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by Will Schmidt
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless nonprofits were forced to pivot their in-person events into virtual fundraising events. At Classy, we saw organizations quickly adapt to the changing landscape with virtual events strategies and truly inspiring, creative virtual fundraising ideas. The success of these virtual events has shown that even when in-person events return, a virtual component is necessary to expand the reach of your nonprofit’s event and drive more fundraising revenue.
As you build out your nonprofit’s annual strategy, use these virtual fundraising ideas to create engaging experiences for your donors, grow your audience of supporters, and raise more money. Don’t forget to download our Virtual Events Toolkit to help.
Free Download: The Virtual Events Toolkit
Table of Contents
17 Creative Virtual Fundraising Ideas
Across almost all virtual fundraising events, your nonprofit will likely want to livestream content to your audience. You can also embed your YouTube or Twitch livestream directly into your Classy campaign page. It provides a great viewing experience, and since it’s right next to your donate button, the call to action to donate during a live event is that much easier to answer.
IN-PERSON EVENT PIVOTS
Many nonprofits were forced to pivot their in-person galas into virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck during the height of gala season. However, nonprofits have seen great success hosting their galas virtually. There’s no longer a geographic restraint so anyone can attend, you can emulate table fundraising with online peer-to-peer fundraising and team captains, and you may actually net higher fundraising totals with an expanded attendance and less overhead costs.
Upaya Social Ventures successfully pivoted their in-person gala to a virtual event in a few weeks and ended up raising over $300,000, 50% more than their initial fundraising goal. They used their Classy campaign page as a central hub to post messages from leadership, share engaging videos, and even host an auction.
Learn How Upaya Social Ventures Did Their Virtual Event
Similar to galas, an auction that’s hosted virtually can increase your audience of potential bidders. The key to a successful virtual auction is twofold. On one hand, your nonprofit must take stock of your items, clearly define the rules for participants, set competitive bids, and promote the auction items in emails and on social media.
On the other hand, you can also use this as an opportunity to ask for donations throughout the event that are separate from the price of the auction items. This way, you can keep people engaged at times when they might drop off. For example, if someone is outbid on an item, you can suggest they donate the amount they would have paid to your organization directly.
Get 10 Tips to Host a Successful Online Auction
FOOD AND DRINK VIRTUAL FUNDRAISING IDEAS
3. Cooking or Mixology Class
Whether you’re making homemade pasta or mixing up a nice old fashioned, cooking and mixology classes cater perfectly to a virtual audience. Your nonprofit can partner with a local chef or mixologist, or even famous culinary influencers if you have the connections, and stream the virtual fundraising event live.
You can charge admission with a ticketed event page, or in the form of a donation. The key is to set tiers of gifts. For example, $100 can guarantee a supporter gets a seat in the class, but $250 or more will allow that supporter to participate in a live chat with the cook or mixologist after the class is concluded. Additionally, you can make calls to donate to your nonprofit throughout the livestream.
4. Group Dining Events
It may not be feasible to gather your community of supporters together around a good meal, but there are ways to transition a feeling of togetherness into a virtual fundraising idea. When Miry’s List hosted their 2020 World Refugee Day Awards Campaign, they offered a takeout picnic that supporters could pick up curbside and enjoy at home while they watched the virtual awards ceremony.
5. Virtual Alcohol Tasting
Whiskey, wine, mezcal, or otherwise, alcohol tastings are never dull events. Your nonprofit can create a virtual fundraising event where the price of registration includes the cost of the alcohol and shipping. Your supporters can then receive their drinks in time for the live event, where a professional teaches them about the alcohol.
There are some rules and restrictions by which you must abide in order to ensure the legality of your event, but Hope for Haiti is a great example of a nonprofit who has done this with Haitian crema. You can use their model to get started, like clearly calling out which states are eligible to receive alcohol shipments, but always consult with your legal team to ensure you’re in compliance with state and federal laws.
ATHLETIC VIRTUAL FUNDRAISING IDEAS
6. Yoga Class
Reach out to your local yoga studio and invite them to lead a class, or series of classes, in partnership with your nonprofit. You can also ask your supporters if any of them are yoga teachers, or know someone, who would want to guide the classes. Either way, you can sell tickets to your community, as well as the community that regularly supports the yoga studio. The best part of this virtual fundraising idea is that there’s no limit to the number of people who can join.
Free Download: The Guide to Pitching Corporate Sponsors
For your supporters who want more of a hardcore workout over a relaxing yoga class, bootcamp is the perfect option. Collaborate with a local trainer to develop a regimen and have them lead the virtual workout. You can also design it so no extra equipment is required, supporters can do it on their own time, and they can share results on social media after.
Consider pre-recording the initial workout with the trainer so you can keep the virtual bootcamp up in a more evergreen capacity. Each time someone pays the registration fee, you can email them the video.
Free Download: The Guide to Pitching Corporate Sponsors
8. Endurance Events
Many nonprofits who host regular endurance events—like the Cleveland Clinic VeloSano event, a stair climb, or a 5K—often incorporate a virtual fundraising component into their event even when they’re hosting it in-person. The formula is simple: you charge registration in the form of a donation and then the athlete completes the distance on their own.
