20+ Creative Ideas to Reach Today’s Donors

In 2023, it can be easy to want to leave the pandemic, and pandemic fundraising, behind us. But wait, not so fast! That doesn’t mean you need to pivot all your events and campaigns back to 100% in-person. Let’s acknowledge that the pandemic did have a few fundraising silver linings.

The move to virtual and online events enabled nonprofits to reach new, younger, more geographically distributed donors than ever before. And in many cases, it allowed them to plan events quickly, with greater efficiency.

As we look ahead to our nonprofit futures, let’s leverage some of the creative ideas applied in the pandemic and bring these new event formats with us.

Today’s Donors Fundraising Needs

Before your nonprofit builds its fundraising strategy, you must consider how the past few years have impacted donor motivations. Based on our latest research in the Giving Experience Study, donors’ expectations and giving patterns have evolved since 2020.

This anytime/anywhere giving behavior created an ongoing expectation for donors. We know from our research that they are motivated by giving that is fast, seamless, and easy to engage in (see Giving Experience Study). In fact, the top four reasons donors give is because:

giving experience

With ease and convenience being top priorities for today’s donors, it’s important to note that they also want a variety of giving options – virtual being one of them! Across all types of giving opportunities, donors prefer varied and flexible participation, enabling them to give from wherever they feel most comfortable.

giving experience study

With donors’ needs and motivations in mind, your nonprofit should be ready to offer fundraising optionality in your yearly fundraising strategy. Choice is powerful – and providing multiple formats for events and donor engagement personalizes the giving experience to what they want and allows them to choose when, where, and how they give.

Expand Your Event Horizon

During the pandemic, nonprofits were on a rollercoaster of whether to have, postpone, or cancel their events. Now, creative and virtual fundraising ideas can still be useful as a supplemental strategy to in-person fundraisers and digital campaigns. They also provide today’s donors with a mix of fundraising options from the traditional in-person event.

If virtual events align with your fundraising strategy, here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Virtual gala with tables: Ask your Board members if they would be willing to host “virtual tables” where they can rally their network around the cause. You can host your virtual gala online with all the same fundraising activities you do in-person, just targeted at a remote audience.

2. Virtual cocktail party: Host as many people as you like. Send a party package filled with drinks, cheese, crackers, or local sponsor treat to guests and then hold your virtual cocktail party online.

3. Virtual golf tournament: Each group plays their own round at the course of their choice and then posts fun photos, great shots, etc. Include virtual reality where some people can play a course at home using virtual reality glasses, or video gaming.

4. Virtual Picnic: Host a virtual ‘picnic’ and make it a fundraiser. Charge a donation or ticket to ‘picnic from home’, then livestream the event. Supporters can watch remotely from their own home or gather in a park and watch the collective livestream on a large screen.

NONPROFIT SPOTLIGHT: Virtual Cake Show | Ronald McDonald House of San Diego

This creative nonprofit had their supporters compete in a virtual cake show — to provide children and families undergoing treatment and fighting serious illnesses with a ‘home away from home’.

During the campaign, supporters donated $2 to “vote” on their favorite cakes and chefs. There were professional and non-professional baker categories, as well as People’s Choice Awards selection.

They featured a real-time feed gallery of the cakes and baked entries – creating a fun, visual, and imaginative way to bring their campaign to life! The event was open to all ages, and donors joined from all over. In the end, the Virtual Cake Show awarded prizes to the top vote-getters.

Results: 120 participants | 30% participants also donated | Average Donation: $43

Combine In-Person & Virtual Events

The pandemic taught us that nonprofits were able to get creative and find ways to engage dual audiences. Hybrid fundraising gained momentum as a way to bring fundraising events to both live and virtual audiences. It blends fundraising and technology to create seamless giving experiences – anytime, anywhere.

The beauty of hybrid is its flexibility. Here are a few creative ideas for hybrid events. Feel free to get even more creative!

5. Small VIP Events: Small group of VIP supporters (e.g., major donors, board members, etc) join the event in-person, while the virtual audience participates remotely in the fundraising (via mobile bidding software) and programming.

6. Viewing Parties: Gather in groups of 8 or 10 (or any number) for a viewing party in a sponsor’s home and live stream the event together. You can even partner with a hotel to use empty rooms as a private dining/watch party space.

7. Drive-Ins: Groups in vehicles drive into an onsite or outdoor location to attend an event. They do so all from the comfort of their cars, enjoying programming or entertainment, and participate in fundraising from their phones. Guests also have the ability to join from their homes.

8. Food Focused Events: Sell tickets to virtual and in-person wine tastings, chef events, or food fundraisers to cater to an at-home audience. You can have volunteers deliver food packages or recipes/ingredients ahead of time. Then, livestream the programming. Include live and silent auctions to raise more revenue.

9. Education Focused Events: Some nonprofits are using the hybrid format for donor cultivation, stewardship, and engagement. For these events, a small group can gather in-person for a presentation, speaker series, or seminar, and the content can be broadcasted simultaneously to a wider online audience.

10. Broadcast Headquarters: This is where nonprofits use a set location like a studio, venue, or even a host home as a central location while broadcasting to a virtual audience. When using a production headquarters, nonprofits are often partnering directly with an A/V, Event Planning, or Event Production crew to help execute the broadcast. Or, use livestreaming fundraising software to make it even easier!

11. Hybrid Luncheons: Take your traditional luncheon and make it hybrid. Offer remote viewing packages that cater to those who can’t attend. Get creative and use it to deepen local partnerships. Work with local businesses or caterers to offer delivered or pick-up luncheon packages. Better yet, find “party hosts” to host small viewing parties at their homes and livestream your program for all to engage and enjoy!

