Virtual fundraising has quickly become a major trend for nonprofits of all sizes.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has made virtual engagement a new necessity for many organizations. Moving events and campaigns online has become a nonprofit necessity when in-person gatherings aren’t feasible. However, the broader move towards virtual and online-only fundraising has been on the rise over the past decade.
Due to the shift towards online fundraising, donors have become accustomed to engaging with the missions they care about through online channels.
With the advancement and growing popularity of livestreaming technology and other virtual event tools, the stage is set for a boom in virtual fundraising for nonprofits of all sizes! The key is to make your virtual fundraisers and events stand out to your unique audience. To help you make that virtual connection, we’ve gathered our favorite virtual fundraising ideas and broken them down into three core categories:
Use the links above to jump to a specific section, or follow along with us from the top. You’ll be planning your next virtual event, campaign, or engagement opportunity in no time!
Taking a fundraising campaign virtual opens up all sorts of new opportunities to engage your audience and raise support. Longer, time-bound campaigns can easily be adapted to include engaging virtual elements like online events, mobile bidding, and peer-to-peer fundraising.
These are a few of our favorite ways to make the most of online fundraising with virtual tactics:
Ambassador fundraising campaigns take traditional peer-to-peer fundraising to the next level. In these campaigns, you’ll recruit high-powered ambassadors to broadcast your cause and secure more support from their own networks of friends, family, and colleagues.
Ambassador strategies are natural additions to any larger virtual campaigns or events you host. This is because your ambassadors can solicit online donations or secure more registrations leading up your big online gala or auction. Just be sure to empower and encourage your ambassadors with plenty of resources and incentives! Then, recognize them for their efforts and express your gratitude for their help.
To learn more, check out the complete OneCause guide to ambassador fundraising.
Giving days are another effective way to structure your virtual fundraising campaigns because they make it easy to hyper-focus your efforts.
Giving Tuesday is an extremely popular example for the year-end season, but feel free to come up with your own unique giving day for other times of the year, too. Develop a complete campaign strategy to promote your giving day, tap into your social networks, get donors excited, and celebrate with live-streamed festivities.
Viral challenges have been a mainstay of digital fundraising over recent years. The move to virtual engagement has only made it easier to engage donors with funny or unique online challenges.
Come up with a unique challenge for supporters to complete and set up a virtual campaign center to track progress.
Explore this success story to see how Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County used virtual challenges and events to exceed their fundraising goals.
A classic online fundraising campaign is another surefire way to engage virtual audiences.
Give your campaign a specific goal and theme, and go all-in on promoting it to donors. Focus on communicating your goals and how support will translate into a tangible impact on your mission. Using virtual fundraising software makes it easy to centralize your strategy and incorporate other engagement tactics like gamification into your campaign.
Sometimes your goals might revolve more around raising awareness for your mission than simply securing donations.
A virtual awareness campaign is a great way to spread the word about your cause and reach wide new audiences of potential supporters. Develop a multimedia awareness campaign to highlight your mission or a specific project related to that mission. Social media and live-streamed community events are excellent choices for boosting engagement and growing your base of support.
The need to engage donors from a distance has been a major challenge for nonprofits, and we expect the trend to continue beyond this year. Organizations of all sizes have successfully pivoted to virtual events. By taking your events online, you can offer new experiences, fundraising tactics, and engagement opportunities to donors.
These are a few of our favorite virtual fundraising ideas for events:
Charity auctions have always been reliable fundraising events for nonprofits. Now, with the help of mobile bidding tools and virtual event 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 range of items, set up your virtual event center, plan engaging live-streamed activities, and start promoting your auction to donors. Bonus points if you recruit ambassadors to secure even more registrants for your virtual auction!
To learn more, check out our complete guide to online charity auctions.
The traditional annual gala is a classic nonprofit event that brings supporters together for a night of entertainment, fundraising, and celebration of your mission. With technology that makes virtual events more feasible and engaging than ever, virtual galas are the natural next step for nonprofits.
