How Nonprofits are Succeeding with Virtual Fundraising Events

Wendy Levine
May 6, 2020


Is your fundraising event moving online?  We have been talking to our clients, nonprofit consultants, and doing a little brainstorming with our Salsa nonprofit experts.  The most popular suggestions and ideas are listed below, along with some data on what other nonprofit organizations are doing. 

Some of the ideas below come from a survey of 279 nonprofit organizations that were in the process of "virtualizing" their existing fundraising events.  Those we surveyed were moving the following types of events online:


Don't try to duplicate your original event exactly

Whether you are replacing a large gala or a small golf outing - don't attempt to completely replicate your original event.  Take advantage of the online format to encourage different types of interactions, deliver content in new ways, and enable your supporters to participate in some events on their own time.  

Some ideas:

  • Replace a golf tournament with an at-home trick shot contest or online gaming contest.
  • Share recipes for special cocktails or desserts that participants can make themselves.
  • Use virtual peer-to-peer events to allow supporters to raise money through their networks.  For example:  a virtual 5k race where participants track their own progress or a beard or hair growing contest!

Engage participants and be mindful of session times and lengths

If your online event has significant time dedicated to presentations or speeches, it can be difficult to find ways to keep your participants engaged.  While there are no rules that fit all events and situations, here are some standards to consider:

  • Keep sessions to less than 60-minutes
  • If longer sessions are needed,  offer regular breaks of at least 10-minutes
  • Use at least one moderator (especially if multiple presenters and shorter sessions will be required).  Your moderator can offer a consistent voice across sessions, manage questions, and make adjustments if technical issues arise.
  • Offer frequent opportunities for the audience to chat with each other, ask questions, and participate through the use of polls and presenter-led discussions.
  • Provide separate recordings of each session or presentation.


Be creative!

We just love some of the ideas that our clients have come up - especially when they have had to quickly replace a live event with a virtual one.  Here are our top choices!

  • Use a celebrity or mascot.  While a real celebrity would be great - a local hero works even better.  A board member who is known in the community?   The Executive Director's dog - who doubles as the office mascot?
  • Mail activity kits to registrants so that everyone can participate together - everything from making fancy name tags to a blanket or other item that can then be donated.
  • Dress the part!  Pick a theme and encourage presenters and attendees to dress accordingly.  Black tie?  Superheroes?


Evaluate and test technology

If you are running your first virtual fundraising event, you may not have a lot of experience with meeting and conference software.   Like any software purchase - determine your requirements and your budget before you start to evaluate new software.  There are lots of options, many of which offer special pricing for nonprofit organizations (so be sure to check).  

Whether you have an existing meeting platform, or will be purchasing a new one, we have 2 pieces of advice:

  1. Use available security features.  Most platforms allow for different levels of security (meeting passwords, for example, can be turned off or on).  As more and more meetings are being held online, there are more examples of security breaches and hacks - most can be avoided!
  2. Test!  Be sure to run a simulated event and duplicate as much of it as possible.  Test screen sharing, audio, chat features, etc.  Try to test with the actual presenters - using the hardware (speakers, headphones, laptop) that they plan on using during the event. 

No matter how you decide to organize your virtual event, be sure to communicate early and often with your supporters to ensure success!

Check out Salsa's Virtual Event Guide for a list of meeting software - along with lots of great tips for running a virtual fundraising event!

For more online fundraising ideas, check out Soapbox Engage's list of 40+ Virtual Fundraising Ideas.

Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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