15 Online Fundraising Ideas For Nonprofits

15 online fundraising ideas for nonprofits feature image

Written by Judson Aulie

14th July 2021

Every year our society becomes increasingly virtual. Things that were thought to be handled exclusively in person are now regularly being handled remotely and in front of a computer or television screen. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend has only accelerated. This year there has been a nearly endless list of events that have had to go virtual to keep everyone safe. Sales calls, business meetings, family gatherings, and even weddings have all been handled online this year. 

During these times and in such a dynamic environment, it is crucial for your nonprofit to research and capture as much as you can of this growing portion of the fundraising market. This is a new and constantly changing market, which means it can be difficult to hit your target and raise significant funds consistently. 

To help you with this, we’ll go through the pros and cons of online fundraising, some best practices, and finally give you 15 online fundraising ideas that you can use for your nonprofit. 

1. Pros and cons of online fundraising

Pros of Online Fundraising

Less expensive

A big positive for online fundraising is that it is typically much cheaper to set up an event. Maybe in the past you had one big event per month, now you could possibly set up some smaller events each week that build up to a big online event at the end of the month.

Less time and resource-dependent 

Similar to money, utilizing technology lessens the burden on your time and resources. It may have taken 50 staff members or volunteers to run last year’s fundraising gala, but this year it could be coordinated with 10 since it is going to be online. 

Planning these events typically takes significantly less time as well. For example, instead of having to book a venue, find caterers, book a speaker, and set up the venue, you can find an online alternative that takes a fraction of the time. 

Bigger donor pool

A huge benefit of moving fundraising online is that you can expand your donor pool exponentially. Instead of your local community and maybe some mail-in donations, you can reach the outer edges of your city, state, country, and the rest of the world!

person donating to a nonprofit online

Easier for donors to give

This is an extremely underrated feature of online fundraising. Many people want to give to a cause, but the process of going to an event, volunteering, or even mailing in a check might be too much for them. 

With online fundraising, you can make it as easy as clicking a couple of buttons for them to donate to your cause. On top of this, you can set up recurring donations so they don’t even have to think about donating, it just happens automatically for them. 

Here are some great online donation tools for you to use.

You can capture more information

Online fundraising allows you to collect and analyze more data that can help you target your audience more effectively. In the past, you might be able to receive a donor’s name, number, and email address if you ask them nicely. With analytics software, you can see a bigger picture of what your donors prefer and how you can best serve them.

Most fundraising platforms have analytics software built-in. You can also use Google Analytics.

creative photo with lights

You can get creative

A couple of years ago, many of these ideas would not have worked. People were used to big fundraising events and in-person gatherings. But with recent changes, people have become more receptive to new virtual alternatives to what they are used to. 

Because of this, there’s somewhat of a blank page for you and your nonprofit to get creative with fundraising and see what lands with your audience. 

Cons of Online Fundraising

Increased competition

When you move to online fundraising you open yourself up to vastly more competition for your potential supporter’s attention. Instead of having an in-person event, where your only competition that night might be a high-school basketball game and a local play, you now are competing with all forms of entertainment online.

Less commitment

Virtual meetings are much easier for people to forget about or intentionally miss. We’ve probably all experienced this to some degree recently. You log on to a Zoom call for work and 2 of your coworkers are missing. If this was in-person, your boss could go down the hall and let them know the meeting is about to start. 

Now, people might not check their email, they might forget to put it on their calendar, or they may claim technical difficulties in order to get out of a commitment.

virtual meeting with donor

Some people are still uncomfortable with virtual meetings

Let’s face it, virtual meetings and meet-ups aren’t the same as the real thing. It’s amazing that we can chat with a dozen family members at one time, but it doesn’t quite feel the same as Thanksgiving last year.

There are some best practices you can use to combat these hesitancies that we will cover next.

2. Best practices for online fundraising

While people have been able to donate online since around 2000, there has been a recent surge in this market and therefore a whole new burst of ideas of how to best fundraise online. Because of this new wave of information, it can be confusing and tricky to figure out which way you want to take your online fundraising efforts.

We’ve laid out some best practices for online fundraising that combine timeless principles with new information to help you and your nonprofit figure out an effective fundraising plan.

Invest in resources

Since this is such a new frontier, it is a good idea to invest in resources that can help make sure things run smoothly and you are receiving the maximum amount of donations possible. A couple of areas where you could possibly invest money to help your cause are:

  • Your website
  • Payment processing system
  • CRM software 
  • Training for you and your staff

Investing a little bit upfront will pay massive dividends later on down the road. If there is something that is taking you too much time or doesn’t seem to be working correctly, do some research. There is typically a better, more efficient way to accomplish tasks online.

Utilize Google Ad Grants

Google has been incredibly generous with their support for nonprofit organizations. They have set up Google Ad Grants, which allows nonprofits to use up to $10,000 worth of advertising on Google Ads every month!

Google Ad Grants are one of the best ways to get qualified leads into your online fundraising funnel.

Using this resource is as close to a no-brainer as you can get. There’s no catch and you will be able to build an online presence on the world’s most popular search engine. 

google ads for nonprofit marketing plan

On top of all this free advertising, there are companies like Click Nonprofit who help you get the most out of all these advertising dollars. They will help you acquire this grant and come up with a plan that will get your message in front of the maximum number of qualified donors as possible.

Build an easy to use and visually appealing website

Your website is the hub of your online fundraising. Investing the time and effort to create a great website is one of the best things you can do for your cause. 

Many potential donors go to a website to either learn more about the product or make a donation. Unfortunately, many of these donors leave the website because it is either confusing or doesn’t point them in the direction they need. 

plans for a fundraising focused website

Luckily, building a great website doesn’t cost a fortune these days. You can use website builders like Wix or Square Space to help build a website yourself. If you want help creating a simple website, can recruit affordable help from freelancers on sites like UpWork and Fiverr. If you want to take it a step further to create a website that is optimized for search engines and donors, you can hire affordable agencies that specialize in helping nonprofits with web and marketing.

Gather information

On the internet, information is a powerful resource. There are a number of areas where you should be trying to gather as much information as possible. To help you gather, analyze, and store information, you should get a great CRM software

Along with your CRM software, you should have some sort of analytics software to help with your marketing trends and analysis. When you have this information you will be better able to target your potential donors and give them the information they need. 

Maximize recurring donations

It’s well known in the business world that it costs much more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. 

The same goes for fundraising. Use things such as email newsletters, online events, and social media to stay in touch and build loyalty with your existing donor base. 

Keep it simple

In the limitless world of the internet, it is easy to spread your resources too thin and end up getting lost in your online fundraising efforts. You don’t need to try every fundraising idea or implement fancy software to be successful in fundraising online.

This is why we recommend keeping it simple. Try out a couple of strategies, analyze what works, and make adjustments as needed. 

3. Online fundraising ideas

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of online fundraising, it’s time to show you some ideas to help you brainstorm for your nonprofit. Like we mentioned in the previous sections, this is a new and dynamic environment. Don’t be afraid to tweak these ideas, combine two ideas, or use these as inspiration for your own new fundraising idea!

social media fundraising ideas

1. Social media fundraising campaigns

One of the broadest and most easily accessible online fundraising platforms is social media. Almost all of your online fundraising campaigns should point interested donors towards either your social media pages or your website. 

Social media isn’t just a compliment to your other campaigns, though. Many nonprofits run very effective fundraising campaigns through their social media accounts. Facebook allows you to run fundraisers right on their platform, while other social media sites can assist in getting the word out about your campaign.

There are 2 general ways to execute social media campaigns for online fundraising. 

The first is to have a continuous campaign. This is a good idea for nearly every nonprofit, it typically consists of posting quality content on a regular basis, while also asking for a donation. This is a good way to keep your nonprofit’s name in front of donors and receive steady donations.

The second is a single day or “blast” campaign. These types of campaigns are more of an event that needs to be planned, marketed, and executed. You can use your continuous campaign to help build up excitement for your blast campaign. These campaigns help bring in a large chunk of new donations and build new awareness for your nonprofit. 

A couple of ideas to help your blast campaign be successful:

  • Market the event weeks or months in advance
  • Share a goal with your donors
  • Try to get some repeat donors to pre-commit to donating during your campaign
  • Offer rewards, entertainment, or something to help attract attention to the campaign

2. Email fundraising campaigns

Email campaigns are very similar to your social media campaigns except they target more of your loyal and repeat donors. This is because in order to be on your email list, they will have likely already donated to your cause or filled out a form on your website expressing interest in your organization.

Just like with social media, you can have a continuous campaign, typically called an email newsletter. This is meant to be more of a monthly update on your organization, with any information that might be interesting to your donors. There should always be some sort of donation or sharing element to your newsletter to either encourage donations or to help expand your organization’s reach.

An email “blast” campaign typically isn’t as effective as social media. With social media, it is very easy to share things and therefore campaigns can pick up steam very quickly. Email blasts can still be useful if you are needing an influx of support from your most loyal donors, these should typically be limited to twice a year.

