Online fundraising is on the rise, and it’s the perfect time to update your fundraising strategy to include more virtual fundraising ideas.
According to the latest M+R Benchmarks study, online giving increased 32% in 2020 and has been steadily on the rise in recent years. With the exploding popularity of virtual fundraising and the major shift to digital-first fundraising, we anticipate that it will only continue to grow well into the future.
Maybe your nonprofit hasn’t yet developed an online fundraising plan. Or, you do fundraise online, but as we move out of COVID you know you need to revamp your plans. Either way, it’s time to brush up on your peer-to-peer fundraising chops and check out some virtual fundraising ideas that you can use to attract donors to your nonprofit.
For more inspiration, check out our massive list of fundraising ideas for nonprofits after this post.
Here’s a quick look at 3 of our top virtual fundraising ideas:
32 Simple and Effective Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits
1. Peer-to-Peer Fundraising
Peer-to-peer fundraising (one of the big things you can do on the CauseVox fundraising platform) accounts for ⅓ of all online donations, so it’s one of the best virtual fundraising ideas out there. Encourage your networks to set up personal fundraising pages through CauseVox and fundraise for your nonprofit.
When your donors fundraise for you, they build credibility for your cause and allow you to be human centered. In fact, 1 in 4 solicitation emails from peer-to-peer fundraisers result in donations, compared with 1 in 1,250 emails from a nonprofit.
“1 in 4 emails from peer-to-peer fundraisers result in donations, compared with 1 in 1,250 emails from a nonprofit…” tweet this
Climb Out of the Darkness is an initiative by Postpartum Support International that encouraged folks to set up their own personal fundraising websites to raise money for the cause. Each fundraiser’s site features a personal appeal and social sharing buttons, which are great ways to spread the word about the campaign.
Encourage your networks to set up personal fundraising pages and fundraise for your nonprofit. You can easily set up a place for them to do this using our online fundraising software.
Peer-to-peer fundraising works incredibly well for any version of a fundraising event: fully online, in person, or hybrid. It’s a great option if your supporters are still feeling out their post-COVID landscape. You can have fundraisers create online pages and complete a run, task, or challenge in their own time; host a livestream event; or culminate with an in-person event.
Here’s how you can use peer to peer fundraising on CauseVox:
Tip: Schedule a demo with our team on how you can quickly start a peer to peer fundraising campaign for your virtual fundraising event.
2. One-Day Email Flash Fundraiser or Social Media Sharing Event
Email fundraising makes up ⅓ of online donations, and while your nonprofit may have already held an email fundraiser this year, it may behoove you to do a one-day email fundraising blitz. A giving day if you will. Think Giving Tuesday but without all the clutter of thousands of organizations asking for money.
Choose one day- a day that possibly has some symbol or importance to your organization (ex. Valentine’s Day for victims of domestic abuse). You could even give it a cute name to draw people in. On the day of the blitz, send out a series of emails requesting donations. The emails should include an emotional story, appropriate imagery, and a call to action that expresses urgency.
If your audience is one that responds more positively to social media, then you might want to try a social media sharing blitz. As we all know, social media is a great place to fundraise, so leverage the power of these platforms with a one-day social media virtual event. Choose a day and actively encourage donations and sharing through all your social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat.
Remember to set a dollar amount goal and periodically post updates throughout the day to let your supporters know how much you’ve raised (and how close you are to your goal).
Consider tying your giving day in with your end of the year giving. This is a great way to add urgency to the day, and remind people that it’s the perfect time to give. Faith in Action used online giving for their year end campaign and had great success.
For some inspiration, check out our post on how to plan a successful Giving Tuesday campaign.
3. Donation Matching Drive
Build on that one-day email fundraising idea by securing a match from a company or major donor and advertise the match in your email campaign. Donors love to know that their money was leveraged, and with matching gifts, they’re essentially giving two gifts for the price of one. In fact, one of the main reasons why Millennials donate is because they know their gift will be matched.
Matching gifts are also a great way to boost donations mid-campaign. If you notice that donations are starting to taper off mid-day, try to introduce a matching gift to keep the excitement and momentum going. You can promote a match through all your frequent channels of communication whether it be social media, email, or a newsletter.
