Nonprofit Guide to Virtual Fundraising in 2020

As 2020 evolves, a new reality in fundraising is clear. Virtual fundraising can help nonprofit survive today’s changing landscape. Many organizations are turning to fundraisers with virtual fundraising software as an alternate strategy to traditional events. This guide outline what you need to know to go virtual!

Having best practices in your back pocket to bring your fundraising online can come in handy. Whether it’s part of a planned attempt to grow online, or in reaction to an unforeseen change affecting your event (e.g., COVID-19, local emergency, weather, disaster, public emergency etc.) – nonprofits need a plan to continue the fundraising.

This guide covers everything you need to know to execute virtual events. From mobile bidding to peer-to-peer software, you can reach donors online with ease.

While virtual campaigns and events are similar in many ways 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:

What is a Virtual Fundraiser?

What is a Virtual Fundraiser?

A “virtual fundraiser” is a campaign or event that takes place entirely online and allows supporters to engage with your cause from anywhere. Because the fundraising takes place in cyberspace, supporters and nonprofits leverage virtual fundraising software to promote, engage, and execute their fundraising activities.

As virtual events are completely digital, they can be executed quickly and opened up to a wide group of supporters, increasing your nonprofit’s reach.

Virtual fundraisers come in many shapes and sizes – so the sky’s the limit in what your nonprofit can spin-up and execute. Find the virtual mold that fits your mission and donor landscape!

Types of Virtual Fundraisers

What Are The Primary Types of Virtual Fundraisers?

The top four scenarios for hosting virtual and online fundraisers include:

  1. Online Auctions
  2. Moving an In-Person Event Virtual
  3. In-Person Events with Remote Donors
  4. Virtual & Online Campaigns

Online Auctions

Online auctions are essentially digital silent auctions. To run an online auction, nonprofits use either mobile bidding or an online auction software to engage supporters. The software is used to:

  • List out item descriptions
  • Showcase item photos
  • Track starting and current bid information
  • Register bidders
  • Enable remote bidding
  • Easily collect payment information
  • Automatically process invoices and credit card payments

Online auctions can help nonprofits raise a lot of money in the virtual world. It doesn’t matter if you are online, the chance to walk away with an amazing items and support a great cause will still spur giving!

Because they’re completely digital, online auctions are cost-effective to plan and can be opened up to remote supporters, increasing fundraising potential and ROI.

Moving an In-Person Event Virtual

Sometimes things happen and you find yourself and your nonprofit in a situation where you have to move your in-person event to an online format. This can occur during inclement weather, disasters, regional and local disruptions, large-scale public emergencies (e.g., COVID- 19).

The decision to move your in-person event is a move that should be made carefully. Be sure to consult your team, your board, your fundraising software partner, and your vendors prior to making the switch.

Don’t panic, should you decide to move your auction, gala, golf outing, donation appeal or other ticketed gathering, mobile bidding software enables you to easily turn your in-person event to a virtual fundraiser.

  • For OneCause customers, turning your Giving Center into your central online auction, donation, fixed price catalog, and sales portal is as simple as a few clicks in your OneCause Planner Site.
  • If you’re not currently a OneCause customer, we can get you up and running in no time. Feel free to take a tour and see for yourself.
How Can We Help? Request a consultation of OneCause Auction Software.

In-Person Events with Remote Donors

Another common scenario for virtual fundraising is when nonprofits decide to conduct a hybrid event. This happens when your nonprofit hosts an in-person event and, for whatever reason, also needs to reach a group of remote supporters who are unable to attend the onsite fundraising.

Mobile bidding enables you to easily engage virtual attendees and boost revenue via remote engagement strategies. Remote bidders can still give in the following ways to your event:

  • Bid on silent auction items
  • Make online donations
  • Purchases merchandise or fixed price items
  • Complete Buy It Now purchases

It doesn’t matter where they are, what they are doing, or why they can’t come – they 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 & Online Campaigns

These campaigns are uniquely time-bound online giving campaigns that leverage social and peer networks to raise money. They rely on peer-to-peer fundraising to raise money virtually.

