Virtual fundraising is any fundraising that takes place entirely online, including donations made on your website or through social media channels.
The importance of virtual fundraising cannot be overstated. According to M+R, online revenue for nonprofits grew by 10% in 2019, and if 2021 follows other post-election year trends, we would expect additional elevated online giving next year. While the Coronavirus pandemic has us all waiting for a return to normal, smart nonprofits are loading up on virtual fundraising ideas to replace those in-person events which are no longer viable.
In this article, we’ll discuss a few virtual fundraising best practices and share ten online fundraising ideas you can implement right now, along with some recommendations for choosing the best online fundraising software. We’ll also share a few stats that might open your eyes to the importance of virtual fundraising in an increasingly digital world.
Navigation jumps to each section of this article:
- Make virtual fundraising part of your development plan.
- Invest in the right virtual fundraising software.
- Design your virtual fundraising giving form.
- Offer a recurring gift option for virtual giving.
- Diversify your virtual fundraising outreach.
- Make it easy to find your virtual fundraising form.
- Try new virtual fundraising ideas.
1. Make virtual fundraising part of your development plan
The development plan is your organization’s financial road map for the upcoming year. It charts a course for your fundraising efforts and outlines the strategy you’ll take to make your financial goals a reality.
Every development plan should include virtual fundraising. Even if you’ve never included that type of fundraising in your plan before, you can get started with a few easy assumptions.
Take a look at how much money you brought in during your last cycle from online sources. This can vary for different nonprofits. Some track this on a calendar year, others follow a financial calendar, and some follow custom calendars like the school year. Start simple and look just at donations made through your website. You can use that as your baseline and think about how you might raise at least that amount for the upcoming cycle.
Now, take a look at how you raised those funds. Did those donations happen because of a specific email? Did they follow a big event where people forgot to give in-person, but they visited your website the day after? Was there a peer-to-peer campaign running? Try to categorize your online revenue into clear channels and make those line items clear in your development plan’s virtual fundraising section.
2. Invest in the right virtual fundraising software.
Once you’ve included virtual fundraising in your development plan for the upcoming year, you’ll want to make sure you’ve identified the resources you’ll need to implement that plan. This all starts with selecting the right virtual fundraising software.
Estimating your online revenue based on previous years is a good place to start, but you still need a real plan to bring in those funds. Assuming all donations will just come in this year because they did last year is only a slightly better plan than basing your organization’s financial future on your ability to win the lottery.
For organizations that made most of their online donations through Facebook, consider that while online revenue grew on Facebook in 2019 overall, some sectors saw sharp declines.
The majority of Facebook fundraising took place on its peer-to-peer platform. Some of that revenue comes from friends of friends who your organization may not have a way to reach otherwise. Still, very few of those donors will opt-in for future giving, and Facebook offers no additional information to help your organization contact them in the future.
In a way, you become reliant on Facebook to connect you with potential donors, which may not be a smart strategy since that platform saw a 16% decrease in earned reach average from 2018 to 2019. That’s the ratio of Facebook users reached by a given post relative to their audience size. If your organization has 20,000 followers, you’d expect any given post to reach around 1,800 people organically. If Facebook continues to post years with 4% user growth and 16% reach declines, nonprofits will see their posts reaching half of the users they reach now in less than 5 years.
Especially if your organization relies heavily on funds generated by Giving Tuesday, Facebook should still be part of your fundraising plan, but it should not be your sole source of outreach.
The first step to accomplishing your virtual fundraising goals is to purchase and implement online fundraising software. It will allow you to understand your supporters and their online habits better and automate your marketing.
The following is a list of features that make fundraising software helpful for nonprofits.
CRM stands for constituent relationship management, and it’s a tool that helps you track your supporters, their contact details, and other important information. Nonprofit CRM software is essential to keeping track of donors and donations to your organization.
Your nonprofit CRM should allow you to create custom fields that fit with your mission and enhance your supporter profiles with rich data. It should enable you to engage with your supporters via email, social media, and track your offline efforts too - like direct mail. It should allow you to create fundraising forms and integrate them into your website and social platforms, and it should allow you to process online donations quickly.
