11 Virtual Nonprofit Fundraising Event Ideas

Virtual fundraising is fast becoming a linchpin of successful nonprofit fundraising strategies. Virtual platforms can help you grow your audience and engage new donors.

The following article will walk you through 11 different types of virtual nonprofit fundraiser ideas, weigh the pros and cons of each, and provide you with the tools and resources to make the best choice for your organization.

Let’s get started!

What is a Virtual Fundraiser?

virtual conference

So what exactly is a virtual nonprofit fundraiser?

Virtual fundraising events are any nonprofit event, campaign, or fundraising program that is hosted via an online forum or utilizes a significant online component. Nonprofits use social media platforms, web and phone applications, and online conferencing tools to create content for participants to view and participate indirectly in lieu of in-person events.

Why are virtual fundraisers a great alternative to in-person ones? Let’s dive in.

Why Should You Choose a Virtual Fundraiser Compared to an In-Person Fundraiser?

virtual fundraiser vs in-person fundraiser

There are some key factors that make virtual fundraising an opportune way to tap into sustainable funding streams, engage new audiences, and improve working conditions for your nonprofit’s staff.

Accessibility

There is no question that the prevalence of virtual fundraising is helping democratize the landscape of nonprofit giving. Individuals who would never have had the opportunity to attend major fundraising events in the past can now access these spaces from the comfort of their homes.

Virtual fundraising opens up the doors to every type of donor or individual you can imagine, unbarred by geographic location, physical ability, or medical condition. Virtual nonprofit fundraisers prioritize safety from COVID-19, especially for individuals who are immunocompromised and may not have the luxury to opt-in to in-person events.

Reduced Costs

In-person fundraisers are typically a major expense for the nonprofit organizations that manage and host them. When you are making the decision to host a fundraiser it is important to consider the cost of a virtual nonprofit fundraiser versus an in-person one.

Many virtual platforms like Zoom are free to use or can be purchased through an affordable subscription. Social media fundraising tools through sites like Facebook and Instagram are free for anyone to use and can have an incredible reach. You will save big on not having to book a venue or offer dinner or drinks, and are able to focus exclusively on the fundraiser’s content.

Alleviated Stress for Staff

Hosting an in-person event can be stressful. The devil is in the details, and that means that your team of special events and fundraising professionals will be working around the clock to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

While there is no question that virtual events also require a great deal of effort to put on, allowing your fundraising staff to manage the event remotely helps eliminate the stress of managing so many details while also giving them the freedom to work on the event from a comfortable space of their choosing.

11 Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits

virtual fundraising ideas for nonprofits

With this comprehensive list you will be able to understand the pros and cons of different virtual fundraising ideas and identify which would be most effective for your organization.

1. Virtual Annual Gala

One of the cornerstones of most nonprofits’ fundraising strategies is their annual gala event.

Virtual galas could include a number of unique features: a keynote speaker and/or talks with industry experts/persons of note either live-streamed or pre-recorded, pre-recorded videos/films of interviews with participants and examples of work being done by the organization, or audience participation through live-streaming and video conferencing software.

Pros:

  • Shifting your annual gala to an online platform can be incredibly cost-effective. Annual galas are often the most expensive event for an organization. Cause Effective constructed a sample budget to illustrate the expenses of an in-person event.
virtual annual gala expenses
  • Because a virtual gala’s result is a major reduction in spending for your nonprofit, (e.g. eliminating expenses for venue, food, drink, vendors, etc.) you are able to maximize revenue. In 2020, a Chicago-based nonprofit, The Neighborhood Project, made a surprising $130,000 when their annual gala was moved online due to statewide COVID-19 restrictions.

Cons:

  • Many nonprofits use their annual galas to court major donors. With the switch to online, while new audiences can be activated, engaging major donors may be difficult if they are expecting or are used to attending an in-person event.

2. Virtual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Tapping into social networks can mean huge gains for your organization. Peer-to-peer fundraising is when individual donors are given the opportunity to create their own personal fundraiser (primarily via social media but also through platforms created specifically for peer-to-peer fundraising engagement) on behalf of your organization.

Pros:

  • Virtual peer-to-peer fundraising can expand your network and introduce you to audiences you may have never thought to connect with before.
  • By utilizing your social media platforms, you can tap into free tools and resources that are available to any user, eliminating costs associated with other fundraisers.

Cons:

  • Encouraging existing donors to get involved with targeted peer-to-peer campaigns can be a challenge. A single individual may choose to create a fundraiser for a cause that they personally care about, but it will take a lot of engagement and strategic planning to enable many of your donors to create personalized fundraisers all at the same time.

3. Online Auctions

Auctions are another nonprofit fundraising tool that are incredibly common and easy to shift to a virtual format. Software like Galabid allows you to create online silent auction sites where engaged donors can bid virtually.

Pros:

  • You can use online auctions to engage your audience and encourage them to give. “Got outbid on your favorite item? You can still support!” Through auction apps, you can create buttons and messages that encourage your donors to give amounts and make an impact regardless of the results of their bids.
  • Online auction apps and platforms make bidding simple and flexible, allowing supporters to place bids prior to and during the event at a time that works best for them.

Cons:

  • Auctions can be complex. Despite the simplicity of some of the tools and resources required to operate the actual auction, finding desirable items and keeping your audience engaged throughout the event requires an immense amount of effort and potential overhead costs, regardless if the auction is online or in-person.

4. Live-streamed Performances

Engaging your audience means getting creative, and nothing says creative like a unique and inspiring performance! Connecting with artists to host a live-streamed concert, musical, or play will help your fundraiser stand out among the typical galas, campaigns, and seminars.

Major international organizations like Global Citizen have successfully raised over $128 million for their cause by engaging some of the most popular artists and hosting a live-streamed concerts. These performances can be ticketed with all proceeds going directly to the nonprofit organization, or the performance can be open to a wider audience with a suggested donation or fee.

Pros:

  • Performances can excite and invigorate your audience, keeping them engaged and giving them more reason to remain connected to your mission and objectives. If a donor’s favorite artist loves your cause, it’s just one more reason for them to stay involved (and maybe give a little more).
  • You can connect to new audiences through artists’ networks of fans and supporters.

Cons:

  • Even a virtual performance can be expensive, requiring overhead such as professional film crews to film the concert. It can also be quite a bit of work to engage well-known artists.
  • Most concerts are successful because they create community among like-minded people who have gathered together to support an artist they love. Losing this togetherness detracts from what makes a live performance so meaningful.

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5. Webinars

Since the onset of the global pandemic, webinars have become commonplace. Bringing in professionals from your organization or partners who are associated with the work you do to talk about your nonprofit’s impact is a great way to fundraise and spread awareness.

Pros:

  • Webinars are simple and cost-effective to host, with the ability to utilize affordable software or video conference applications like Zoom, Google, or GoTo, with costs starting at as little as a one-time $79 fee.
  • You can strengthen your connections with community leaders, industry professionals, and experts in your field by inviting them to speak at the webinar. 

Cons:

  • It may be difficult to reach new audiences with webinars.

6. Online Races and Walk-a-Thons

It may come as a surprise that races and walk-a-thons are becoming more and more prevalent as an online fundraising option, but new virtual tools and applications are making that easier to do.

Companies like atlasGo have responded to the need for more virtual options for races and walk-a-thon fundraisers and have created applications and websites where you can create a special fundraiser physical challenge to be completed remotely.

Pros:

  • You can expand your audience by allowing anyone to participate in the race at a location that is accessible to them. You can reach a national or even international audience by opening up your race to more participants!

Cons:

  • Many racers are drawn to these types of events due to the competition and that feeling is greatly diminished when not physically racing against other participants. This could potentially limit the interest of individuals who would typically be interested in participating.

