Virtual fundraising events have a variety of benefits, including increased reach, accessibility, and fundraising potential. Because of this, many nonprofits have been using these events in their regular lineup for years (maybe even yours!)
However, there’s no denying that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual fundraising events are more popular now than ever before. At GoodUnited, we work with large nonprofits to optimize their virtual fundraising using Facebook Challenges. While researching in this realm, we have seen a wide variety of innovative virtual fundraising event ideas come to life.
Using that knowledge, we’ve compiled this guide. In it, you’ll explore our favorite virtual fundraising event idea, tips to optimize your events, and 20+ additional suggestions that you can use to start brainstorming your future events:
- Overview of Virtual Fundraising Events
- Our Favorite Virtual Fundraising Event: Facebook Challenges
- Optimizing Facebook Fundraising Events for Your Nonprofit
- Additional Virtual Fundraising Event Ideas
Are you ready to optimize your virtual fundraising events heading into the new year? Let’s get started.
Overview of Virtual Fundraising Events
While many large nonprofit organizations conducted virtual fundraising events prior to 2020, we can’t ignore how popular the practice became as the pandemic’s challenges hit.
Suddenly, the necessity of social distancing led to an uncertain future for in-person, large nonprofit events. Canceling those events wasn’t feasible, as that would also mean forgoing the donations they would provide.
Enter virtual events, which for the purposes of this guide, we’re going to define as events held entirely over the internet. Rather than meeting in person for the experience, attendees join together through technology.
Nonprofits that had never encountered virtual events in the past suddenly pivoted to the practice. Others, maybe even yours, that were already using virtual tech ramped up their efforts for increased engagement during an already distant year.
Regardless of the camp that your team fits into, it’s a good idea to revisit your virtual event lineup heading into the new year. Whether you're looking to keep things creative for your supporters or to optimize your events for more success, there’s always room for improvement.
With that, continue reading to explore our top virtual fundraising event idea.
Our Favorite Virtual Fundraising Event: Facebook Challenges
Facebook Challenges are time-bound fundraising efforts that allow your nonprofit’s supporters to raise funds in a low-barrier to entry fundraiser.
During a Facebook Challenge, participants complete a task (such as walking 10k steps each day) for a specified duration of time (such as 1 month), while raising funds from their friends and family members via a Facebook fundraiser. For the duration of the Challenge, participants can use Facebook groups to share encouragement, fundraising tips, and donations to one another’s efforts.
Because so many people regularly use Facebook in their personal lives, there’s a low barrier to entry when it comes to joining a Challenge, completing the task, and raising funds. Plus, by keeping the event on Facebook, you benefit from:
- Expanded reach to all of your participants’ Facebook friends
- Cost-efficiency with little-to-no investment costs for your team
- Increased accessibility as any Facebook user, from any time, at any place can participate
Challenges empower you to build a digital community for supporters, both local and physically distant. Therefore, these events are especially powerful for reaching audiences who live in areas where your nonprofit wouldn’t normally hold in-person events.
Other Facebook-Based Virtual Fundraising Events
Facebook Live Fundraiser
This fundraiser involves your team streaming on Facebook Live and soliciting donations while doing so.
The first step to hosting a Facebook Live fundraiser is to choose what your entertainment will be. This could be a livestreamed comedy show, concert, tour of your facilities, or even TED-style presentations. Then, you market the opportunity to your supporters and accept donations in exchange for “entry” into the event.
During the event, participants that have donated are invited to join the event’s Facebook group. On Facebook Live, open the event with a quick discussion of your nonprofit and why you’re raising funds. Then, the entertainment begins! Remember: your organization can solicit donations throughout the event as well with Facebook’s live fundraising tools.
Facebook Birthday Fundraiser
You might not think of large-scale fundraising events when discussing Facebook birthday fundraisers. After all, they’re most often done on a smaller scale, with your supporters donating their birthdays to raise gifts for your organization.
However, you can draw on the magic of birthdays on Facebook to host a successful fundraising event as well! For example, consider celebrating your nonprofit’s “birthday,” or founding day, on Facebook. Throughout the day, share information about your nonprofit’s history, the work you’ve accomplished, entertainment (such as the Live fundraiser ideas listed above), and even testimonies from volunteers and constituents.
During the event, make calls for donations in lieu of birthday gifts. Through this event, supporters learn more about your organization while giving to it!
Optimizing Facebook Fundraising Events for Your Nonprofit
While we’re huge proponents of using Facebook to host your virtual fundraising events, hosting a successful event isn’t as simple as creating an event page and sharing it once or twice on your main nonprofit page.
While researching Facebook fundraising, our team has discovered a few main tips that can help your organization be more successful with the process:
- Align with Facebook Payments. With this payout method, you access Facebook’s donation tools, data about fundraisers and donors, and a faster payout timeline when compared to Network for Good.
- Share a user guide with supporters. In this guide, share details about Facebook fundraising, how to access tax information, and any other questions your event attendees may have about getting involved.
- Connect with participants. With virtual events, there’s a risk of feeling distant from attendees. Communicate with event participants regularly throughout the event to emulate the in-person experience.
- Make the most of the data provided. Facebook provides limited data when it comes to fundraising on their platform, but if you can capture it effectively, you can continue improving your efforts going forward.
As your virtual fundraising event grows, it can be challenging to manage all of these aspects on your own. At GoodUnited, we’ve created a host of services to help.
For events where fundraisers are raising gifts on your behalf, we begin by thanking 100% of the fundraisers that are started. Then, we create a custom messaging sequence that users can opt-into via Facebook Messenger. With this, we share tips, encouragement, and updates with event participants.
We offer the full management of Facebook Challenges, including managing the Facebook ads used to spread the word and moderating any groups created alongside the events. And, after the event, we compile all fundraising data provided by Facebook (and collected by our team through our interactions with your supporters) into an intuitive dashboard for your team. To learn more about our Facebook fundraising services, contact the GoodUnited team today.
Now that we’ve covered the top tips to optimize your nonprofit’s Facebook fundraising-based events, let’s explore a few additional virtual fundraising event ideas to begin your brainstorming. While these ideas don’t need to be held via Facebook, many can be hosted through the platform if you’d like to make the most of the benefits it provides!
Additional Virtual Fundraising Event Ideas
A virtual walk-a-thon is very similar to an in-person walk-a-thon, except participants complete the challenge independently.
Prior to the event, participants raise funds from their personal networks in support of their participation. During the event itself, participants walk a designated distance at a pre-set time. So, for example, all of your participants could complete a 5k walk on the same day, at the same time.
This is a great opportunity to use fundraising groups, as participants can share fundraising tips and even their exercise regimen in preparation for the event.
Some nonprofits think that virtual fundraising is limited to raising smaller gifts, but virtual auctions break that trend. With a virtual auction, your team curates auction items in the same manner as you would with an in-person charity auction. We recommend getting a variety of items spanning the interests and budgets of your supporters, including a few big-ticket items or experiences like vacation packages.
Then, instead of scheduling an in-person event in venue space, you simply list all of the items online— for example, in a Facebook group dedicated to the event. During the event itself, your team (or hired auctioneer if you choose to go that route) runs through each auction item on a livestream and collects bids from supporters. After the event, winning bidders purchase their items and schedule delivery!
For nonprofits that rely on annual galas, these events often provide a decent chunk of their yearly fundraising revenue. Simply canceling the event isn’t an option!
To host a virtual gala, you first need to create a digital space for attendees to experience the event. Similar to the last event, a Facebook group works well for this. Then, during the gala itself, you livestream the content you would have previously shared in-person— whether musical entertainment, keynote speeches, or something else.
Because you’re providing highly valuable content to attendees, you can often charge a higher admissions fee for virtual galas. Additionally, gala attendees tend to make large donations in conjunction with the event itself, so it’s okay to include higher donation asks during the experience as well.
A virtual tour allows your supporters to explore areas they may not be able to otherwise while raising gifts for your nonprofit.
Essentially, your team livestreams while taking a walking tour through an interesting location. This could be a tour of your nonprofit’s facilities to give supporters a look behind-the-scenes, or even an exclusive look at a popular experience in your community such as a sports arena, aquarium, or performing arts center.
If you’re working with Facebook’s fundraising tools, you can host this livestream in a closed group and charge a donation fee for entry into the group. Then, during the tour itself, your team can solicit further donations with Facebook’s live donate tools.
Virtual Talent Show
Assemble your most talented supporters to show off their skills in a virtual talent show.
Leading up to the event, invite participants to sign up for the event and raise peer-to-peer donations from their friends and family members in support. During the event itself, charge a small admission fee for viewers to access the livestream (this is where Facebook Groups can be helpful) and watch the participants compete. Throughout the livestream, make calls for donations to increase the fundraising potential of this event.
After the event, award participants for their efforts! You could highlight the most talented, the crowd favorite, and even the most unique or creative.
Virtual Film Screening
To host a virtual film screening, you first need to obtain access to a movie that your supporters would be interested in seeing. Whether a new release or a classic film, the most important part is that it would be worthwhile for your donors to purchase a ticket to attend.
Then, you livestream a showing of the film. Depending on the platform you use, you may be able to enable attendees to communicate with one another during the experience— something that can go a long way in emulating the in-person viewing experience. There are a few different fundraising opportunities with this virtual event. For example, you can accept small donations in exchange for attendees voting on their top pick for the night’s entertainment, or even charge an admission fee to view the livestream.
Virtual Open Mic Night
Similar to a talent show, an open mic night empowers the most talented vocalists in your supporter base to shine.
Use the same set-up as the virtual talent show, but instead of welcoming all types of talent, focus on the spoken varieties. This could be performing a song, reciting a poem, giving a speech, performing stand-up comedy, or whatever other ideas your supporters can come up with.
With virtual open mic nights, it can be helpful to give participants a running theme to guide their efforts. For example, you might tie the night to an upcoming holiday. This also provides another fundraising opportunity, as you can allow attendees to increase their donation amount (in addition to their initial entry donation) to vote on the night’s theme in advance.
Virtual Craft Night
During a virtual craft night, your supporters gather together using video conferencing software to complete a craft project together. Some popular examples include painting matching designs, creating simple housing decorations (for example, tablescapes), or even decorating pottery.
The crafting can be led by a particularly artistic member of your staff, or you might opt to hire a professional artist to host the event. Similarly to the other events, you would charge an entry fee for access to the video stream.
A virtual craft night can require slightly more preparation than some of the other events on this list, as you need to make sure supporters are well-equipped for the experience. This could mean selling craft night kits in advance of the event (providing another stream of fundraising revenue!) or simply sharing a list of the required materials.
A virtual 5K is very similar to a virtual walk-a-thon, but instead of walking the distance, supporters run it. It’s a peer-to-peer event where participants sign up to go the distance, raise funds from their networks, and then run the race independently during the planned date and time.
There are a variety of reasons why your participants may be interested in completing a 5k:
- To support your cause.
- To improve their own personal fitness.
- To experience community with other runners.
- To challenge themselves to beat a personal running record.
As hosts of this event, you’ll want to address all of these motivations. So for example, you can share training tips for those who want to improve their own health leading up to the event. You can provide a Facebook group for participants to network with one another, and you can ask supporters to share their completion times after the event to announce winners in each age group. Then, after the event, you can share information about how impactful the donations raised will be!
Virtual Cooking Classes
During a virtual cooking class, participants pay an entry fee to view a livestream in which a master chef walks them through cooking a dish, step-by-step.
To make sure participants get the most out of this event, share a list of ingredients and any other needed supplies in advance. Similar to the virtual craft night, you may even be able to assemble ready-made kits and sell them for additional fundraising revenue!
When hosting any events involving food, it’s important to be mindful of any dietary restrictions your supporters may have. For example, if you have any vegan or vegetarian attendees, make sure the chef includes alternative options for animal products!
Virtual Scavenger Hunt
To host a virtual scavenger hunt, invite your supporters to assemble into teams (for example, one household could be a team) and make a donation as their entry fee.
During the event itself, your staff shares a list of scavenger hunt items that can be found in the average household or community. Then, you simply award the team that manages to locate the entire list first!
In addition to the initial entry fee, raise peer-to-peer donations by empowering teams to raise funds from their personal networks. After the event, award the most successful team with a prize— for example, a gift basket full of highly-coveted items!
Similar to a virtual walk-a-thon and a virtual 5k, a virtual bike-a-thon is a peer-to-peer fundraising event. So, leading up to and during the event, participants raise funds from their friends and family members in support.
Then, you challenge participants to ride their bikes in one of two ways:
- You challenge participants to ride X amount of distance each day, for a specified time period.