Having all of these things in one place can be a powerful solution for your nonprofit. It will make you more efficient and able to better engage with your supporters. Salsa CRM users reported a 35% increase in staff efficiency because they can keep all contact information and engagement activities in one easily accessible place. No more looking for old notebooks or past event signup sheets to figure out who attended which event or when a good time to reach out might be.
Salsa users also reported an average of 28% donation growth and 74% donor retention rates, all with an 18% increase in average gift size, because their CRM allowed them to segment their list and stay in constant communication with their donors.
Online Donation Form
Having an engaging online donation form is essential to virtual fundraising. It is the tool responsible for converting your supporters into new donors and turning one-time donors into recurring contributors.
When evaluating virtual fundraising software, look for systems that give you the ability to:
- Easily create forms through drag and drop form creation
- Select multiple giving levels, one time, and recurring gifts
- Accept “in memoriam” and “honor" gifts
- Embed fundraising forms on any web platform that will look great on any device, desktop or mobile
- Track donor interaction and key metrics, like donated last year but not this year, event attendees who also contributed, potential major donors who haven’t donated yet, and volunteers who have not donated
- Immediately acknowledge online gifts with automated but personalized messaging
Later in this article, we discuss how to structure your online donation form for maximum giving.
Peer-to-peer fundraising is an essential element in the virtual fundraising toolkit, and one of Salsa’s most recommended online fundraising best practices. Today, 43% of millennials are donating through P2P platforms, and nonprofits are force-multiplying that passion into major fundraising growth.
Peer-to-peer events are perfect for walk-a-thons, team events, DIY campaigns, and any other initiative planned around a pre-defined event. Whether in-person or online, peer-to-peer fundraising is a great way to leverage your supporters’ networks to raise funds for your organization.
P2P platforms take a little extra work to set up, but they can have significant payoffs. Look for a platform that is easy to use, integrates coaching guides to help teams and individuals create their pages quickly and overcome the fear of fundraising.
Good peer-to-peer fundraising software will promote successful teams and inspire others to get involved.
On the technical side of things, your software should allow for custom dashboard creation to track essential metrics like the number of teams and individual fundraisers; the total amount raised, average gift size, etc. You should also be able to sync contacts back to your CRM for additional segmentation and outreach.
Various applications provide these features individually, which can be an easy way for smaller nonprofits to get started in one area of virtual fundraising. A system like Salsa integrates all these features into one platform, giving you a more holistic view of your donors and keeping your supporters engaged all year round.
A nonprofit CRM, online donation forms, virtual events, and peer-to-peer fundraising should all be part of your organization’s virtual fundraising development plan.
3. Design your virtual fundraising giving form
The design of your virtual fundraising form will have an impact on how much money you raise. When creating online donation forms, make sure to integrate the following concepts:
- Frame the Ask
- Give them a choice
- Provide Motivation
- Make it seamless
Frame the Ask
Research shows that the simple act of framing the ask can increase donations fivefold. Put simply; donors like to know their contribution is making a difference.
The most important part of your donation form is putting into context why the donation matters.
Give your readers information about how the donation helps your organization and how it will be applied to the community you serve. A simple statement about where the money goes or what your organization will do with the donation will suffice.
- “A $30 donation provides crayons for one student for an entire year.”
- “A $500 will keep a family’s light or heat on this winter.”
Give Them a Choice
Give your potential donors a choice in how their donation is directed. Providing options on your form can be empowering to supporters and help solidify the desire to donate. This can come in the form of donor-directed funds like memorials, in honor of, or just a simple list of different ways someone can donate. A checkbox that links back to a field in your CRM will do the trick here.
It should come as no surprise to you that people need to be motivated to donate. Merely asking for a few dollars doesn’t cut it these days. An excellent way to inspire donors is to show them that your organization has the same interests and motivations as they do.
Nonprofits with an issue focus but a more broad base of support can create that motivation by calling attention to just a single issue on each form. Multiple issues may require multiple forms or a dedicated area on a single form that speaks to those different motivations, potentially as donation options.
Your frame will tap into the donor's motivation, but it also helps to expand on the frame with content and context that makes the motivation explicit.
Make it Seamless
The best online donation forms combine all the elements mentioned above to tell a story and encourage donations.
Consider this virtual fundraising form from Neighborhood Legal Services. It frames the ask upfront, provides context about how the donation supports equal justice (issue motivation and donor stories), offers multiple ways to give (honor and memorials), and moves straight into an easy-to-use online checkout form.
