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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

20 Online Fundraising Ideas Perfect for Any Cause (Social Distancing Approved!)

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

This is a guest blog post shared with permission from Wild Apricot.

Wondering how to raise funds now that we can’t leave our houses? 

You’re not alone. 

COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape of fundraising, and the foolproof methods nonprofit professionals have always relied on are now out of the question. 

Nonprofits have been forced to postpone their meetings with donors, cancel their events, and figure out how to continue raising funds in the era of social distancing.

The good news is that it is entirely possible to reach your nonprofit’s fundraising goals online. 

These days people are willing to do whatever it takes to help each other, and will completely understand if you have to change the format of your events or communicate with them in a new way.

Plus, the pandemic is changing what we consider normal across all aspects of our lives, so many of these online fundraising strategies will remain prevalent even after the crisis is over. After all, there are a number of benefits that make them a more appealing option than in-person engagements.  

The Top Three Benefits of Online Fundraising

1. Less Likely to Cause Set-Up Headaches

Whether you’re used to organizing a lot of events or having volunteers go door-to-door to collect donations, you have to agree that these methods require a lot of work – planning, organizing, managing people, schedules, committees, sub-committees and a plethora of other headache-inducing tasks.

Online fundraising relies on technology more than anything, so the only work you have to do is strategic, like setting goals and thinking about how best to reach them. Fundraising online does involve a bit of work upfront to get things set up, but the rest is usually handled by the technology you choose to work with.

2.  Less Likely to Break the Bank

You don’t need to book a venue for your event, cater lunch for your committee meeting, pay for the 5,000 direct mail pieces you send out or print 500 flyers to promote your fundraiser. Most of the ideas in this post are low cost, rely on technology you already pay for, and some are completely free (other than paying your staff for their time, of course).

3. Less Likely to Restrict Your Reach

If you’re a small nonprofit in the Yukon, there’s no way that someone from New York is coming to your event (sorry to burst your bubble). 

But with online fundraising, physical distance doesn’t exist – you can spread the word about your cause all across the globe if you want to. 

The power of social media makes this possible, so why not take advantage and see how many potential supporters live beyond your local community? 

The #1 Thing You Have to Do First

It’s important to remember what the ultimate goal of your efforts is – you want people to come to your website and make a donation.

To that end, before you even start planning your online fundraising strategy, take a good look at your website and make sure it’s ready for all these new visitors.

You want your website to be easy to navigate, tell the story of your organization in a compelling way, and inspire people to join your community. 

Wondering how to get started? Check out this post on the 22 features that every nonprofit website has

Your website should also make it easy for people to make a donation. Design a functional donate page and link to it in the header of your website to make it hard to miss. A great donate page is simple, but offers the donor lots of options to fit their unique needs.

If you’re thinking of building a new website or refreshing your existing one, you can also start a free 30-day trial of Wild Apricot to see how its built-in website builder might help you create the perfect website for your nonprofit.

20 Online Fundraising Ideas

Now without further ado, let’s dive into the online fundraising ideas. Feel free to skip to a topic that interests you the most:

1.   Text-to-Give

The ease of giving through a mobile phone is hard to beat — people are already on it all the time, and there are no lengthy forms to fill out. Plus, a service like Snowball, Qgiv, MobileCause or many others will set up the system for you, so all you have to do is decide on a catchy and relevant keyword and start encouraging people to text in.

Note that there are two ways of giving through a mobile phone and you might need to do some research about what your audience would prefer. Text-to-give automatically charges the donation amount through the donor’s mobile service provider, while text-to-donate responds to their text with a link to a webpage where they can complete the donation. This article explains the difference in greater detail.

Who does it well:

One of the earliest adopters of text-to-give was the American Red Cross. Following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, they raised over $43 million in relief funds by encouraging people to text “HAITI” and donate $10. Their text-to-give system is still successfully running today.

2.   Email Campaign

Hopefully, sending appeals via email is already part of your nonprofit’s fundraising practice. It’s a low-cost way of letting your community know what your immediate needs are and how they can offer their support. 

Plus, if you’ve taken the right steps to grow your email list over time, the impact of just one well-crafted email could be far-reaching.

When drafting your message, keep in mind that your audience likely already receives a ton of emails. Make this one stand out with a catchy subject, lots of visuals and a large and clear call to action. This email should be different from other ones you send, such as your welcome emails, event invitations or reminders, your newsletter and other updates. It should be concise, to the point, and stress an immediate need for action.

Who does it well:

Here’s a great fundraising email sent by Hands On Atlanta — it states the need clearly and concisely, sets a specific goal and uses compelling language and imagery.

3.   Social Media Campaign

People are spending more time than ever before on social media, so it’s essential that your nonprofit makes good use of these channels, especially in the midst of a fundraising campaign.

And what’s the first step? Before you start posting, be sure to come up with a social media strategy. Create compelling content for each of your channels and be specific about why you’re asking people to make a gift and why they should.

Doing this will result in meaningful engagement with your followers, more clicks to your website and donations, as well as more shares across your followers’ own networks to spread the word. Plus, if you have the budget, you can also take advantage of placed advertisements to reach a brand-new audience.

Who does it well:

Here’s a great Facebook post from Volunteers of America — it uses simple language, an attention-grabbing image and a compelling quote. It’s quick to read and expresses the organization’s need in a simple and easy to digest way.

In addition to conveying your donation ask through social media posts, be sure to take advantage of platform capabilities created specifically with nonprofits in mind.

For example, Facebook allows both individuals and organizations to create Fundraisers and gather support for a specific cause. It works much like a crowdfunding campaign and your supporters can share the fundraiser across their own networks. Here’s an example from The Mater Foundation, which received donations from nearly 5,000 people in just over a month.  

Instagram has also started helping nonprofits collect donations. People can make donations directly from your profile, or you can add a “Donate” sticker to your Instagram stories or link directly to your donate page from the story. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals uses all three with great success:  

4.   Social Media Challenge

In addition to posting about your fundraising appeal on social media, why not get your followers engaged with a special challenge?

You can ask them to do something specific — the task can be fun, challenging, impressive, surprising or anything in between — and take a photo or video of them doing it. 

Then, after making a donation to your cause, they can post the challenge on their own social media, tagging you and using a special hashtag you created for the challenge.

This helps spread the word about your cause because the videos and photos will get in front of the eyes of people who don’t already know about your organization. There’s also a good chance they’ll want to try the challenge for themselves, resulting in more donations and more shared content.

Who does it well:

Many organizations have organized very successful social media challenges in the past — think the ALS bucket challenge or Movember. TikTok, the latest big social media platform, has also seen a surge in the number of challenges posted for charity. TikTok will often take it one step further and make their own donation for every video posted with a specific charity-related hashtag. 

Check out TikTok for Good for some great examples, including this campaign for the United Nations' International Fund for Agricultural Development. TikTok users all over the world posted videos with the hashtag #DanceforChange to raise awareness about the need for increased investment in sustainable agriculture in developing countries.

5.   Social Media Takeover

Is there an organization or business who supports your mission? 

Reach out to them and ask if they’d be willing to “donate” their social media account to you for a day or even just a few hours. 

This means that for that specified amount of time, they’ll be posting content on your nonprofit’s behalf – stories about the people or animals you serve, information about the work you do and why more funds are needed, as well as prompts to donate.

This is a great way to reach more people and raise awareness about your cause. For your partner organization, it’s a chance to showcase their social corporate responsibility and elevate their brand. If they have a loyal following, their customers and clients will be more than willing to donate to a cause they support.

Who does it well:

Here’s an example of a social media takeover done by Reason Digital. For 8 hours straight, they posted content from 8 charities whose work they support. The beneficiaries of these nonprofits shared personal stories in a series of Tweets for an hour each to raise awareness and funds.

6.   Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding can be very effective and doesn’t take long to set up. There are lots of platforms to choose from, many of them designed specifically with nonprofits in mind.

Once you’ve settled on a platform, create a campaign that expresses a specific need, has a set goal and a firm deadline, and get promoting! If your campaign tells your nonprofit’s story in a compelling way, people will be sure to spread the word about your cause and help you garner support.  

Who does it well:

Though crowdfunding is often used by startups and individuals for personal needs, it’s also perfect for small nonprofits who’d like to broaden their reach. Here’s an example of a GoFundMe page set up by the Humane Society Yukon — it’s a great way for them to attract new donors who might live outside of their geographic location.

7.   Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

The terms crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising are sometimes used interchangeably, but the two approaches are quite different. Peer-to-peer fundraising relies on individuals organizing their own mini crowdfunding campaigns on your behalf. It’s extremely effective because it taps into your supporters’ existing networks and trusted relationships.

Plus, setting up a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign is quite simple. You can select a platform that fits your needs, then give your fundraisers everything they need to be successful. This includes a clear message, compelling visuals, promotional materials and answers to questions their donors might have.

To make your peer-to-peer fundraiser successful, you’ll need to motivate your fundraisers. One way to do this is to instill a healthy dose of competition by encouraging them to create teams and acknowledging the most successful fundraisers at the end of the challenge. 

Who does it well:

The Greater Boston Food Bank is doing this very well — they list the top individual fundraisers and teams, as well as the latest activity to acknowledge donors as soon as they make a gift.

8.   Amazon Smile

The Amazon Smile program enables Amazon shoppers to donate 0.5% of the price of their purchase to a charity of their choice.

As a nonprofit, all you have to do is register your organization with Amazon Smile and encourage your community to go through instead of the regular website when they do their Amazon shopping. It doesn’t cost them anything extra, but Amazon’s contributions can add up over time.

The more you can spread the word about it, the more effectively it will work. Be sure to include a link to your organization’s profile on Amazon Smile on your website, in email newsletters, on social media and any other channels.

Who does it well:

Here’s an example from Victim Rights Law Centre — they sent out this email to their supporters listing the different ways in which people can support them online, including a link to their Amazon Smile page.

9.   Matching Gift

Individuals are much more likely to make a donation when they know that their impact will be doubled. To make this possible, seek out a corporate partner or major gift donor who’d be willing to match gifts up to a certain amount. Promote this match in all of your online fundraising channels – website, emails, social media, etc.

You’re essentially asking a company or major donor for one large gift, but the impact it will have in increasing the number of individual donations will well exceed the efforts it requires.

If you’re unable to secure a matching gift donor or choose to not go that route, you can always encourage your community to seek out their own matching gifts. Remind them that many employers have a corporate matching program and will match their gift to your organization: all they have to do is ask.

Who does it well:

Below is an email from Room to Read where they share that gifts will be matched by one of their board members for up to $50,000. Messaging about the match is clearly stated and grabs the readers’ attention quickly, while the case for support is communicated in an urgent and compelling way.

10.  Partnership with an Online Business for Proceeds

Many online businesses choose to donate a portion or even 100% of proceeds to charity as part of their marketing and brand building efforts. They sometimes choose a specific product line or a time period, and heavily promote the initiative across their channels.

This elevates their brand and creates loyal customers that come back to purchase their products in the future, well after their charity campaign is over.

As a nonprofit, you can reach out to a business whose mission and values align with yours and ask if they’d be willing to create a similar arrangement. They’ll get the benefit of brand loyalty, and your organization will receive the proceeds of their sales. You can even offer to promote the campaign across your community to introduce their business to new potential customers. Since more and more people are shopping online today, this partnership is a win-win for everyone involved.

Who does it well:

Check out this email from Everlane, a sustainable clothing company. They’ve partnered with Feeding America and offered to donate all proceeds from one of their clothing lines to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund. People get to purchase great clothes while donating to charity, Everlane gains increased brand loyalty, and Feeding America receives much-needed financial support.

11.  Partnership with an Online Business for a Donation at Checkout

Another simple way to partner with an online business is to ask them to include a donation prompt at checkout.

You’ve likely experienced the cashier asking you to donate a dollar or two when you’re checking out at the grocery store. The idea here is the same. People are already typing in their credit card number to make a purchase, so asking them to add on a dollar for a good cause isn’t asking for much. Recent statistics show that 69% of customers say yes when asked to donate at checkout, so it can really add up to a significant amount over time.  

Plus, just like the idea above, this elevates the company’s brand and makes them a socially responsible business. Some companies may even prefer including an ask at checkout over donating a portion of proceeds because they don’t actually lose any profit in this case.

Who does it well:

Most big companies have some sort of checkout campaign, either ongoing or during certain times of the year. If you’ve ever shopped at the Canadian bookstore chain Indigo, you would have noticed that they ask people to donate to their Love of Reading Foundation, which partners with nonprofits to provide books and educational resources to children who can’t otherwise afford them.

12.  Partnership with a Social Media Influencer

Social media influencers are a hot topic these days, and for good reason. They provide their followers with highly relatable content on a consistent basis, forming deep relationships and gaining trust. This trust translates to a lot of influence (hence the term “influencer”) over the decisions members of their community make — the restaurants they visit, recipes they make at home, products they buy, shows they watch, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

For-profit businesses have found a way to take advantage of this new way to influence the behaviour of their potential customers. Who’s to say nonprofit organizations can’t do the same?

Reach out to an influencer to see if they might be interested in partnering with you. There are a number of ways they can help — making a donation to your nonprofit and sharing their experience with their followers, asking their community to make donations, or simply promoting any of your fundraising campaigns on their social media.

Who does it well:

Check out this Instagram post form content creator Imogen Lucas (@sustainably_vegan). She donated the payment she received for a sponsored post to a charity she feels very passionate about and spoke about why she chose to do it. The comment section is full of people sharing how inspired they feel and how grateful they are to her for raising awareness about an important issue.

13.  Google Ads

Your website on its own is a great source of online donations, but how do you drive more traffic to your website? 

Well, I’d like to introduce you to Google Ads.

Chances are you’ve seen a fair share of these floating around the Internet, advertising anything and everything. 

But did you know you can set up Google Ads for your nonprofit too? The great thing about Google Ads for nonprofits is that it doesn’t even have to cost you anything. Google offers a Google Ad Grant so that you can promote your great work without breaking your marketing budget.

If you decide to take advantage of this offer, use compelling language and images to get people to click on the ad and go to your website to learn more. You can even target people with specific attributes to increase the chances of them responding well to your ad.

Who does it well:

Try typing in “donate to charity” into the Google search bar and the first result that will come up is from Clean Water International

It’s not because they’re the most popular charity — it’s simply because they’ve set up a Google Ad to make sure their website comes up when people search for those specific words (you can tell because of the word “Ad” in the top left corner).

Pay attention to the strong and concise language they use in the title of their page, as well as the description. Even without clicking on the link, it’s immediately clear what their mission is and how vital it is that people support their work.

14.  E-Cards

The idea of sending cards or e-cards to accompany a donation isn’t new – many charities offer to send a card on your behalf when you make a tribute gift in honor or memory of someone.

But have you ever thought of having people make a donation so that they can send an e-card? Think of it like buying a candygram for someone on Valentine’s Day, except they can do it at any time of the year and for any occasion.

The set-up is simple, too. Design a number of e-cards (or ask community members to do so) and put them up on your website. People can then choose the design they like, fill in the recipient’s email address and even add a special message. Once they make the donation, their e-card will be sent to the recipient.

You can also include your own branding and brief messaging on the cards so that each time a card is sent, it helps spread the word about your work and maybe even inspires the recipient to send their own card to someone.

Who does it well:

Here’s a great example of an e-card collection from Amit Children — they provide lots of options and charge $18 for each card sent. When you remember that the cost of sending a card is really a donation, it seems like a fair amount and leaves room for people to order several cards at a time.

15.  Virtual Silent Auction

Silent auctions are a tried-and-true method of generating revenue at fundraising events. 

And thanks to advances in software, they no longer have to be done in-person.

Plan out all the details as you would for a regular silent auction, then choose a software like Auctria to execute it. You’ll be able to post photos of your items, allow people to place bids, announce the winners and take payments — all done completely online.

