28 virtual fundraising ideas for nonprofit organizations

Social distancing due to COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the way nonprofit organizations raise money — especially since many have historically relied on in-person fundraising events.

Many nonprofits have since learned that virtual or online fundraising events can be just as effective as galas, fun runs, charity auctions, golf tournaments, and other standard in-person fundraisers — with the added benefit of being easier to organize, less expensive to implement, and more accessible to a wider range of donors.

What virtual fundraising is and why it’s crucial for nonprofits

A virtual fundraising event is a fundraising campaign that takes place mostly or wholly online, with the goal of gathering donations for a nonprofit organization. Virtual fundraising events offer a way to collect registrations and donations through a digital platform, while allowing donors and attendees to participate in events or campaigns virtually. 

Virtual fundraising is critical for nonprofit organizations that want to remain competitive in a new fundraising landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the game, and the campaigns that help fund your mission are now increasingly virtual and online. 

The benefits of virtual fundraising campaigns are many: They offer a flexible, lower cost way to raise funds and connect with a wider array of donors. They are more accessible than standard in-person events, they often reach more supporters and raise more money. Their broader reach increases awareness of your cause and mission with no geographical limitations, and they are typically less stressful to organize than their in-person counterparts.

5 steps to hosting a successful virtual fundraiser

Hosting a virtual fundraiser is not as easy as simply reproducing your usual event in a new medium (i.e. video) and expecting it to succeed. Read on to learn five basic steps to hosting a virtual fundraiser that engages participants and reaches your financial goals.

1. Identify the type of event

What form will your fundraiser take? You could probably adapt your signature event to an online one, but why not consider this an opportunity to try something new? Think about your audience — will your event be for families with children or adults only? Are you courting millennials (less formal) or major donors (more formal)? 

Here are some examples of virtual fundraising event types:

  • Gala with an auction (like Copperfin Credit Union’s “Stay At Home Gala”) 
  • Performance (comedy show, talk show, lecture, etc.)
  • Online game
  • Behind-the-scenes virtual tour 
  • Cooking class (like the Children’s Center’s “Tour de Fork”)

Note that most events run anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour.

2. Determine the necessary technology

When it comes to technology, the first question you need to answer is: Will you broadcast your event live at a specific time (livestream) or prerecord it? 

Live broadcasts can be stressful, which is why some organizations choose to prerecord an online event. Prerecording also lets you add special effects and edit out parts you don’t want viewers to see.

On the other hand, livestreaming may be more engaging for your audience. Another alternative is to prerecord some segments and play them intermittently during the live broadcast to give presenters and hosts a break.

The most important technology component of a virtual fundraiser is the streaming platform. Here are the three most common:

  • YouTube Live is best for a hybrid event that includes both livestreaming and prerecorded elements. (Nonprofits must meet certain requirements to host fundraising events on the platform.)
  • Facebook Live is best if it’s the platform that’s most familiar to your audience.
  • Zoom is best for more complex events — like when you want to use breakout rooms to group people together for activities. (One organization’s gala fundraiser used breakout rooms as virtual “tables.”)   

You’ll also need an online fundraising tool to accept donations during the event. For an auction, BiddingForGood enables mobile bidding, and Donorbox lets attendees donate via text.

Or you could direct people to a simple online donation form you create using Jotform. Whatever you choose, be sure to incorporate messaging throughout the event to let people know how to donate funds.

3. Set up registration and ticket-purchasing processes

The next step is to create an online event registration form for people interested in attending your virtual fundraiser. Ask for attendees’ full names and email addresses so you can send event information and donation instructions. (Don’t forget to send a thank-you note after the event too.)

If you intend to sell tickets to your event, Jotform’s online ticket purchase form allows you to accept secure online payments and then instantly generates a detailed guest list. Note that not all virtual fundraising events charge for admission; some organizations prefer to focus on collecting donations as part of the event.

4. Promote the event

Create a landing page on your organization’s website dedicated to the virtual event, describing the format and clearly stating how to register, donate, and attend. This page will serve as the information hub to which you’ll direct all promotional traffic, such as social media ads.

In the weeks leading up to the event, remember to consistently post on the social media channels your target audience frequents, whether that’s Facebook, Instagram, X, or anywhere else. 