To securea matching gift, start with your closest supporters: your board. Ask them to see if they’d be able to pitch in for a matching gift, or leverage their relationships with businesses to ask potential partners to contribute to the match.
Tip: Leverage existing matching gifts from your donor’s employers as well. You can add these into your virtual fundraising campaign site on CauseVox as an offline donation to showcase fundraising progress!
In 2020, galas and other virtual events look a little bit different from the way they used to. Ok, maybe quite a bit different.
Even as some areas are lifting stay-at-home orders, big gatherings are simply not an option for the foreseeable future. Here’s where the virtual gala comes in.
Summit Assistance Dogs found the benefit of this when their Unleash Your Love luncheon had to be canceled due to COVID. In just over a month, Summit Assistance Dogs moved their event from in-person to virtual using CauseVox, and netted over $35,000 more than the previous year at their in-person event.
They follow some basic steps to move their normal in-person event to an online experience.
- Take Stock of What You Typically Do: take a look at your normal project plan. Which parts of this can be moved online? What will not have a good ROI? Make some decisions about what to keep and what to chuck.
- Set Up a Peer-to-Peer Campaign: Where an in-person gala would have tables, your virtual gala will have virtual tables aka peer-to-peer fundraisers.
- Sponsors: Sponsors can be a major source of income for an in-person gala, and you don’t want to leave them behind. Luckily the virtual format gives you a lot of flexibility to make sponsors happy. You can add their names, logos, or links to your fundraising page on CauseVox. You can give them time during your livestream to highlight their organization.
- Arrange a Program: Where you typically would have speakers, entertainment, food, and decor to plan at the venue, now you’ll want to think about providing a seamless experience via a livestream. Think about highlighting your peer-to-peer fundraisers, mentioning your goals in real-time, and having some short speeches. If you were going to have food, consider providing a suggested meal for people to prepare at home.
- Auctions: There are plenty of software options that will allow you to run your auction online, including CauseVox; you can use our custom fields and/or ticketing feature to do so. Make sure you share images of each item and organize them clearly. It can also be a great idea to highlight different items on social platforms before the event.
Some organizations have even taken this a step further by hosting their event entirely online using the “UnGala” fundraising approach. The “UnGala” is a new, trending fundraising style where instead of spending so much time and effort on a big fancy event, it’s basically just an online peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. An UnGala frees up your organization and staff, helping you focus your energy where needed most and raise a lot quickly, with a higher ROI.
Learn how Summit Assistance Dogs and Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation ran massively successful virtual fundraising events:
Tip: Schedule a demo with our team on how you can quickly start a campaign site for your virtual fundraising event.
Download your Virtual Fundraising Planning Guide and Template:
5. Games Tournament
Create a series of challenges that test team skills, endurance, and aptitude with a games tournament. Teams can register to compete in different challenges with the top scorers winning a prize! Get local businesses involved for prize sponsorships, and make it a public, fun event that everyone can come and watch.
You can make this virtual too! Try using Gamefly to rent games for the tournament for participants — it works just like the old Netflix (where they send you the game via mail and you mail it back). You can also use services like Discord to host a video chat to allow participants to game together, or Twitch to stream games. Jackbox is a great option for online games.
Considerations: have an impartial umpire or judge for the games so that its a fair contest for all.
Hosting a live-stream fundraiser is an excellent way to attract, nurture, and convert your audience over the course of a day. Livestream fundraisers can be done with Facebook Live and Instagram.
Summit Dogs is a great example of how powerful live streaming can be when you share on a variety of platforms, include personal stories, and include both asynchronous and live videos. They updated throughout the campaign with short videos and information to draw people to the page, then premiered their main program live.
This is also a perfect example of how long a program should be. It draws you in without going on for too long.
Here’s a look at their pre-recorded luncheon:
There are a few things you want to consider when you’re planning a live stream: the first and most important is what platform you’ll use. Use Zoom for best engagement and simulcast to Youtube Live and/or Facebook live to give people the chance to connect with you. Alternatively, you can also pre-record your live stream. Feel free to use elements of both.
