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By Emily Patz
Thinking about hosting a virtual fundraising event but not sure what to do? We surveyed hundreds of nonprofits who successfully shifted their events online and they shared lots of donor-engaging, money-raising ideas to inspire and encourage you and your team.
3 Trends from the Virtual Fundraising Events Survey
While fundraisers shared a wide range of creative fundraising event ideas, several themes made multiple appearances. No matter which theme or programming you choose for your event, consider these tips to bolster its success:
Keep your programming short and punchy
Most fundraisers agree that your online event should clock in at no more than an hour. This gives the flow of your programming a nice pace that keeps guests engaged.
Let your online auction do the work
Many events included a virtual auction to their programming, giving new life to the online shopping we’re all about by adding a philanthropic twist.
Launch multichannel promotional and post-event campaigns
Don’t rely on just one communication channel to reach your donors. Nonprofits who promoted their digital events leaned on a mix of outreach methods that include social media, direct mail, email, website content, and text messaging.
25 Virtual Fundraising Event Ideas to Take and Tweak Today
Round up your nonprofit’s team and use this stacked list as the foundation for a fun and exciting brainstorm. Your path to an awesome virtual event starts now!
Virtual fundraising event idea #1
Wine and cheese, delivered (Need we say more?)
These days, your town’s independent businesses need a boost just as much as you do. Join together to create awareness for both your mission and their delicious offerings by hosting a virtual charcuterie and wine tasting. Collaborate with a local wine shop and restaurant to make boxes with wine and meat and cheese trays that can be delivered to guests on the morning of the event. At your event, feature a wine connoisseur who can delve into the rich details of each chosen wine.
Virtual fundraising event idea #2
Take your guests on that Euro trip they put off
Our travel dreams took a serious detour over the past year. Revive that spirit of wanderlust with an international-themed virtual event. For example, one human services nonprofit hosted a remote “Oktoberfest.” To generate excitement, their staff introduced the theme wearing traditional German attire and produced and shared three videos leading up to the event, covering everything from what to wear to what guests could expect. Their MC and auctioneer hosted live, interactive portions, while the main event debuted a pre-recorded video of the team “traveling” to Munich.
Virtual fundraising event idea #3
Bring back Trivia Night for a good cause
So many of us miss the chance to show off what we know in the company of friends and locals. Why not invite your organization’s supporters to participate in an online trivia night? All you need is a lively MC or a game that does the work for you!
Virtual fundraising event idea #4
Give your typical gala a virtual twist
Tired of yoga pants? So are your donors! Give your guests a reason to don the dry-cleaned duds that have been delegated to the back of the closet. Host an “un-gala.” Dress-up themes could incorporate colors, movies – be creative! Need help with the technical aspect? Follow the lead of a community outreach center and look to your neighbors for help. They partnered with a church that has a great online production team to stream a 1-hour live program on YouTube, which included a silent auction using ReadySetAuction.
Virtual fundraising event idea #5
Host a film festival guests can enjoy from home
It’s safe to say that most of your donors have blown through every compelling limited series that Netflix has to offer, so consider hosting a film festival to bring your community together. If you’re running an independent theater, this format provides an awesome opportunity to show off your stellar lineup of programming and promote memberships to attendees.
Not working for a theater with an inside track on the latest flicks? You could:
- Go for something no one’s seen, like an obscure but heartwarming indie pick
- Partner with a local theater and promote both of your wonderful missions
- Invite staff members and donors to make their own movies and submit them
- Crowdsource movie ideas from your community and invite people to vote
- Line up some feel-good classics that follow a particular theme
Virtual fundraising event idea #6
Channel a moment of zen
Who doesn’t need a minute these days? Help your donors destress with an online health and wellness event. You can conduct live classes or pre-record your content. One nonprofit pre-recorded their content, keeping videos under 15 minutes, and spread out their event over five days. Health and wellness activities can include:
- Meditation sessions
- Yoga classes
- At-home spa tutorials
Not sure what to feature? Consider sending a survey to find out what your community would appreciate most.
