Online Fundraising: Crash Course & 20 Ideas from the Pros

Online fundraising is one of the most important ways to connect with donors today, and you’ve got more options than ever before. Tried and true methods of raising money have been reimagined for a new, virtual, and anytime, anywhere world. With social giving, virtual events, hybrid experiences, and more, there are tons of new and flexible ways to make your mark online.

Nonprofits of all sizes have seen incredible results with online campaigns, challenges, giving days, and other creative ways to engage today’s donors. Almost half of the organizations we surveyed for our 2021 Fundraising Outlook Report said they generated 20% or more of their annual operating budget through online fundraising and events!

Maybe your nonprofit hasn’t fully tapped into the power of online fundraising yet. Or maybe you’re looking for fresh, innovative online fundraising ideas. Either way, we’ve got you covered.

Online Fundraising: What You Need to Know

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20 Standout Online Fundraising Ideas

With the growing popularity of fundraising technology and virtual tools, the boom in online fundraising will continue far past the pandemic and shape the future of fundraising. The key is to make your online fundraisers stand out and engage your virtual supporters! To help, we’ve gathered our favorite online fundraising ideas.

This section reviews our favorite online fundraising ideas.

Our Favorite Online Fundraising Ideas

Virtual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Peer-to-peer fundraising is a powerful way to bring people together, educate them about your mission, and raise support for your cause. P2P fundraising is already a fairly common tactic for nonprofits, but have you thought about the benefits of giving your campaigns a new virtual twist?

Taking your campaign virtual engages participants and supporters online, in fun, new, and creative ways that, if executed correctly, can amplify your donations. Team-based fundraising competitions are an excellent way to get started. Be sure to mix in a few virtual gatherings along the way and cap it off with an exciting hybrid grand finale event!

The US Ski and Snowboard Foundation used peer-to-peer fundraising to supercharge their 2020 campaign.

Online Auctions

Charity auctions have always been reliable fundraising events for nonprofits. Now, with the help of mobile bidding tools and virtual fundraising software, it’s easier than ever to take your auction virtual.

In many ways, virtual auctions are even easier and more cost-effective to plan than traditional live or silent auctions. To host an online auction, procure the perfect collection of items, set up your virtual event center, and start promoting your auction to donors. Bonus points if you recruit ambassadors to secure even more registrants for your virtual auction!

The Zoo Miami Foundation used a virtual auction to raise money during its annual gala.

Social Media Contests

Hosting a social media contest for your supporters is a low-stress way to boost engagement any time of year. Come up with a contest that relates to your mission and is easy for followers to join. All you’ll need is:

  • An enticing prize or perk for the winner(s)
  • A dedicated hashtag to track entries
  • A deadline

Get creative to come up with the perfect idea for your own audience, then launch the contest, encourage plenty of engagement, and pick your lucky winners! To raise money during a social media contest, ask participants to include a link to your donation page on their posts and to share it far and wide with friends and family.

Play it Forward launched a social media based virtual challenge to raise money online.

Awareness Campaigns

Raising awareness for your cause and increasing your nonprofit’s visibility can be just as important as securing donations. An online awareness campaign is a great way to reach wide new audiences of potential supporters and activate net new donors along the way. Our Giving Experience Study found that 31% of donors who gave online during the pandemic were first-time givers—never underestimate the power of expanding your reach!

Social media and live-streamed community events are excellent choices for highlighting your mission, boosting engagement, and growing your base of support. If you launch an awareness campaign, mix and match a few of the other ideas in this list to maximize your reach.

The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation launched an awareness campaign to reach more supporters and raise money online.

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This section reviews online fundraising ideas for events and challenges.

Fundraising Ideas for Online Events & Challenges

Ambassador Campaign

Ambassadors campaigns are a form of peer-to-peer fundraising ideal for generating lots of excitement, harnessing your most passionate supporters, and increased proceeds raised before your event. Recruit well-connected supporters, set them up with their own donation pages and personal coaching, then set them loose to spread the word! Ambassador campaigns can be easily adapted for all kinds of organizations and fundraising contexts.

