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.
Canceling, postponing, or reimagining events has now become the new reality. But this reality doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
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.
Here are 20 virtual fundraising ideas to help your nonprofit organization keep the donations rolling despite the constraints created by the pandemic.
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.
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 20 online fundraising ideas here should give you a good head start in planning your next virtual fundraising campaign.