25 Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits
Fun and effective ways to encourage donations digitally
Traditionally, nonprofits rely on at least one major event annually to fund a large portion of their efforts. When the pandemic forced fundraisers to recreate their in-person experiences online, the unexpected happened. It turns out that what everyone thought would be a one-time solution has become, for many organizations, a new way of fundraising.
The benefits of virtual fundraising
Virtual fundraising has become increasingly essential for nonprofit organizations as more and more people turn to the internet, often via their mobile devices, to make charitable donations. Not only is online fundraising convenient for donors, but it can also be a valuable tool for nonprofits to reach a wider audience and raise more funds for their causes.
Online fundraising is important for nonprofits for a variety of reasons.
1. Online fundraisers are accessible to donors anywhere.
Online fundraising allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to give to your organization. This can be especially helpful for smaller nonprofits that may not have a large local donor base or need a wider reach.
2. Virtual fundraising events are convenient for donors.
Donors can make a contribution from the comfort of their homes at any time of day. This eliminates the need for in-person fundraising events and makes it easier for people to give, no matter their time zone.
3. Online fundraising is cost-effective.
Online fundraising typically has lower overhead costs than in-person events, as there is no need to rent a venue or pay for catering, decorations, or printed materials.
4. Digitally-based events are measurable.
With online fundraising, you can track the success of your campaigns and see which strategies are most effective. With analytics reports and information, you can make data-driven decisions about future fundraising efforts.
5. Virtual fundraising is flexible.
For nonprofits, online tactics provide much more flexibility for creative adaptations than traditional strategies. There are plenty of options when it comes to virtual fundraising ideas for nonprofits.
25 online fundraising ideas for nonprofits
Now that you understand the importance of online fundraising, here are 25 creative virtual fundraising ideas that go beyond online auctions. Let’s get started.
1. Crowdfunding campaign.
Set up a crowdfunding campaign and ask your community to contribute to the cause. Crowdfunding works especially well for nonprofits with a strong local base.
2. Peer-to-peer fundraising.
Give your advocate donors access to success stories, images, or video clips from your organization. They can use that messaging to set up personal fundraising pages. Then, they can ask their friends, family, and community to give to your organization as a birthday, anniversary, wedding, or holiday gift on their behalf.
3. Live-stream event.
Host a live-stream event on platforms like YouTube, Facebook Live, or even TikTok. Use this event to showcase your organization’s work and encourage donations. For best results, ask for donations for something specific, for example, “$50 will feed a shelter dog for a week” or “We need to buy a new research boat.” The more you tell donors how their money will be used, the more empowered they feel by giving. These streaming platforms offer a perfect way to tell your story.
4. Online raffle.
Prize drawings are a popular and effective way to raise funds for your organization. Consider selling tickets online and offering prizes donated by supporters or local businesses. Many people are willing to give a small amount for the chance to win a larger prize, and by selling tickets online, you can reach a wider audience and share your story with a new group of supporters. With the right prize and a little promotion, you can raise significant funds from hundreds of donors through a simple raffle.
5. Virtual trivia night.
Host a virtual trivia night using a platform like Zoom, Google Meet, or Kahoot. Be sure one of the categories is about your organization to give you the opportunity to talk about your cause while discovering who your biggest fans are. You could even make some questions worth bonus points for an additional donation. Be sure to have an entertaining emcee and provide them with a script that plugs your upcoming events and donor opportunities.
6. Virtual bake sale.
Selling baked goods online is an easy virtual fundraiser. Supporters can place orders for baked goods to be delivered, or organizations can offer up a local celebrity or baker to come to the highest bidder’s house to bake with them. Cookbooks that include recipes of the most popular items from the sale could be sold post-event or even given to major donors as thank-you gifts. You could also include personal recipes from esteemed individuals at your organization.
7. Virtual athletic event.
Encourage supporters to participate in a virtual athletic event, such as a 5K walk or run, a bikeathon, climbathon, hike — even yoga. Participants can fundraise for your organization and complete the event on their own time, or, if it makes sense, they can bike, hike, or downward dog at home.
8. Online workshop.
Use nonprofit marketing analytics to segment your donor base into groups that might find a particular skill interesting. Tap your in-house subject matter experts to lead the workshop or invite a guest instructor who is prominent in your field. The experience will not only raise money but deepen the connection between you and your supporters. Charge admission and allow participants to make an additional donation when registering. If attendees learn from a landscaper how to re-work their yard with pollinator-friendly native plants, challenge attendees at the end of the workshop to organize a space in their own garden and submit before and after photos. Photos could be shared on your website (with their permission), and online voting could be set up at $1 per vote.
The Resilient Nonprofit Fundraising Guide
Learn the keys to sustainable fundraising in a constantly changing world.
9. Virtual talent show or open mic night.
Host a virtual talent show. Participants can sign up ahead of time to showcase their talents in 60- to 90-second segments. The event can be live-streamed for free to a wider audience to build awareness for your cause, or you can require a ticket purchase. Either way, record the event — with participants’ permission — and use clips in future digital asks or on your social media outlets for awareness campaigns.
10. Virtual tours.
Everyone loves to peek behind the curtain into the lives of the people who inspire them. Participants can tour beautiful homes or gardens from the comfort of their own homes. Tie it to your organization’s mission. For example, if you are an art museum, host a tour of someone’s amazing art collection.
Additionally, consider offering a behind-the-scenes tour of your organization’s facility or office. Highlight your work. Stop to talk to volunteers, staff, and board members on site. It’s a great way to offer donors transparency into your operation and where their money goes. It’s also a great way for donors who don’t live in your area (or your country) to get an exclusive tour.
11. Virtual happy hour.
Host a virtual happy hour — with a twist. If your donors prefer beer and wine, you could have a selection of local ales or wines delivered to their homes. A brewmaster or sommelier could lead the happy hour and talk about how to home brew beer or discuss wines from a certain region. If cocktails make sense, deliver mixers to your donors’ homes and have a mixologist show them how to make the perfect gin fizz or espresso martini.
This should not be a time for the happy hour hosts to sell anything to your attendees. Rather, it should be a fun way to get to know your supporters. Be sure to leave time at the end of the presentation for open conversation and networking. When participants can drink and socialize from the comfort of their own homes, you don’t need to worry about anyone leaving your event overserved.
12. Online cooking class or virtual dinner party.
Create community with food. Consider partnering with a well-known chef to lead a class online. Provide participants with the necessary ingredients and a list of utensils and tools they’ll need, and let the chef guide them through preparing a delicious meal. At the end of the class, hold an auction for the chef to host a private class or catered dinner to the highest bidder.
13. Virtual movie night.
Host a virtual movie night using a platform like Netflix Party or Kast or stream on YouTube Live. Choose a movie with a plot or characters that align with your mission. Not everyone has time for a book club, but most people will hop on the couch for movie night.
Choose your movie, schedule a date, and sell tickets. But remember, if you sell tickets, check the movie’s copyright. It may require special permissions. Also, be sure attendees understand your watch party is a fundraiser, so guests are ready for any mid-movie or post-movie asks. If you can ship branded movie snacks to your watchers, you’ll win an Oscar for Best Fundraiser.
Include an “after party.” This is an opportunity for guests to talk about the movie and for you to share places in the movie that highlight why your work is needed. This is the time to make an additional ask and support meaningful exchanges between your donors.
The Nonprofit Trends Report
Learn how nonprofits are achieving success and keeping employees engaged.
14. Social media challenges and virtual awareness campaigns.
One way to expand your organization’s reach and bring in new donors is using social media platforms to engage with new audiences. This can be done through participation in trending challenges or by partnering with corporate sponsors, community partners, or influencers to take over their social media accounts for a day.
By aligning your efforts with relevant calendar days and linking back to your website or donation page, you can introduce your organization to potentially large numbers of new supporters and donors. While social media can be a powerful and cost-effective tool for virtual fundraising, it’s important to have a clear plan and mutual agreement when working with partners to ensure that joint efforts are successful and aligned with your mission.
TikTok challenges, for example, can have millions of views and can help reach younger audiences that may not be aware of your organization yet. Just be sure to link any posts back to your website or a landing page with a time-sensitive donation link to make it easy for a new fan to support your work.
15. Virtual dance parties or concerts.
A virtual fundraising idea for nonprofits that gets people moving is a virtual dance party or live stream of a concert. You can sell “tickets” to the dance or ask participants to get donations for the time they dance. Set up a live stream playlist and encourage attendees to share their dance moves on social media or on your platform. You can also offer prizes for the best dancers to add an element of fun and competition.
To switch things up from a DJ or playlist, collaborate with artists and musicians passionate about your cause to perform during the event and live stream their concert. Bring people together through the joy of music and dance, all while supporting your cause.
If you want to offer a virtual educational webinar to supporters, the options are endless. Be sure to connect the subject to a current event or industry trend relating to your cause. To increase participation, consider sending an email to supporters with several options for courses you could offer and let them vote to choose what they’d like to do most.