If you’re going fully virtual, it’s crucial that you create engagement opportunities throughout the campaign. Have riders or racers start peer-to-peer fundraising pages to solicit their networks for support, ask them to share photos on social media with a hashtag, and send them branded gear that promotes your nonprofit while they race.
Nail Your Virtual Endurance Events with 5 Insider Lessons from the HEADStrong Foundation
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT VIRTUAL FUNDRAISING IDEAS
9. Virtual Pet Events
This virtual fundraising idea capitalizes on people’s love of showing off their furry friends. An event like this can be a great way to get people involved with your organization, especially in a virtual environment. Often, all that’s needed is for them to snap a picture of their pet and post it to social media with a specific event hashtag.
For example, if you’re hosting a virtual pet parade, they can dress their animals up in costumes and post photos. The virtual component also expands the potential audience since people with birds, turtles, rabbits, and lizards might not normally be able to attend an in-person event with their pets—pets they might not be comfortable taking outdoors. Everyone can participate.
The Boulder Humane Society pivoted their annual Doggie Dash event into a fully virtual fundraising event this year. They drove engagement across their social media channels powered by user-generated content, and raised 101% of their fundraising goal.
10. Community Talks
Virtual community talks offer an opportunity for your nonprofit to offer supporters something of value, as well as solicit donations for your mission at the same time. Tap your board members, executive leadership, or prominent members of your community and have them speak about topics related to your mission. You can also bring in outside speakers to discuss relevant or timely topics.
For example, if your nonprofit is involved in the fight for social justice, you can have a respected diversity coach lead an open discussion for your supporters. Whatever topic you choose, you can engage your audience with Q&A sessions, educational hand-outs, and interactive conversations throughout.
11. Behind-the-Scenes Tours
What goes on at your organization that the average, everyday supporter never gets to witness? Host a virtual fundraising event that takes your supporters on a behind-the-scenes tour of your operations. There are countless options for what you can show your supporters, regardless of your cause category. The key is to provide them with a value equal to the amount they donate to participate.
This tactic worked well for the Joffrey Ballet in their campaign, “Pulling Back the Curtain: The Nutcracker.” They invited people to get a first glimpse of the play with footage, interviews with artists, the art team, and secret delights along the tour. What’s more, they created their page so that people were sponsoring the virtual event versus just making a donation. This language makes it feel tangible for supporters and gives them a sense of ownership over the actual event when it takes place.
12. Virtual Tailgate
Tailgating for a major sports event is one of the most fun parts of watching the game. While you might not be able to tailgate in person, you can still make it a virtual celebration. Have your supporters purchase a tailgate package, which can be picked up and taken back home before the big game.
The Palmer Home for Children decided to host a virtual tailgate like this for the Mississippi State football team, and supporters a cooler filled with tailgate foods and treats. They creatively sold sponsorship packages as well, and anyone who purchased a sponsorship had their organization included inside the tailgate cooler on special promotions. Anyone who was unable to grab a tailgate cooler could make a one-time donation and celebrate with a virtual cocktail.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT VIRTUAL FUNDRAISING IDEAS
13. Script Readings
Hosting a virtual movie night is a good idea, but it can be difficult to convince someone to donate and watch a movie at their house when they could simply watch it on their own. One way to level up this virtual fundraising idea is to invite actors to join your organization on a livestream and read the script to a famous movie together.
To be clear, you don’t need to be an arts organization to do this, any nonprofit can. The key is to get the right people to participate in the script reading. If you don’t have connections to influential actors, you can tap into the local performance arts centers, schools, or even your direct audience of supporters to participate.
14. Tour an Art Gallery
In the world of virtual fundraising ideas and events, no geographic territory is off-limits. Your organization might be located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your supporters a tour of MOMA in New York City. It boils down to securing partnerships with the right people and orchestrating a virtual fundraising event.
You might not be able to secure access to major venues, but there are thousands of smaller artists around the United States who would likely be willing to showcase their galleries to your supporters. You can build this as a ticketed event and maybe even throw in an online auction for the artist’s various creations.
You might not be able to go to an in-person venue to watch your favorite band play, but that doesn’t mean concerts are off the table. Reach out to bands and invite them to perform for your audience in a closed venue. Sell tickets for the virtual event, solicit donations during the concert, and livestream all the excitement to everyone who bought a ticket.
16. Virtual Pageant
Similar to a concert, you can host a pageant and livestream it for your attendees who bought tickets. Unlike a concert, you can use this opportunity to shine a light on your beneficiaries.
Arc Broward hosted the Virtual Miss Arc Broward Pageant, which empowers their beneficiaries who actually participate in the pageant. They sold tickets to save a virtual seat for the livestreamed event and added upsell options to enhance the viewing experience with a hot chocolate bomb, a make-your-own pizza experience, or charcuterie board for two. Each enhancement was designed to be a curbside pickup that you take home and enjoy while watching.
17. Comedy Events
At a time when in-person events are postponed, comedians are looking for opportunities to perform for audiences. Your nonprofit can secure comedy talent from local improv venues all the way up to nationally recognized names, and everything in between. This virtual fundraising event can be more than just a ticket purchase.
The Scleroderma Research Foundation hosts an annual comedy event called Cool Comedy, Hot Cuisine. When they pivoted to a fully virtual event, they moved all of their performers into the virtual space to deliver their performances as well. However, they enhanced the experience by folding in an online auction and gourmet food and wine boxes for purchase.
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