Use virtual fundraising software and live-streaming tools to create a complete online event experience. Incorporate a variety of live ceremonies, multimedia presentations or videos, auction or raffle activities, sponsor shout-outs, and live donation appeals into your schedule for the evening. Using dedicated virtual fundraising software makes it easy to include a range of engaging activities into your gala while still offering guests a centralized, enjoyable experience.
Wondering if a virtual gala is the right move for your nonprofit? Explore these 5 signs you’re ready to succeed with a virtual event.
Try adapting a traditional walkathon or charity run to take place virtually! Using centralized virtual event software, you can launch a peer-to-peer style fundraising campaign leading up to your virtual walk. Then, plan an engaging schedule of challenges and activities for participants to complete remotely. Your participants then log their activities in your campaign center, generating donations and pledges along the way.
To see this tactic in action, check out how Hill Country Ride for AIDS adapted their 20 year old bike ride tradition for the virtual sphere.
Community-building events like discussions, Q&A sessions, and roundtables are also easily adapted to the virtual sphere. Organize a virtual event to raise awareness and facilitate discussion around your mission. Your director, board members, and local experts or authorities all make great speakers. Use virtual event software to host your discussion and make it easy for supporters to join in.
To learn more about these types of virtual events, check out our guide to planning virtual conferences.
Viewing parties are a simple but engaging way for supporters to stay connected to your mission. Are there any documentaries relevant to your mission that supporters would be interested in seeing? Your organization might even produce its own video content to highlight your projects and mission.
Using dedicated virtual event software will make it easy to centralize the experience and incorporate additional fundraising and live-streamed discussion elements. Just be sure to make your virtual event as engaging as possible to keep viewers tuned in!
Telethons are classic charity events that translate well to virtual settings. This virtual event idea does require heavier planning due to its duration, but offering supporters a unique and engaging telethon live-stream can have significant benefits.
Plot out an evening (or a full day!) of streaming activities, including speakers, multimedia presentations, Q&A sessions, and messages from supporters and constituents. Use a classic fundraising thermometer or other gamification techniques to drive donations leading up to the event’s finale.
Have unique expertise to share with your community? Try hosting virtual classes. Subjects directly relating to your mission will be your best bet, but the sky’s the limit, especially if your organization works with a variety of partners in the community. Think about what your supporters will be interested in and leverage your organization’s existing resources when possible.
Set up an online event center to host the classes, and charge participants a registration fee at the start. Classes can be a great way to strengthen ties with donors by delivering real value and a new experience that isn’t just about fundraising.
Virtual happy hours and gatherings are a more casual way to engage with supporters. These events are fairly easy to plan, requiring only the right technology, a promotion plan, and a loose schedule of topics to discuss.
These events are ideal for smaller groups of supporters, so try targeting your virtual happy hour to a specific segment of donors or volunteers. Or, you might host a series of weekly virtual happy hours to let everyone have a chance to join. Just be sure to follow the same virtual event best practices that you’d use for a larger-scale live-streamed event.
How can your organization continue raising money online when a full-scale virtual event or campaign isn’t the right move? Virtual-friendly online fundraising ideas are perfect for generating year-round support and engaging donors. Use these ideas to launch quick fundraising drives or supplement your calendar of campaigns.
Here are a few of our favorite online fundraising ideas suitable for any time of year or organization:
Do-it-yourself peer-to-peer fundraising allows supporters to launch their own individual fundraising pages at any time. This tactic is extremely useful for generating year-round revenue. For example, supporters might be eager to solicit donations for your cause on their birthday in lieu of receiving gifts from friends. You get the donations, and the supporter can feel proud that they’ve helped your organization.
Learn more about supporter-driven fundraising with the OneCause peer-to-peer fundraising platform.
Easier to plan than full virtual auctions, raffles and penny socials can be effectively adapted as standalone virtual activities or as part of broader events. Procure one or more exciting prizes, and then use virtual fundraising software to sell digital tickets to participants. If you’ve already used silent auction software in the past, other ticketed auction-style events like raffles are easy to set up. You’ll just have to get the word out to donors to maximize ticket sales.
