How to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit Online

These days, a single sneeze can turn every head in the room. It’s a post-COVID world—social distancing is the norm, shaking hands is often a question, and in-person events are that much more difficult to pull off successfully. 


If you’re a nonprofit who relies on galas, silent auctions, and other donation-based, in-person events to fund your charity and spread your message, this guide is for you. 


We’ll talk about the power of virtual fundraising, the platforms that make it possible, and a few virtual fundraising event ideas to spark your creativity.


The Benefits of Online Fundraising

Virtual fundraising events are a safe and effective way to bring people together and promote your cause—and you don’t have to sacrifice donation numbers in the process. 


Between 2016 and 2018 online donations increased by 17%. That’s about 5-6% more donations each year. In the last year alone, online donations increased by over 12%. 


Put simply, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of virtual fundraising.


To get started, you’ll need to identify the right platform for your event.


Online Fundraising Platforms

Your virtual event needs to accomplish two things simultaneously: it needs to inspire people to donate, and it needs to collect those donations. 


The former refers to the event itself. Communication platforms like Zoom, Facebook, and Twitch allow people from all over the world to congregate in one virtual place, learn about the initiatives your nonprofit is championing, and actually experience the event.


The latter refers to the call to action: the donation. Crowdfunding platforms like Donately and GoFundMe need to be intimately tied to your event platform. For instance, a local homeless shelter can host a silent auction on Zoom and, when the winning bidder is chosen, they can be directed to a Donately page with step-by-step instructions for how to receive their auction prize.


However, using two or more platforms might seem overwhelming, and they may lack the capabilities needed for larger nonprofits. In this case, your organization can utilize a dedicated virtual fundraising platform like OneCause or Accelevents, which are geared to seamlessly marry events and donations. 


Now that you have an idea of what you’ll need to successfully raise funds, you can get creative with your events and campaigns.


7 Unusual Virtual Fundraising Ideas

Each nonprofit organization has its own story to tell. While there’s nothing wrong with classic events, like the gala, individuality is key! So here are our most innovative online fundraising ideas:


#1 Viral Video Campaign

Anyone who was on the internet back in 2014 saw how the ALS ice bucket challenge became a viral sensation. Even celebrities, like Captain America himself, Chris Evans, joined in to donate and spread awareness. 


You can come up with your own viral video:


  • Issue an easily accomplished, rewarding challenge – The ALS challenge had folks dumping a bucket of ice water on themselves. How creative, and challenging, can you make your task? Will your challenge be a 30 second dance party? Or holding a plank for as long as possible? So long as anyone can give it a try, the sky’s the limit. 


  • Next, tag your friends, and give them a 24 time window – In that time limit they have to complete the challenge, with video proof, or donate to your organization (or both). Whatever they choose, make sure that they tag their own friends to help spread the message and the fun.


#2 Game Night Tournament

Online gaming is perfectly suited for virtual fundraising. To play, contestants can donate in the form of an “entrance fee” to play. In exchange, they’ll receive a URL to join the fun, which can be livestreamed from your organization’s social media platforms. 


Here’s how to turn a virtual game night into a fundraising extravaganza


  • Pick a game – Online platforms have a variety of multiplayer games that are easily accessible. Popular games like Jackbox (paid), Among us (free app), and (free website) are all excellent starting points for large group games. Even a simple Zoom conference call showcasing a multi-round rock, paper, scissors tournament is an innovative way to get people to turn up, donate, and have fun.


  • Create a roster – Once you’ve advertised your game of choice, and every player has donated and registered, all you need is a randomized tournament sheet; anyone who wins advances to the next round, but those who don’t continue on are welcome to stay and watch the fun.


#3 Virtual Craft Workshop

Offer a craft workshop to excite DIYers into becoming donors. Whether you’re showing your virtual students how to knit a scarf or make perfect holiday cookies, a virtual craft workshop can hook a wide range of audiences. 


#4 Pet Picture Contests

Tap into the internet’s love of pets with a pet picture contest. How unique can you be with various categories to win in? Cutest photo? Best dressed pet? Best cone-of-shame pose?


pet photo contest


  • Pick a prize – While knowing your pet is a winner is a prize in and of itself, you’ll spur on more entries by offering a treat to the pet with the most votes. Work with a local pet shop for gift cards, pet swag, or even an artist who specializes in pet portraits to put together a worthy first place prize. 


  • Pay to play – Once all your photos are in, let the people vote and donate! For example, a $1 donation yields them 1 vote, so the more a user wants one contestant to win, the more they’ll end up donating. Plus, contestants will help spread the word by encouraging friends, family, and social media communities to play along. 


#5 Limited Time Apparel 

By designing and selling apparel you can get your image and name out there. Make the sales time-limited, so you can create a demand for the product and an urgency to donate. Work with local designers to create amazing pieces while also spreading awareness for your cause (and for the artist).


Fashion forward, and socially conscious. Now that’s stylish.


#6 Yoga Class

We all need a moment to breathe during this wild year and what better way than through yoga? Whether you reach out to a local yoga studio or someone in your organization is a certified yoga instructor, offer a pay-by-donation yoga class online through Zoom or even Facebook Live. 


#7 Happy Hour Alcohol Tasting

Everyone is thirsty for the jovial ambiance of a happy hour. Your virtual fundraising event can quench that thirst with a virtual tasting hour. Have donors purchase tasting “kits” complete with pairable snacks, tiny tasting glasses, and a few beverages. Then, invite them to a guided tasting session on a streaming platform.

You can make this experience friendly to all ages by swapping wine or beer with unique soda flavors you can find at specialty beverage shops, like:


  • Cucumber
  • Butterscotch rootbeer
  • Spicy non-alcoholic ginger beer
  • Prickly pear
  • Pomegranate
  • Rose lemonade
  • Watermelon

Ah, the taste of fundraising victory—could anything be sweeter?

Unique Fundraisers, Unique Marketing

Looking for other innovative solutions to help spread the word about your organizations? Puzzle Pieces Marketing provides unique solutions to help support your nonprofit’s long-term marketing goals. 

Piece together your story today. 


Candid. Giving Increased 1.2 Percent in 2018, Reports Find.,4%20percent%20for%20large%20nonprofits

Double the Donation. Nonprofit Fundraising Statistics (Updated for 2021).

Catan Universe. Digital Games.

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