Virtual Fundraising in 2020 & Beyond: A Guide for Nonprofits

As 2020 evolves, a new reality in fundraising is clear. Virtual fundraising can help nonprofits survive and grow in today’s changing landscape.

Many organizations are turning to fundraisers with virtual fundraising software and live-streamed events as alternate strategies to traditional fundraising events. This guide outlines what you need to know to go virtual!

Having best practices in your back pocket to bring your fundraising online will definitely come in handy. Whether it’s part of a planned attempt to grow your online presence or in reaction to an unforeseen change affecting your event (like the COVID-19 pandemic) – nonprofits need a plan to continue fundraising and engaging donors.

While virtual campaigns and events are in many ways similar to in-person events, there are specific best practices to ensure your fundraising doesn’t fall flat. To help, we’ve put together this go-to resource to not just survive but thrive in the virtual world! We’ll cover:

Ready to dive in? You’ll be engaging wider online audiences and generating more support for your mission in no time.

Let's start by covering the essentials of virtual fundraising for nonprofits.

Virtual Fundraising FAQ

Before covering specific strategies and virtual fundraising ideas, it’s helpful to start with the essentials. These are a few commonly asked questions that nonprofits have as they begin exploring the world of virtual fundraising:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is virtual fundraising?Virtual fundraising involves any type of nonprofit campaign or event that takes place entirely online, allowing supporters to engage with your cause from anywhere.
What are the benefits of virtual fundraising?The ability to engage donors from anywhere is a major benefit for nonprofits, especially amid social distancing guidelines. Virtual fundraising also allows you to offer brand new engagement opportunities to donors, keeping them excited to stay involved. Plus, virtual events like online auctions are often more cost-effective than traditional in-person events.
What do you need to host a virtual fundraising campaign?Virtual fundraising naturally requires technology to generate results and engage audiences. You'll need online fundraising and livestreaming tools at a minimum. For the best results, use all-in-one virtual fundraising software. This will help prevent the need to cobble together a piecemeal solution from multiple platforms.
Who can conduct virtual fundraising?Any organization can get started with virtual fundraising! In the past, the need for advanced technology made these campaigns and events feasible only for nonprofits with very large budgets. Today, however, virtual fundraising software is more accessible than ever, with a wide range of solutions available for organizations of all sizes.
What are different types of virtual fundraising campaigns?Virtual fundraising is an extremely flexible strategy, so it's easy to adapt all kinds of campaigns and events to take place online. We'll cover types of campaigns, virtual fundraising ideas, and examples in a section below.

These virtual fundraising ideas can help you kickstart your next event or campaign.

Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits

Let’s walk through some of the most effective types of virtual fundraising campaigns and events for nonprofits. Each of these ideas is highly flexible and can be adapted for any audience, mission, or budget.

Virtual Auctions

Online or virtual auctions are essentially digital silent auctions. To run an online auction, nonprofits use mobile bidding tools and online auction software to engage supporters and facilitate bids. The right software makes it easy to:

  • Generate an event website to serve as the central virtual “venue”
  • Create an online auction item catalog with descriptions, starting bids, and photos
  • Register bidders for the auction, collect payment info, and explain the bidding process
  • Enable remote bidding from desktop computers or mobile devices
  • Facilitate and track virtual bids on your items
  • Automatically process invoices and credit card payments
  • Analyze your event’s performance and generate data reports
  • Incorporate sponsor shout-outs into your event’s digital materials

Virtual auctions can help nonprofits raise a lot of money online. Not only are they typically more cost-effective to plan than traditional live auctions, but they’re also more accessible to broader audiences who can sign up and bid remotely. These benefits can greatly increase the fundraising potential and ROI of your virtual auction.

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Plus, mobile bidding tools make it easy to incorporate virtual auction elements into any other type of virtual event. This is a great strategy to raise even more from your online campaigns and engagement opportunities.

To learn more, check out our complete guide to planning and running a virtual auction.

Or, use this handy explainer to learn all of the core steps of planning and hosting a virtual auction for your nonprofit:

This explainer walks through all the steps of hosting a virtual fundraising auction.

[Click through to see and download the full-size explainer.]

Success Story!

The American Red Cross of Michigan raised over $190,000 by quickly organizing a virtual auction and reaching their chapters and supporters across the entire state.

Virtual Fundraising Events

Virtual events are one of the most engaging ways to raise money virtually.

Sometimes your nonprofit might be faced with the need to move your in-person event to a virtual format. This can occur for any number of reasons, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created an especially widespread need for virtual fundraising events.

Donors have responded warmly, with many audiences eager to stay engaged with their favorite nonprofits online! 

A wide variety of events and engagement opportunities can be moved online, including auctions, galas, golf outings, and community gatherings.

Use dedicated virtual event and video streaming software to handle all of your planning and management tasks in one place. This will greatly reduce the logistical challenges of adapting your plans to the virtual sphere.

If you’ve already made the move to online events (or are planning your first online event), study up with our quick guide to hosting a flawless virtual event.

Virtual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Virtual fundraising ideas like peer-to-peer challenges are extremely engaging for donors.

Peer-to-peer strategies are a natural fit for virtual fundraising. These campaigns already take place online, and they’re easy to adapt with additional virtual events to drive even more engagement. We have a few favorite virtual peer-to-peer fundraising tactics, including:

  • Viral challenges. Encourage participants to sign up for your unique challenges and spread the word online. Right to Play generated nearly 5 million social media impressions with their challenge campaign!
  • Ambassador fundraising. This tactic is perfect for promoting your virtual events like auctions and galas. Recruit high-powered community ambassadors to generate excitement and secure plenty of registrations.
  • Virtual walks and runs. Although everyone will participate separately, these campaigns work the same as traditional walks and runs. Participants secure pledges, log their times, and have fun all online while supporting your mission!

To learn more about virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, read our complete list of best practices.

Success Story!

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington raised over $150,000 and attracted 500+ livestream attendees to their multi-day virtual event! By incorporating a wide variety of virtual auction and engagement tactics, the organization surpassed all of their goals for the event.

Hybrid Virtual Fundraising Events

Hybrid events are a great virtual fundraising idea that maximizes flexibility.

Hosting a hybrid event is another common virtual fundraising scenario. This happens when your nonprofit hosts an in-person event with an online engagement component for remote supporters who are unable to attend the onsite fundraising.

Virtual fundraising software and mobile bidding helps you easily engage virtual attendees and boost revenue via remote engagement strategies. Remote attendees can still participate and donate by:

  • Tuning into your event’s livestream
  • Bidding on silent auction items
  • Participating on social media
  • Making online donations
  • Purchasing merchandise or fixed price items

It doesn’t matter where they are, what they are doing, or why they can’t come – attendees can bid remotely and participate from anywhere! All you need to do is send them a link to your event, and they are off.

Virtual Fundraising Campaigns

Virtual fundraising campaigns and giving days are a tried and true way to raise money online.

It’s easy to adapt your online fundraising campaigns for virtual engagement, too!

Plan a time-bound giving campaign that incorporates a variety of virtual-friendly engagement and social media tactics.

For instance, if you’ve already begun planning your next Giving Tuesday campaign, brainstorm additional virtual tactics that can drive revenue. Take a mix-and-match approach, including elements like:

  • Peer-to-peer or ambassador fundraising
  • Team fundraising or corporate challenges
  • Text-to-give options for even more remote donations
  • Virtual community events to share updates and make live appeals
  • Challenges and gamification to boost engagement

The right virtual fundraising platform will make it easy to adapt your campaign with any new tactics to raise money and engage donors.

Success Story!

Interfaith Food Pantry used a variety of social media, livestreaming, virtual auction, and raffle tactics to drive a surge of support for their mission. Raising nearly $14,000 from their raffle and $33,000 with live donation appeals, their virtual campaign and event was a great success.

How do you plan and host a virtual fundraiser?

How to Plan and Host a Virtual Fundraiser

Whether you’re planning a virtual peer-to-peer campaign, online auction, livestream event, or anything in between, there are a few critical steps to plan for success.

While you’ll need to adapt your exact process to the size, goals, and timeframe of your virtual fundraiser, these are the core elements to keep in mind:

These are the core steps for planning and hosting a virtual fundraiser or event.

Start by reviewing the pros and cons of virtual fundraising.

Step 1: Evaluate pros and cons.

Before jumping in, take some time to evaluate the pros and cons of taking your fundraising virtual.

Common pros of virtual fundraising:

  • More cost-effective than in-person events
  • High levels of flexibility
  • Seamless data collection

Potential drawbacks of virtual fundraising:

  • A less personal touch than in-person engagement
  • Fewer incentives for supporters to stay actively engaged
  • Higher difficulty standing out from other online campaigns

Your nonprofit’s exact circumstances will determine whether or not a large-scale virtual fundraiser is the right move. However, we believe that the high flexibility of virtual fundraising definitely makes exploring your options worthwhile.

To learn more about how nonprofits have historically made new strategic decisions, check out our on-demand webinar, “Weathering COVID-19: Fundraising Lessons Learned from the Past“.

Next, determine the budget and goals of your virtual fundraising efforts.

Step 2: Determine your budget and goals.

As with any new campaign or event, it’s helpful to set clear goals and guidelines in advance:

  • Set your budget. Work with your team to determine a workable budget for your new virtual project.
  • Set your goals. Determining specific revenue and engagement goals goes a long way to set your fundraiser up for success.
  • Work backwards to determine specifics.
    • For a virtual auction, use our guide to pricing auction items to learn more about this process.
    • For live donation appeals, how many donations of different sizes will you need to reach your revenue goal?
    • What’s the timeframe of your virtual campaign or event?
    • Will you need new technology to collect donations or stream video?
    • Will your virtual event occur alongside an in-person event?

Carefully work through the specific guidelines your campaign must stick to in order to support your goals. Outlining these in advance is essential for keeping the planning process focused and driving success.

Begin building your virtual fundraising toolkit.

Step 3: Build your virtual fundraising toolkit.

Your virtual fundraising software will be the central location for your new campaign or event, so choose wisely! Look for features like:

  • Cloud-based design
  • Complete flexibility and customization
  • Mobile bidding capabilities
  • Secure payment processing
  • Event registration tools
  • Robust data reporting

To see all of these features and more in action, test drive the OneCause platform!

Recruit your planning and management team.

Step 4: Assemble your virtual fundraising team.

Don’t try to handle everything on your own! Form a virtual fundraising team to handle tasks like:

  • Technology set-up
  • Promotions and social media
  • Auction item procurement
  • Sponsorships
  • Fundraising monitoring

Splitting up tasks will simplify the entire process from planning to follow-up.

We recommend recruiting your team early and clearly defining each individual’s role.

Promote your virtual fundraising ideas online.

Step 5: Promote your virtual fundraiser.

Heavily promote your virtual campaign or event in the weeks leading up to the big launch! Use marketing outlets and opportunities like:

  • Social media
  • Video content
  • Email invitations
  • Ambassador updates
  • Text messages
  • Announcements from partners and sponsors

Since anyone can join a virtual fundraiser, broadcasting your message to as wide an audience as possible will be essential.

Launch your virtual fundraising campaign or event.

Step 6: Launch your virtual fundraiser.

Once the day of the virtual fundraiser rolls around, it’s time to open the fundraising!

  • Virtual auctions: Start the bidding, and turn on your online donations, fixed price items, and any other online fundraising activities. Be sure to clearly explain the bidding process to your attendees.
  • Peer-to-Peer & virtual campaigns: Launch your peer-to-peer fundraising site, ask participants to spread the news on social media, and watch your campaign take off!
  • Send updates and share progress: No matter which type of virtual fundraiser you are running, actively engage supporters throughout. Give them updates on high value items, progress towards your goals, and reminders about when the fundraising will close.

For any virtual campaign or event, make sure to have a staff member on hand to oversee the process, answer supporters’ questions, and troubleshoot unexpected issues.

Wrap up your fundraiser and handle any last logistics.

Step 7: End your virtual fundraising campaign or event.

The clock is ticking, and the end of your virtual fundraiser is almost here.

Luckily, you don’t have to worry about closing the bidding or online fundraising, because your mobile bidding or peer-to-peer software will automatically do it for you!

Most online fundraising platforms require bidders to enter their credit card numbers before bidding or donating to ensure follow-through on bids and/or donations. Winners are charged automatically, so your organization doesn’t have to worry about chasing down payments in a virtual world.

Once the campaign or event draws to a close, make sure to thank every participant and share your results. Donors love hearing how their support translates into concrete impact for your mission.

Follow-up with donors after your virtual fundraising campaign ends.

Step 8: Follow-up and evaluate your virtual fundraising performance.

As mentioned above, immediately thanking virtual supporters is critical, especially if they are new to your cause.

Be sure to send out thank-you notes or personalized emails that recognize donors for their support. If individuals went above and beyond to contribute to your success, publicly recognize them and personally follow-up to express your gratitude.

Use social media blast posts to thank everyone who helped: donors, staff, volunteers, and peer-to-peer participants alike. Most importantly, tie all donor communications to the results you achieved, the dollars raised, and how the funds will be used to support your mission.

Once follow-up is underway, begin reviewing the performance of your virtual fundraising campaign or event. How did you do at reaching your goals? What can you change next time to boost your results? Using dedicated virtual fundraising software drastically simplifies this process since all campaign data will be saved in a central location.

These tips and virtual fundraising ideas can set your nonprofit up for online success.

Virtual Fundraising: Wrapping Up

Although virtual fundraising has quickly become a new necessity for many nonprofits amid 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, online-only campaigns and events are a trend that’s here to stay.

The benefits of flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to reach wide virtual audiences make these strategies a no-brainer for many organizations.

If your own organization wants to raise more online and reach more donors, start exploring your own virtual fundraising options! There are tactics suitable for nonprofits of any size or mission.

Keep learning about virtual fundraisers and events with these additional resources:

Go Virtual With OneCause. Take a test drive today.