25 Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits

Fundraising Ideas

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It looks like virtual fundraising is here to stay! And, we know a lot more about how to host virtual events and engage an online audience than we did prior to the COVID pandemic. 

To set your organization up for success, we’ve put together this guide with the basics of virtual fundraising and some ideas to get the gears rolling:

These virtual ideas have already been successful for many of our clients here at Qgiv, helping to fill the gaps in their fundraising revenue and sustain donor engagement during the pandemic and post-pandemic. Several even reported that virtual events helped them reach new donors and raise more donations than their previous in-person events did! 

Are you ready to take your virtual fundraising to the next level? Let’s get started.

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What is virtual fundraising?

The term “virtual fundraising” describes all nonprofit engagements and campaigns done online. This includes online fundraisers, virtual events, and even text fundraising campaigns. In the past two years, virtual fundraising activities have skyrocketed due to social distancing guidelines and the COVID-19 pandemic.

You’ve probably redirected your focus to virtual methods, too. While face-to-face fundraising can lead to more personal engagements, virtual fundraising comes with many of its own benefits:

  • Provides a simple donation process for donors. Your online donation tool is one of the quickest and easiest ways for supporters to give to your cause. Instead of multiple phone calls back and forth, they can just enter their information on your online form and press “submit.”
  • Leverages common tools. As of 2020, 95% of North Americans are internet users. If you want to optimize your modern fundraising strategy, you have to meet your supporters where they already are— on the internet. Without a dedicated online strategy or a social media presence, many potential donors will view your organization as out of touch. They might not even know you’re still running.
  • Allows flexible payment options. With online fundraising, people can give in more ways than a written check or cash. For instance, top nonprofits will now accept debit cards, credit cards, electronic checks, and even tools like Apple Pay or Venmo. Virtual fundraising is all about convenience— offering multiple ways to give only promotes that.
  • Offers another level of convenience, as both fundraisers and supporters can engage while in the comfort of their own homes. Offering multiple options for people to support your organization is key to maintaining your fundraising and filling any gaps in your revenue. Virtual fundraising allows donors and staff to work together while not physically being together.

Virtual fundraising is no longer an optional activity for nonprofits— it’s a necessity! Prioritizing your online presence and digital engagement methods is key to not just surviving, but thriving, during this time.

25+ Virtual fundraising ideas

As you adapt to constantly changing current events, you’re probably looking to explore new virtual fundraising opportunities. Your best bet is to review creative ideas that other nonprofits have already tried and found effective.

At Qgiv, we recently asked our clients about the common obstacles they’ve faced during the pandemic and creative fundraising methods they’ve tried that have worked for them. You can check out an in-depth look at the survey results in our webinar Inspiration Station: Creative Virtual Fundraising Ideas from Real Nonprofits

We’ve outlined our favorite strategies below, from general virtual fundraising ideas, simple ones, peer-to-peer, and auctions.

woman making calls to donors from desk

General virtual fundraising ideas

1. Call your donors

Keeping your donor relationships alive is crucial, even when you aren’t meeting face to face. Calling your donors is a great way to check in and engage with them while still keeping your distance.

BONUS – See this idea in action!

Many nonprofit organizations have taken the steps to call their donors in the beginning of the pandemic. For instance, Downtown Women’s Center made sure to call every one of their donors before they began their May 2020 appeals. Though going through all 2000 calls was lengthy, it was worth it in order to touch base.

Even though the calls were simply to check in with donors and see how they were doing during a trying time, it also resulted in gifts. In your own calls with donors, try and steer away from direct asks. Focus on how their past gifts are still making a difference and give them opportunities to ask questions about your organization. If you can’t call all of your donors, at least make sure to reach out to your more important ones.

2. Make an emergency fundraising appeal

When organizations face an unprecedented event and are in dire need of support, making an emergency fundraising appeal is a direct way to emphasize that need and raise money quickly. In an emergency fundraising appeal, it’s essential that you:

  • Personalize the content
  • Establish the urgency of the situation
  • Clearly outline your needs 
  • Tell your donors how their gift will make an impact
  • Include direct fundraising asks. 
BONUS – See this idea in action!

