While in-person fundraising events used to be the norm, more and more nonprofit organizations are going digital. Virtual fundraising events are usually less expensive to put on and more accessible to a greater number of people.
We'll help you find innovative ways to encourage interaction, foster human connections, and offer an activity beyond staring at a screen. Keep reading for 20 creative virtual fundraising event ideas you can try out.
1. Create your own themed giving day 📆
You don't have to wait until Giving Tuesday to reach out and raise funds—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.
For example, a nonprofit donation center could host a Super Saturday and auction off 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.
2. Host an online silent auction 📲
An online silent auction can bring in big bucks for your organization without the need for paddles or fast-talking auctioneers. Find the best virtual auction platform with mobile bidding capabilities, so your supporters can get in on the action from anywhere!
The key is the items you auction off need to be desirable. Consider partnering with local businesses to procure unique auction items and create hype by sharing photos and videos of items leading up to the event.
3. Livestream a benefit concert 🎸
Livestreaming a one-off musical performance, music festival, or concert series is a great way to reach a larger audience than you could with an in-person concert alone. Create virtual tickets and host your livestream right from your fundraising page, so your virtual audience can tune in and share comments (and donations!) in real-time.
If you have a large audience, include a prominent Text-to-Donate feature to encourage viewers to give right from their phones while enjoying the music. You can also turn this into a hybrid event and reserve in-person tickets as a gift for your organization's key stakeholders (board members, major donors, the people groups you serve, etc.).
4. Make it a game night 🎲
Games have a magical way of bringing people together. Invite supporters from all over to a virtual game night fundraiser featuring video games, online board games, or even a Zoom trivia contest. Or, heat things up by livestreaming a video game tournament with top favorites like Guitar Hero, Mario Kart, FIFA, or Call Of Duty.
5. Give speed dating a chance 💘
A virtual speed dating fundraiser lets people branch out, connect, and have fun while raising vital funds for your mission. Charge an online registration fee and use a video platform like Zoom to create breakout rooms for couples to cycle through. Have some virtual ice-breakers and online games available.
You can further incentivize sign-ups by including a raffle ticket with every registration to win a date-night package. Think dinner-for-two, wine tasting, botanical garden tickets, or a spa certificate. Save money by asking local businesses to donate these raffle prizes.
6. Lead a master class 👨🏫
If you have unique expertise to share, hosting a master class online can drive donations for your cause. Give people a chance to get hands-on with a class on art, cooking, or another skill your community is interested in learning. Charge a small class fee and choose accessible materials folks can easily find at a grocery or craft store.
Not an expert? No problem! Invite a professional to volunteer their time. ConnectiKids invited a local celebrity chef and cookbook author to demonstrate a signature cocktail, entree, and dessert to raise funds for their community youth programs. Even though some supporters couldn't make the event, ConnectiKids still surpassed their fundraising goal by using a "Can't attend? Donate!" button.
7. Bring in more donors with peer-to-peer fundraising 🗣
Peer-to-peer fundraising is a type of crowdfunding that allows supporters to create their own donation pages and share them with their friends and family. Peer-to-peer fundraising helps promote your mission to new networks while mobilizing the supporters you already have. It's a great way to expand your reach and can complement any in-person fundraising event.
Foster some friendly competition and motivate your peer-to-peer fundraisers by enabling team fundraising and gamification elements like a leaderboard. That's precisely what Aspire! Afterschool Learning did to raise $140K in their first-ever virtual fundraiser!
By leveraging peer-to-peer fundraising, the organization acquired 300 new supporters and surpassed its goal by over $40K. Plus, they had a pretty catchy peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Their "MASKerade" theme was a hit with supporters, and their hashtag quickly gained traction on social media.
8. Toast over a virtual happy hour 🍹
Mixology classes, cocktail kits, and wine and cheese pairings are just a few ways to bring happy hour right into your supporters' homes. The Children's Center, which provides specialized programs to kids with special needs, put on a virtual happy hour to raise funds and awareness for their cause.
They partnered with two local businesses (a pizzeria and a brewery) to put on the event and charged a registration fee that covered the cost of cocktails (or mocktails), a pizza kit, trivia games, and a raffle entry. Supporters joined together online to learn how to make pizza and drinks while learning about the Children's Center. Cheers!
9. Plan a drink-and-draw night 🎨
You'll unleash everyone's inner Picasso with this creative twist on happy hour. Invite a local painter to lead your supporters through a livestreamed workshop. It may be fun to choose an image representing your specific cause, such as a puppy for an animal shelter or a beautiful lake painting for your clean water project. On the other hand, popular pieces like Starry Night by Van Gogh may attract more people.
On your event page, list any supplies your attendees 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 can earn a percentage of the sales (the same goes for the food and drinks!).
10. Get moving with a walk-a-thon 👣
Put a fresh spin on one of the most well-known fundraising events. Walk-a-thons, marathons, dance-a-thons, and ride-a-thons can all be adapted to get supporters moving through a virtual or hybrid event. 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 participates, set up a live event to keep their motivation high.
To raise funds for their mission, the STARability Foundation organized a virtual endurance event where volunteers could sell tickets for two events—a 3K fun run and a stroller walk for supporters—while offering various sponsorship packages ranging from $250–$1,200 each. Supporters cheered one another on in real-time through their supporter feed between squeezing in their exercise!
11. Kick off a virtual challenge🏅
From 5K races and read-a-thons to social media dares like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, virtual fundraising challenges come in all shapes and sizes. They all share the goal of getting large groups of people to participate and donate. Come up with an exciting challenge—and catchy hashtag—that will resonate with your audience.