Virtual fundraising event idea #7
Tap into donors’ culinary aspirations
Staying home has inspired many of us to get creative in the kitchen. When the star of your programming is a virtual cooking lesson, donors can enjoy an event that keeps on giving every time they flex the skills they picked up from your featured chef.
Virtual fundraising event idea #8
Relish in the revival of the drive-in theater
Partner with a drive-in theater to put on a socially-distanced cinema experience for your community. Sell tickets safely online before the event and open the show with a video of your own that talks about your mission and makes it easy for donors to give via text.
Virtual fundraising event idea #9
Open your auction to everyone
Bring online shopping to life with a multi-day auction that even far-flung supporters can attend! One nonprofit raised even more money than their in-person event using ReadySetAuction virtual auction software to rack up bids online leading up to the event. They ran their live auction during the last night of the event when guests could compete with one another to score the final winning bid.
Virtual fundraising event idea #10
Put on a concert
We all miss the thrill of live music, so bring it home for everyone to enjoy. One organization put on an hour-long concert with Broadway artists divided into three acts: performances, an impact video, and more performances to close it out.
Another nonprofit looked to their donor community for a “Sessions at Home” series of pre-recorded videos at their live event. Each video featured a different local musician or poet who supported their mission. Not sure who to reach out to? Send a survey to your donors to get the scoop on folks who’d love nothing more than to lend their talents to help you succeed.
Virtual fundraising event idea #11
Hold a socially-distanced 5k
Invite supporters to lace up and run for the good of your mission no matter where they live. One nonprofit launched their virtual 5k with printable bibs and asked participants to share photos of themselves wearing them. To their surprise, people sent in photos from all over the world. The organization promptly shared the photos on social media as they came in and stitched them together to create a video that they sent to everyone on their email list when the 5k concluded.
Virtual fundraising event idea #12
Invite donors to a graduation
Whether your organization is a school or social services organization, virtual graduation ceremonies provide a wonderful opportunity to show donors the impact of their gifts while honoring the individuals who have completed your program.
Virtual fundraising event idea #13
Swap “please” with “thank you”
It’s been a heavy twelve months for all of us, and many of your donors could probably use a pick-me-up. Consider making your virtual event a celebration of your donors and volunteers with special honors and mentions for particular people who have helped you through a challenging year. Concerned it won’t make an impact on your fundraising goal? Many nonprofits who have launched campaigns about gratitude or spreading awareness rather than asking for money found that members in their community gave anyway.
Virtual fundraising event idea #14
Boost engagement with breakout rooms
Big virtual events can cause some guests to get lost in the mix. Breakout rooms provide guests the opportunity to engage in activities that work best for small groups, discuss subtopics led by facilitators, and get to know other members of your community.
Virtual fundraising event idea #15
Get grandparents in the game
Running a school? Give grandparents a glimpse of their little one’s favorite place with Virtual Grandparents and Grandfriends Day. One school formatted theirs to include:
- A talk from the head of the school followed by a Q+A
- Videos of children in classrooms showing their typical day
- Video tour of the school campus
- Breakout rooms for Q+A with teachers and staff
- Virtual meetings with teachers and parents
If your in-person events lacked participation in the past, have heart! The school that chose to go virtual reported a big boost in attendance because there was no need to secure a babysitter.
Virtual fundraising event idea #16
Put on a mission-minded fashion show
If NY Fashion Week can catwalk onto the computer screen, so can your annual fashion show. Here’s how you can pull it off safely without sparing any glitz:
- Don’t pass on swag bags for your supporters. Deliver them!
- Source featured looks from local designers and boutiques.
- Line up models six feet apart in a local facility or outdoors so they can socially distance and live stream the runway show. Alternatively, have models show off their designer duds from home.
- Host a live auction after the runway show using auction software that enables guests to bid in a flash from their phones or computers.
There are lots of tweaks and additions you can make to the fashion show format, but you’ve got this. As Project Runway’s Tim Gunn always says, “Make it work!”