- You challenge participants to ride X amount of distance one time, with all participants riding during the same date and time.
As with the other physical challenges and peer-to-peer fundraising events, it’s a great idea to create a virtual community for participants to network with one another. They can share training regimens, fundraising tips, and more.
Virtual conferences are often one-to-three day events, during which a variety of speakers, panels, and presentations are shared. These events are most successful when all aspects are handled through one platform, which you can accomplish by creating a closed Facebook group. This also allows you to avoid investing in costly virtual conferencing software.
Attendees make a donation for admission into the event and are able to give throughout the experience.
Remember that it can be more challenging to stick by the computer for long periods of time when attending from home— family members, streaming services, and daily responsibilities can cause distractions. Make sure to share a schedule of the conference in advance, so attendees can prioritize viewing the experiences most important to them and plan their schedule accordingly.
Live entertainment and popular music venues are closed, at least for the near future. If you have any music fans in your supporter base, they’re feeling the effects!
Organize a lineup of popular local bands or, depending on your nonprofit’s event budget, bring in a few bigger names. Then, have these bands play a live set that— rather than being shown to an in-person audience— is livestreamed to event donors.
As with the virtual conference, share approximate set times for each performance. Then, if attendees need to step away from their computers, they can plan to return in time for the sets they anticipate most!
Virtual Happy Hour
One of the many unfortunate side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that your supporters likely feel more separated and distant than ever before. With a virtual happy hour fundraising event, you create intentional networking spaces to bridge those gaps.
Essentially, participants donate to the fundraiser in exchange for entry into the virtual event. After doing so, have the participants fill out a short survey about themselves, such as basic demographic information and their interests. Then, group participants by their shared characteristics and create breakout groups on Facebook, inviting participants to their designated page.
You could group by interest (ex: “Action Movie Fans,” “Music Lovers”), life experiences (ex: “Recent College Graduates”), or even their interest in your nonprofit (ex: volunteer type). Then, on the day of the event, share a few prompts on the page to get the conversations started!
Virtual Book Club
To host a virtual book club, you need to first create a virtual group setting for event participants to connect in. A Facebook group would work great for this, as you can livestream discussions, post discussion topics, and allow participants to network with one another.
Each month, you choose a different book for participants to read. Then, throughout the month, host exciting livestreamed events such as reading discussions and author interviews. There are a few different fundraising opportunities here. For example, you could make it a closed group and ask for donations for entry. Additionally, you can include donation calls to action throughout any livestreamed events.
Virtual Trivia Night
Invite event participants to separate into teams and register for the event, making a donation to secure admission. Equip participants with peer-to-peer fundraising pages to raise donations in support of their team leading up to the event.
During the trivia night, use video conferencing and livestreaming software to broadcast the trivia competition across your supporter base. Remember, the trivia doesn’t need to be directly related to your nonprofit. Historical and pop culture trivia can be incredibly popular too. There are even online trivia buzzers, that your team can use to accept answers and keep score!
Then, at the end of the night, award the highest scoring team with some sort of prize— whether a shout out on your social media or a quality gift basket.
Virtual Game Night
A virtual game night is similar to virtual trivia. The initial set-up is the same with regards to splitting participants up into teams, raising peer-to-peer donations, and livestreaming the competition.
However, instead of livestreaming a trivia competition, choose a popular game show format. For example, you could have participants compete against one another in your own version of Jeopardy, Family Feud, or even The Price Is Right.
For example, with a The Price Is Right-style game, you could have teams approximate the cost of certain efforts that their donations fuel. If you’re building homes for unhoused individuals, how much needs to be raised to do so? If you’re donating school supplies, what amount of donations is needed per student?
Virtual fundraising events are a powerful source of fundraising revenue, especially with so many in-person events canceled for the foreseeable future.
With these event ideas, you can spice up your virtual event calendar for 2021 and beyond. And, if you’re working with Facebook’s fundraising tools to host your next virtual event, reach out to the GoodUnited team to learn how to improve the process even further.
To learn more about holding a successful virtual fundraiser, explore the following additional resources:
- Virtual Fundraising: The Complete Guide for Nonprofits
- Virtual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: 6 Best Practices
- 20+ Best Virtual Fundraising Ideas for 2021 & Beyond