccurate to be posted on your accounts!
20. Free “x” with a donation
Offer a free and desirable gift to anyone who makes a donation to your nonprofit. Choose a gift that would be attractive to your audience. Books, artwork, coupons, discount codes, or a gift that reflects your organization’s work are some common physical gifts in exchange for donations. Procure these physical items as donations through partnerships with for-profit businesses.
If you’d rather avoid handling physical gifts, you can offer things like access to an exclusive webinar, a free consultation session, a video download, a digital book, a printable poster, an audio file, an image, or some other digital gift in exchange for a donation. You can even offer different rewards for various giving levels.
Online fundraising makes it easy to offer free digital products as donor gifts at a very low cost, which makes this virtual fundraiser a feasible option even for smaller nonprofits.
Get started with online fundraising
Online or virtual fundraising is one of the best ways modern nonprofit organizations can raise money for their cause. Virtual fundraising events can really pay dividends at a time when remote connectivity is critical and when many in-person fundraisers have ground to a halt.
Use the virtual fundraising ideas on this list as a starting point, but tailor the ideas to match your fundraising goals and your specific cause.
If you want to try one or more of these innovative virtual fundraisers to reach your current and prospective donors, increase your reach, and find new ways to draw support for your cause, GiveForms is here for you!
GiveForms helps you raise more with less effort, making it easy for you to accept donations online. With intuitive and beautifully-designed donation forms, you can get started with virtual fundraising in no time!