Virtual Gala

Go completely virtual with a multi-day online event—an ambassador or peer-to-peer campaign leading up to a hybrid or virtual gala complete with an auction, entertainment, games, and more. Use comprehensive online event and fundraising software to handle every stage of your gala, from registering guests to processing bids and streamlining checkout.

Livestreamed Appeals

The power of multimedia allows nonprofits to build connections with donors and humanize their mission, no matter where supporters are located. As you fundraise online, look for opportunities to launch live donation appeals. Use nonprofit-specific livestreaming tools to connect with donors and drive giving before, during, and after your events and campaigns.

Fitness Challenge

A virtual fitness challenge can entice your donors to get active for a good cause. People are using fitness trackers now more than ever. Why not use them to create a difference? In order for your fitness challenge to be a success, be sure you get creative and have the right technology to support it. To raise money, have participants secure pledges from their friends and family.

24-Hour Giving Challenge

You’ve heard of Giving Tuesday. Why not create your own buzzworthy giving day all about your mission and community? Use a combination of social media, email, peer-to-peer fundraising, and livestreamed announcements and appeals to launch your giving day. Give it a memorable hashtag and encourage tons of online engagement.

Backstage Tour

Use your livestreaming capabilities (or just go live on social media!) to give supporters a backstage glimpse of your work. You could ask supporters to pay to register for the scheduled tour, or make plenty of live appeals while streaming it for free to your entire audience. The main idea is simply to connect to your cause by letting them feel like part of the team.

Community Speakers

Are there interesting public conversations related to your mission? Or would donors just be interested to learn more about your cause from experts in the field? Recruit experts, local leaders, even your executive director to join a virtual roundtable discussion or seminar series. Have supporters pay to register in advance, then develop an engaging program and Q&A sessions.

Virtual Walkathon

Walkathons are easily adapted to the world of online fundraising. Use peer-to-peer fundraising software to let participants set up donation pages and ask for pledges online. On the big day, everyone might walk separately on their own time and log their distances, or you could also go for a hybrid option and gather a group to walk and celebrate together in person.

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This section reviews easy online fundraising ideas for year-round revenue.

Online Fundraising Ideas for Year-Round Revenue

Matching Gifts

Matching gifts are a form of corporate philanthropy that’s often overlooked by nonprofits. Many employers will financially match donations made by employees to eligible nonprofits, meaning double the impact from just one gift. Promote these programs to your donors and ask them to check their own eligibility with a quick social media and email campaign.

Crowdfunding Campaigns

This online fundraising method involves creating a central campaign page that explains what you’re raising money for. Then, encourage supporters to share your project far and wide on social media. These campaigns work best for especially eye-catching or emotionally compelling, time-bound projects.

Corporate Challenges

Partnering with other organizations can help grow your audience and cover event expenses through sponsorships. To combine the power of corporate support with peer-to-peer fundraising, try a corporate fundraising challenge! We call it competitive social fundraising. Use P2P software to launch a campaign that allows individuals, teams within a company, or multiple companies to compete to see who can raise the most for your cause.

Influencer Campaigns

Seek out supporters with a large social media following and ask if they would be willing to partner with your organization. For-profit businesses have formed relationships with influencers, so who’s to say nonprofits can’t do the same? Ask them to share about their personal experience with your organization’s mission or promote your online fundraising campaign.

Online Merchandise

This online fundraising idea is an effortless way to generate year-round revenue. Create custom merch featuring your logo or other relevant designs and offer them for sale online, either on your own website or using a third-party service. Get creative to come up with the right offerings for your audience. T-shirts, hats, mugs, tote bags, and more are all classic choices.

Membership Perks

Membership programs are a great way for nonprofits to generate steady support. But make sure to actively incentivize joining your program in order to turn it into a more active online fundraising channel! Free merchandise, ticket discounts, VIP access, special volunteering opportunities, and more can all be great perks that will help you grow your program.

Recurring Donations

Similar to your membership program, offering recurring donation options makes it easy to generate more support for your nonprofit with less work. Use online donation software that makes it easy for donors to opt into monthly giving. Then, use a quick social media and email campaign to show donors the increased impact that their continued donations will have.