You can learn more about designing your fundraising form in our article on online fundraising form tactics.
4. Offer a recurring gift option for virtual fundraising.
To survive and thrive as a nonprofit, you need a consistent stream of revenue to support operations. For seasonal nonprofits, recurring gifts help them expand past their normal cycle where they generate most (or all) of their income over just a few days or a single month.
One of the best ways to create this consistency is to generate recurring donations; weekly, monthly, and annually.
Start by adding a recurring donation option to your virtual fundraising form and letting people know that this is an option. Include reference to it in your online appeals and make sure that people see the impact of a recurring donation when you add that context on your virtual fundraising page.
Once you add recurring donation capabilities through your fundraising software, consider crafting an email marketing campaign targeted at one-time donors. You’ll thank them for their support, remind them how their contribution has helped, and encourage them to transition to a recurring gift and why doing so will provide additional benefits.
5. Diversify your virtual fundraising outreach.
The quickest way to donor burnout is to make every interaction a fundraising appeal. The consequences can be dire and include losing long-time donors, higher email spam rates, lower email deliverability rates, less engagement on social, and decreasing donations. That’s why diversifying your virtual fundraising outreach is another of Salsa’s recommended online fundraising best practices.
Your marketing outreach should contain more than just donation appeals. You need a healthy mix of informative content, exciting stories, and some good old-fashioned fun. Doing so will improve relations with your current supporters, expand your online presence, and encourage your advocates to get more involved with your organization’s outreach.
Using a CRM and marketing automation platform can help you plan messages ahead of time and automate sending them on a schedule. Segment your supporters to make sure they get targeted messages that are relevant to their motivations. In between appeals for money, throw in a few cute cat gifs or some other lighthearted graphics that are contextually relevant for your focus.
If your nonprofit takes a more somber tone, cute cat gifs may not be appropriate. Instead, try relevant infographics or a peer-reviewed study. Find something that breaks the serious nature of your work with a moment of levity. Be true to your tone and voice, but remember if the CIA can do it, so can you:
For more information on diversifying virtual fundraising outreach, check out our article on nonprofit marketing strategies.
6. Make it easy to find your virtual fundraising form.
Having the perfect donation form won’t matter much if people can’t find their way to it. Make sure your fundraising form is prominently displayed on your website and through your social media streams.
On your website, consider adding a button or link to your donation form in these places:
- Header or main menu area
- Footer bar
- As a popup
- As a full-page welcome mat when new visitors arrive on your website
- In sidebars, as a graphical advertisement
- In the footer of individual posts on your blog pages after someone has read the full article
On social media, place your donation form in areas where the network enables you to display external links. Facebook allows nonprofits to have a dedicated donate button on their profile. They also allow links to web pages. Put a link in your twitter profile. Put one in your linked in profile or company description in addition to the link it allows to your home page.
When you post your donation link in a status update, make sure you add all the elements mentioned earlier. Don’t just simply post a link and beg for money. Add context, motivation, and options.
7. Try new virtual fundraising ideas.
Tried and true is, well, tried and true. Don’t stop doing what works. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always strive to improve. Each year, remember to hold a brainstorming session to develop a few new online fundraising ideas, or just check out our list below for some inspiration.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #1: Giving Tuesday
If you haven’t participated in Giving Tuesday yet, there’s never been a better time. It’s a global phenomenon of fundraising that encourages giving to local nonprofits. Last year, nearly $2 billion was raised on Giving Tuesday, with more than $500 million of that coming in online.
You can download Salsa’s Giving Tuesday toolkit for everything you need to get started with your Giving Tuesday campaign, including sample emails and social messages.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #2: Matching Gift Drives
Matching gifts are an easy way to increase contributions to your organization without having to exert a lot of extra energy or expend too many additional resources. Applications like Double the Donation make this process seamless for your organization.Donors who work for companies with matching gift programs can submit their donations within the matching gift deadline. Their employers will then submit a donation of equal (or sometimes greater!) value to your organization.