Virtual fundraising event idea #17
Turn your prayer group into a package deal
Faith-based community members have greatly valued prayer and fellowship throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as many have looked to Zoom and other video streaming platforms to come together online. Add personal touches to your in-person monthly prayer meeting by mailing “prayer packages” to members’ homes. Prayer packages can include:
- Morning coffee and biscottis
- A book or special publication
- A notebook that can serve as a prayer journal
If you’d like to add a pre-recorded element to your prayer package, include a card with a link to a video you’ve prepared for supporters on a timely topic. Prefer to do it live? Add a link, date, and time for your prayer meeting to the card.
Virtual fundraising event idea #18
Treat major donors like the VIPs they are
Have major donors RSVP’d to your online event? Let them know you see them. Deliver them special packages with:
- A bottle of wine
- A meat and cheese plate
- Party favors
- A special thank you for their support
Will you be sharing updates or program details that were made possible by major donors? Reach out before the event to obtain their permission to honor them by displaying their photo, mentioning them by name, and inviting them to speak about why they’ve chosen to support you and the impact of the project they’re funding – especially for an ongoing project that will need additional support from your donor community.
How to Discover Major Donors in Your Database Today so you can get acquainted before your next event.
Virtual fundraising event idea #19
Let guests know their gifts are twice as nice
Speaking of major donors, one nonprofit secured a matching gift for their virtual event and it greatly boosted their fundraising success. Reach out to see if one of your major donors would be interested in sponsoring your event through a matching gift, and make sure your donors know that whatever they give will be doubled.
Virtual fundraising event idea #20
Call in some star power
Every community has its share of beloved local celebrities. Recruit some to speak for you at your nonprofit’s virtual event and promote your incredible mission to a local community that’s all ears when they have something to say.
Virtual fundraising event idea #21
Put a name to each face
Reserve the beginning of your event for your special guests. By “special guests,” we mean each and every one of the wonderful guests who have chosen to attend your event. Your MC can ask participants to unmute themselves to say who they are and where they’re tuning in from. This “opening act” connects the event’s presenters to the audience right away and gives an instant community feel to the time you spend together.
Virtual fundraising event idea #22
Invest in a documentary that doubles as a long-term fundraiser
Your nonprofit has a story to tell. And if the overwhelming popularity of Netflix documentaries isn’t enough of a reason to consider this format to share about your mission, consider this: you can repurpose this content for your website, create clips from it for campaigns and social media posts, and even share it with local media to gain coverage.
One environmental organization did just that by hiring a professional producer and videographer to document the story of their critical work. The documentary gave an inside glimpse of different aspects of their mission tied together as part of a single theme. Their virtual event served as the documentary premiere, which included a dynamic MC to make calls for donations and introduce silent auction items.
Virtual fundraising event idea #23
Walk together, even when you’re apart
Many of us have been looking for safe ways to stay fit. Give your community some motivation with a virtual walk that lasts for a few months. One nonprofit set up a crowdfunding page where they invited supporters to create team pages and join in. To keep participants engaged, they:
- Promoted incentives for meeting pre-determined fundraising goals
- Hosted Zoom sessions and games with prizes to kick off the event
- Encouraged members to send us pictures of walks
- Posted on social media posts to share progress and spotlight team captains
When the event’s over, don’t forget to round up the photos and share them with your entire community, along with your fundraising results!
Virtual fundraising event idea #24
Get social with a “Best in Show” competition
Animal shelters, listen up! Lean on local celebrities who love their fur children to make this clever contest a viral success. One shelter moved their lovingly named “Best in Show” event online and featured a contest among celebrity pets where people would donate one dollar for a “vote” for their pet. The celebs would share about the contest on social media along with the shelter, spreading buzz and awareness to a wide variety of networks.
The big event featured:
- Pre-recorded videos of celebrities with their pets
- A heartwarming story about a featured shelter pet
- A tally board of votes that was shown between features to encourage last-minute votes and donations
- The announcement of the big winner
To thank the celebrities, they had a sponsor send charcuterie boards to them for their watch parties at home.
Virtual fundraising event idea #25
Follow the lead of time-tested telethons
Take your guests back with a Jerry Lewis telethon-style event. One nonprofit asked a local comedienne MC to light up the event with laughs. In addition to comedic elements, the event featured compelling video portions and put on a paddle raise with major donors.