7. Virtual Workshops

Workshops are a great way to keep your audience engaged by learning about your work or perhaps even learning a new skill. Does your nonprofit work to advocate for the arts and culture? Host a virtual painting night! There are tons of virtual courses and class options to choose from.

virtual workshop


Pros:

  • Hosting a virtual workshop fundraiser is a great way to create community among your audience and donors, reaching new individuals regardless of geographic location.
  • Virtual workshops are another cost-effective measure, with some workshop sites like BoomPop starting at $15/person.

Cons:

  • While generally cost effective, these workshops will not necessarily draw large audiences. Some companies have maximum participant requirements that will limit your reach.

8. Online Trivia Night

Who doesn’t love trivia? Trivia is a great time at the pub but it can be just as fun remotely. You can work with pub trivia companies to facilitate the trivia night or work with organizations that host trivia and support different organizations week by week.

Pros:

  • You can reach new audience members by encouraging your existing network of donors to invite friends, colleagues, and family members to join in on the fun.
  • You can educate your audience on your nonprofit’s work by tailoring a specialized trivia night where the questions and topics are all related to your nonprofit’s mission.
  • Trivia is a cost-effective fundraising event that you can develop on your own using affordable video conferencing applications or contract with affordable gaming professionals like BarNone Games. Costs will vary depending on the size of your audience and the host you choose to work with.

Cons:

  • The game could be distracting and limit the time you can spend engaging your audience about the work you do and converting them into donors.

9. Virtual In-Kind Donation Drives 

Does your organization rely on in-kind donations? Consider a virtual in-kind donation drive! Some donors are keen to provide in-kind gifts instead of cash gifts, so they know exactly how they are making an impact.

Websites like AmazonSmile allow organizations to create lists of much-needed goods or services, so donors can see exactly what products your nonprofit needs. Tools like this are as affordable and accessible as creating a free account.

virtual in-kind donation drive


Pros:

  • You can fulfill your organization’s specific needs, using applications and websites to communicate exactly what and how much of a product you require.
  • Transparency and impact are important to donors. By purchasing something tangible, they can have peace of mind knowing exactly how their dollars are used.

Cons:

  • These are inflexible fundraisers, geared toward specific gifts in kinds like equipment and supplies.

10. Virtual Tours and Site Visits

Give your audience an inside look into your organization’s programs or a local cultural institution with a virtual tour.

Museums, like the Guggenheim in New York City, employ virtual tours expertly. In the Guggenheim’s virtual tour they weave an appealing narrative about the history of the museum, showing off their collections in an engaging way.

site virtual tour


Pros:

  • You can deeply focus on your mission and impact by providing a tour of your site, engaging participants, and showing your audience how important their generosity is.
  • You can connect to your broader community by exploring significant locations. You can even discuss the linkage between your community’s most important cultural locations and the impact of your work.

Cons:

  • You may not be able to host a virtual site visit in your own space depending on the kind of work your nonprofit does (e.g. working with vulnerable populations).
  • Tours will have to be coordinated with whatever institution you choose to visit and they may have restrictive policies that impede you from developing an engaging program for your fundraiser.

11. Online Health and Wellness Activities 

What better way to support your community than by hosting activities that promote health and wellness? Much like virtual races or walk-a-thons, you can host virtual exercise classes from cardio kickboxing to yoga.

Pros:

  • Health and wellness activities build community and engage new audiences by tapping into local fitness networks.
  • Suggested donations mean flexibility for your participants. By setting an accessible and small amount, participants who enjoyed the program may decide to give even more based on their experience.

Cons:

  • There is a limited amount of revenue that can be earned through hosting exercise classes.

Wrapping Up: 11 Virtual Nonprofit Fundraising Event Ideas

virtual nonprofit fundraising

With these concepts, ideas, and resources at your disposal you are ready to develop your own innovative virtual fundraising event.

You can now determine if a virtual fundraiser is an appropriate choice for your organization, and know how to maximize online fundraising to save on expenses and increase revenue. You are ready to take your fundraising to the next level, reach new audiences, and expand your reach further than you ever have before.

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