virtual fundraiserSince the whole world is staying home and in-person events aren’t happening thanks to social distancing, it’s time to pivot to online fundraising events and virtual fundraisers to bring in money for your small nonprofit.

Even though it feels like we’re all isolated right now, the internet can join us together in fun and effective ways if you approach it right.

The trick is to find the right online event or virtual fundraiser for you and your audience.

One where the technology is simple to use for both you and your participants.

One that’s fun and easy to get people excited about.

So, what IS the perfect virtual fundraiser or online event?

12 Ideas for Virtual Fundraisers and Online Events

If you’re scratching your head wondering what virtual fundraiser or online event to try, we’ve got some suggestions.

Look through our list of 12 ideas for virtual fundraising activities and see what sticks out at you. There are sure to be one or two ideas here that resonate with you and will gain support from the people who love your cause.

virtual fundraiser1. Virtual Walk or Run
There are lots of creative ways to hold a virtual walk. Participants pay an entry fee and then THEY act as your fundraisers, asking their friends and social circles to pledge or donate to their efforts. They log their own distances and you collect their entry fees and pledges. And the great news? You don’t have to find a venue, recruit volunteers, hand out t-shirts, or worry about insurance. People across the world can walk for your cause or donate!

Of course, if you WANT to include T-shirts, race bibs, swag, or medals to finishers, you sure can. Themed walks or runs can draw in even more participants. For example, a Star Wars themed walk can have you “Walk anywhere you want in the galaxy.” has some great advice for organizing a virtual walk or run.

2. Watch Party
Find a documentary or film that is relevant to your cause and host a watch party to gather people virtually to watch it together. Facebook makes this very easy to do using their Watch Party feature. Choose a movie, schedule a time, and ask for donations. Or, sell “tickets” to the event and even have movie snacks and candy shipped to watchers ahead of time.

Lots of info is available to help you host a Facebook Watch Party. You may want to check into copyright issues and get permission to show a particular movie especially if you’re selling “tickets.”

3. Online Gift Card Auction
We’ve seen online auctions before, but this one is so easy and has been quite successful for many nonprofits. This is an event that can be managed ALL online and keeping it to gift cards means that you can send prizes to winning bidders all over the country! Ask local businesses to donate gift cards (all amounts are welcome). You might even ask your volunteers and donors if they have gift cards laying around that they’d like to donate (many people have a card or two tucked in their wallet). Try to get gift cards for a variety of services and products like automotive services, hotels, national chains, and restaurants to appeal to a wide variety of people. Capterra has a list of 10 good online auction tools.

4. Virtual Tour/Open House
You can host an open house of your facility, show all the areas where you need help, and explain why you need to raise funds! If you don’t have a facility, show how you are working from home, how your volunteers are dedicating their resources, and how you’re thinking outside the box to get through this time. Think of this as a virtual ask or pledge event where people get to learn first-hand about your nonprofit’s work and make a commitment.

5. Online Contests/Competitions
Online contests and competitions are fun, easy, and interactive. Participants pay to enter, and then voters pay to vote! You can create a contest that is connected somehow to your cause. Ideas:

  • Talent contest. This is perfect for arts organizations! You might have your own local version of The Voice or America’s Got Talent and let the audience help choose a winner.
  • Photography. Ask participants to show their best nature photo, still like photo, pet photo, etc.
  • Costume Contest. Ask people to dress up like their favorite painting from our museum or their favorite literary hero.
  • Art/drawing contest. The Dogwood Arts Festival in Knoxville, TN, just hosted a sidewalk chalk art contest. Typically, they host the artists on Market Square, but this year, all artists used their home driveways to avoid crowds. Here’s my friend Tina’s entry:

virtual fundraiser

  • Essay contest. Ask people to write something about your cause or an experience they’ve had related to your cause. Or get creative with what you want them to write about. Ask them to write in Haiku or rhyme. There are so many possibilities with this one!

6. T-shirt fundraisers
T-shirt fundraisers can be more than just a basic booster campaign. You can ask your supporters to submit entries for the design for your next shirt! Graphic designers and artistic, creative types can submit their entries for a small fee, and the winning design can be determined by votes. Then, you can sell the shirts with the winning design! This can be especially powerful if the designs are created by children because parents and grandparents will vote a lot!

7. Social Media Takeover
virtual fundraiserAsk a corporate sponsor or local community partner if they would be willing to “donate their social media” for you to takeover! You can post content throughout the day that links back to your organization’s website or social media pages. You can educate new people, make the most of your partnership, and build your reputation in the community. This will help you introduce yourself to a new audience, promote your partnership with the organization you’re taking over, and link your resources to people who may not even know about you yet!

8. Virtual Class
If you or anyone in your organization has any strong skillset, offer a class! You can also recruit a professional to volunteer to host a class. Set up a private event, charge admission, and teach your skill! Ideas for classes:

  1. Cooking
  2. Yoga
  3. Photography
  4. Dance
  5. Drawing/ Painting

9. Virtual Animal Adoption Event
If you are an animal rescue organization, a quarantine doesn’t have to halt your adoptions. Online adoption events are taking off all over the country. Live videos and puppy or kitty cams can put lots of focus on your animals who need homes. While live-streaming, tell people all about your available pets and also ask for donations.

10. Wishlist Drive
One thing people can do pretty easily is sit at their computers and click buttons. Many donors feel better about donating ITEMS instead of money, so build up your Amazon Wishlist with any supplies you need and share it in your newsletter and social media. Ask people to please support your organization, link them to your Wishlist, and let them know that whatever they purchase will be sent right to your door! Copper’s Cat Commune recently dropped a simple reminder on their Facebook page and receive a number of packages of items from their WishList shortly afterward.

11. Virtual Speaking Engagement
Try to recruit a local celebrity, athlete, motivational speaker, or expert, and ask them to do a virtual speaking engagement for you. The subject matter can pertain to your specific cause or it can be something fun like a comedian, a local author, or a TV personality. Charge admission for this engagement and broadcast only to those who purchased tickets!

12. Virtual Concert
Very similar to the virtual speaking engagement, this can be an easy way to get a lot of people involved. Local musicians are always looking for exposure! Find a band or an ensemble that is willing to perform, and charge for tickets. You can even ask the talent to do a special Q&A session after their performance or take requests to add to the live experience.

It might feel that you’re “settling” for a virtual fundraising event, but there are some really cool benefits to doing them!

  • You have the ability to reach a far wider audience and introduce your cause to people all over the world.
  • You might be opening up an opportunity for people to help you that they may not have had before.
  • You’ll have less overhead, less costs, less volunteer resources, and less stress.
  • You don’t have to worry about what to wear or coordinating vendors or transportation.

Virtual fundraising events can be a lot of fun AND help you reach your fundraising goals!

The Bottom Line

virtual fundraiserIf you’re trying to salvage your fundraising event or find something to replace it with, a virtual fundraiser or online event can be a great alternative. It can help you reach people anywhere in the world, minimize cost, and be planned and executed in a much shorter time than an in-person event.

Choose a virtual fundraiser that looks like fun and give it a go.

Additional Resources

Checklist: Pivoting to a Virtual Fundraising Event

Upgrade Your Virtual Fundraising Strategy With A Peer-To-Peer Campaign