While in-person fundraising events used to be the norm, more and more nonprofit organizations are going digital. Virtual fundraising events allow organizers to minimize costs while still keeping the focus on the important issues at hand. Instead of doling out thousands of dollars on venues, food, and other amenities, charities and individuals can focus instead on putting the money where it’s needed the most.
Virtual fundraisers also enable you to engage with more people from around the world. The online aspect of these fundraising events makes it easier to reach supporters, even if they’re not in your immediate area or able to travel to your event. Going virtual brings us closer together, uniting us in a mission to bring about change or remedy a situation.
In this guide, we’ll give you six creative ideas for hosting virtual fundraising events. But first, we’ll show you how to set up a virtual campaign and give you some best practices to keep in mind.
How to set up virtual fundraising events
If you’re used to hosting in-person fundraising events, you’ll be delightfully surprised at how much simpler virtual event planning is. If this is your first time, you’re in luck because you won’t have to deal with the logistics of a normal event. Virtual events tend to be more manageable to plan than in-person events because you don’t have to think about venues, caterers, or arriving hours early to make sure things are in order.
That doesn’t mean virtual events come without stress. There are still the logistics of using technology platforms, organizing the schedule, and getting the word out. For people who haven’t hosted a virtual event before, there’s still plenty of planning involved.
The streamlined process means you can focus on getting your message out instead of getting lost in the minute details. Not only are these digital events easier to plan, but they also help save money since you aren’t paying for services like you would at a 300-person gala.
We know what you’re thinking: “What if I’m bad at technology?” Don’t worry, hosting a successful digital fundraiser doesn’t mean you need to become a tech whiz overnight. Simple, easy-to-use software can help you get the job done without pulling out your hair.
Here are four straightforward steps to planning a virtual fundraising event.
Step 1: Choose a fundraising event
The first thing you need to do is decide what type of event you want to host. From team fundraising campaigns and livestreaming events to telethons and video comedy contests, the options are endless. There isn’t one right event for your cause.
The perfect event will depend on what you’re raising money for and what you want to accomplish. Knowing your supporters is key to making a good choice for a virtual event. Think about what types of things your donors enjoy.
If you’re trying to raise millions of dollars for a campaign targeted at older donors, hosting a virtual fun run is probably not the best option. Understand your supporters and try to pick a virtual event that attendees will enjoy and look forward to. We’ll take a deeper dive into virtual event options later on in the article if you need some ideas.
Step 2: Set a goal
Once you decide on an event, ask yourself how much money your nonprofit needs to raise. In some cases, your goal may not be the money itself. Your nonprofit’s goal may be to get a certain number of attendees or to increase donor acquisition by a certain amount. Other times, the goal may be to have a certain number of views for your virtual event.
The good news is that with a virtual event, more of the proceeds will go towards your cause. That’s because there isn’t as much overhead with a digital event compared to an in-person event. You can set your fundraising goal higher than you would with a traditional event. In fact, virtual peer-to-peer events on Givebutter raise an average of $58,965 per campaign (among campaigns that raise more than $10,000).
In-person events like high-end galas and five-star experiences allow you to charge higher entry fees or ticket prices. Since a virtual event doesn’t offer many amenities, people may not want to pay an admission or ticket fee that’s as high as they would for a traditional event.
Take a look at how much you normally charge attendees. Adjust the ticket prices to fit the virtual event. For example, if you’re hosting a virtual gala, instead of charging $150 per ticket like you would for an in-person event, try charging a smaller $15 or $20 ticket fee. If you’re hosting an online class or one aimed at college students, think about charging a lower fee, say around $7 or $8. Instead of offering paper tickets, you can make PDF tickets or use a registration link to keep track of attendees.
You may even want to think about getting rid of ticket prices or admission fees. In some cases, people feel that once they’ve paid these entry fees, their job is done — even if they can afford to give more. Instead, think about offering free access to your virtual event. People will donate what they can afford, meaning you might raise more money than you would if you charged an entry fee.
Step 3: Make an event schedule
To run a successful online fundraiser, you need to create a strategy and a schedule. Without these fundraising tools, your event can easily get out of hand as more and more people join in and start to participate.
Make a clear timeline of the actual event day and any preparation in the days preceding the event. Send out the first notification of your event a few weeks before the big day. Follow up with notifications about once a week to keep patrons informed. In these messages, make sure to include these important details:
- 📝 Registration information
- 💵 Entry fee requirements
- 👥 RSVP and any extra guest information
- 🎫 A link to the virtual event
Send a reminder email the day before the event and ping registered attendees one hour before the event goes live. It’s a good idea to include the event schedule so participants know what to expect.
Perhaps most importantly, make sure to test all of your software before the event to ensure everything is running smoothly.
On the day of the event, greet guests as they join the virtual fundraiser. If you’re using a video tool like Zoom, you can greet guests using the chat tool to prevent interrupting the conversation every time a new person joins. You can also use Facebook Live or YouTube Live to host the live event.
Five to 10 minutes after the start time, begin the event by making a presentation and introducing the event program. Once the event is completed, make sure to thank all the participants and follow up with a thank-you email encouraging attendees to donate, stay informed on the progress of the cause, or join your next fundraiser.
