7 low-cost virtual fundraising event ideas

Written by
Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

7 low-cost virtual fundraising event ideas

While fundraisers are used to getting creative to raise awareness and motivate people to donate, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to rethink fundraising entirely. Social distancing guidelines and coronavirus lockdowns have ruled out in-person events at a time when people need to raise funds and support one another more than ever. 

But there’s good news! Virtual fundraising events let you reach a wider audience while cutting down on typical event costs like equipment, decorations, food, and transportation. You don’t need to be a tech wiz to host an online event or campaign. All you need is an online fundraising platform with live streaming tools, and you’re ready to go!

Modernize your fundraising strategy with these fun, low-cost virtual fundraising event ideas. 

1. Kick off a virtual challenge

John Cena GIF by Kids Choice Sports 2017

Who doesn’t love a little competition, especially if friends and family are the ones duking it out for a good cause? Fundraising challenges come in all shapes and sizes — from 5k races and read-a-thons to social media dares like the Ice Bucket Challenge. What they all share is a goal of getting large groups of people to participate and donate. 

So, come up with an exciting challenge — and hashtag — that’s perfect for your audience. For instance, a health nonprofit might choose a summer push-up challenge. A college student organization, on the other hand, could set up a video game tournament. 

Use a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign creator that lets each participant set up their own fundraising page. Then, each person makes a pledge, like running 10 miles or reading two books every week, and asks their network to donate to your group for every milestone they meet. 

2. Plan a virtual speed dating event 

In Love Girl GIF

Talk about a match made in heaven! A virtual speed dating event lets people branch out, connect, and have fun no matter what’s going on in the world. It’s also a great way to meet your fundraising goal. Charge an online registration fee and use a video platform like Zoom to create different rooms for each couple. Have some virtual ice-breaker cards and games ready. 

Another pro tip? Include a raffle ticket with every registration for a date night package that keeps the sparks flying. A dinner-for-two, wine tasting, botanical garden tickets, or spa visit are all incentives to sign up for your event. Use the tips in our donation request guide to ask local businesses to donate your raffle prizes. 

3. Host a movie night

Episode 17 Sign GIF

Turn the silver screen into green! We love this event idea because you can host it completely online, screen movies outdoors, or set up a drive-in theater for a vintage take. Either way, your supporters get to watch along — and maybe even sing or dance along — to their favorites flicks. 

Sell tickets to raise money ahead of the event. If you go the virtual-only route, use a free live streaming tool so viewers can tune in via Facebook Live, Zoom, YouTube, Twitch, and more. 

Raise more money by partnering with a local restaurant to provide food and drink for the night. For instance, your viewers can order or pick up from a local taco spot, which then donates 20% of the night’s proceeds to your cause. Or, you can buy snacks ahead of time and sell them for a small fee before and during the event. There's nothing like a little movie magic for your fundraising efforts.

4. Launch a celebrity social media takeover 

mariah carey hello GIF

Every campaign needs a hook that will get people’s attention and create some hype. Partnering with a well-known person or popular business could add some much-needed star power to your campaign. You could ask them to promote your cause and send their followers to your social media page and donation form. Or, you can go straight to the source! 

Reach out to a local celebrity, expert, brand, or influencer, and see if they’ll donate their social media account to you for a day. Have your star lead the charge — they should share how much they’ve donated and why the cause matters to them. 

Use your time to share videos, posts, and resources that show why you’re fundraising. Give people easy ways to chip in so you make the most of your celeb-sponsored time. For instance, say “It only takes $20 to give three families the gift of clean water.” 

Although this is a fairly new fundraising method, you'd be surprised at how many local celebs will say "yes" if you simply ask. 

5. Have a virtual drink-and-draw night

What's the GIF GIF

You’ll unleash everyone’s inner Picasso with this creative twist on happy hour. A drink-and-draw event is one of the best virtual fundraising event ideas if you want to win over some new donors. 

Invite a local painter to lead your supporters through a live streamed workshop. It may be fun to choose an image that represents your specific cause, like a jumping salmon for a sustainable fishing group. (On the other hand, popular pieces like Starry Night by Van Gogh may attract more people.) Let supporters choose their own drinks, or have everyone buy the same bottles and do a mini tasting. 

On the event page, list the painting supplies your attendees will need and stores where they can buy them. You can also create supply bundles and partner with a local arts and crafts store for the event. That way, your supporters can grab everything they need, and you earn a percentage of the sales. Raising money never looked so good! 

6. Hold a virtual pajama ball 

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Looking to loosen things up a little? Try a pajama ball or gala. Your attendees buy tickets, tune into your live stream, and enjoy the same entertainment, speakers, virtual auctions, and donor recognition from the comfort of their home. But instead of dressing to the nines, they’ll lounge in their favorite pajamas — onesies, fluffy robes, T-shirts and sweatpants, you name it. 

You aren’t limited to galas. Wearing PJs is a welcome spin on virtual dinner parties, dance parties, walk-a-thons, and other online fundraisers. Check out this ACHIEVE virtual dance party that raised over $12,000 for inspiration. 

7. Host an "unZoom" event

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Work meetings. Family meetings. Meeting meetings. Business, school, hobbies, and hangouts have all moved to video platforms, and Zoom fatigue is real. People report worrying about how they look on camera or, if there’s no video, worry that they aren’t engaging or showing interest often enough. They may also struggle to avoid multitasking and feel stressed about their home environment (think: kids running around or a messy living room) during the video call. 

So, if you think your supporters could be experiencing some virtual event overload, we’ve got an alternative. Take a page from the recent Zoom No More campaign by Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. Their donation page included different tiers with cheeky descriptions that matched Zoom features, like $100 to turn “Video Off” and $150 to “Mute All Participants.” 

Remember to follow up your “event” with a thank-you email campaign. This is a wonderful opportunity for one last donating push, and it encourages donors to return next year. 

Need more virtual fundraising event ideas? 

Virtual events don't have to be complicated — all it takes is a little know-how and some fresh ideas. No matter which virtual event you go with, you’ll need fundraising software that lets you make an engaging fundraising page, create events and sell tickets, and of course, collect online donations

Givebutter is free, easy to use, and offers fundraising tools for everyone from student groups and sports teams to businesses and nonprofit organizations. Click here to create your free account now.

Still hunting for inspiration? We’ve got you covered! Check out these ideas next:

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.