Text-to-Give Options

Text-to-give allows donors to quickly give via their mobile phones, making it a perfect online fundraising addition for your toolkit. During any fundraising campaign, awareness day, or live, hybrid, or virtual event, simply remind donors that they can easily give via text. Streamlining the donation process is a surefire way to encourage more gifts from donors.

Online Fundraising FAQs

  • What is online fundraising?
    • Online fundraising is a way for nonprofits to use online platforms, social giving tools, and mobile bidding software to raise money for their mission. It typically involves an online donation page and can include text-to-give, peer-to-peer fundraising, online auctions, and more. Online fundraising encompasses all the technology and innovation required to drive donations and awareness to the cause in a virtual world.
  • Why is online fundraising critical today?
    • Online fundraising is essential in this new fundraising world. Nonprofits need to continue to meet donors where they are post-pandemic, and donors have come to love the convenience of giving anytime, anywhere! Online giving activates your community and keeps them regularly engaged with your cause and mission.
  • What are the benefits of online fundraising?
    • With online fundraising, giving is quick, easy, and secure. And because of the expanded reach online fundraising provides, nonprofits can collect donations from all across the country. It gives you a ton of flexibility in terms of the types of campaigns and events you can launch. With a reliable online fundraising toolkit, you can easily develop and kickoff the perfect campaign for your unique audience and fundraising needs.
  • How has online fundraising changed over the years?
    • Online fundraising isn’t just about building a donation page and hoping potential donors find you. A successful online fundraising campaign goes beyond the transaction and focuses on the giving experience. This need to connect with donors plus pandemic-era necessities have led to a boom in virtual and hybrid fundraising, social giving strategies, and more that prioritize the donor experience and addresses donor needs and interests.
  • What do you need to conduct online fundraising?
    • To begin a successful online campaign, you’ll need clear campaign goals and guidelines, powerful online fundraising tools, digital marketing tactics, and a donor database or CRM. Sound like a lot? No worries – we have you covered! Check out our next section for a walkthrough of how to build your online fundraising strategy.

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Building Your Online Fundraising Strategy

Now that we’ve covered the essentials of online fundraising, let’s dive into some keys to success. Here are the most important strategy components to keep in mind:

Use this checklist of online fundraising strategy essentials to build your own strategy.

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Campaign Goals and Guidelines

In order to host a successful campaign, you’ll first need to determine what success means to your organization. It’s important to qualify and quantify exactly what you want to gain from your online fundraising campaign, as that goal informs your planning strategy. In addition to raising money, you might also use an online fundraising campaign or event to reach other goals, such as:

  • Acquiring new donors.
  • Promoting your cause or gaining publicity.
  • Stewarding existing donors.
  • Engaging younger donors.
  • Increasing average donations per supporter.

No matter what your goals are, make sure that you have a way to quantify them. If you don’t have a metric for success going in, you can’t measure how well you did or improve your strategies going forward.

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Online Fundraising Technology

Now that you know what you’d like your campaign to accomplish, you’ll need to figure out what type of online fundraising software will get the job done.

The OneCause Virtual Event Center contains all the online fundraising essentials you'll need for a modern campaign or event.

This software provides easy-to-use tools for you to program a high-quality virtual event experience – ultimately driving more fundraising activity and proceeds to fuel your mission. With this software, supporters can:

  • Engage with your online fundraising using a single device (mobile, tablet or desktop)
  • Register to effortlessly gain access to the virtual fundraiser
  • Consume content before, during, and after virtual events
  • Explore why supporting the mission of the nonprofit matters
  • Donate through traditional means (e.g. fund-a-need, live appeal)
  • Bid effortlessly in silent and live auctions without leaving the broadcast (i.e. live stream)
  • Purchase raffle tickets and other fixed price options

These are must-have features for your online fundraising success, so rounding them up into a powerful and flexible software solution is an important choice for nonprofits.

Explore these success stories to learn how organizations of all shapes and sizes have revolutionized online fundraising with OneCause.

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Digital Marketing Tactics

It should come as no surprise that as you move your fundraising online, you’ll need to bring your marketing efforts online as well. Social media, video, and email marketing are just a few inexpensive ways to resonate with potential donors.

  • Social media: When used correctly, social media is an inexpensive marketing powerhouse. Encourage those who donate to your online fundraising campaign to share with their followers on social media. And be sure to plan out social posts on a daily basis to grow your community and build excitement around your campaign.
  • Video: While video may seem daunting to some nonprofits, never fear. Sure – quality matters. It reflects your brand! But you can create high quality video by simply using your smartphone. What matters the most is your story.
  • Email Marketing: Email marketing is a cost and time-effective tool. It allows you to deliver a lot of information, reach a lot of interested people at once, and connect with your supporters in an engaging way. Segment your audience into different lists and grow donor retention by creating campaigns and call-to-actions specific to those audiences.

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A Database or CRM

Your nonprofit’s database will be essential for online fundraising campaigns. Use your database or CRM to help you research your audience during the planning process, and then ensure all new engagement data is automatically reported once your campaign begins. Online fundraising software that integrates with your database will be invaluable. An organized, integrated data system will allow you to:

  • Track donor information
  • Gauge the success of your campaigns and online fundraising
  • Make better strategic decisions
  • Plan more engaging, successful campaigns in the future

Look for nonprofit-specific CRMs that include the intuitive features you need. Ease of use, integrations with your other tools, and simple segmentation features are all must-haves.

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Additional Ways to Drive Engagement

Harnessing the power of peer influence keeps an online fundraising campaign rolling. Social engagement tools, such as gamification, are critical to taking your campaign to the next level. Consider these top gamification strategies:

  • Use leaderboards. Display the top fundraisers and how much they’ve raised using a leaderboard. Donors will be more motivated to fundraise when they see their name on the top of your list.
  • Give badges for significant milestones. Badges are images that participants can place on their peer-to-peer pages to mark fundraising milestones. The more badges a fundraiser receives, the more money they’ve raised for your cause.
  • Display a fundraising thermometer. It’s important to update donors on your progress. Having a fundraising thermometer for your overall campaign, as well as for each individual, shows participants how far they’ve come.
  • Offer prizes to top ranking fundraisers. Who doesn’t love winning an awesome prize for their hard work? Motivate your fundraisers to finish the campaign strong by rewarding your top performers. You can even utilize the built-in point system for a variety of activities.

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Online Fundraising Tips & Tactics from the Pros

These pro online fundraising tips can give your next campaign or virtual event an edge and help it generate more interest, engagement, and support for your mission.

Tip 1: Keep the online giving process simple.

In order to have a successful online fundraising campaign, you need easy-to-use online tools. Your fundraising page should be customized and personalized with campaign-specific images, messaging, and goals. Be sure to make the giving experience simple by following these key steps:

  1. Limit the number of required fields. The more steps you require and the more information you ask for, the more likely a potential donor is going to lose patience and not follow through with their donation.
  2. Make the giving experience mobile friendly. These days, it’s all about meeting donors where they are – their smartphones!
  3. Have a clear call-to-action. Your donation form is not the place to include long explanations of your mission. Keep it simple with a ‘Donate Now’ call-to-action.
  4. Incorporate social media integrations. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram are powerful tools. Be sure to incorporate social media integrations so that your donors can spread the word about your online fundraising campaign far and wide.
  5. Include other options that donors will find valuable. Impact statements and options to set up a recurring donation, cover processing fees, or easily create an account for future giving can all be worth including.

Here’s an example of one step on an effective fundraising page. It keeps the process simple, provides options, and clearly illustrates impact:

This example online fundraising form includes a number of best practices to emulate, like suggested giving amounts.

Tip 2: Promote additional ways to stay engaged.

In order to cultivate better relationships with your supporters online, your organization has to be consistent in its outreach, communications, and engagement. One of the easiest ways to do this in your next online fundraising campaign is to promote additional ways to stay engaged. Your organization should offer a variety of differing opportunities in order to maintain relationships with as many of your supporters as you can. Some ideas include:

  • Recurring donations
  • Upcoming fundraisers
  • Volunteering
  • Auction item donation
  • Tours of your facilities

Offering many different options to your many supporters ensures that more of your community remains involved with your organization, while also demonstrating that you understand your various supporters’ needs and engagement preferences.

Tip 3: Suggest giving levels on your online fundraising form.

Giving levels offer your supporters donation choices in the form of pre-set amounts. Rather than leaving the donation amount up to your supporter, think about providing giving levels that can serve as real-time impact statements for your organization. It might look like this:

  • $15 can provide a meal for a family of four
  • $25 can allow 5 children to receive Christmas presents
  • $50 can provide medical supplies for a family in need
  • $100 can send two kids to camp
  • $150 can provide a seat of textbooks for a student

This example online fundraising page shows donors the impact that different giving levels will have.

The more details you can provide, the better! Making the need real will make the request actionable. People want to know how their donation will make a difference, and adding giving levels to your form can show clear impact.

Tip 4: Focus on storytelling strategies.

Stories are powerful tools. They help us make sense of the noise that surrounds us by putting it into a form that makes sense and moves us. For nonprofits, there’s no better tool to connect with volunteers, clients, and donors. But why is storytelling so important in online fundraising?

  • Nonprofits have to cut through the noise and stand out online.
  • Everyone’s attention is becoming increasingly fragmented.
  • We need a way to connect people and humanize our missions in a virtual world.

Our favorite way to practice storytelling is through video. Get out your smartphone camera (we aren’t looking to make a Hollywood movie here!) and capture the story of your mission. Your donors will be able to connect with your mission in a whole new way and you’ll be able to take your online fundraising campaign to the next level.

Tip 5: Use data to target your online fundraising campaigns.

Data is the key to unlocking your online fundraising potential. It allows you to better engage with donors and grow at scale (while still being personalized). Take your online fundraising to the next level by using data to segment your donors and target your campaigns.

How you decide to segment your donors depends on the needs of your organization and will help make sure you are connecting with donors in ways that will maximize impact. You might group donors into different segments based on:

  • How you originally acquired their support
  • Their average gift size
  • Whether they’re a new or returning donor
  • Whether they give one-time or recurring gifts
  • Age/demographics
  • Location

By actively recording this data in your CRM, you can easily filter and sort donors into new segments over time. This is especially valuable for email and direct mail campaigns that promote your online fundraising.

Tip 6: Integrate your fundraising software.

In order to accurately record and analyze all of your engagement data, you’ll need to integrate your online fundraising software. This will save time (and headaches) while also giving you a powerful foundation of data to guide your strategies in the future. Check out these benefits:

  • Less work importing and exporting data
  • Cut down your risk of human error
  • Personalize your donor communication
  • Build a stronger relationship with your donors
  • Improve customer service

Tip 7: Take a multichannel marketing approach.

Multichannel marketing refers to using a variety of mediums to spread the word about your online campaigns and events. This will increase the chances that your promotions catch supporters’ attention and that they’ll be exposed to your campaign through multiple touchpoints. By keeping it on their minds, you’ll drastically increase the chances that supporters will click to donate or sign-up once you send a final call to action message.

Use methods such as:

  • Email newsletters
  • Social media networks
  • Text messages
  • Video marketing
  • Direct mail
  • Print handouts
  • Bulletin boards

A tactful multi-channel strategy is key to attaining maximum engagement with your online fundraising. But don’t try to do it all at once! Choose 2-3 tactics that work best for your team and your mission, and use those to anchor your strategy.

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Getting Started with Online Fundraising

If you’re ready to take the next steps in online fundraising, you’ll need to build an online fundraising toolkit to set you up for success. Look for comprehensive platforms that make it easy to adapt your plans for the virtual fundraising era with built-in donation tools, peer-to-peer, marketing features, mobile bidding, and live-streaming capabilities. OneCause can help.

Designed with flexibility in mind, OneCause makes online giving and virtual fundraising easy for any organization. Our platform will help you cover all your bases, engage donors, save time, and raise more. Take our platform for a test drive to see it in action! Or, keep researching online fundraising best practices with these additional resources:

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