20 Online Fundraising Ideas Perfect for Any Cause (Social Distancing Approved!)
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
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.
Read More: How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan
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:
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.
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 smile.amazon.com 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.