Fundraising Forward – Making Virtual Your Reality

Last year, organizations were forced to adjust their operations to ensure a COVID-safe environment for staff, volunteers, recipients, and board members. Additionally, annual events that were typically a core part of fundraising had to be reimagined.

Many events were canceled outright, while others were drastically changed. The gala became the un-gala. The fun run morphed into the un-run.

And while everyone longs for times when social gatherings and events weren’t dangerous, socially distancing will be the norm for a while—and fundraising will continue to be impacted.

Interestingly, a number of nonprofit organizations have modified their annual events and discovered their net donation income holding steady or even improving. Part of this success is due to less money required for event staging, as well as supporters rallying in times of need.

So, how did COVID-successful nonprofit organizations maintain donations, participation, and awareness? At the most basic level, their websites are effective and versatile, with easy ways to make donations. Better still, their websites have donation pages specific to fundraising events. This not only reinforces their virtual efforts, but also provides flexibility to invitation-only events.

Here’s a look at how to successfully make “virtual” your reality:


Peer-to-peer is a tried-and-true method of fundraising that has been enhanced by social networking. It thrives in the virtual landscape and can be attached to any virtual event.

Several platforms are specifically designed to manage personal fundraising pages. To spread the word, individuals and organizations can easily set up funding pages on several social networking sites like Facebook to better reach their community of friends.

To build momentum, engage your constituents to start a fundraising challenge. Be sure to provide this group with your best fundraising materials, including suggested verbiage for emails and social media posts and graphics.

Key board members, staff, active volunteers, and your most dedicated donors help set the bar for others. Share pointers on how to take good pictures, and set up a schedule to remind leaders when to update their pages.

Birthdays are an excellent time for a peer-to-peer appeal and are more evenly distributed throughout the year. Combining a birthday wish and fundraising for a specific event is more likely to increase donations.

Deconstruct the Big Event

Your annual fundraising event probably fills several hours with programming to welcome and entertain donors and guests. It likely includes a time for socializing, a highlight feature, an awards ceremony to recognize achievements and, of course, the final appeal. It results in a lot of photos and video that you’ll use throughout the year to create additional marketing materials for your mission.

The good news is, aside from the physical interactions and face-to-face socializing, most of your programming can be reimagined to fit a virtual event.

Your main event can be produced and delivered in less time and with less expense if your delivery platform is a livestream. Production quality may decrease, but the current expectations are more lenient and production services are getting better.

Consider Alternative Programming

Given the extreme nature of the pandemic, you might consider programming that is outside the norm. There are many video platforms that work well for managing large or small groups, as well as apps and entertainment services specifically designed for online group interactions. These could be used in combination to enhance your event’s message, fun factor, and social interaction.

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so don’t hesitate to look to other nonprofits to see what they’ve done for their big events. Borrow their best practices and make them your own.

Put the Fun in Fundraising

Many activities can be held virtually and used in conjunction with your main event—a performance livestream or hosted awards ceremony, for example—or be one of several mini-events replacing your prior annual scheduling.

Consider these options:

  • Auctions: This activity translates well to a virtual event and there are several technologies designed to replicate the excitement of outbidding a fellow participant. Donated items can be previewed via email links, with personal notes attached to specific potential bidders. Sending your audience bidding number paddles, libations, or snacks adds to the fun.
  • Virtual tours and open houses: If you can’t bring people to your event space, bring the event space to your people. A behind-the-scenes tour can be difficult with a large group, but a virtual tour allows for many people to share the experience. Virtual tours are also great for showing off new facilities and exhibits and explaining what it takes to make things work.
    • If you conduct the virtual tours or open houses live, you can also leave time for a lively question-and-answer session after the tour.
  • Virtual runs and bike tours: Many nonprofit organizations sponsor fun runs or bike rides as their main fundraisers and promotional events. Making these virtual doesn’t require a lot of effort.
    • People still register, you still provide a suggested route or duration, and there’s plenty of content for your highlight reel. You benefit from these virtual events by asking participants to wear promotional clothing you’ve provided ahead of time and to take pictures and videos of their efforts.

Planning Ahead, Virtually

What will be your new normal? As communities get better at navigating health and safety protocols, and as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, new opportunities will no doubt present themselves for fundraising events.

But one thing is certain—the way we’ve been conducting our fundraising will continue to evolve. It may be that patrons actually like the casual nature of virtual events. Or maybe they’ll be so excited to get out, dress up, and party that your formal gala will be a super-event for the next few years. (With that in mind, book your fall 2021 dates early!)

Certainly, there will be more virtual event providers and fewer issues around technology. How you tap into the new opportunities is only limited by your team’s imagination.

We are committed to helping your organization thrive. Contact our Nonprofit Group and we can help you brainstorm ideas to keep your fundraising vibrant virtually.