Local corporate sponsors are a great place to start, so check for businesses that have supported you in the past or for executives at local companies who have attended your events. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a major initiative. You can begin with just a single event or a short term match focused on a single day (or hour) of giving.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #3: Online Education
Do you have expertise in an area that lends itself to an online class? Perhaps an employee or supporter has a particular skill that could make for a fun or entertaining online experience.
A Facebook or Twitter live event cooking class may be of interest to the budding chef supporter willing to donate $10 for your take on a great recipe.
Are you pressed for ideas during the pandemic? Gather a few medical experts for a YouTube live stream on the status of Coronavirus in your community.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #4: Social Ads
Sometimes it takes money to make money, the concept behind nearly all forms of advertising. Thankfully, online advertising doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get started with just a few dollars, and there is a potential for instant results, especially if you already have an active and engaged social network.
Consider a direct-to-donate ad where your team member speaks directly into the camera and appeals to your supporters for donations. No fancy graphics or studio environments - just a regular smartphone video will do. Ads like this can be very effective at telling your story and conveying the impact of that donation. It also goes a long way to creating a more personal connection with your audience.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #5: Online Auctions
An Online auction is an event fundraiser and an online fundraising strategy rolled into one.
Collect (or purchase) items to offer in an auction. The less expensive your cost to acquire, the more money your auction will generate. Reach out to existing supporters for donated items via email and social media. Create a landing page on your website suggesting the types of gifts you think will work best for your audience. Include a form to let people contact you when they have an item for pickup.
There are dedicated online auction software that can help you set up the event online and run the auction and bidding process.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #6: Sell Merchandise
Chances are if you’ve run an online auction, you’re going to have some leftover material that didn’t sell. Package up those gifts and sell them individually through your website or social media. You can use an e-commerce platform integrated with your website - try WooCommerce if you’re using a WordPress powered website, or separately with apps like Shopify.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #7: Peer-to-Peer Event
Using peer-to-peer fundraising software, donors-turned-fundraisers can create personalized donation pages and share them with their friends and families to help the organization meet a greater fundraising goal. This is a great way to turn your in-person activities into online events. Breathe life into your 10k walk-a-thon by adding a peer-to-peer component and expanding your reach. Make your next bake sale virtual and offer yummy prizes for supporters with the highest donation.
Software, like Salsa Engage, will handle everything you need to run a successful peer-to-peer fundraising campaign with event registration pages, coaching for supporters, people’s ability to create a team or individual donation page, and dashboards to analyze vital fundraising metrics.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #8: Use A Petition
Advocacy organizations use petitions effectively to gauge interest in a specific topic among a group of supporters. We know that interested and engaged supporters donate at a higher frequency. Next time, instead of merely thanking the petition signer for taking action, redirect them to a post-petition donation form.
Not sure how to create an online petition? Read our article on using current events petitions as a fundraising opportunity for your nonprofit.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #9: Donor Recognition Campaign
Social proof is a strong motivator. Seeing someone you know share a personal story will help others connect and donate to your organization. Donor recognition campaigns are a powerful way to draw attention to your organization and encourage a philanthropy culture among your supporters.
Start by profiling a few existing donors. Ask questions that tease out their reasons for donating to your cause. This can be in written format or put on video as a testimonial. Share them in your email newsletter or on social media with a fundraising appeal and link to your donate page.
Pressley Ridge puts the stories of those it serves front and center in everything they do. Check out their stories web page for videos that inspire and motivate supporters to give generously to support their educational initiatives.
Virtual Fundraising Idea #10: Virtual Challenges
Virtual challenges can be a fun way to spur supporters to action. They use elements of social pressure to encourage competition, and nearly anyone can participate.
Remember the ice bucket challenge?
It started online as a fun way to support smaller organizations and was later adopted by the ALS, which reportedly raised more than $100 million worldwide with this one initiative.
Your virtual challenges need not be so grand. Start by taking donations for smaller bits of fun. For instance, with the right incentive, your executive director might be persuaded to get soaked in a dunk tank. A member of your local media could join in and bring even more attention to the event.
You could also try an event that might not be so wet or chilling! Encourage supporters to take a virtual hike in support of your organization and use GPS or fitness apps to track progress and determine the winner. Or keep things simple by holding a push-up competition, which most people can do in the comfort of their own home.
Remember to have fun, follow our best practices for virtual fundraising, and every so often stretch out of your routine with a few new fundraising ideas.