Ideally, a live stream should be relatively short (none of us have long Zoom attention spans these days) and include tons of chances for engagement. Let people ask questions, share their experiences, or get involved.
Some options could be:
- Panel discussions with experts
- Breakout sessions or other educational sessions
- Virtual classes
- Virtual tours
- Virtual conference
For more inspiration, check out our article: 4 Top Live Streaming Tips For Nonprofit Virtual Fundraising + 7 Real Livestream Examples.
7. Recurring Giving Blitz
A recurring donation campaign is one of the top virtual fundraising ideas because recurring donors give 42% more over the course of the year than a one-time giver. Mortgage Professionals Providing Hope ran the Be a Humble Hero recurring gift campaign that continued to bring in dollars throughout the year.
Encourage your donors to give recurring monthly or quarterly gifts through a planned giving email fundraising blitz.
One way to make this campaign as effective as possible is to focus on your donation tiers. CauseVox users typically raise 82% more when they switch from a generic Paypal donation form, helping organizations raise nearly 2x as much through their website.
We recommend keeping your list fairly short (between 4 and 6 options), connecting the donation tiers to impact, and customizing your tiers for both one-time and recurring giving. You can learn more about all these donation tier tips here.
8. Paint and Sip Night
Paint and sip events are fantastic because they can be adapted for any type of organization and occasion. For this fundraising event, you’ll need to team up with a local paint and sip store like Pinot’s Palette or Painting with a Twist that’s willing to donate a percentage of the night’s proceeds to your cause.
If there isn’t a paint and sip establishment in your area, consider securing a location to host your own paint and sip night. Reach out to a talented volunteer or local artist to lead the class, and purchases the necessary supplies.
You can buy art supplies online at Michaels!
Of course you may be wondering how you can host this kind of event online. Zoom to the rescue! Ask your supporters to grab a glass of wine and join you to chat using GoogleHangouts, Zoom, or Facetime. Have your lead artist jump on and run the class on Zoom.
After painting, you can check on how your donors are doing, give them updates on your plans to navigate programming and fundraising during this time, and create a great space to unwind a bit.
To make the registration and payment process seamless, set up an online fundraising page on CauseVox to track who’s signed up and to rake in any additional donations.
Crowdfunding was an incredibly popular choice during the months of COVID. Of course, nonprofits aren’t out of the woods yet, which means that crowdfunding still has an important place as we start to rebuild. Think about what has changed in the last few months and what needs are not being met. Those are the areas you can crowdfund.
While you may have had specific costs to cover during COVID while your income was significantly impacted, you also may have had to downscale in the last year. Think about what you’ll need to pay for in order to come back in person, rebuild, and provide programs in a safe way.
From here, write your appeal. It should include a need that has urgency, a story your donors can connect to, and a call to action. Then share! Try a live stream, ask your followers to share to their own social accounts, or incentivize with swag.
Some great crowdfunding options include:
- Hybrid programs
- Larger spaces for social distancing or other safety measures
- Salaries to rehire staff
- The services you provide
- Cultural competency/improvements
- Supporting the community
Here’s a great example of an appeal from Skid Row Housing Trust’s crowdfunding campaign during the COVID pandemic:
10. Virtual Race or “No Run Run”
One of my favorite things about 5Ks or races is that they are so easy to run virtually. Even better, they’re one of the easiest events to move to a hybrid model. You’ll want people to sign up, potentially pay a registration fee, set an activity goal, and have a date and time where everyone runs at the same time on their own.
Have participants raise funds up through the race date, track their race times the day of – and keep track of who crosses both their virtual fundraising ‘finish line’ goal, as well as their physical finish line. It’s a great way to have everyone engage with each other.
Afterward, have a live stream to celebrate your virtual 5k participants and give them the ability to connect with each other and hear from someone at your organization.
This is best done as a peer-to-peer fundraiser, with participants seeking donations for the number of miles they run or hours they train for.
Or, if you know your community isn’t very active, consider doing a “No Run Run” campaign, where you challenge your participants NOT to run, and just cross that virtual fundraising goal finish line.
If you want to offer a hybrid option, you can still host your in-person event, but for those who prefer not to attend, allow the option to race on their own.
11. Social Media Takeovers
Orchestrate a social media takeover by asking a corporate sponsor or local community partner if they would be willing to “donate their social media” to you one day of the year.
With a takeover, your team can post content throughout the day that links back to your organization’s website or social platforms. This method can help increase brand visibility to an audience that might not be familiar with your organization. If you’re currently running a campaign, this is a great way to promote!
Tip: Have your high-quality images and posts written in advance so you can make the most of the takeover!
12. Birthday/Holiday Fundraiser
Facebook is the undisputed king of social media. Chances are, your supporters have used it to host or make a donation to something like a birthday fundraiser. Fundraising with Facebook is really simple but birthday fundraisers don’t have to be limited to this platform.
This year, ask your networks to organize a fundraiser for their birthday or holiday. In lieu of gifts, your contacts can set up a personal fundraising page where gift-givers can instead leave a donation. Check out how Ranan Lustman raised over $24,000 for schools supplies for kids in Buwumba with his Bar Mitzvah campaign:
13. Corporate Partner Crowdfunding Or Peer-to-Peer Fundraising
Corporate crowdfunding involves engaging employees to fundraise on an organization’s behalf but it does a lot more than just raise funds. Workplace campaigns can help establish or strengthen ties between employees and your organization.
From chili cook-offs and dress-down days to auctioning off a coveted parking spot, starting a corporate crowdfunding campaign can be a lot of fun. To get your campaign off on the right foot, ask your fundraiser to consider hosting an employee kick-off party.
A kick-off party provides an opportunity to announce the campaign goal and let employees learn more about your organization.
Tip: Check to see if the company hosting the campaign has a qualifying employee matching grant.
(Source: KPMG campaign raising funds for North Texas Food Bank.)
14. Virtual Fundraising Livestream
Throughout the last year, many nonprofits have had the chance to explore livestreaming as we worked to share with people social distancing. That experience helped many of us realize some exciting things about livestreaming:
- It’s actually pretty easy
- It’s less expensive than an in-person event
- You can reach a more geographically diverse audience
- Some people actually prefer it
Even if you’re back to a place where you can safely run in person events, it’s still worth considering livestreaming for your events. If you are conducting work on the ground, connect with your donors by livestreaming the event. You could also turn your planned fundraising event into a livestream virtual event – inviting everyone along participate in your event on Facebook Live, Zoom, Instagram Live, and more
This gives you the opportunity to ask questions and engage with one another as they normally would have at the event.
Webinars are a great way to stay connected with your supporters throughout the year without having to find a costly venue or manage in-person details.
This could be sessions with your CEO and board, interviews with your field workers/program staff, and any initiatives where you have the potential to share information with your donors. It’s also a great place to share updates about your work or let people know about any updates or exciting news.
16. UnGala or Virtual Fundraising Gala
An UnGala (sometimes referred to as “Gone with the Gala)” is run through an online fundraising campaign where you invite your top supporters to join and fundraise for you (aka peer-to-peer fundraising).
While you can simply run the virtual fundraising gala without any programming, you can consider suggesting a menu for everyone to cook, invite them to dress up, and join in for a virtual dinner party with a featured speaker!
This is a great opportunity for people to still feel connected to you and to each other – see more info here on how to run your own UnGala event!
17. Virtual Bikeathon
Similar to a race, you can set up a virtual bikeathon!
For those who have an exercise bike at home, you can also encourage them to, set up their laptop or mobile camera and cycle together.
This is best run as a peer-to-peer fundraiser as well, with participants seeking donations for the number of miles or hours they can cycle for. This can also be done in teams, so groups can fundraise together to increase the sense of community.
18. Virtual Awards Ceremony
If you’re struggling to think of content for a live stream fundraiser, a great option is to make it an awards ceremony. Awards ceremonies are a wonderful way to draw your community in by highlighting individuals who have made an impact. You can honor stellar volunteers, stand-out employees, or those doing work in the community.
This is a great way to tell the story of your organization: how have these honorees upheld your mission and supported the work that you’re doing? Combine this with an Ungala for a stellar evening.
19. Virtual Climbathon/Hike
Similar to a virtual race, you can make nearly any activity into a virtual event. Climb Out of the Darkness hosted a hike/climb for participants to raise money.
A virtual hike is a great opportunity for individuals or families to get outside for a good cause.
Most people have a trail somewhere near where they live, so encourage your peer-to-peer fundraiser participants to do their hike locally and share their amazing pictures on social media. This is a great opportunity to share their personal fundraising page with their friends and family, and keep people connected.
Set a date and time to ask your participants to get out and do the activity. They can record what they’ve done on their personal fundraising page using the Activity Metric and raise money to support your cause. This works even better when you connect the activity to your cause, as Climb Out of the Darkness did with their climb.
This is best run as a peer-to-peer fundraiser as well, with participants seeking donations for how much they accomplish. This can also be done in teams, so groups can fundraise together to increase the sense of community.
20. Online Auction
Setting up an online auction can actually be easier than a physical auction. Set up a page where all of the items available can be reviewed, and ideally bid on – you may want to use an online auction platform for this.
Coordinate bids beforehand and then announce the winners via one of the other virtual events such as a live stream, webinar or UnGala.
21. Virtual Tours
If you fundraise for a physical space, consider turning your tours into virtual tours.
You can ask people to donate the price of a ticket, and take people through the space via video. This will help people still feel like they’re there, and connect them to your cause without needing to be there in person.
Here’s a look at the Faurschou Foundation’s Virtual Tour of their Museum in Brooklyn, NY:
22. Virtual Movie Night
One of my favorite approaches to virtual fundraising is to plan an activity that people want to do anyway, then just add a fundraising element. Movies are a great option. Set up a virtual movie night with Netflix Party! Encourage people to grab their favorite snack and join your Netflix party using a link.
This allows all your participants to watch a movie at the same time with a chat window for people to share thoughts, jokes, and more. This is the perfect way to create a community and drive people to your Donation Page or Crowdfunding page.
As a best practice, link to your donation page, and ask participants to donate the price of a “movie ticket” to your organization, using a link to your crowdfunding page or donation page.
23. Virtual Conference (aka UnConference)
Hosting a conference in person is a big undertaking: flying speakers to your location, renting out a venue, providing food… it adds up. If you want to share information with your community in an easier way, consider hosting a virtual conference event aka an unconference.
This could be a day-long series of talks and workshops all hosted online where people can dial into the different events.
Here are a few kinds of speakers to consider:
- Staff/Board: Have your Executive Director or Board Member talk about why the organization is so important to them.
- Beneficiaries: Ask those who have benefited from your organization to share their own personal story about how their lives have been impacted.
- Professionals: Have a popular professional (author, professor, psychologist, documentarian, etc) with expert knowledge about your cause give an informational talk.
- Youth: Give a younger member of your community the opportunity to talk to the issue and how they’re impacted/create impact (think Greta Thunberg).
- Unrelated speaker: Have a standup comedian, yoga instructor, mindfulness coach, etc join for a fun activity.
These kinds of events can easily be run on a tool like Zoom. Don’t forget to make scheduled asks throughout the conference.
Music is a great draw for all kinds of people. Use that to your advantage by hosting a virtual concert.
Similar to the unconference, you could bring musicians together to host a concert or mini-festival benefitting your organization.
These could all be streamed from home, and ask people to purchase a ticket to view. This is another great way of bringing people together who may be confined to their homes.
An additional bonus might be some behind-the-scenes or meet and greets with different band members – all online of course.
25. Virtual Happy Hour
One of the most important elements of virtual fundraising is relationship building. A good way to stay connected to your fundraisers is to host a virtual happy hour.
Ask your supporters to grab a glass of wine and join you to chat using Google Meet, Zoom, or Facetime. In a casual setting, you can check on how your donors are doing, give them updates on what you’re up to, and create a great space to unwind a bit.
Add a soft ask to donate monthly at the end of the session, and let them know the date of your next virtual happy hour.
26. Virtual Bingo
Some virtual fundraising options are a bit more serious: an online webinar or conference may be an incredibly important part of your work, but your donors won’t walk away saying “dang that was fun.”
Virtual bingo is not one of those serious fundraisers.
Virtual bingo is a chance for your donors to feel like they’re getting out of the house and having a night of fun while everyone stays safely distanced at home.
Connected to Lead hosted a Bingo Extravaganza: people could buy up to 12 Bingo cards with the chance to win prizes.
Run your bingo night virtually with these free virtual bingo cards + Zoom
27. Virtual Sleep Out
Nicholas House took creativity to the next level by moving their annual sleep-out to a virtual event. Instead of bringing community members together to all sleep outside in one place, they asked supporters to sleep outside at home.
If you have an event you typically run in person, you can consider this as a template for how to make it virtual: can people do it on their own? Can you include Zoom content to keep them feeling connected?
Nicholas House even provided those who were participating with lawn signs to share what they were doing, helping to spread the message even further.
28. Virtual Trivia Night
If Bingo isn’t your jam, trivia is another wonderful option for a fun virtual event. Invite your staff, donors, volunteers, and even your board members to a fun trivia night! You can sell tickets as well as run some games throughout the night that require an additional donation.
Have participants set up a personal fundraising page to raise funds ahead of the trivia night, and offer teams that raise the most advantages the night of the event. As a bonus, try to secure some great prizes from your corporate and/or local partners for the winning team.
Now that everything’s virtual, here’s a step-by-step on how to host a virtual trivia night.
29. Live Gaming Fundraiser
Gaming is wildly popular right now, and with everyone stuck at home there are even more people entertaining themselves with virtual gaming. There are multiple ways you can capitalize on the trend to create a cool fundraiser.
Engage a popular gamer (or gamers) to livestream them playing a game (usually streamed on Twitch) and have them point viewers towards your virtual fundraising campaign.
If you want to bring your community together, invite teams to compete in a game tournament to raise money. You can go the board game tournament route, or ask people to pay admission for games like Among Us or Jackbox.
Ask local businesses or supports to donate prizes for tournament winners. And, you can give “bonus points” to board game participants/teams that fundraise on their own for your cause.
30. Virtual Cooking Class
CauseVox did a virtual cooking class ourselves to try it out, and it got great engagement! Here’s our virtual cooking class example:
Add a culinary twist to your fundraiser by hosting a cooking class. If this is around the holidays, try making your class a themed one!
Team up with a local chef or ask a talented volunteer to help lead the class. This can easily be held virtually using a tool like Zoom and sending out an ingredient list ahead of time.
We can speak from experience on this one: not only did we do an online cooking class, but we also hosted a virtual mixology lesson at the Digital Fundraising Summit with our friends from Ninja Ramen. Check it out.
31. Virtual Toy Drive
SOS Children’s Villages Illinois found that moving their annual holiday giving campaign virtual during COVID actually ended up being more effective than their typical in-person approach.
They normally hold a toy drive during the winter months but last year they chose to create a campaign to raise money so the organization itself could safely purchase and distribute items.
You can do the same thing by setting up a fundraising page and asking donors to give and support gifts or toys for a specific family. This is another place where a hybrid option would work incredibly well. If supporters want to donate gifts or toys, you can offer a place to make that donation, but also set up a virtual fundraiser for those who want to fundraise or donate money directly.
32. Virtual Food Drive
Similar to the virtual food drive, you can host a virtual food drive too! One of the coolest parts of this is that you can still accept food items and disperse them to your community and request donations from those who don’t feel comfortable leaving the home.
You can even create donation tiers that let people know how much food they’re donating, which gets people more excited to participate.
You can even build this as a peer-to-peer fundraiser and get groups excited to compete about who can bring in the most food.
Download your Virtual Fundraising Planning Guide and Template:
Raise More With CauseVox.
If you’re wanting to try one or more of these innovative online fundraising ideas to reach your current and prospective donors, increase your reach, and drive engagement in less time, CauseVox is here for you.
From donation forms to event ticketing to peer-to-peer for virtual fundraising, our clunk-free, 0% platform fee digital fundraising platform is here to help you raise more with way less effort.
This post was originally posted in 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness in 2021.