At this point, it’s a story we’ve all heard before: The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana had to adjust its annual gala as a precautionary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The charity pivoted the event to be a virtual gala, hosted as a two-hour livestream on Facebook Live. The stream included performances from local bands and Ronald McDonald himself.
The results? The event raised $800,000, which was lower than the $1 million+ it has raised in past years. However, the event also cost only $35,000 to produce, compared to a whopping $300,000 in past years. And, rather than capping attendance at 700 as with an in-person event, the potential number of attendees was effectively limitless.
Virtual fundraising was on the rise prior to 2020, with Facebook fundraising, virtual auctions, and even livestreamed events rising in prominence. But, there’s no denying that many nonprofits made a quick shift to virtual (such as the example above!) to respond to the crisis and had less time to perfect the process.
In this guide, we’re going to walk through what you can do better in this digital space to truly make the most of upcoming virtual fundraisers. Use the below navigation to hop down to the section that piques your interest:
- What is a virtual fundraiser?
- 4 Tips to Optimize Your Virtual Fundraising
- 5 Ideas for Virtual Fundraising
At GoodUnited, we work with nonprofits to optimize their virtual fundraising using Facebook’s fundraising tools. While doing so, we’ve discovered a few key tips and tricks that can prepare your nonprofit for success with virtual fundraising in 2021 and beyond.
However, let’s first walk through an overview of virtual fundraisers. While your nonprofit may already be familiar with the process, this will ensure we’re all building from the same foundation.
What is a virtual fundraiser?
Put simply, a virtual fundraiser is a concentrated fundraising effort held fully through the internet.
Donors give to your nonprofit through virtual means, whether via an online donation page or increasingly popular social media fundraising methods, and then participate in any accompanying events or challenges from their own location. A few examples of in-person experiences turned virtual would be:
- A group walk-a-thon becoming an individual walking challenge.
- A bake sale pivoting to mailed goods.
- A concert being livestreamed for a wider audience.
- An auction held via an online auction website.
The list could go on! Virtual events essentially boil down to two main aspects: a way for donors to give digitally and a way for donors to engage virtually. Beyond that, the options are pretty endless (and, we’ve seen nonprofits get pretty creative with these events).
What we’ve found is that virtual engagement was already on the rise prior to 2020— but was supercharged due to the pandemic’s effects. Beyond sheer necessity, however, there are a variety of reasons why a nonprofit like yours might choose to host a virtual event.
Why would you want to conduct virtual fundraising?
This year has given us the best possible argument for why nonprofits should conduct virtual fundraisers, as many traditional fundraising methods are inaccessible for the foreseeable future. In-person fundraising events, peer-to-peer challenges, and even lunch meetings with major donors have flown out the window. Many nonprofits— just like the Ronald McDonald House in the introduction— have turned to virtual fundraising to avoid canceling annual efforts.
However, there are a variety of other reasons why your nonprofit might choose to use virtual fundraising.
- To expand the reach of your fundraiser. While a physical venue might limit a fundraising event to 200 - 300 participants, the reach of the internet is endless. In addition to having a greater capacity, you can also reach fundraisers far and wide, local and across the world.
- To be more accessible overall. There are times when in-person fundraising events are inaccessible, whether they’re limited to only local participants or those with the physical ability to attend in-person events. Virtual fundraisers break down that barrier, empowering anyone that’s interested to get involved.
- To provide a simple donation process or flexible payment options. With effective virtual fundraising tools, you can use one technology to host the fundraiser and accept donations.
- To be more cost-effective. With a virtual fundraiser, you don’t need to worry about renting a venue, providing food, or other in-person costs. Ultimately, this will lead to a better profit ratio for your organization.
While virtual fundraising isn’t a new phenomenon, the scale at which it’s now being used is definitely new. So, while the technology evolves and more and more nonprofits take part, there’s a decent chance new benefits of virtual fundraising will emerge as well.
How do you host a virtual fundraiser?
There are a few basic steps involved with hosting a virtual fundraiser.
The general timeline is as follows:
- Set a fundraising goal. Begin by considering how much your nonprofit needs to raise from the virtual fundraiser. This will inform the type of fundraiser you choose to hold, and it can be great to share with donors as a motivating factor!
- Choose what type of fundraiser to host. Now, choose the type of fundraiser that will empower you to reach the goal. Is it a virtual gala or auction with major donors, a Facebook Challenge, or something else?
- Create or optimize the digital framework. This may mean investing in new technology, such as online donation software. Or, it might mean optimizing tools you already have (such as your nonprofit’s Facebook page) to be more effective for online fundraising.
- Market the event far and wide. Because virtual events can potentially engage your local audiences and far beyond, it’s crucial to have a strong marketing strategy. This could include social networks, email, phone calls, and even targeted advertisements. Whichever outreach methods you choose, however, it’s crucial that you include a clear call to action and steps to get involved.
- Encourage supporters to raise funds. Virtual fundraising is much more than simply setting up the digital infrastructure and sharing it with supporters. You must encourage them along the way to prevent zero-dollar fundraisers and low turnout. It’s especially crucial to encourage virtual participants, as there’s already the risk of alienation and disconnect due to the lack of in-person interaction!
These are the general steps of holding a virtual fundraiser, but understand that this process could look different for each nonprofit. Now that we’ve covered the basics of starting a virtual fundraiser, let’s dive a bit deeper with four top tips that your team can use to improve the process.
4 Tips to Optimize Your Virtual Fundraising
1. Make the most of your nonprofit’s existing resources.
If you’ve conducted virtual fundraising in the past, you may have used a variety of tech tools to do so. Online giving software, video conferencing software, peer-to-peer fundraising software, or even online auction software— each of these technologies has been used by nonprofits to conduct virtual fundraising.
However, using a stack of technology to conduct one fundraiser isn’t exactly efficient. It’s confusing for donors (ex: giving in one platform, watching the virtual event in another), and it can be a hassle for your IT team.
That’s why we recommend taking a close look at your current technology to discover solutions that can more efficiently host virtual fundraising events.
In particular, we’re referring to your social networks here. Did you know that Facebook’s fundraising tools can effectively facilitate live virtual fundraising events, peer-to-peer fundraising, ambassador fundraising, and more? You can collect donations and host the engagement itself within one platform that’s familiar to your staff and supporters alike. Plus, Facebook fundraising has zero fees— something that likely can’t be said of your other tech solutions.
2. Share a virtual fundraising guide with participants.
Even if you’re familiar with virtual fundraising, that doesn’t mean that the same holds true for your entire supporter base. While technology is likely more prevalent in the day-to-day lives of your supporters across the generations, they’ve may not have encountered this unique way of supporting nonprofits.
It’s up to your team to make virtual fundraising as easy as possible for the supporters participating. If they’re going to give their time (and money!) to your organization, they need to trust and understand the technology being used to do so.
Consider creating a guide to virtual fundraising and sharing it with your supporters. Let’s continue with the Facebook example shared earlier, and look at what could be included in a guide to virtual fundraising on Facebook:
- A few sentences thanking supporters for their interest in participating in your Facebook-based virtual fundraiser.
- A step-by-step walkthrough of how to get involved. If there’s an event aspect, how do they access it? If there’s a challenge aspect, what constitutes participation and how should that be logged?
- If your fundraiser involves a social element— such as a peer-to-peer based Facebook Challenge— share phrasing ideas and photos that supporters can use when inviting others to participate.
Beyond this, if you’re holding a virtual fundraiser with a social element, it’s also a great idea to share tips and best practices that supporters can use to raise more. For example, did you know that peer-to-peer fundraisers on Facebook that raise their first gift in less than 24 hours, are significantly more likely to raise more? We’d bet that your participants didn’t know that either!
In 2020, some organizations found that they raised fewer donations through virtual fundraising than in-person iterations. However, that doesn’t mean that supporters are less interested in participating! It may simply mean that they didn’t know how to get involved.