Check out our complete guide to penny socials to learn more about these adaptable fundraising events.
Corporate matching gifts represent a majorly underutilized source of funding for nonprofits. With matching gifts, donor’s contributions might be eligible to be financially matched by their employers. The only way to know if you’re missing out is to promote these corporate giving programs to your donors and ask them to check their eligibility.
Everyone remembers the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge, right? That viral challenge was a huge win for The ALS Association, helping them raise over $115 million! Try creating your own unique challenge for supporters to complete and share online, along with a dedicated hashtag and clear instructions for donating to your cause online.
Branded merchandise is a classic year-round fundraising idea for nonprofits. The move to virtual has made it more important than ever to offer easy ways to buy your merchandise outside of in-person events. Online merchandising platforms can help you create your own merch shop or even empower P2P fundraisers to create their own team shirts!
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. An enticing prize, a dedicated hashtag to track entries, and a deadline will be essential.
Try using a social media contest to promote your other fundraising tactics. For instance, encourage supporters to share their most creative or funny photos of themselves wearing your nonprofit’s t-shirt. Or, ask followers to share your post about an upcoming event and then pick a lucky winner who helped spread the word. Get creative to come up with the perfect idea for your own audience!
Wishlist drives are another easy way to generate support for your organization without necessarily asking supporters to make donations. Create an online wishlist of the tangible goods your nonprofit needs. Products relating to your mission will be most effective, but dedicated supporters will likely be happy to help with more mundane items like office supplies, too.
Include a link to your wishlist on your nonprofit’s site to give donors easy access and an alternative to making financial gifts. Just be sure to let them know about the opportunity to support your work through these in-kind donations!
A little incentive can go a long way! Consider offering a special perk for donations above a certain threshold during a set period of time. Inexpensive perks like access to your members-only newsletter or content can be great choices. If you’re looking to really drive donations, try offering free event tickets, t-shirts, or discounted memberships in exchange for donations during your drive.
Your nonprofit’s partnerships can be valuable resources. Partnering with other community organizations can help grow your audience and simplify planning campaigns or events. You might even partner with a local business to launch a lightning drive during which they’ll match donations. Explore your partner network and get creative to find new fundraising opportunities.
Classic collection drives are a surefire way to engage supporters without asking them to make donations. Collecting goods or supplies for your nonprofit’s constituents will allow donors to have a direct impact on your mission. Collection drive organizations can even help you raise money by collecting simple items like used shoes.
For some of your nonprofit’s projects and initiatives, crowdfunding might be the way to go! This online fundraising method involves creating a campaign page, usually on one of many leading crowdfunding platforms, that explains what you’re raising money for. Then, encourage supporters to share your project far and wide. Effective social media marketing is essential for success with crowdfunding.
Note that crowdfunding works best for especially eye-catching or emotionally compelling, time-bound projects. Raising money for your annual fund might be best left to a traditional fundraising campaign or virtual event.
Pledge drives are perfect for quickly generating a lot of buzz and support. These fundraising campaigns involve encouraging donors to pledge their support in the form of donations to be collected later. By making it easy and fast for supporters to make pledges (and provide contact information for later follow-up), your nonprofit can secure support from a wide audience.
While pledge drives are often held in direct response to a crisis, they can be effective for annual fundraising when planned well. This tactic is used regularly by public broadcasting stations, for instance. Explore your options if a pledge drive sounds like the right move for your organization!
Virtual fundraising is here to stay! Virtual fundraising campaigns, events, and engagement opportunities are popular among donors and nonprofits alike for a few key reasons. For donors, engaging with the missions they love virtually offers a new level of convenience and ease of access. For nonprofits, virtual tactics provide much more flexibility for creative adaptations than traditional strategies.
By investing in the right virtual fundraising software, studying up on effective strategies, and learning from the success stories of other nonprofits, you can start raising more online in no time! To keep learning about virtual fundraising, check out these additional resources: