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16 Engaging Virtual Fundraising Events: Ideas and Planning

Published on March 17, 2022 • Updated on June 7, 2022 • About 10 min. read

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16 Engaging Virtual Fundraising Events: Ideas and Planning

Virtual events are booming in popularity. Don't believe us? A Grand View Research report found that the average annual growth of the global virtual events industry between 2021 and 2028 will be 23.7%.

But with so many livestreams to compete with, how do you make your virtual fundraising events stand out?

Find out with our 16 recommendations for memorable, interactive virtual events that’ll make people take notice – and set your fundraiser apart from the crowd.

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Video Engagement Quiz

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16 virtual fundraising event ideas for your nonprofit

Online fundraising offers lots of opportunities to try out new ideas and fundraising strategies, and without the costs of physical space, catering, and equipment, they’re easier and cheaper to run than traditional in-person events.

Also, virtual events are far more accessible because people can join no matter where they are. And this means they have the potential to generate far more in donations.

Here’s our pick of the 16 best virtual fundraising event ideas that are guaranteed to keep audiences engaged. We’ll give you examples and inspiration to run the following fundraising events:

  • Gala
  • Concert
  • Comedy event
  • Auction
  • Cooking class
  • Creative event
  • Paint night
  • Yoga class
  • Design contest
  • Game tournament
  • Marathon
  • Happy hour
  • Webinar
  • Parenting event
  • Trade or business fair
  • Tour

1. Virtual gala

Virtual galas are far more flexible than their in-person counterparts. You can blend livestreaming with pre-recorded videos, incorporate live polls, and share multimedia to get attendees involved. Here's our ultimate guide to livestreaming for more tips.

You can also include interactive activities, like a silent auction, and encourage user-generated content by asking viewers to dress up, use virtual backgrounds, and share social media posts.

Offer “VIP” extras for higher tier donors, like celebrity shout-outs or a home-delivered party pack. You could also partner with a local restaurant to offer food delivery or send VIPs gift cards for food delivery companies. Another possibility is to invite them to a virtual afterparty within a breakout room.

two members of a team logging in together to a virtual fundraising event

2. Virtual concert

Virtual concerts with a big-name headliner are a fantastic way to create a buzz for your fundraiser.

The bigger the artist, the more appealing the event – and the more you can charge for tickets. If possible, get performers who support your cause so their passion for it shines through. They’re more likely to become advocates and support the event on social media.

As well as selling tickets through your fundraising page, upsell extras like “backstage passes” to meet the artists. Also, Livestorm lets you share unlimited replays of your events so no one ever has to miss out on the fun.

3. Virtual comedy event

Livestreamed comedy can also be a big draw for virtual events. Again, the bigger the names, the more you can charge, but you can also ask local improv performers to donate their time if you don’t have the cast of Saturday Night Live in your WhatsApp group.

Sell tickets and corporate sponsorship packages and recruit supporters to act as “table hosts” who encourage others to register. And if your budget does allow, or you can persuade them to donate some time, a celebrity guest or MC will drum up even more interest.

woman laughing at the comedy show that's part of the engaging virtual fundraiser

4. Virtual auction

Auctions generate a lot of excitement as people are able to see what will come under the hammer well in advance of the event. Also, there’s a competitive element to auctions which brings with it a great sense of anticipation.

Set up an event page to showcase items pre-sale and set minimum opening bids or increments. Remember, people won’t bid all the time so make regular donation calls and have some creative engagement strategies up your sleeve. If someone is outbid on an item, ask them to donate what they would’ve paid.

Ask local businesses or artisans to donate items or experiences to auction. For maximum impact, make them relevant to your cause. For example, a children’s charity could auction toys or signed copies of books by popular authors. Asking a celebrity author to host the auction will also boost the appeal. Plus, they’ll probably do some social media promotion on their own channels. See here for more ideas for promoting events online.

5. Virtual cooking class

Cooking also appeals to a wide audience and is great for user-generated content (just look how many people post their culinary creations online). It’s also suitable for small donations, so it’s very accessible.

Invite a professional chef or celebrity influencer to give the lesson. Offer tiered registration fees with extras like a signed recipe book, or dinner at a local restaurant. Assign a moderator and allow people to ask questions using the Livestorm chat sidebar during or after the class.