Be creative with your promotions to pique people’s interest. For example, you could create a short but memorable video, do an interview with a local news outlet, or announce the event at a relevant public interest group gathering.

5. Make it a “fun” fundraiser

Once your guests have arrived, you want to keep them there. Engage with your virtual audience as much as possible by making it a fun experience. Minnesota nonprofit event planner Ann Plans has a number of tips on how to keep people’s attention, including

  • Using the streaming platform’s chat option to encourage interaction among guests
  • Asking guests to dress as they would if they were attending the event in person and encouraging them to share photos
  • Sharing a cocktail recipe and demonstrating how to make it in the minutes leading up to the event

28 virtual fundraising ideas

Need more inspiration? Here are 28 virtual fundraising ideas to help your nonprofit organization keep the donations rolling in.

1. Peer-to-peer fundraising

As digital fundraising initiatives go, launching a virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaign is fairly straightforward. Encourage your organization’s board members, staff, and donors — along with key influencers who are aligned with your cause — to set up their own personal fundraising pages to raise money for a predetermined amount of time.

2. Webinars or online talks

You can present an online talk or webinar given by board members, the CEO, and program staff to discuss current initiatives and goals your organization is working on, or you can ask community leaders and experts in your organization’s area of expertise to talk about current events related to your mission. Ask supporters for a small donation to attend.

3. Virtual fun run, bike-a-thon, hike, or other outdoor exercise activity

You can still host runs, bike-a-thons, and hikes to raise money virtually. Admittedly, this kind of event might be more of a challenge to pull off than a simple online fundraiser, but it’s still possible.

Participants commit to run, bike, or hike on their own during a specific time frame, and they ask for pledges or donations based on how many miles they complete or hours they commit. They can then post pictures or videos of their participation to social media with your nonprofit’s hashtag. This will also encourage others who didn’t take part in the run, hike, or bike ride to donate to your cause.

4. Online auction

Auctions are a standard nonprofit fundraising tactic, and you can easily adjust them to work virtually. Simply create a page on your organization’s website where supporters can view and bid on auction items. There are several online auction platforms you can choose from.

5. Virtual tours

Virtual tours are a great idea for museum fundraising, but they can work for other kinds of organizations as well. Supporters donate the standard ticket entrance fee and take a guided video tour through the space or a specific exhibit. And unlike hosting an in-person event, there’s no limit to how many people can attend.

6. Virtual happy hour or coffee date

You could offer a monthly online gathering for supporters to get together via Zoom for coffee or wine. It’s casual and fun, and everyone can “come as they are.” A staff member can hop on at the beginning (or remain all the way through) to ask supporters how they are, update them on your organization’s plans for next quarter, and end with a one-time soft ask for donations.

7. Virtual cooking lessons

This is as simple as getting a local chef or other cooking expert in your area to donate their time to provide cooking lessons via Zoom or even Facebook Live. In return, the chef gets the word out about their restaurant and how they’re handing service during COVID-19.

Supporters get to learn something new, donate to your organization, and support the restaurant by visiting or ordering takeout at a later date as a way to say thank you for the cooking lessons.

8. Swear jar fundraiser

This one is easy and fun. Ask your supporters to create a “swear jar” in their home or office. Anyone who says any of the words we’ve all grown so weary of lately — coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, lockdown, quarantine, the “new normal,” and Zoom fatigue are a few that come to mind — has to put a dollar or more in the jar. Then they donate the money to your organization through an online donation form.

9. Online gala dinner or party

While a gala dinner hosted via video might not have the same impact as an in-person dinner, it can be almost as much fun — and a lot less stressful for all involved.

Invite attendees to “arrive” dressed in their finest to use Zoom, Facebook Live, or a videoconferencing app of your choice. Consider shipping your committed RSVPs festive party supplies in advance — streamers, noise makers, party hats, paper lanterns, and other gala-themed items.

Everyone sits down to dine at the same time, enjoys drinks, and has fun — and no one has to drive home after dinner. Plus, attendees can use what they would have spent to attend the event in person to donate to your cause.

10. Online quiz party

Everyone loves a good, friendly competition!

Determine an affordable ticket price to make this fun event a no-brainer, then choose a quiz theme related to your organization’s mission. Invite supporters to join you via Zoom with an appetizer and their beverage of choice. You can even award quiz participants silly “prizes” for the most correct answers based on your mission. Make it a monthly event and bring in even more donations.

11. Email campaign

You’ve probably done email campaigns in the past, so this is nothing earth-shattering or new. That said, a coordinated email campaign is a great way to remind supporters that the pandemic has curtailed the live events you typically rely on to raise money — you can use that opportunity to ask for support.

For more persuasive power, send a series of emails on or around a day of significance to your organization or during “awareness” weeks or months, such as Mental Illness Awareness Week or Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

12. Product fundraising

Create branded merchandise — t-shirts and hats are always popular, and this year face masks certainly are — and sell them to supporters. The more people who buy, the better because branded merchandise helps spread awareness of your organization, and your most devoted supporters love to wear it.

Make it easy by setting up a “Shop” page on your organization’s website or create a separate e-commerce store.

13. Social media campaign

You can coordinate this with your email campaign (see above) or do it separately.

Determine your theme and compelling message in advance. For example, do you want to promote the positive impact your organization has had in your community through a series of social posts or create a fun challenge? The ideas here are endless.

Next, create the visual assets, hashtags, and the most relevant calls to action or requests for donations and schedule your posts. Don’t forget to include the URL on your website where people can donate.

Be sure to follow the specific rules for each social media platform. Facebook allows individuals and organizations to create fundraisers directly on the platform; on Instagram people can donate directly from your profile.

14. Virtual raffle

Raffles are a common fundraising tactic that can easily be held online.

Promote your raffle through email and your social media channels, and ask supporters to purchase tickets on your website. Use a random number generator to choose the winner and livestream the selection of the winning raffle ticket.

15. Virtual movie night

With the huge uptick in homebound movie watching during the pandemic, this one is a no-brainer.

Netflix Party allows you to set up a virtual movie night. Supporters can join staffers and others from your organization using a link. Everyone gets to watch the movie at the same time and interact in the chat window during the film.

You can choose a film related to your organization’s mission or simply something fun and appealing for a large group of people who may have different movie tastes. Ask supporters to donate the cost of a movie ticket via your organization’s donation page.

16. Virtual arts and crafts night

You likely have all kinds of creative, talented staffers at your organization — and if not on your staff, then certainly in your community. Painters, knitters, quilters, card-making artisans, calligraphers, felters, stained glass artists, mosaic makers, woodworkers…I could go on and on.

Organize an arts and crafts night via videoconference and have one or more people teach their craft; in exchange, your supporters will make a small donation to your organization. You can even send a survey via email beforehand to ask what kind of crafts people would most like to learn.

17. Virtual concert

There have been many online music events since the pandemic forced us all inside — they respond to our need to gather together, have a drink, and listen to a good band.

Most every town or city has its own popular, well-loved local bands. Get one or more of them together and invite them to your space (with everyone safely socially distanced, of course) for a livestream event. Some bands will have their own rehearsal space, and they can livestream the concert from there — or even from band members’ homes via Zoom.

Invite supporters to make a donation to attend and give everyone an opportunity to get their rock-and-roll (or jazz or what-have-you) fix.

18. Online game night

Game nights are super fun and pretty easy to organize. Send a survey to your email subscribers to ask about their favorite games, then choose the date, time, and games. Ask for a small donation to participate, send out an invitation, gather together virtually at the appointed time, and let the games begin!

There are online versions of your favorite board games, including Pictionary, Bingo, Scattergories, and more. What could be easier?

19. Birthday challenge

This idea is easy to pull off and has the added benefit of being a proven online fundraising strategy.

Simply invite your supporters to use their birthdays to raise money for your cause or organization. You’ve probably seen this all over Facebook — your friends asking for a donation to their favorite cause in lieu of a gift.

To make it more fun, you can award a prize to the person who raises the most money on their birthday or during their birthday month. There’s nothing like a little healthy competition to up the ante and raise more money.

20. Crowdfunding campaign

Here’s another idea that has become part of the mainstream over the last few years. You can hold a crowdfunding campaign in tandem with an email campaign — and, of course, you’ll want to turn up the volume by using your social media channels as well.

There are several crowdfunding options; GoFundMe is probably the most well known and has a dedicated site for nonprofits.

Donors can share their contributions with friends, family, and the rest of their network via social media, expanding the campaign’s reach.

Accepting online donations is now easier than ever with Jotform’s new custom apps for online giving. Our powerful, all-in-one Donation Apps are simple to set up and customize. Collect donations, select your color palette, add your branding, and set predefined donation amounts, all without coding. You can even set up a donation goal bar that tracks progress toward your fundraising goal.

21. Virtual paint-and-sip party

Suggest a donation amount, and have participating donors gather at someone’s home. Deliver supplies like canvases, brushes, and paints, and encourage everyone to bring their favorite wine, beer, and snacks. Attendees can paint scenes relevant to your organization, or choose their own themes.

Afterward, ask donors to share their art on their social platforms with a hashtag linking to your fundraising campaign to expand your reach and raise additional funds.

22. Monthly giving campaign 

Monthly giving campaigns are nothing new, but you may not be sharing the importance of receiving recurring donations as often as you’re asking for one-time donations. Do donors know you depend on monthly support to fund programs and pay staff at your nonprofit organization?

Of course, these campaigns are a no-brainer to do virtually. Simply create a focused campaign around monthly giving by tying monthly donation amounts to specific outcomes. For example, “Just $25 a month helps feed a family of four for a year.”

23. Volunteer team fundraiser

While peer-to-peer campaigns involve board members, staff, donors, and key influencers, a volunteer team fundraiser harnesses the energy of volunteers who are passionate about and committed to your cause. There are many ways to tap into this team spirit: You can ask volunteers to promote your cause or organization through their social media channels, write fundraising letters to family and friends, or team up to brainstorm their own ideas for a team fundraiser.

Before setting up a volunteer team fundraiser, be sure to train your volunteers on the basics of fundraising and how to solicit donations. Educate them on your organization’s mission and how the donations they raise will contribute to that mission, so they feel fully invested.

24. Writing, photography, or art contest 

Depending on the mission of your nonprofit organization, you can set up a writing, photography, art, design, or other kind of creative contest. Participants make a donation to enter and submit work that depicts themes relevant to your cause or mission. Come up with a hashtag participants can use to share their work via social media, establish a deadline for submissions, and once all the work has been submitted, host an online event to announce the winners.

25. Virtual book club

It’s a safe bet that you have some avid readers among your donor base. Choose a book with a theme related to your organization’s mission or cause, and for a small donation, invite people to gather via Zoom or Google Meet to discuss the book. At the top of the meeting, have someone from your nonprofit briefly discuss objectives and goals for the year or season and share the need for you organization’s services. You can even make this a monthly event to get those ever-important recurring donations!

26. Virtual bake sale

Ah, bake sales — a tried-and-true fundraising method if ever there was one. But how do you carry one out virtually? One simple way is to recruit a local baker, or even expert home bakers from your donor base, and have them make cakes, cookies, pies, or whatever their specialty is. Supporters can place orders in advance and everyone can share their delectable goods on social media after delivery, along with a well-chosen hashtag.

27. Virtual arts and crafts sale

Remember the virtual arts and crafts night we had back in #16? Now it’s time to sell these works of art to the highest bidder! Have someone in your organization who is creatively inclined set up an attractive display of the items, livestream the sale, and let attendees bid on the items. Or simply set prices beforehand, and let folks purchase works outright.

You can take the opportunity during the online sale to discuss your organization’s mission and fundraising goals for the year or season.

28. Virtual talent show or open mic night 

Talent shows or open mic nights are a great fundraising idea if you have enough bold, brave, non-self-conscious folks in your community willing to participate. For an entry fee/donation, talent show participants can gather on Zoom, Google Meet, or the livestream app of your choice and showcase their talents in short one-to-three minute segments, depending on how many people enter. Instead of having participants donate to enter, you could also sell tickets to the event.

Virtual and online fundraising is here to stay. Even when things go back to “normal,” there will still be a pressing need for fundraising events that are simpler and less stressful to organize, have greater reach among a wider number of supporters, and cost less to produce. Jotform makes online fundraising easy with all the nonprofit forms and templates you need to create beautiful, professional-looking donation forms, event registrations, and more.

The 28 online fundraising ideas here should give you a good head start in planning your next virtual fundraising campaign.

Kimberly Houston is a conversion-focused marketing copywriter. She loves helping established creative service providers attract and convert their ideal clients with personality-driven web and email copy, so they can stand out online, and get more business, bookings, and sales.

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