3. Consider working with virtual fundraising experts if you’re new to the game.
Our next tip is to consider working with virtual fundraising experts to perfect your strategy.
As we mentioned earlier, virtual fundraising isn’t exactly new to the nonprofit sector. That means that there are experts in the field that have been perfecting the process for years!
For example, at GoodUnited we’ve been researching and optimizing the virtual Facebook Challenge process. In that time, we’ve discovered a variety of best practices that nonprofits just like yours can use to be more effective at the practice.
Based on those best practices, we help nonprofits with tasks such as:
- Thanking 100% of users that start Facebook fundraisers on their behalf.
- Inviting those users to opt-in to a custom Messenger sequence.
- Sharing tips, best practices, and encouragement via Messenger.
- Collecting key information about Facebook fundraiser and Challenge participants, such as why they chose to participate.
- Creating a web dashboard with key virtual fundraising metrics, to truly understand the emerging technology.
- Setting up integrations with major software platforms (such as TeamRaiser and Luminate Online) so all virtual fundraising data is logged accordingly.
- Managing ad campaigns and moderating groups created alongside Facebook Challenges.
- Equipping nonprofits with a customer success manager for assistance at every step in the process.
If you’re looking to improve your processes for more success with virtual fundraising in 2020, working with a team of experts can make a huge difference. Whether optimizing your tech, sharing best practices and tips to remain connected with supporters, or even collecting and analyzing data after the fact, there are teams prepared to help.
And, if you’re seeking to conduct Facebook Challenges, consider working with our team at GoodUnited. After interacting with our services, we’ve found that 94% of virtual fundraiser participants are eager to fundraise for the nonprofit again. To learn more, contact our team today.
4. Prioritize community and camaraderie between fundraisers.
One of the biggest arguments for avoiding virtual fundraising is that there is a lack of community, camaraderie, and connection between the nonprofit and participants, and among participants themselves.
However, there really isn’t a lack of connection. Instead, you simply have to approach it differently than you would with in-person engagement.
For example, you should aim to communicate with virtual fundraiser participants significantly more frequently than you would have planned for an in-person experience. Consider sending out regular updates on the fundraiser’s progress, and even highlighting top participants!
Beyond that, consider creating ways for participants to connect with one another. For example, you could host a Facebook Challenge fundraiser and create an accompanying Facebook Group for participants to connect with each other, share encouragement, and network across the experience.
Virtual fundraisers aren’t lacking in opportunities to connect— you just have to get creative to find the best solution for your campaign.
5 Ideas for Virtual Fundraising
We’ve covered the basics of virtual fundraising and the top tips your team can use to optimize the practice. Now, let’s look at a few ideas that are dominating the virtual fundraising sphere.
As you plan for the coming year, explore the following five ideas to spur your brainstorming. And, if the following ideas don’t seem quite right for your upcoming fundraising needs, check out our more comprehensive list of virtual fundraising ideas.
As we discussed earlier, Facebook is a great platform to host virtual fundraising experiences. With built-in social interaction, zero fees, and the fact that it’s a familiar platform— it fulfills many of our optimization tips already!
One of the most popular iterations of virtual fundraising on the platform is Facebook Challenges. These are time-bound fundraising events during which a participant completes a task (think: walking 10k steps per day) for a specific period (such as a month) while raising funds for your cause using personal Facebook fundraisers.
The process of hosting a Facebook Challenge is straightforward:
- Choose a Challenge activity, whether walking, reading, running, or even volunteering.
- Create a Facebook group for all participants to join.
- Use paid Facebook ads to spread the word.
- Thank participants for joining the Challenge by commenting on their accompanying Facebook fundraisers.
- Engage with users in the Facebook group to ensure conversations are lively and encouraging.
Facebook Challenges are powerful as they bring together supporters of your cause in a digital community and open the door to new relationships for your nonprofit.