17. Online food festival or virtual food drive.
Bring a little spice to your donors and raise funds for your organization with a virtual food festival. Involve the community by asking local chefs or food reporters to cook. Or request donations from local restaurants. Live stream or record videos of the cooking process and introduce attendees to different cuisines. Consider a “spicy” or “sweet and savory” theme. Attendees can sample the food by purchasing a sampler pack or bid on individual items during the event to be sent to them later. This online fundraising idea can be combined with a virtual tour by asking chefs to share a behind-the-scenes look into their restaurants or even their personal kitchens.
18. Virtual improv or comedy night.
Participants can watch different comedians perform, and an emcee can request online donations to your organization using a link shared on screen at various points throughout the evening. To make it even more interactive, host a virtual improv and have participants use the chat function in your video platform to provide actions and topics for the comedians.
The Global Online Fundraising Scorecard
Download the report for a look at the online fundraising experience and email communications of 630 organizations in 9 countries.
19. Online plant sale.
During the pandemic, many people nurtured their green thumbs. Flowering plants, succulents, air plants, orchids, hybrid fruit trees, and bonsais — just to name a few — can be displayed, discussed, sold online to the highest bidder, and delivered. Partner with independent nurseries, plant shops, or co-ops to support small businesses.
20. Virtual escape room.
Many video conferencing platforms allow for “breakout rooms.” Take advantage of these and put participants into groups that can work together to solve puzzles and escape a virtual room. Create clues that relate to your organization’s vision, mission, or cause. This is a good opportunity to introduce your advocates to new supporters by grouping them together in teams that create new, positive connections.
21. Virtual paint and sip.
Invite donors to a virtual paint and sip. Deliver a canvas, brush, set of paints, and a bottle of wine to the home of each participant. An artist can guide participants step-by-step through painting a specific scene or image that, of course, can relate to your organization. Leverage the social reach of your participants by inviting them to share their finished artwork on their own social media platforms. Send them a boilerplate statement about your organization and a link to donate or learn more to include in their post if they’d like to help further promote your efforts.
22. Online game night or gaming night.
Host an online game night to unite people and raise funds for your organization. Choose from platforms like Jackbox, Kahoot and Gamefly, or multiplayer video games like Pictionary. You can also stream video games on platforms like Twitch. Charge an entry fee and offer prizes to winners. Take the opportunity to speak about your organization and make donation appeals between rounds. Solicit sponsors to donate food delivered to participants’ homes to keep them energized for the games.
23. Facilitate a DIY cleanup.
For environmental organizations that want to encourage their supporters to pick up trash but don’t have the logistical resources to host a large, in-person cleanup, DIY is the way to go. Allow participants to sign up on your website, saying where they will clean up, whether it’s a trail, park, beach, or other public areas near their home. Encourage them to take photos or count the items they collect. They can then return to your website to upload their photos, report their results, and donate. Donations need not be required, but people will likely feel motivated by the experience and want to help.
24. Writing or photography contest.
Create a contest themed around your cause. Perhaps you ask for poems about resilience in the face of a life-threatening disease or photos of your followers’ rescue pets. Ask for a donation as the cost of entry. People can participate and submit entries on their own time, and you can live stream the announcement of the winners.
25. A matching gift.
Whatever type of fundraiser you choose, a matching gift from a major donor can go a long way toward motivating smaller gifts. Pinpoint an individual or organization in advance who will promise to match all gifts, up to a certain amount, during a specified span of time. Make sure to give that person or company plenty of visibility and gratitude.
Technology to fuel digital fundraising
Technology has certainly simplified online event hosting in recent years. Nonprofits can use social media, video conferencing platforms, and online donation pages to maximize awareness of their organization and guide donors through the moves management process. When combined with traditional fundraising methods like mailed solicitations, emails, and small in-person events, these online fundraising ideas can help organizations reach a wider audience. Virtual fundraising makes it easy for nonprofit supporters to donate and get involved.
However, for a virtual event to be truly successful, you must begin with accurate, accessible donor data and analytics. You need a complete view of your donors and supporters to segment your audience to gain the greatest participation. You need confidence that you’ve invited the right people to the right event at the right time to make the greatest impact.
Salesforce Nonprofit Fundraising solutions can help you capture all supporter information and interaction in one place to create a unified view of your constituents. This makes it easier to build strong relationships with lifelong givers. Plus, when you have access to relevant data and insights, you can make more informed decisions to drive impact.
With Salesforce Fundraising solutions, you can make it easy for donors to give using the channels they prefer, then capture data from every interaction for a full view of supporter engagement.
Learn more about how Salesforce can support your nonprofit with fundraising solutions.