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Creative Ideas, Virtual Fundraising, Engagement

7 Creative and COVID-Friendly Virtual Fundraising Ideas (Plus Examples)

by Lauren Ziment
on April 7, 2021

7 Creative Ideas for COVID-Friendly Fundraising

For nonprofits of all sizes across all sectors, this last year has been a whirlwind of reworking and rethinking new ways to effectively engage with donors. While in-person contact with supporters has come to a halt, their desire to engage with your nonprofit online hasn't. Consider these numbers:

It's clear that your donor's desire to drive impact in the wake of COVID-19 is stronger than ever. Are you providing meaningful opportunities to connect with them during these difficult times? 

In the ever-changing space of virtual fundraising—it can be a challenge to come up with creative ideas that stand out to your donors online. So we did the heavy lifting for you, and found seven fun and safe virtual event ideas to help your nonprofit adjust to the "new normal" PLUS examples to help you get started today.


1. Host a virtual walk-a-thon, race, or endurance event

2. Go behind-the-scenes with a virtual tour

3. Sit in the hot seat–host an "ask me anything" session with the founders of your organization

4. Engage your donor's creativity by hosting a virtual class

5. Class it up with a virtual gala and live auction

6. Mix it up with a virtual Happy Hour

7. Host a virtual telethon for your supporters

 

1. Host a virtual walk-a-thon, race, or endurance event

At a time when people are craving reasons to leave their home and be active, give them a cause to get up and get moving. An estimated 2.5 billion health and fitness apps were downloaded from January to November last year, marking a 47% increase from the same 11 month period in 2019.

Where these fall short though, is connecting the users and building a sense of community. By taking these events virtual, you give participants the chance to engage with like-minded people in a safe and fun setting. Last month, CrankedUP hosted a 12 hour virtual endurance event using Lennd where participants cycled from home. Participants rode in teams, competing with one another, and were able to move between live-streamed stages. The results?

Take an inside look at the virtual arena from the live event below:

crankedup-website

user-polls

By offering participants the option to have live music or a live DJ while working out or to ride with one another in a team video call, CrankedUP offers a great example of ways by which a virtual exercise event can be more than just logging the miles. 

Similarly, last fall, Susan G. Komen hosted the Race Where You Are event, giving out prizes to participants for whatever amount they were able to raise during their virtual version of the annual “Race for the Cure.” By setting goals for participants to reach, your event becomes a place where people can feel accomplished while engaging with your cause.

2. Go behind-the-scenes with a virtual tour

If you are an animal shelter or organization, you have the unique opportunity of giving the people a look at the direct impact of their donation and their support to your cause. Seeing an animal never fails to put a smile on someone’s face, so take the opportunity to host a virtual tour of your facilities. Below are some other low-lift ideas to give donors an "insider look:"

Take a look at this virtual tour from PENCIL, a nonprofit serving educational resources and support across Metro Nashville Public Schools. They gave an inside look at their facilities' inner-workings and how their programs come to life. Check it out!

pencil-tour

This is just scratching the surface of ideas. A virtual tour can provide for a unique opportunity for viewers to see the “behind the scenes” or your organization and feel more connected to your operations. Make sure to include an interactive element too! Live stream the tour in real-time (viewers will watch a live video 10 to 20 times longer than on demand) with a tour guide curating the tour on feed, have a chat room...the opportunities for engagement are endless.

3. Sit in the hot seat–host an "ask me anything" session with the founders of your organization

Give people the opportunity to log on and have the opportunity to ask questions directly to the founders/leaders of the organization in an “ask me anything (AMA)” format. Why is this format effective?

person-speaking-microphone

4. Engage your donor's creativity by hosting a virtual class

The pandemic has left people with much more free time than they have ever had before. Eagerly searching for fun things to do online, people have been picking up new hobbies and learning new things. Many hobbies saw a large increase in internet searches, showing the new trend towards picking up new hobbies. For example, web searches for arts and crafts saw a 63% increase as of May 2020. Take advantage of this heightened curiosity and give people the opportunity to take a virtual class and learn something new.

Partner with local talent to host classes ranging from art classes to cooking classes. An example of a local partnership is The Painted Cork, a local art business, who hosted a virtual art class partnering with some local food banks and donating the proceeds from the event to their cause. 

If you are a local performing arts company, have performers host a dancing, singing, or acting workshop. If you are a food bank, host a virtual cooking class, inviting local chefs or restaurants to lead the class, and have the proceeds go directly to serving home-cooked meals. There are so many possibilities for virtual classes, just look to your community and see what new hobbies you can introduce to your donors. If you need some inspiration to help you get started, check out Airbnb online experiences—they are a great resource with endless ideas and unique classes to spark fresh ideas to engage your community online.

airbnb-experience

5. Class it up with a virtual gala or live auction

The fanfare of galas does not have to end with in-person events. Bring the party to your donor’s homes by hosting your annual gala and auction virtually. Below are some different ideas you can use to keep your attendees engaged throughout the event:

A great example of a virtual gala was one hosted by Upaya at the beginning of the pandemic. They were able to exceed their goal by 50% in the online fundraising setting, showing the potential for fundraising in a virtual gala.

Upaya-Virtual-Gala-Presenter

6. Mix it up with a virtual Happy Hour

Host a virtual Happy Hour, including bartending lessons and mixing drinks from home. This could be a great opportunity to partner with local bars, breweries, distilleries, and/or restaurants to make bartending packages to send home to attendees. This also gives your donors a unique opportunity to network and engage with one another in a virtual setting.

A great example of this kind of event would be Radio Ink’s Virtual Happy Hour that they hosted, partnering with a local tequila brand and restaurant to send home baskets and offer an opportunity for social connection. Provide smaller, more intimate rooms for conversation during your event, or a general room where a larger group can socialize. This type of event could serve as a great cross section between personal engagement and online fundraising.

Get creative with your event's registration form ahead of time, ask a fun question to help attendees get to know one another and create connections before you host the live event. Here's an example of this done well for a nonprofit virtual cycling ride, hosted on Lennd:

virtual-cycle-ride

As you can see above, the organizer added a custom form field about the highest number of miles logged, to understand the level or expertise and experience of the registrants. The organizer can use the data captured on the form and segment attendees by their responses before the live event or happy hour. This automatically gets the attendees engaged with one another from the jump and opens the door for exciting conversations.

7. Host a virtual telethon for you supporters

Provide entertainment by inviting local artists to come and perform at the event, having performers play their sets live and allowing participants to call in donations as the performances go on. 

You can have an MC for the event that is there to introduce performers and highlight donations live as they come in. Live stream your phone bankers, displaying their video stream as they answer calls and keep track of donations. Include a feed of donations as you work towards your goal so participants can see their donation contributing to the cause.

Pick a theme for the event, similar to how the Breast Cancer Resource Center hosted a virtual telethon harkening back to the old-school telethon style with a 90’s theme. Create a hashtag for the event and share it with all viewers, attendees, and participants— giving them a way to engage with the theme and providing your nonprofit with a treasure trove of user generated content that you can repurpose in the future. They can also share updates about their support in real-time, and spark some competition to encourage higher donations and increase awareness for your event.

BCRC-virtual-telethon-flier

Get started with your next virtual event (in just five steps)

It's clear that the opportunities for virtual fundraising events at your nonprofit reach far beyond the limits of traditional in-person fundraising events.

Now that we’ve got the ball rolling with fresh ideas, let’s equip you with the tools necessary to seamlessly plan your next virtual event. The good news: we've made it as simple as five steps for you to get started. Click here to learn more and see how easy it is to launch creative and engaging virtual events for your online community.

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