NONPROFIT SPOTLIGHT: Hybrid Gala | The Retreat

The Retreat held their Annual Imagine Gala as a hybrid event. Guests were able to choose between in-person and virtual options. Those attending in-person could purchase individual or table tickets while those participating virtually could watch the livestream on Facebook or YouTube.

They also had traditional in-person fundraising activities available to the remote attendees. All participants were able to support the mission through silent auction and live donation appeal. Guests used OneCause to facilitate their auction bids and donations, whether in the ballroom or at home.

Results: 317 supporters | 130 donations | 173 Bids | 75% of item value | Fundraising Goal reached

Leverage Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Looking for a way to bridge the gap between in-person and virtual events? Look no further than peer-to-peer fundraising! Nonprofits find success with peer-to-peer fundraising because it’s an effective way to spread the word about your mission while making fundraising FUN!

Many nonprofits include creative activities to get people to join in their peer-to-peer fundraisers. There’s so many options – from physical challenges, to group contests, awareness builders, and so much more. Check out a few of our favorites!

12. Scavenger Hunt: Create a citywide scavenger hunt where people walk, bike, or drive to pre-assigned locations and answer questions at each site. At each place, there are questions related to a theme, such as the environment, history, or wildlife.

13. Virtual Activities: Create online challenge campaigns around a theme and have teams complete online obstacle course activities, game nights, or even karaoke contests. The ideas are endless, and with a little out of the box thinking, you can harness the power of peer-groups and competitive giving to deepen engagement and drive results.

14. Art Expression: Create an online location for art to be displayed, where community members, supporters, or anyone can post art, or work together online to complete a group piece. Fundraise by artist or create teams to drive more collective engagement.

15. Virtual Photos Contest: Have people submit photos that are related to a topic you choose like favorite hangout, funniest dog or cat, etc. Ask participants to vote (and donate) for their favorite picture and crown a photo winner, which is announced at your online event.

16. Online Gaming Tournament: Harness your supporters’ love for video games with an online gaming tournament or challenge. Many nonprofits are using technology to help connect gamers and a new generation of donors through fun video-based tournaments, challenges, and more.

17. Celebration Programs: Transform your annual program into a virtual celebration. We are seeing nonprofits of all shapes and sizes turning Memorials, Reunions, Award Ceremonies, and Events with Honorees into virtual celebrations.

18. Creative Challenges: The sky is the limit on creative challenges. Let your imagination run wild. Think up fun activities that are connected to your mission or help reinforce why your mission is here. But make them fun – today’s donors, especially the younger ones, love to have fun when they are fundraising. See our customer example below to get you thinking out of the box (or shower)!

NONPROFIT SPOTLIGHT: Shower Strike | Well Aware

Every April, advocates from around the world join #ShowerStrike to raise awareness of global water issues and raise funds to help more people gain access to this vital resource.

Participants can create impact (and fundraise) in three different ways:

Option 1 – Skip Showers, Raise Money: Once Shower Strike kicks off, you’ll commit to skipping showers for a week, or until you reach your fundraising goal.

Option 2 – Walk for Water: Grab a bucket of water and walk outside each day for a week, or until you meet your fundraising goal.

Option 3 – Just Fundraise: Raise money during Shower Strike the best way you know how. You can get creative, or simply collect donations.

Not only did it engage people in an innovative way to drive impact, but it simulated through its activities, incentives, and wide-ranging competitions, how fundamental and important it is to have clean water.

Results: 427 supporters | $427, 072 raised | 2,169 donations | 28,071 people who will soon have clean water

Physical Activity Challenges

Another part of peer-to-peer fundraising is physical challenges. For physical challenges or campaigns, you can encourage participants to complete challenges or engage in physical activities – all while raising funds for your mission.

Here’s a couple of easy to execute ideas to get the heart pumping and the donations flowing.

19. Walks/Steps Events: Host a virtual walk or “get your steps in” fundraiser where people walk for a good cause. These virtual events can take place over the course of a month, a week, or on a specific day. Go one step further and add competitions for individuals and teams.

20. Push-Up Challenges: Push-up challenges are an easy and fun way to raise money for your cause. A push-up fundraiser is flexible, can be launched quickly, and has many variations. You can set a certain number of repetitions per dollar donated, per day, or you can set weekly/monthly/daily targets based on dollars raised.

21. Sports Watch Parties: Host your own sports virtual watch party! These challenge supporters to host their own watch parties and join a fundraising team. On game day, host a virtual streamed event to bring the watch parties together and crown their fundraising winners.

22. Virtual Walks/Runs: Participants can take a photo of themselves on their walk or run and then share it on the organization’s website. Have participants create personal landing pages with a call to action that asks for donations.

NONPROFIT SPOTLIGHT: Run United | United Way for Southeastern Michigan

This creative nonprofit had their supporters run a marathon together—virtually—to support children and families in their community.

For one month the Run United Virtual Marathon campaign had participants log at least 25 miles on their own. Then, they completed the final 1.2 miles together with a virtual “race” held online. Participants could do the virtual race solo or gather in small groups.

The event was open to all ages and abilities. Supporters were welcome to complete their miles in whatever way worked best for them—walking, running, or rolling!

Results: 360+ participants | 1.2K social media posts | 1.8K donations | 1K Students supported by funds raised

COVID-19 presented fundraisers with an opportunity to do different things and do the same things differently. We hope these creative examples that have been tried and proven successful by other nonprofits have helped spark ideas for your nonprofit. Because when we share together, when we show how ideas can come to life and fuel fundraising success – we give each other hope, and real-life roadmaps we can put to work for our causes!

Wrapping Up

Check out these research for more ways to learn about and better understand your donors: