15 easy virtual fundraiser ideas to stay connected with your audience

Written by
Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

15 easy virtual fundraiser ideas to stay connected with your audience

The COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing measures forced many nonprofit organizations to get creative with their fundraising efforts in 2020. 

The good news is that virtual fundraisers aren’t just workable alternatives to an in-person event. Actually, they can be more successful than physical events. Virtual fundraisers are usually less expensive to put on and more accessible to a greater number of people. 

From virtual runs and educational talks to digital dance-offs and auctions, there are plenty of ways to engage your donors online. Get inspired — we’ve rounded up 15 virtual fundraising ideas you can try out. Read on to learn how to turn any in-person event into a virtual fundraiser.

15 tried-and-true virtual fundraiser ideas

Virtual fundraiser: Two woman dance together in a living room

Virtual fundraising is about removing any barriers to participating, sharing, and donating to good causes. All the events below tap into technology, whether it’s social media or a fundraising platform like Givebutter. Virtual fundraising ideas are also incredibly easy to adapt to your mission, donor base, or fundraising goals.

Here are some attention-grabbing, fun, and effective ideas to add to your fundraising strategy. 

1. Peer-to-peer fundraising

People donate because someone they know asked them to. Create that opportunity with a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign

Have your team members raise funds individually. Or, ask your supporters to launch their own online campaigns on behalf of your nonprofit. A great example is a birthday fundraiser. Encourage each person to start with their close friends and family and expand as needed. For the most success, provide scripts and tips on soliciting donations. Find out how to add P2P fundraising to your next virtual campaign.

2. Online auction or raffle

These events let donors walk away with an exciting win, even when the event is online. The key is the items you auction or raffle need to be desirable. Consider partnering with local businesses for item donations. For traditional auctions, create hype by sharing photos and videos of each item online leading up to the event. 

You can livestream the auction and let attendees bid by chat or video. For silent auctions, share a digital bid sheet. Most free templates can be used with Microsoft Word or Excel, or uploaded to Google Docs or Sheets.

3. Game night

Games already cross borders and bring people together. You can take advantage of this by hosting a virtual game night featuring video games, board games, fun trivia, and more. Or, heat things up by livestreaming a tournament with games like Guitar Hero, Mario Kart, FIFA, or Call of Duty. 

flying mario kart GIF

4. Virtual class or workshop

Give your community a chance to work with their hands. Host an interactive online workshop and sell class passes. 

Choose activities with accessible materials people can buy from most grocery or craft stores. Cooking, baking, and quick crafts work well. If you aren’t experienced in the subject, ask a local chef, artist, or expert to step in. You can also set up a temporary online shop with cooking or craft kits. 

5. Gala or “formal”

You can change this up to suit both homebodies and social butterflies. Sell tickets to your virtual gala, and line up entertainment and other engaging activities. Frame it as an opportunity to dress up and have a “night out” at home. Or, encourage your attendees to bid on items from the comfort of their pajamas. For inspiration, see how the Suffolk Education Foundation funded school art programs with their performance-packed virtual gala.  

6. Musical performance

Shine the spotlight on a local artist or band. You can invite performers from different genres or focus on one musical experience, like a folk music festival. Ask the artist to promote the digital concert in the weeks before the event. Popular musicians have the added bonus of drawing more concertgoers, which translates to more donors. You can also stream a free concert and watch, sing along, and comment together.  

7. Talent show

In addition to hiring a performer, you can hand the mic to your community. Set a theme (poetry, cover songs, etc.) or leave it a free-for-all. Experiment with an all-ages format or set up age ranges for added competition. 

8. Exercising fundraisers

Put a fresh spin on the most well-known fundraising events. Walk-a-thons, marathons, dance-a-thons, and ride-a-thons can all be adapted to today’s environment. This versatile virtual endurance event and socially distanced ride-a-thon might inspire you.

Ask people to donate in proportion to how many miles they’ll walk or how many hours they plan to dance. Encourage them to send in pictures or videos of them completing their activity. If your staff is participating, set up a live event to keep their motivation high. 

Excited Work From Home GIF

9. Scavenger hunts

Scavenger hunts offer at-home fun for families and can be adapted to any house. Sell event tickets beforehand and enable text-to-donate for one-off giving during the hunt. Ask participants to track down objects most people already own (oven mitt, black socks, a teddy bear) so everyone can join in. Offering small prizes for each round will help keep everyone engaged.  

