Explore donor giving expectations and motivations as we head into year-end giving and 2023.

22 Creative Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Your Nonprofit [2023]

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By Will Schmidt

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Published November 23, 2022 Reading Time: 11 minutes

In light of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, 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 fundraising events strategies and truly inspiring, creative virtual fundraising event ideas. The success of these virtual events has shown that virtual fundraising tools can expand the reach of your nonprofit’s event and drive more fundraising revenue even as in-person events are coming back.

What Are the Benefits of Virtual Fundraising?

Virtual events helps your nonprofit reach entirely new audiences with a next level fundraising strategy. They also allow for on-demand events that open the likelihood of supporters attending and viewing your content than a time-bound event. You can appeal to your donor’s schedules, and reach more potential donors using the recordings of your event. Imagine hosting your event once, and keeping registration to access the content on-demand all year to continue building relationships and support raising funds.

A Modern Take on Virtual Fundraising Software

As you start to think about virtual fundraising efforts, consider the way technology sets you up for success. Engaging event platforms let you bring physical, virtual, and hybrid events to life with tech enhancements that exceed modern donor expectations.

Classy Live has arrived to offer what has taken me working with several companies to accomplish in the past. This streamlining is such a valuable time-saver, helping us focus on what matters: communicating our organization’s mission and having a great event.

Hilary Wilson

Event Coordinator at Pro-Choice Washington

22 Creative Virtual Fundraising Ideas

Across almost all virtual fundraising events, your nonprofit organization will likely want to livestream content to your audience. You can also embed your Zoom recording, YouTube or Twitch livestream directly into your Classy virtual fundraising campaign or Classy Live event.

In-Person Event Pivots to Virtual or Hybrid

1. Online Gala Dinner

Many nonprofits were forced to pivot their in-person galas to 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 gala 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.

2. Online Auctions

Similar to galas, an online auction or silent auction can increase your audience of potential donors and 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 every auction item. 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.

3. Online Telethons

You can also turn an online raffle or auction into a telethon event. A telethon can be an opportunity to livestream with a special host or group of engaging community members. You can use the time to share items for auction or raffle of fun prizes in exchange for donations. Mobile bidding can enhance the experience as you tie your event to an online campaign or donation page.

Get creative about a theme that resonates with the time of year or your current projects. You can translate that theme to your host’s appearance, the set of your telethon, and any supporting marketing materials.

Food and Drink Virtual Fundraising Ideas

4. Cooking or Mixology Virtual Classes

Whether you’re making homemade pasta or mixing up a nice old fashioned, cooking and mixology virtual 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 cooking class fundraising event live.

You can charge admission with a ticketed event fundraising 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 virtual happy hour or webinar with the cook or mixologist after the class is concluded. Additionally, you can make calls to donate to your nonprofit throughout the livestream fundraising event.

5. 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.

6.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.

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Athletic Virtual Fundraising Ideas

7. 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 over zoom. 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 fundraiser is that there’s no limit to the number of people who can join.

8. Bootcamp

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.

9. Virtual Walks and Runs

Many nonprofits who host regular endurance events—like the Cleveland Clinic VeloSano event, a walk-a-thon, 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 through an online donation form 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.

Community Engagement Virtual Fundraising Ideas

10. Virtual Crowdfunding 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. You could run a crowdfunding campaign that coincides with the awareness to give people a place to take action.

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. They drove engagement across their social media channels powered by user-generated content, and raised 101% of their fundraising goal.

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11. 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.

12. Book Clubs

Virtual book clubs are a great way to get your supporters to donate. Charge a small fee for supporter to get admitted. You can make this a club that recurringly meets and give the attendees an opportunity to donate each time. Book clubs allow for discussion and adds a personal touch to getting connected with supporters.

13. 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 virtual 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.

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14. Virtual Tailgate

Tailgating for a major sports event is one of the most fun parts of watching the game. You can make your tailgate avirtual 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.

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Arts and Entertainment Virtual Fundraising Ideas

15. Game/ Trivia Night

Nothing beats an engaging game night to spark donations to your fundraiser. There are endless virtual game night opportunities with trivia being a stand-out when it comes to captivating the attention of the attendees. You can even tailor the trivia questions to your company or charity to get attendees to learn more about the cause.

16. Virtual Movie Night

Movie nights are an easy way to solicit donations. Simply charge a fee to enter the virtual screening of a popular movie. At the end or beginning of the movie, you can further explain your cause and communicate your mission to your supporters.

17. 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 businesses, performance arts centers, schools, or even your direct audience of supporters to participate.

18. 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 fundraising auction for the artist’s various creations.

19. Virtual Concerts

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 fundraising event idea, solicit donations during the virtual concert, and livestream all the excitement to everyone who bought a ticket.

20. 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 upgrade 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.

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21. Comedy Events

Comedians can find opportunities to perform for wider audiences online. Your nonprofit can secure comedy talent from local improv venues all the way up to nationally recognized names, and everything in between. This virtual talent show fundraising event can be more than just a ticket purchase. It can be part of a larger giving day.

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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22. Virtual Fashion Show

A fashion show can be a great virtual fundraising idea for schools, clubs, or communities looking to raise money. You can get creative and partner with local boutiques or stores that would love to have their clothing promoted for a good cause. You could livestream the event or pre-record the fashion show and sell tickets to view it when it’s finalized. You could even lean into a peer-to-peer fundraising model by having each participant or model raise money from their friends, families, and social networks.

African Community Education (ACE) transformed their annual gala into a flexible hybrid event that welcomed virtual guests. During the 2021 giving season, ACE has students walk in a fashion show that was streamed to a virtual audience to immerse them in the experience. The result was a 3X increase in revenue from their 2019 in-person gala.

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Which Creative Virtual Fundraising Idea Will You Use?

One benefit to hosting virtual fundraising events is that you can get wildly creative with the ideas and concepts. You don’t only have to stick to ideas that seem to fit exactly in your cause category either; almost any event can be adapted to fit your mission, work, and impact.

Use this list of virtual fundraising ideas to inspire your next great virtual fundraising event, and feel free to tweak them to fit your specific goals. Don’t forget to download our virtual fundraising events toolkit to ensure you nail your next event.

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.

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The Virtual Events Toolkit

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