Bonus! The GoodUnited team has perfected the process of hosting Facebook Challenges. We offer a turnkey social fundraising solution in which we'll manage every aspect of your Challenge, from the initial ad campaigns through the thank-you notes and ongoing messaging with participants. Click here to learn more about that solution.
Facebook Live Fundraising Event
Another great Facebook-based virtual fundraiser is an event hosted using Facebook Live and the platform’s live donate tools.
There are two main ways to host this type of fundraiser: as an open event or as a closed event. An open event would involve livestreaming to your nonprofit’s Facebook page (or a dedicated page for the event itself) where any and all interested attendees can tune in. On the other hand, a closed event involves creating a closed Facebook Group and having attendees donate to receive admission.
From there, you livestream an engaging presentation. A few ideas include:
- Comedy shows
- Cooking lessons
- Q&A sessions with interesting figures
And more! Then, during the livestream, you include calls to donate and direct supporters to your nonprofit’s Donate button. But remember, the Donate button is only available if you sign up for Facebook Payments, so you’ll have to optimize your tech accordingly by signing up.
We’ve found that events can be a huge giving motivation on Facebook (we’re looking at you, Facebook birthday fundraisers). So, it’s an understandable transition to pivot your in-person fundraising events to the platform as well!
Auctions are a great way to raise larger donations and draw on the healthy competitive nature of your supporters.
If you’re using Facebook to host your virtual auction, the steps would be as follows:
- Create a Facebook Group to host the event. Share images and information about all auction items.
- Invite supporters to make a donation to secure their spot in the event. Then, invite those supporters to join the Facebook Group.
- During the auction, livestream the proceedings. Introduce each item and collect bids via the comments section.
- After the event, the winning participants donate the accompanying amount through Facebook’s donation tools.
Holding a virtual auction rather than an in-person version has its own benefits, such as that participants can view items and have growing anticipation before the event itself. Plus, checkout is significantly simpler than the long lines that would accompany an in-person experience!
A virtual gala would be held via livestreaming as well, except rather than one overarching experience (like a concert or cooking class) there are multiple experiences shared throughout.
You might have speeches from board members and influential thinkers in your sphere, well-known musical acts, a comedian providing comic relief, and more. In-person galas tend to be nights full of entertainment, and a virtual gala should progress similarly.
This type of virtual fundraising event tends to be more closely scheduled, so it’s a great idea to share a breakdown of the night’s events with attendees in advance. This can be especially helpful if attendees anticipate having to step away from their computers during the event.
Additionally, it’s important to make your donation call to action early in the event and frequently remind attendees of the reason behind the event. The goal should be to have donors giving throughout the duration, as they’re watching the various presentations!
Walk-a-thons are often a major driver of annual fundraising revenue for nonprofits. Yearly walking challenges have been so successful because they’re accessible, they encourage physical fitness, and they tend to garner strong support from a participant’s personal networks.
With these in-person fundraising events canceled for the near future, virtual walk-a-thons emerged as a viable alternative. There are two main ways these virtual events tend to function. First, participants raise funds from their networks. Then:
- They join with other participants around the world as they all walk at the same time, on the same day— but from their own locations.
- They complete a daily walking challenge and report on their progress each day. For example, they complete the challenge of walking 10,000 steps a day.
This is another great opportunity to use Facebook Challenges to your advantage and create a corresponding group for all participants to join. Then, they can connect with one another, share the fundraiser they created associated with the event, provide encouragement, and watch the amount of funds raised grow.
Use this guide to improve your virtual fundraising efforts for success in 2021. And, if you think any of the Facebook-based virtual fundraising ideas would be a good fit for your organization, contact the GoodUnited team today to learn more about how you can make the most of the platform’s fundraising tools.
For more information about virtual and Facebook fundraising, explore the following additional resources:
- Why Nonprofits Should Leverage Facebook Birthday Fundraisers
- Facebook Fundraiser Fees: Understanding the Essentials
- Facebook Fundraiser Payout: How It Works for Nonprofits