10. Off to the races

If you have multiple projects you want to raise money for, introduce a little friendly competition. Create donation pages for each cause and give them distinct names and images. Then, tell your constituents to vote for their favorite project by donating to its fundraising page. 

Be transparent about how much money is needed, how it will be used, why it matters, and who it will affect. Share the rankings each week to keep the energy going. 

11. Webinar or “TED talk”

Many nonprofits already host webinars to educate and update their supporters. But have you considered webinars as a fundraising tool? Reach out to speakers, artists, or community leaders, and ask them to put together a 15- to 30-minute webinar. It can be related to your mission or current events. You can look over the most popular TED talks for ideas on topics that will interest your viewers.

12. Drink and draw

Bring the magic of drink-and-draw events to your donors’ homes. You can choose an image that represents your cause, such as a puppy for an animal shelter or a beautiful painting of a lake for your clean water project. 

This is a great option for Zoom, as participants can show off their creations. You can also make it family-friendly by simplifying the artwork so parents and children can work on it together. 

Simpsons GIF

13. Matching donations

Corporate matching programs deliver two donations for the work of one. Reach out to local companies, and ask if they’ll match a percentage of employee donations. This is particularly effective if you have strong relationships with local businesses or larger companies through your Board of Directors. The potential for good doesn’t end with gift matching. Discover four more ways that small businesses can help your nonprofit.

14. Themed giving days

Whether or not it’s Giving Tuesday, you don’t have to wait to reach out. Plan your own Giving Day! Create a sense of urgency by opening donations for only 24 hours, and tie in a theme to make the event memorable. Trinity Habitat, for example, turned Giving Tuesday into a giving month that raised over $100,000 on Givebutter.

For example, a nonprofit donation center could host a Super Saturday where they auction designer pieces as the main event. Or, style your virtual event around holidays like Earth Day or National Pretzel Day. Use relevant hashtags, and share photos and videos of your donors participating. 

15. Think outside the box

Sometimes, the best ideas are the unconventional ones. And often, a virtual fundraising event is the best format. For example, Movember challenges men to stop shaving for all of November to bring awareness to testicular cancer. And the Ice Bucket Challenge raises millions of dollars for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) each year. Don’t be afraid to do something unexpected.

How to hold a virtual fundraising event

Virtual fundraiser: Pair of hands holding a cutout heart

It can take years of trial and error to build a successful and memorable fundraiser. But going virtual doesn’t mean you have to throw out your event playbook. Many signature fundraising events can be adapted to work online. Simply follow the steps below.

Choose an idea

Are you converting a legacy event to an online event, or are you trying something new? Whatever the case, make sure you have a clear picture of your event from your perspective and the attendees’ perspective. 

For example, if you want to host a webinar with a local writer, how will you display the accompanying slideshow and handle the Q&A? Will you or your Executive Director make appearances to introduce the writer and close the discussion? 

It’s a good idea to break up longer live events with content like pre-recorded videos and social media posts. Schedule exciting milestones and incentives to keep energy high.

Set a fundraising goal

Setting realistic goals is key to any successful event, and that applies to your financial goal as well. Determine your goal amount and use your online platform to periodically update donors on your fundraising progress. 

Another benefit of virtual fundraising is costs are much lower than in-person events. That means you hang onto more of the funds you raise. 

Pick the platform and tools

If you hadn’t heard of Zoom, Facebook Live, or YouTube Live before the coronavirus pandemic, you probably have by now. Read our list of the best fundraising platforms to use to find the right tool. As we mentioned earlier, your virtual event will likely be part live event and part pre-recorded material.

It’s extremely important that you get comfortable with your chosen platform far in advance of your event. Don’t wait until the night before to see whether your laptop webcam works. Once you’ve completely planned your event, do a practice run with your team. Also, decide who will help participants with any technology issues during the event.

Promote the event

Make sure your virtual seats are filled by creating targeted, personalized campaigns and encouraging your supporters to spread the word. Send emails, post to your major social channels, and set up an event page where people can RSVP. 

In all your advertising, include simple instructions for how to join the event and where to donate. Let people know how they can watch the event and donate after it ends. And if you convert a physical event to a virtual one, it’s crucial to update any past marketing materials to reflect that. And keep these marketing tips for nonprofits in mind as you plan.

Build your virtual event 💛

Nonprofits are seeing impressive participation with their virtual events and finding new ways to draw support for their causes. They’re doing it with tools like Givebutter.

Check out how these two nonprofits exceeded their goals in days and hours rather than weeks and months: 

Written By

Written by
Rachel Mills
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.