The event schedule will vary largely depending on the type of virtual event you’re hosting. A fun run or virtual walk-a-thon will look much different than a question and answer conference. Here’s a quick look at how two different events may look.
Example 1: Two-week virtual walk-a-thon
Say you’re hosting a walk-a-thon, asking participants to log as many miles as possible in a two-week span. Here’s what your event schedule may look like:
- 1 week before the event starts: Send emails or post social media announcements about your event. Ask participants to register so you can track their miles.
- Day 1: Let registered participants know that today the fun begins! Use this time to post on social media again to attract any last-minute participants. You can also host a virtual kick-off party where runners and walkers can get to know each other and get excited for the event.
- Week 1: During the first week, use your social media channels and email lists to get more people involved. Encourage existing participants with positive posts. Share some snaps of participants logging miles and celebrate with them when they hit big milestones. At the end of the week, you can update participants with a leaderboard showing who has the most miles. Take time to thank everyone for their participation so far and encourage them to finish strong.
- Week 2: Rally participants and help them keep up the pace with positive messages and updates throughout the week. Once the event comes to a close, host a virtual celebration party where they can pat themselves on the back and enjoy praise for a job well done.
Example 2: Virtual auction gala
If you’re hosting an online auction or conference event, your schedule will look a lot different from the virtual run above. These events are typically held on one evening and require less event management. Instead, you’ll plan ahead and make an event day schedule that you’ll follow with virtual attendees. Here’s what that may look like.
The day before the event: Send an email or virtual invitation to all registered attendees. This notification should include the event start time, date, and login information to access the virtual event. If your virtual gala involves a silent auction, you can start bids early to make the event night easier.
The day of the event: An hour before the event begins, send a reminder notification with the login information and start time. As guests join the event, greet them using the chat tool, and play soft music to avoid awkward silences. Once the event starts, it could look like this:
- 💬 Welcome speech and program introduction
- 👩🏻💼 A presentation by executives or board members including a slideshow or a speech
- 🙋 Live presentation of auction items or a question and answer session for a conference event
- 💰 Round up of money raised and final feature of auction items
- 🙏 Wrap up and present a thank you message before ending the virtual event
Step 4: Get publicity
Hosting a successful fundraiser — whether in-person or virtual — is all about getting the message out. People can’t donate to your cause if they don’t know about it. You can use tools like social media, press releases, and newspaper interviews to let people know about your upcoming fundraiser.
If you have a good amount of event sponsors, you might be able to work with a public relations agency or leverage paid ads on social media to notify people of your upcoming fundraiser. For smaller events, use social media and ask friends and family to share the event details.
When sharing about your event, make sure to tell people how they can participate and provide links they’ll need to access the virtual forum. Don’t forget to link to your donation form. You can also use an online fundraising platform to track RSVPs and donations throughout the lead-up to the event.
6 virtual fundraising event ideas
With so many options, it can be hard to figure out what type of event to host. Don’t fret, we’ve got you covered. Here are six ways to raise money online and have fun doing it.
1. Virtual class
If you have expertise you can share, hosting a master class online can help bring in donations for your favorite cause. If you’re not an expert, you can invite a professional to host the class for you. Charge a small class fee and use the time to teach art, cooking, photography, or another skill.
A webinar is a great way to bring important information to supporters. Recruit local celebrities from revered athletes to the mayor or choose someone who is well-known in the community. You can also use this type of event to allow people to get to know your organization better by hosting a chat with your Executive Director. During the webinar, participants can ask these leaders questions. Charge a small participation fee to raise money for your cause and make sure to add a link to your fundraising page.
3. Online concert
Live-streaming a music festival or concert series is a great way to share great music and raise money for important causes. Local musicians may be willing to play the event for free in exchange for exposure. Charge a small concert ticket fee and use an online platform like Facebook Live or Zoom to stream the event.
4. T-shirt fundraiser
A t-shirt fundraiser is a great way to raise money while celebrating people’s creativity. These events are contests where people submit t-shirt designs and the winning design is featured on apparel made by your nonprofit. Organizations make money by charging a small submission fee for each design.
5. Peer-to-peer fundraiser
Peer-to-peer fundraising is a type of crowdfunding where members of a nonprofit create their own donation pages to support your cause. This can help your fundraising efforts by bringing in more people as supporters share the campaign with family and friends. It’s a great way to expand your reach and it doesn’t involve a whole lot of event planning.
6. Gone with the gala
Whether it’s because of social distancing or the fact that galas are incredibly expensive to host, this type of event keeps the beauty of galas and eliminates the headache that usually go along with these events.
For this virtual event, guests are invited to dress up in their own homes and join an evening of fun. 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 by sharing your donation page. Reward attendees with commentary from a featured speaker.
Make it happen with virtual tools and events
Hosting a successful virtual fundraising campaign or event is all about having a plan. Taking time to map out a fundraising plan helps you stay on track so you can manage the event. Start by brainstorming fundraising ideas. Once you settle on an event, start drafting a schedule and getting the word out.
Fundraising software like Givebutter can make virtual event planning easier. With this simple platform, you can create a fundraising campaign, collect money using a streamlined donation page, and sell tickets or monitor event registration. Givebutter offers solutions for everyone from student groups and sports teams to large organizations and nonprofits.
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.