Making an emergency fundraising appeal did wonders for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region during the pandemic. With their online emergency appeal, they were able to raise $60,000 dollars.

However, it isn’t enough to make an appeal and wait for the donations to come in. The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region made sure to communicate daily with donors and make an online ask at least once a week. They even utilized Facebook Ask to engage with donors and tied the asks directly to their mission. Reinforcing the ask by explaining how the pandemic is affecting your mission shows supporters that the need is still there and is more urgent than ever. 

If you’re afraid of making asks too frequently, remember that your donors are passionate about your cause. They want you to succeed! Continue to let them know about their past gift’s impact to confirm they’re making a difference and inspire them to give again.

3. Ask for in-kind donations

Garner support virtually by asking for in-kind donations. This is any type of gift that isn’t financial! For instance, many food shelters ask for canned goods and other similar items to help families in need.

A good way to facilitate an in-kind donation campaign virtually is to take advantage of your online tools and make an eCommerce page with a list of needed products. Supporters can simply click on them to “buy” them, and then your organization will send them to the necessary community.

4. Switch up your fundraising language

A virtual fundraising tip is to switch up the language in your online content. Stay authentic, and be understanding. Your donors may be experiencing their own financial difficulties, so consider ways you can alleviate any potential guilt if they can’t make a gift.

Stay positive in your language and remind people that your organization’s mission existed before the pandemic and will last long past it. Give them ideas about how to support your mission without donating financially, and be frank about your needs while being understanding about your donors’ challenges

5. Send donors a fun at-home activity

It’s important to connect with donors without always making a fundraising appeal, especially now. This is key to ensuring your organization stays at the top of your donors’ minds and remains relevant in their lives.

Consider providing your donors with a fun at-home activity that relates to your mission that they can do in their free time. This gives your supporters something to do while still engaging with your cause. 

Some easy ways to connect with your donors while they’re at home are to send them an activity through email, provide a virtual platform for engagement, or even send them outside for a socially distant activity like a scavenger hunt. Make sure there are ways for them to share their participation with you and other supporters.

6. Offer virtual volunteer opportunities

Another way to provide non-financial support to your mission is through volunteering. How can you use volunteers virtually, though? 

Consider creating a virtual volunteer program and brainstorm ways that your supporters can help digitally. Instead of continuing your direct fundraising asks, send a list of other ways supporters can help your mission without leaving their homes. 

While this will ultimately depend on your unique organization, some good virtual volunteer ideas include:

  • Making fundraising phone calls
  • Conducting outreach on your behalf
  • Sharing stories and testimonials with their own friends and family
  • Social media promotion.
BONUS – See this idea in action!

Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine recently hosted a social media and email campaign called “Be a Helper.” This basically outlined a list of ways that supporters can volunteer for their cause while staying inside during the pandemic. This list included writing letters of support for the staff and even providing lunch. 

7. Consider corporate sponsorships or other partnerships

Corporate sponsorships and partnerships can help a lot, especially in times of need. And, their support can be done completely online. This not only benefits your organization but also paints the other party in a positive light, giving you both good PR.

BONUS – See this idea in action!

Hope Center, Inc is an organization that helps provide a bed for those that need a little help getting on their feet. With the rise of COVID-19, they came upon an issue with how to sleep over 650 people while still staying socially distant. Their solution was a partnership with Transylvania University where they used one of its buildings for housing.

With this partnership, both parties received a lot of positive media attention which even led to more support in money and supplies.

8. Take advantage of video conferencing and streaming tools 

While we mentioned that calling donors is a great way to start your virtual engagement, you should also explore making use of video conferencing and streaming tools. These are great tools that let you communicate face to face with donors all online.

Streaming video isn’t just a valuable way for you to connect with donors individually. Consider hosting Zoom classes or streaming virtual events like a concert. With your video conferencing tools, attendees will be able to engage with both you and each other!

BONUS – See this idea in action!

With a video conferencing tool, it’s easy to engage your supporters on a consistent basis and share updates on their impact and your organization as a whole. UrbanPromise Charlotte implemented a program during the pandemic called “Family Meetings.” This consists of 45-minute meetings sent out to all donors for updates on programming and the Family Stability Fund, as well as to connect with some students. 

These “Family Meetings” are a great way to not only keep supporters engaged, but also to facilitate them meeting other supporters they don’t know. Further, by inviting the students who are benefiting from the Family Stability Fund, the donors can get first-hand interaction with those that they are helping.

9. Sell creative merchandise

Selling merchandise for your cause is a great way to raise revenue while also providing supporters with a memorable keepsake. Even better, whenever they wear or use it, they become walking billboards for your mission.

What kind of merchandise should you sell? Be as creative as possible! What kind of merchandise should you sell? Be as creative as possible! Whether it’s special campaign t-shirts, branded travel mugs, or another fun product, product fundraising is  a significant way to increase your organization’s visibility.

10. Pivot an in-person event to virtual

You’ve probably had to cancel or postpone an in-person fundraising event before. Not only is this a loss of projected revenue for your organization, but it’s also a disappointment for your potential attendees and donors. But you have options!

Take a look at the recurring or one-off events you had planned, and consider whether they can be adapted to a virtual format with the tools you have.

BONUS – See this idea in action!

While going from in-person to virtual can be a jarring experience, it can also be smooth and seamless with the right tools and preparation. For example, the Girl Scouts of South Carolina realized they wouldn’t be able to hold meetings with their troops or host their camps over the summer.

In response, they created “mega-virtual troops” to keep the girls engaged while their regular programming was canceled. These virtual Girl Scout meetings continue to provide troopers with fun activities that they might already do at a regular meeting.

11. Plan and host an entirely new virtual event

One of the best ways to engage your supporters is with a fundraising event. Now that your in-person engagements are on pause, consider different types of virtual fundraising events you can plan and host. 

When you’re brainstorming the best virtual event ideas, consider the tools you have at your disposal. Then, curate an experience that leverages those tools. This can include webinars, online raffles, peer-to-peer events, online auctions, virtual meetings, and text fundraising.

virtual fundraising webinar on computer

Simple virtual fundraising ideas

12. Classes/tutorials/webinars

Online webinars and classes were popular long before the pandemic made them necessary. However, these types of classes also proved to be some of the most successful, and simple, virtual fundraising ideas.

Equipped with a reliable video streaming platform (like Zoom), it’s easy for anyone to set up and conduct their own online class, tutorial, or webinar. For your nonprofit organization, you can ask one of your staff members or others in leadership if they’d like to lead a virtual class on topics like recent industry trends and other interesting subjects that relate to your mission. 

Then, set up an event registration page and watch the signups roll in! Consider recording the content so that afterwards supporters and registrants can watch it again in the future. 

13. Endurance events

Want a simple fundraising event idea that can not only be done virtually but also cultivate a wide breadth of publicity and participants? Host a virtual endurance event!

This is a type of event where donors pay a fee to be a part of a contest where the “last person standing” receives some sort of prize. Some common examples include “Dance-a-thons” or who can stand on one leg the longest. The longer the supporters last the more publicity and support your mission gets! You can even encourage donors to give in support of a particular event participant.

BONUS – See this idea in action!

YouTube creator Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson hosted an endurance event this past year called “Finger on the App.” The premise is that users have to keep their finger on their phone using an App for as long as possible, with the winners getting up to $25,000. Contestants lasted as long as 70 hours before MrBeast decided to end the competition himself!

14. Bingo night 

Who doesn’t love a good bingo night? It’s a fun, sociable game that is easy and simple to host, even when done virtually. All it involves is a reliable online bingo simulator. Then anyone can participate from the comfort of their own home. 

To make this a fundraising event, have each attendee pay a small fee to participate. To garner more funds during the event itself, you can encourage further giving through text fundraising and a text-to-donate tool.

Click here for an online bingo simulator that your nonprofit organization can try out! 

15. Competitions

Inspire a healthy competitive spirit with a simple virtual fundraising competition. The beauty of this fundraising event is that it can be applied to nearly all types of organizations and missions— and be hosted virtually, when done right! 

There’s a never ending list of the type of competitions you can have, so here are some common examples:

  • Talent shows – Have the talent send in their acts beforehand and then show them to your digital audience. Supporters can vote for their favorites with a small gift. The winner is the act that gets the most “votes.”
  • Cooking contests – From a chili cook-off to a bake-off, cooking contests are incredibly fun to participate in and watch! Host this event virtually by sending the ingredients to your chef’s houses. Then, have them livestream their cooking process. 
  • Photo contests – Perfect for pets or babies, consider a contest where participants submit different photos and have others vote on their favorites. You can even have different categories for Cutest or Most Funny!

To ensure you raise money, have each participant pay an entrance fee and then compete to win a fun prize.

two people playing a video game

Virtual peer-to-peer fundraising ideas

16. Trivia nights 

If you’re thinking of hosting a virtual peer-to-peer fundraiser, a trivia night can prove to not only be fruitful but also an exciting time. It’s a fun way to bring your supporters together for friendly competition.

Design trivia questions related to your mission and divide your participants into teams. Not only will they enjoy competing to answer the most trivia questions, but they’ll also be fundraising on behalf of your organization.

BONUS – See this idea in action!

The Junior Achievement Metro Denver Virtual Trivia Bowl recently hosted this type of event for its supporters. They charged a $30 registration fee, split attendees into teams of 5, and hosted the entire competition online.

And, each participant was also a peer-to-peer fundraiser, raising funds themselves for their mission!

17. Game-a-thon 

How about hosting a virtual game-a-thon for your peer-to-peer fundraiser? Think of fun games you can play online, like virtual monopoly or chess. You might even consider co-op video games that can be played online with a community of other players.

Each peer-to-peer participant can raise funds from their friends and family before the big game day, as well as collect gifts during the event itself. Donors will love giving in support of a loved one and cheering them on during a fun virtual game-a-thon.

18. Scavenger hunts 

Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? While this is traditionally an in-person activity, there are actually a couple of ways that you can pivot this to virtual.

Have each participant work in teams and provide them with a list of activities and tasks. To ensure this stays virtual, make the list something that you can do at-home or just around the local neighborhood.

Or, you can make the entire scavenger hunt based online! Have them visit certain websites, fill out various forms, and include tricky clues to stump even the cleverest of your hunters.

Each team can raise monetary support by fundraising to their friends and families beforehand and during the event.

19. Golf-a-thon

A golf-a-thon is likely not the first event you think of when brainstorming virtual ideas. However, a golf tournament nonprofit event can attract a lot of enthusiastic supporters and be pivoted to virtual when done right.

To do so, you’ll need to consider the game format and where it’ll be held. There are several format options for a golf tournament, with each having its own time constraints and other guidelines. Here’s what a virtual golf tournament might look like:

  • Determine a date range for the tournament so that participants can golf independently during the time span.
  • Partner with the venue to rent out the specific courses needed during the time span.
  • Attendees sign up and pay, choosing a specific time slot to go to the course.
  • Explain the necessary rules and schedules for each golfer, including where and when they should tee up.
  • Golfers play according to the rules and submit a scorecard to the event.
  • Virtually meet with participants at the end to tally up scores and announce a winner. This can take place via live stream or with a video conferencing platform.

20. Virtual house parties

Virtual house parties have proved to be some of the most popular event ideas in the past year. With this, your peer-to-peer participants host their own “virtual house party” and mingle with various supporters through a group video chat.

Each “house party” can have a theme, set activities, and music to differentiate. The hosts of them will then solicit gifts from their individual attendees.

BONUS – See this idea in action!

The St. John Center for Homeless Men recently did their own virtual house party peer-to-peer event called Raisin’ the Rent, with some of their participants raising over $10,000 during their house party.

Qgiv auction mockup featuring Totally '80s Auction Night

Virtual auction ideas

Equipped with the right auction tool, your organization should be able to accept bids online or through a mobile app, promoting a completely virtual experience.

21. Night on the town 

As in-person events and venues are starting to open back up, you can host a virtual auction and offer “Night On The Town” activities. These fun night activities could include:

  • Dinner and a movie
  • Concert tickets
  • Restaurant or bar gift card
  • Wine tasting

Then, your prize winners can redeem the experience in the future whenever they’d like. Make sure to offer multiple ways for participants to bid, including through a mobile app or on an online website page.

22. Support our city theme 

Host a virtual auction where you auction off items that help support your local community. This can include dinner packages from local restaurants and other experiences from small businesses.

Post these items on your organization’s website and then have your supporters bid for them online or through a mobile app!

23. Travel-themed auction 

With most travel on pause for a better part of the year, consider hosting an auction where you only procure travel-related items. Your supporters will love investing in an item now that they can put to good use in the future.

This can include:

  • Vacation packages
  • Luxury luggage sets
  • Sleep headphones
  • Kindle
  • Hotel or spa packages

Provide multiple ways that attendees can bid online and watch your virtual travel-themed auction thrive!

25. Glam-themed gala

Most of us haven’t had much chance to get dressed up in a while. Offer a good excuse for supporters to wear their most glamorous outfits that have been collecting dust in the closet with a glam-themed auction gala.

Virtual supporters can dress up and be sent a fancy dinner to their home using a food delivery service. You might also provide entertainment through a live stream or a virtual emcee. Then, auction off a collection of high-end items online, encouraging your attendees to bid through their phones or on your website.

You could even turn this into an exclusive hybrid event by offering limited in-person tickets to major donors, volunteers, or other high impact supporters.  

Interested in hybrid events? Check out our dedicated guide for nonprofits.

people planning virtual fundraising strategies with post-it notes

Best virtual fundraising strategies

Virtual fundraising is achievable for any type of organization. It just requires careful planning and active, meaningful engagement with supporters. In order to set your virtual fundraising ideas up for success, it’s worth it to first take time to review some best practices:

These are the virtual fundraising best practices anyone should follow.

  • Be specific in your communications. In any of your online fundraising appeals, it’s crucial that you’re specific about what you need and how exactly a gift will help. This way, supporters can visualize how their donation will impact your cause, which makes them more motivated to give.
  • Focus on donor-centered communications. It’s worth the time and effort to take the extra steps and personalize your emails. After all, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened! Make sure you not only provide personal details, but also keep the communications’ content focused on the donor. Provide them with actionable ways that they can help and continue to thank them for their gifts.
  • Continue to tell donors of past and current impact. Many organizations make the mistake of simply expressing their need for gifts without considering how that donor feels about their involvement with your organization. Often, donors don’t give again because they don’t know what happened with their last gift, not because they’re not passionate about your cause. Ensure that donors know of their past and current impact by thanking them for each gift as well as following up with further updates.
  • Optimize virtual fundraising campaigns for mobile. With over 50% of total internet traffic coming from mobile devices, it’s crucial that mobile-friendliness is a top priority. Otherwise, you might be missing out on donor engagement and gift opportunities.
  • Encourage recurring donations. This is the easiest way to boost your donor retention rates and maintain a stable stream of revenue throughout the year. By focusing on encouraging recurring donations and prioritizing retention, you can save the time and resources you may have spent on constantly soliciting new donors. You might be surprised at how many donors will opt for a recurring gift when it’s as easy as clicking a button.
  • Consider your online donation page design. Your online donation page can either facilitate the giving process or be so cumbersome that users get discouraged and quit before making a gift. Make sure you design your page to maximize donations! Besides creating your form for convenience and ease, make sure you offer recurring gift options and suggested giving amounts. 
  • Encourage supporters to share your campaign. One of the top benefits of a virtual fundraising campaign is that it is inherently shareable. Since your entire fundraiser is hosted online, it’s easy to reach new supporters and spread the word on different social channels. Encourage current donors to post about your campaigns and share it on their own channels. This way, your campaign will end up in front of other potential donors who may share the same interests and values as your existing donors. 
Qgiv Fundraising Software displayed on desktop, tablet and smartphone

Virtual fundraising software

Because the entire virtual fundraising experience happens online and through different platforms, it’s imperative you have a dedicated set of tools that can serve all your needs.

While the tools you need will depend upon the type of campaigns and events you decide to host, these are the essentials that you’ll need in your virtual fundraising toolkit:

  • Online donation tool. In order to accept gifts online, you need a dedicated donation tool. The best ones will let you customize forms to ensure you capture the necessary supporter data.
  • Marketing tool. This is crucial to not only reach your supporters but get the word of your virtual fundraising efforts out there. This can include email communications as well as management of other marketing channels.
  • Event registration tool. If you’re considering hosting virtual fundraising events, a registration tool is critical! When you have an online registration tool, you can effectively manage attendees and communicate with them about relevant event updates.
  • Text fundraising tool. Text fundraising has grown increasingly popular, so having a dedicated tool to enable that kind of donation can greatly benefit your organization. Consider finding one that can facilitate both text-to-give and text-to-donate.
  • Peer-to-peer platform. Peer-to-peer fundraising is one of the best ways to engage supporters online while reaching a wide audience of potential donors. By using a dedicated platform instead of cobbling together a peer-to-peer event with different tools, you can better motivate your volunteers and increase your revenue.
  • Auction tool. If you often host fundraising auctions, you should know that they can easily be converted to virtual events with the right auction tool. Make sure to find a tool with the ability to place bids on mobile or online, allowing your guests to bid how they want. 
  • Constituent relationship management (CRM) system. A CRM is an important tool for organizing and storing your donor information, fundraising data, and engagement histories. When you have a good CRM, you have a dedicated tool that will help you  analyze key metrics and discover insights you can use to improve future campaigns.
  • Livestreaming/Video conferencing tool. This type of tool is a must-have if you want to continue your donor engagements these days. It’s great for regular one-on-one communication, but it can also be used to support other nonprofit programs and virtual fundraising events.
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Why Qgiv’s + Bloomerang’s virtual fundraising software stands out

Qgiv’s fundraising software is there to meet any of your nonprofit needs. The entire platform has tons of engagement and campaign planning capabilities and connections to other key tools that can maximize your fundraising efforts.

Even better, our tools translate extremely well to virtual fundraising. No matter the virtual fundraising idea you decide to implement, the Qgiv platform can help you facilitate it and ensure the entire experience is seamless and intuitive for both you and your donors.

With Qgiv, you can:

  • Create unlimited online donation forms customized to each of your virtual campaigns.
  • Facilitate virtual event registrations and effectively engage attendees while socially distant.
  • Host virtual peer-to-peer fundraisers with customizable pages and gamification features that motivate and inspire volunteers.
  • Implement text fundraising with both text-to-donate and text-to-give features, as well send outbound texts to communicate with donors.
  • Plan silent auctions with the help of Qgiv’s auction tool for a seamless bidding experience, offering both mobile and online bidding as well as a quick virtual check-out with no lines.
  • Fully integrate your system with Bloomerang’s industry-leading CRM to record and track donor engagements.

With a comprehensive platform like Qgiv + Bloomerang, your virtual fundraising campaigns are easy to manage. Set up campaign forms, connect it with text keywords, and view progress on multiple forms in one place. You can also track your online campaigns and activities in real time, gauging your campaigns’ success and taking steps to improve them if needed.

Final thoughts

Virtual fundraising is so important for nonprofits today! Exploring the creative ideas that others have already implemented (successfully!) is a great way to jumpstart your own brainstorming sessions and come up with ways to connect with donors and raise support online.

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