3. Online gala

Online fundraising galas have greatly increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also known as the Un-Gala, this tries to include all the typical components of a standard gala, but in an online format. Some typical Un-Gala features include:

  • Livestream broadcast with speakers or performances
  • Ordering takeout to have dinner at home
  • Dressing up (or not)
  • Live chat so donors can talk amongst themselves
  • Online auctions
  • Donation opportunities

A great example of an Un-Gala can be found from Cradles to Crayons Philadelphia.

4. Peer-to-peer fundraising

Peer-to-peer fundraising basically means calling on your most loyal supporters to reach out to their peers to help fundraise for your nonprofit. This method takes a loyal donor base but can have exponential returns when performed correctly.

One of the reasons peer-to-peer fundraising is so effective is because people believe and trust their friends and family much more than most organizations. This helps build customer loyalty and spread the word about your nonprofit in an organic way.

CauseVox is a great resource for more information on peer-to-peer fundraising.

person performing at an online fundraising concert

5. Online concert

An online concert can be a great way to get donors together and enjoy some great music. It’s not going to be the same as a live, in-person concert, but you can use some of these negatives and turn them into positives.

For example, at a live concert, you usually don’t get much talking in because it is too loud. With a virtual concert, you can have a live chat to discuss the band or your cause. Along with this, you have access to everyone attending the online concert, instead of just your group and those around you.

6. Online auction

An online auction is relatively similar to an in-person auction, you collect donations, plan the event, and then auction items off to everyone in attendance. The biggest challenge for an online auction is building excitement and getting adequate attendance.

Most people go to an auction to see their friends and have a fun night for a good cause. Like most things on this list, you need to get creative in order to make the online version as fun or even better than the in-person alternative.

man hosting a nonprofit webinar

7. Webinar or lecture

This could be a great way to reach a wide range of potential new donors and educate them about your cause or nonprofit. A webinar or lecture probably won’t be a large grossing event, such as a gala, but is a good option to help build awareness for your cause that could lead to future donations.

8. Birthday fundraiser

There have been thousands of missed birthday parties due to COVID-19, which leaves an opportunity for your nonprofit to help people celebrate these important days. Whether it’s the birthday of the creation of your fundraiser, a key person for your cause, or someone that has benefited from your nonprofit, a birthday fundraiser is a great opportunity to bring your community together online.

9. Virtual class or workshop

This is another great way to either help reach new donors or further educate current supporters and build loyalty. Most nonprofits will charge a small fee for this class to help build up donations, but it could also be a voluntary donation before or after the class.

popcorn at a virtual movie night fundraiser

10. Virtual movie night

A virtual movie night is a fun way to get some donations while also getting the whole family involved. This can be a fun movie, unrelated to your cause, or it could be something informational about your cause, such as a documentary or your own film.

11. Online trivia night

An online trivia night can be a good way to inject some fun into your community. Whether you want to have it be a one-time deal or maybe host one every month, trivia night’s usually have a pretty good turnout and are relatively easy to set up. 

There are a number of software programs available to help you make your trivia night a success.

12. Online donation “jar”

This one is a great way to boost some of your recurring donations. This online donation “jar” could be set up as a general donation spot, or for a different cause each week, month, or year. 

For example, let’s say your nonprofit helps local families with medical bills. If there was a family in need of substantial help, you could set up the donation jar to specifically go to their cause. Or, if there was a particular medical condition that was affecting children in your area, you could have the funds from the jar benefit that cause. 

13. Virtual coffee break or happy hour

This is another casual way to bring your community together and have an open conversation about your cause or just about whatever. These can also double as a brainstorming session about how to get more online donations from potential donors.

14. Free gift with donation

Different people need different incentives to donate. Some people just want to support the cause, some like the community aspect of it, and some would like something tangible in return. This isn’t a bad thing, they will still be donating to your cause, you will just be providing something in return.

This can be a great option to use in your social media campaigns or any online fundraiser that is targeting new donors. A free gift can attract a potential donor for just long enough that they learn about your cause and transition into a loyal, repeat donor.

15. Online game/poker night

There’s no shortage of games that could be found online. Utilizing these fun and entertaining games can make for a game night that far exceeds any poker night you could put on in person. This is an option that takes some creativity, but if you hit the mark this could be a recurring source of donations, as well as fun for your community.

One last thing

As our society continues to grow and evolve, your nonprofit will have to adapt to different ways of doing things in order to continue to be successful and support your cause. This can be a difficult, frustrating, and sometimes scary task for a lot of people.

There are going to be times when you get things wrong and your plan doesn’t work out, and that’s okay. Remember that other nonprofits are trying to learn and navigate this new online fundraising arena just like you are. Do your best to continue to learn, make adjustments as needed, and you’ll be just fine.

A special thanks to these great organizations for some of the fundraising ideas!

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