For instance, a health nonprofit might choose a summer push-up challenge, while a college student organization might set up a video game tournament. Bring in peer-to-peer fundraising elements and have individuals or teams create their own fundraising pages, make a pledge (running 10 miles, reading two books every week, etc.), and ask their network to donate for every milestone they hit.
The Reflect Organization, a national mental wellness nonprofit with college chapters, raised $75K in their virtual fundraising campaign through a "three-dollar challenge." Supporters donated $3, then challenged three friends to do the same. This social challenge offered a low-cost, zero-barrier point of entry for donating. Many people were willing to give $3 to help others, which allowed the campaign to go viral.
12. Party in your pajamas 😴
Looking to loosen things up a little? Try a virtual pajama ball! Your attendees buy tickets, tune into your livestream, and enjoy the same entertainment, speakers, virtual auctions, and donor recognition they'd get at a fancy gala—all from the comfort of their couch. Instead of dressing to the nines, they'll lounge in their favorite pajamas—onesies, fluffy robes, T-shirts, sweatpants, you name it. Wearing PJs is also a delightful way to mix it up with other online fundraisers. For inspiration, check out this virtual dance party from ACHIEVE that raised over $12,000.
Partner with a local restaurant to provide food and refreshments available for delivery or takeout for the night. For example, your participants can order takeout from a local taco spot that has agreed to donate 20% of the night's proceeds to your cause.
13. Revamp your gala ✨
Another twist on the traditional in-person gala, this type of event keeps the beauty of galas but eliminates the headache that usually goes along with planning these in-person events. For this virtual event, invite guests to dress up and join an evening of fun from home. You can craft a menu and ask participants to cook these items at home or choose a party theme to get everyone in on the fun.
Think of it as a virtual dinner party. You can raise money by charging an attendance fee or sharing your donation page. Engage attendees with commentary from a featured speaker, a fun lineup of entertainment, and other interactive activities. In 2020, the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) raised $86K in online donations through a virtual gala. The organization took advantage of livestreaming and Facebook Live to broaden its supporter base and surpass its fundraising goal. While they could only fit 318 people in a room at past in-person events, they had more 1,200 views for their online event!
14. Launch a celebrity social media takeover 💫
Partnering with a well-known individual or business could add much-needed star power to your campaign—even if it's a local celebrity. Ask an influencer to share why your mission matters to them, how much they've personally donated, and the link to your fundraiser. If they're up for it, your star could even do a social media takeover of your organization's social media accounts for the day, posting fun content and encouraging people to give. You'd be surprised how many local celebs will say "yes" if you ask!
Use your time in their spotlight to share videos, posts, and resources that show why you're fundraising. Give people easy ways to connect and chip in, so you can make the most of your celeb-sponsored time. For instance, say, "It only takes $20 to give three families the gift of clean water."
15. Fundraise with a webinar 👩💻
Many nonprofits already host webinars to educate and update their members and supporters, but have you considered webinars as a fundraising tool? Put a fun spin on the idea and reach out to speakers, artists, or community leaders to share a TED Talk-style presentation.
Charge a small registration fee, and close the event with a chat with your Executive Director or programming staff to let your audience get to know your organization better. Don't forget to promote your donation link throughout.
16. Take your talent show online 🎤
Hand the mic to your community for a virtual talent showcase over Zoom! Request a donation for entry, and set a theme (cover songs, air guitar bands, etc.) or make it a free-for-all. Experiment with an all-ages format or set up age ranges for added competition. A fundraising goal bar below your livestream can create exciting momentum for your viewers as it updates in real time!
Create a volunteer panel of "judges" who can give fun commentary and share more about your organization's mission in between performances.
17. Feature a family-friendly scavenger hunt 🕵️
Scavenger hunts offer at-home fun for families, and you can adapt the list to any house. Sell event tickets beforehand and enable Text-To-Donate for one-off giving during the search. Ask participants to track down objects most people already own (oven mitts, black socks, etc.), so everyone can join in. Offering small prizes for each round will help keep everyone engaged.
18. Host an "unZoom" event 🚫
Even as work and leisure activities return to pre-COVID formats, Zoom remains a staple in many of our lives. If you think your supporters could be experiencing Zoom fatigue, we've got an alternative. Take a page from the hugely successful "Zoom No More" campaign from Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. Their donation page included different tiers with cheeky descriptions that matched Zoom features, like $100 for "Video Off" and $150 to "Mute All Participants."
19. Ask for T-shirt designs 👕
A t-shirt fundraiser is a great way to raise money while celebrating people's creativity. Announce to your supporter base that you'll be hosting an online t-shirt contest where anyone can submit a t-shirt design. You can then feature the winning design on apparel available to purchase from your nonprofit. You can charge a small submission fee for each design to raise funds. Or, choose the top five t-shirt designs and have your supporter base donate to vote for their favorite pick.
20. Raise funds for multiple projects 🏁
If you have multiple projects you want to raise money for, try fundraising for all of them simultaneously with 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 you will use the funds raised, why it matters, and who it will affect. Share the rankings each week to keep the energy going.
Plan the virtual fundraising event of your dreams with Givebutter
Sometimes, the best ideas are the unconventional ones, and often, planning a virtual fundraising event is the best format to raise the money you need for your mission. 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's virtual event platform makes launching an innovative campaign easy (and fun!). With 100+ free tools—including livestream, supporter feeds, and custom thank-you messages—you'll have everything you need to crush your virtual fundraising event goals. 💪
Ready to launch your best virtual event yet? Sign up for a free account today and put these virtual event ideas into practice!
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.