Remember to let people know what ingredients to buy in advance or partner with a local retailer to offer home delivery kits.

this woman is a part of an online cooking class virtual event; she's chopping up vegetables to add to the dish she is preparing and following along from her computer

6. Virtual creative event

From writing workshops to photography to crafts like ceramics, stained glass, knitting, and more, there’s no limit on what virtual events you can create to get people’s creative juices flowing.

Multimedia sharing is especially useful for helping to describe a creative or technical process as you can cut to different recordings of the various stages involved.

7. Virtual paint night

Host a virtual paint night for your benefactors! You can ask a local artist to give a master class. Choose a subject that reflects your cause so that donors can think of it whenever they see their creations. For example, benefactors of an animal charity could paint pet portraits.

“Paint and sip” evenings have become a familiar concept in recent years, so why not borrow from this model and partner with a local art supplier to deliver painting kits to high-tier donors?

8. Virtual yoga class

Tap into the essence of giving with a yoga class, which encourages physical fitness and mindfulness, helping to free us from our egos and act with greater generosity.

Ask a local yoga studio to give a virtual class, and make the replay available afterward. To boost donations, why not ask a well-known brand to donate yoga gear and include it in higher-tier donation packages?

Woman doing yoga in her home with her virtual class on her laptop

9. Virtual design contest

Get creative with a virtual design contest! From flower arranging to fashion, logos, t-shirts, mascots, and more, you can choose specific areas of design so the event’s closely related to your cause.

For example, a sports charity could ask its supporters to design a new logo or mascot for their local team. The team could then match donations or provide tickets and merchandising for higher-tier donors.

Depending on the time required, you can have people complete the challenge live or set a start date in advance and have them connect to the livestream for judging. Ask a celebrity or expert to be the judge or engage the audience by letting them vote via live polls for the winner.

10. Virtual game tournament

From Minecraft to Mario Kart, there’s a gaming community for everyone. Gamers are also used to connecting online to play together, so this is an easy sell.

Segment your supporters to pick the right game, decide on the format, and start spreading the word. With Liverstorm, you can promote your virtual event with your own landing pages.

And why not combine registration fees with peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns? Players can ask friends and family to sponsor them according to how far they get.

11. Virtual marathon

According to OneCause, 64% of nonprofits that ran virtual endurance events in 2020 found them to be more successful than other online donation models, perhaps because supporters particularly welcomed any opportunity to get in shape.

Pick an activity suited to your supporter base, like a walkathon, danceathon, or sponsored swim – anything that allows them to commit to completing a certain amount of miles, laps, or rounds in a given time. Charge a registration fee or allow participants to raise sponsorship from friends and family.

By livestreaming a real-life event, you’ve made it go hybrid – which is a fantastic way to reach out for more donations for an event that would otherwise be far more limited in scope.

12. Virtual happy hour

You can organize a regular virtual happy hour, deliver drinks to high-tier participants, and create quizzes, private chats in breakout rooms, or even a mixology class.

Making cocktails and mocktails requires some preparation – think fruits, herbs, ice, and spirits, not to mention shakers, stirrers, mixers, and strainers. But you can use this to your advantage – joining in requires planning and genuine buy-in on the part of attendees, and with that degree of commitment, you can be sure of a successful fundraising event.

Two people working together on a computer while one takes a sip from lemonade

13. Webinar

Online talks are a familiar format these days for those looking to learn a skill or hear an expert viewpoint, and if your video talks are a hit, you could consider making them a regular event, like TED talks.

Choose a topic related to your cause and ask an expert, local community leader, or one of your board members to speak. Assign a moderator and encourage a lively Q&A or debate after the talk.

Remember to share the replay for anyone who signed up but couldn’t make it – or don’t! With Livestorm, event replays can be automatically sent to every guest, whether they attended or not.

14. Virtual parenting event

Combining home-working with childcare has tested many parents to the limit during the pandemic, so there’s a lot of demand for resources and support.

Host events featuring expert advice around childcare issues related to your cause. For example, if you’re an autism charity, create a forum for sharing experiences around home-schooling autistic children with input from a live panel of experts.

Parents will have lots of questions, so make Q&As a big part of the event. Take advantage of Livestorm’s post-event engagement analytics to select attendees to target with future fundraising campaigns.

Livestorm-virtual fundraising events – Laptop screen showing virtual event host in center and participants in bubbles around her

15. Virtual trade or business fair

Virtual trade or business fairs can be a beast to organize! Luckily, the benefits far outweigh the effort involved. Fundraising potential can come from registration fees and corporate sponsorship packages, tiered access, talks, workshops, and virtual exhibition booths.

Allow companies to make large donations to become sponsors of the event, with their logo prominently featured in your promotional materials. You can create sponsorship tiers that give these corporate sponsors special benefits, like being able to present their offering during a key slot during the event.

See here for more ideas on how to organize an online conference.

Laptop screen showing livestream conference stage, presentation, speaker, and audience

16. Virtual tour

Virtual tours are fantastic for nonprofits like animal shelters or museums, who can give benefactors the chance to see inside their own facilities, spaces, and operations. If this isn’t you, you can ask to film the premises of a business or organization linked to your cause instead.

Be aware, though, that a tour can be a passive experience – so keep the audience engaged with reaction emojis, live polls, and question upvotes – and make frequent donation appeals!

How to plan a virtual fundraising event

With a little creativity and help from modern technology, there’s no reason your virtual fundraiser can’t be as successful as an in-person event.

Here’s how to plan:

Step 1: Define a fundraising goal

Most virtual fundraising events do just that, raise money. Secondary goals, however, could include raising awareness, growing your supporter base, and identifying potential repeat givers.

Whatever they are, use the SMART principle to help you define your goals:

Specific

“Raise more money” is too open-ended. Set an exact amount according to how you will use the funds

Measurable

How will you measure success? Money raised, number of new supporters, corporate pledges?

Attainable

Be ambitious but realistic.

Relevant

Goals should be connected to your cause somehow, and supporters want to know where their money is going

Time-based

Set a start and end date

Step 2: Select your virtual fundraising event format

There are different types of event formats you can select from. To help you decide what’s best, segment your supporters into categories. Then, choose the event format based on your audience. For example, if your audience is sporty young professionals, you could host a virtual gym class.

By paying attention to how you’ve categorised groups, you can better resonate with your audience, and create events that really connect with their interests and passions – which can be crucial to their success.

Step 3. Choose the right digital tools

Virtual fundraising relies more on technology than in-person events, so it’s important to choose the right tools. Pick ones that suit the format of your fundraiser and the technical skills of your teams and supporters.

Fundraising tools must also integrate with each other (the fewer platforms people have to log into, the easier it is to participate), and mobile-responsive platforms are critical to successfully engaging audiences.

It’s also essential they offer features that keep audiences engaged—discussions, Q&As, polls, and interactive activities that encourage user-generated content—since these are among the top strategies for successful engagement.

The leader of the video call is engaging with the virtual attendees and there is a list included of all the people in the meeting, with their icons visible as smaller tiles below the speaker.

The cornerstone of your fundraising toolkit is the video platform. Here are some of the key features the best virtual event platforms have:

  • Versatility so it can handle any kind of event and size
  • User-friendliness so it’s simple to create and promote events, and easy to join in
  • Engagement features so attendees can have fun as active participants in the event

As well as a virtual event platform, you may need:

  • Ticketing software like Eventbrite allows you to promote your event and sell tickets.
  • A CRM to keep your supporter data organized and easily accessible in one place.
  • Marketing and communication tools, which you’ll need to reach out to segmented supporters and promote your events across multiple channels.
  • Streaming platforms like YouTube to share livestream events.
  • Analytics so you can track and analyze engagement with your content and website.
Video Engagement Quiz
Quiz Quiz

Video Engagement Quiz

Are your event attendees dozing off? Have you reached online event fatigue? Take this quiz to see where you stand and get actionable tips to make your events highly engaging!

Read more

Final thoughts on virtual fundraising events

Done right, virtual fundraising events are every bit as successful as traditional in-person events, giving you exciting opportunities for engagement and access to a broader audience – all while being more cost-effective and easier to run.

For the best results, choose activities to match your cause, and use a user-friendly virtual event platform that specializes in engagement, and has the versatility to support all your online events.

Video Engagement Quiz
Quiz Quiz

Video Engagement Quiz

Are your event attendees dozing off? Have you reached online event fatigue? Take this quiz to see where you stand and get actionable tips to make your events highly engaging!

Read more