Who does it well:

The Japanese American National Museum just wrapped up their own virtual silent auction with great success:

16.  Un-gala

Sure, a fancy annual fundraising gala has been a must-have event for many nonprofits, but who says we have to keep playing by the rules? 

Introducing the “un-gala” — same attendees, same cause, same fundraising revenue, but without the hassle of planning an enormous event.

An un-gala is the exact opposite of a gala. People simply buy tickets to stay home and not go to an event (you’d be surprised how many people actually prefer that).

Organizing an un-gala could not be simpler. Set up registrations and promote your event and that’s pretty much it — how the attendees choose to spend their time on the day of the event is entirely up to them.

Who does it well:

This description of an un-gala provided by The Nehemia Foundation, who recently hosted one, perfectly summarizes how to participate:

17.  Live-Streamed Event

A gala is not the only event that can be turned virtual. Really, most activities you plan to do in-person can be done via live-streamed video.

Would you normally have a keynote speaker at your event? Have them give their address via a platform like Zoom. Were you thinking of hosting a movie screening party? Have everyone join in to watch from the comfort of their own home.

If you’re looking for more info, we’ve published an entire blogpost on how to successfully organize a virtual event, complete with the exact steps and sample schedule. Also be sure to download our Virtual Event Checklist so you don't miss any crucial steps. 

The beauty of these events is that your organization can still reach (and often exceed) your fundraising goals, without the cost of organizing an elaborate in-person event.

Who does it well:

Here’s a great example of a live streamed event from Gateway Public Schools. They organized a telethon and invited attendees to join their disco dance party from their living rooms, raising over $73,000 to enrich students’ lives.

18.  Virtual Run or Walk

One of the most popular fundraising events is a run or walk — participants get the chance to challenge themselves, get some exercise and raise money for a good cause from within their own networks.

Well, did you know that you don’t need to close down the streets and hope for sunshine in the forecast in order to have a successful run or walk? 

You guessed it – you can do it virtually.

All you need to do is pick a date (or a date range, to give participants more flexibility), set up registrations, and enable your participants to raise funds. When the time comes, you can live-stream a kick-off ceremony and send your participants off to complete the run or walk on their own, in their own neighborhoods and on their own time. They can track and submit their best times and still engage in some friendly competition. 

At your live-streamed closing ceremony, announce the most enthusiastic runners, walkers and fundraisers, along with the final amount raised, what the funds will support and closing remarks from your leadership.

Who does it well:

Healing Abuse Working for Change has a virtual run coming up on May 3, 2020. They’ve given registrants everything they need to successfully fundraise and are doing a great job of promoting the event on their website, through email and social media.

19.  Fitness Challenge

Another great way to get your community active while raising funds is to host a fitness challenge. Create a series of short workouts and challenge your participants to tune in to your live-streamed demonstration over a set number of days (feel free to partner with a professional fitness coach to grow your audience too!).

People will gladly welcome the opportunity to exercise consistently, especially when they know that hundreds of others are doing it at the same time. Encourage them to tell everyone they know about what they’re doing and ask for donations from family and friends.

As with the virtual run or walk, don’t forget to live-stream an opening and closing ceremony and provide your participants with everything they need to fundraise successfully.

Who does it well:

The CrossFit community created a 7-day workout challenge called United in Movement, raising funds for three charities: Action Against Hunger, the Red Cross and CrossFIt Foundation. To date, they’ve had over 13,000 registrants and raised nearly $240,000.

20.  Game Night

Who doesn’t love games? The possibilities are endless when it comes to organizing a game night.

Invite your community to join you virtually for one evening. They can play board games at home, on their phones, online games with their friends remotely, or even their favourite video games. Learn more about online team building here.

As always, the key with an event like this is to get your registrants excited about participating and encourage them to spread the word to their friends and family.

Who does it well:

Boston Children’s Hospital just wrapped up their own game night with great success. They invited participants to make donations upon registration, provided them with lots of ideas on what kinds of games to play, and shared impact stories to remind them why their participation is vital and greatly appreciated.

And there you have it: the top 20 online fundraising ideas you can use even throughout social distancing to raise money and build community. 



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