You can execute these by conveniently having your campaign all in one place.

  • All fundraising runs through your nonprofit online fundraising page
  • Recruit participants to actively fundraising
  • Form teams to spur competitive giving
  • Create custom and branded participant pages

Check out these OneCause customer success stories for ideas on creative virtual and online campaigns:

Virtual Fundraising Best Practices

Virtual Fundraising Best Practices

Whether you are running an online peer-to-peer campaign, online auction, moving your event to virtual or conducting a hybrid fundraiser, there are a few critical steps to plan for success. Depending on the size and scope of your virtual fundraiser and the amount of time you have to prepare your online fundraising, be sure to:

Step 1. Evaluate Pros & Cons

Before jumping in, take some time to evaluate the pros and cons of taking your fundraising virtual. This is an important step to complete solo or with your team, as first step in your due diligence.


    • Cost-effective. With online auctions and virtual fundraisers, there is no physical event. Since you won’t have to rent out a space, provide dining options, etc., event expenses can be reduced.
    • Lots of flexibility. Virtual fundraisers are very flexible. An online fundraiser can run for longer than a physical one, and people can participate at any time, from anywhere.
    • Seamless data collection. To host an online auction, your organization will set up a fundraising site through your peer-to-peer or mobile bidding software. The software can link to your nonprofit CRM, or standalone as your fundraising repository, making donor data and payment collection easy.


    • Less personal touch. Since the event happens in cyberspace, virtual fundraisers can lack a personal touch. You’ll need to find ways to create mission moments and social donor connections online.
    • Fewer incentives. Because there’s not the same sense of friendly competition with an online auction, there can be less of a sense of urgency for people to bid. Your team can use gamification (max bids, buy nows, and outbid notifications) and social media to create a competitive online atmosphere.
    • Harder to Stand Out. Let’s face it, because it’s something participants do on their own time, you’ll need to find ways to stand out.

Step 2. Determine Your Budget & Goals

Once you’ve decided to undertake a virtual fundraiser, it’s time to set a budget.

  • Smaller Budget: Virtual fundraisers require fewer expenses than in-person auctions, so your organization can often operate on a limited budget.
  • Set Goals: Decide on a goal. Knowing what you’re aiming for ensures your virtual fundraiser has a nonprofit success plan for your fundraiser.
  • Work Backwards: Determine what you want to raise.
    • Silent Auctions: Assume 50-60% revenue to value on your silent items. To raise $20,000 in auction, you will need at least $40,000 in item value at a 50% revenue rate.
        • Check Bidder Base: Determine how many bidders you need online to support your fundraising goals. Be sure to factor this into your budget.
    • Donations: Determine what you’ve raised in the past and run a few revenue scenarios. It’s important to get familiar with the numbers and possible implications for your virtual fundraiser.
          • What if you have less donations (set a percentage)?
          • What if donations come in smaller increments but increase?
    • Fixed Price: Determine what fixed price items you can sell online (raffles, sign-up parties, games, merchandise). Raffles are subject to state by state regulations, so be sure to check with your local gaming commission on the regulations in your area.
    • Live Appeal: Think about ways you might be able to share your mission in a virtual world to engage existing and new donors.
      • How will it run? What’s the timeframe?
      • Can you use new media? Video? Live stream? Facebook Live?
    • Live Auction: If you have a Live Auction, you will need to orchestrate it differently than you would an in-person event.
          • Can you put it on FB Live using comments as bids or encourage proxy bidding through pro-active reach out to previous LA winners/bidders?
          • Can you livestream?
    • Dual Budget: In some cases, virtual fundraisers are paired with live events. If you’re hosting a hybrid style fundraiser, be sure to factor in the costs of both events.

For your Silent Auction online, review minimum bids and raises. Consider driving up minimum bids and/or raises to capture more revenue. See our blog on silent auction pricing best practices. Also consider using top industry amounts for Buy Now (250-300%).

Step 3. Select Online Fundraising Software

Your online fundraising software will be the central location for your virtual fundraiser, so choose wisely!

There are two types of software that are ideal for virtual fundraising, peer-to-peer technology and mobile bidding with online auction capabilities.

Here are 10 important features to look for in your virtual and online fundraising software:

  1. Cloud-based. Being able to access all of your planning tools and data from anywhere at any time is crucial. Cloud-based software also makes it much easier for your team to stay organized remotely.
  2. Flexible design. Choose a platform that lets you customize your fundraising site and individual participant fundraising pages to fit your brand and needs.
  3. Mobile optimized. The number of nonprofit transactions made through mobile devices increased by 50% over the past year. It’s essential that your software is optimized to meet donors where they are – their smartphones.
  4. Item management. Make sure your software enables you to track and manage your auction items. Even better if it has functionality to easily group related items into packages to maximize revenue.
  5. Online bidding. Of course, this is a must have. Your online bidding software should have robust and effective online bidding features whether your event is online-only or in conjunction with an in-person event.
  6. Payment and registration. Your online fundraising site should serve as a central hub to register guests online for bidding/donating and collecting credit cards. Make sure your software is PCI compliant with built-in security functionality.
  7. Social media integrations. Link your social channels from the software to maximize your reach and communicate your cause.
  8. Online notifications. Messaging and text notifications make it easy to remind participants of your virtual fundraisers. Keep up the energy by letting them know when they’ve been outbid, or for peer-to-peer fundraisers, thank them immediately for their donation.
  9. Custom pages. Your online auction software should let you create unlimited custom fundraising and informational pages. Your peer-to-peer software should allow individual participants to easily spin up custom fundraising pages.
  10. Reporting and analytics. This is absolutely essential. Any tool you use should make it easy to gather and analyze your fundraising data. Virtual and online fundraising software should have built-in analytics tools, reporting, and/or integrations with top CRMs.

Be sure to look for these features in any software you consider.

PRO FUNDRAISING TIP: Once you’ve picked a virtual fundraising software platform, it’s time to start building your fundraising site. Check out our Online Charity Auction Guide and Ultimate Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Guide for best practices to optimize your online fundraising.

Step 4. Assemble Your Team

To pull off virtual fundraiser, you’ll need a slightly different team to oversee the event or campaign.

Think about all of the efforts needed to plan and execute your auction. Then, determine which staff members and volunteers have the time and skill set to manage these efforts.

Recruit the following roles that are specific to virtual fundraising success:

What staff do you need for an online fundraiser or virtual fundraiser

Step 5. Promote Your Virtual Fundraiser

As we’ve mentioned, a big plus of hosting a virtual fundraiser is that anyone can participate!

This becomes a great opportunity for nonprofits to open up their fundraising to remote supporters across the country. It’s also a way, thanks to social media and social networks, to attract new supporters to your cause.

Make sure your communications and promotion strategy leverages these best practices:

  • Use social to create a hashtag, share stories on Instagram, and video on Facebook (increased engagement). Tell your stories and share impact to drive participation. Check out our eBook for more information.
  • Use video to create compelling messages from those you’ve served and to connect this event and your mission.
  • Spread the word with your volunteers and donors. They can share your stories with hashtags, talk about your online fundraising, and encourage people to give!
  • Co-brand with sponsors and get your local and corporate sponsors to share your messaging with their customers and employees.
  • Use e-mail marketing with catchy subjects to garner attention. Ask your donors, staff, and volunteers to help you email market your virtual event.
  • Text your donors directly from your Planner with a call-to-action statement, like “Register to bid in our Virtual Gala!”

When people know about your virtual fundraiser and all of your amazing fundraising items and activities, the impact their support will have, and how to help, everyone can join in and start fundraising!

How to promote your virtual fundraiser:

  1. Inform supports. Let supporters know you’re going virtual. Give them the dates of your event or campaign and tell them about the goals you hope to achieve. Don’t forget to tell them how you plan to use the proceeds. Sharing impact is important in a virtual world!
  2. Explain how to participate. Some of your supporters might not have done online fundraising before, so you’ll need to explain how to participate. If you are simply taking your mobile bidding online, let people know it’s the same site and software they would use for you onsite auction. Reassure them that the only thing different is that they can bid from their couches, or wherever they want!
  3. Share the link to your fundraising site. Your online fundraising site will serve as your fundraising headquarters. Share the link with supporters so they can start bidding and donating! Put your auction catalog, donation appeal, fixed priced items (raffles, parties, merchandise) on your site. If you are running a peer-to-peer virtual campaign, ask your participants to spin up their personal fundraising pages and share the links on social media.
  4. Leverage Ambassadors: Think about your most loyal supporters, volunteers, donors and staff and make them Ambassadors. Tap them to help you spread the word far and wide about your virtual fundraiser. You can set them up for success with social media toolkits and templates. Motivate them with contests for who can get the most new bidders, donors, or social reach. Make it fun for them to raise funds for your online efforts.
  5. Blast on social media: Social is the virtual fundraisers’ best friend! It’s free and has unlimited reach. Create a social media plan to promote, engage, and excite supporters. Let your social media army loose. Be sure to embed mission messaging, impact statements, and the “why it’s important” in your posts to connect with supporters.

Step 6. Launch Your Virtual Fundraiser

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

  • Online Auction: Start the bidding! And turn on your online donations, fixed price items and any other online fundraising activities. Using Max bids can ramp up bidding and something to advertise so the “robots do it”
  • Peer-to-Peer & Virtual Campaigns: Launch your peer-to-peer fundraising site, ask participants to spread the news on social and watch your campaign take off!
  • Send Updates & Share Progress: No matter what type of virtual fundraiser you are running, remember to actively engage supporters throughout. Give them updates on high value items, progress to your goals and always send out reminders about when the fundraising (bidding and donations) will close.

PRO FUNDRAISING TIP: Make sure you have a staff member overseeing the fundraising, bidding and donations to answer any questions supporters have and to troubleshoot any fundraising site issues.

Step 7. End Your Virtual Fundraiser

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 the bidding or donating to they follow through on their bids and/or donations. Winners are charged automatically, so your organization doesn’t have to worry about chasing down payments in a virtual world.

PRO FUNDRAISING TIP: Properly package and ship out each item to the winner in a timely manner. Be sure you require address and insert a flat shipping charge if you need to.

Step 8. Follow-up and Evaluate Performance

SAY THANKS: Thanking virtual supporters is critical, especially if they are new to your cause. Social donors, those engaging in giving through online channels and social networks, want to be connected to the causes they support.

OneCause Social Donor Study

Be sure to send out thank-you notes that recognize donors for their support. Use social media blast posts to thanks everyone who helped: donors, staff, volunteers, peer-to-peer participants.

Most of all, tie all donor communications to the results you achieved, the dollars raised, and how the funds will be used to support your mission.

To build a more loyal and sustainable donor base spend as much time on your post-gift communication strategy as you do attracting supporters to your virtual fundraiser

EVALUATE PERFORMANCE: Evaluate the success of your auction by tracking your performance. Tracking your results with peer-to-peer or mobile bidding software should be pretty straightforward.

Since the virtual fundraiser is happening online, all item and supporter information will automatically be recorded in your online software for you to analyze now and in the future.

How to determine if your fundraiser was a success

Now that you’ve executed your online fundraising, it’s time to take a look at how you’ve done, relax, and then get back to fundraising! Remember with the right strategies in mind, anyone can plan a virtual fundraising event that’s memorable, profitable, and a whole lot of fun for supporters.


How do online auctions for nonprofits work?Not Done? Keep Learning with OneCause!

For more information, including fundraising event planning, be sure to check out these additional resources: