Virtual Fundraising: The Complete Guide for 2020 & Beyond

Between social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, the vast majority of fundraising events have been canceled over the next several months, and many organizations are worried about the stability of incoming revenue necessary to fund daily operations.

Businesses all over the world have been negatively impacted by these changes, and the nonprofit sector has been particularly affected. Amid the current disruption of the social and economic climates, many nonprofits are having to shift to a virtual fundraising model to retain donations in these trying times.

Over the past several years, fundraising efforts have seen an increasing shift toward virtual fundraising practices even before the rise of COVID-19. That means that the tools and resources are already available to help your nonprofit make the transition.

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Even though you can’t meet in-person, there’s no reason you can’t continue engaging your community and raising money for your cause!

We’ve compiled this guide to ease some of the uncertainty surrounding online fundraising and to help your nonprofit make the move to virtual nonprofit operations. Feel free to jump around to the sections that interest you most, or read along from the top.

Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.

Virtual fundraising is important because of the convenience it offers.

Why Virtual Fundraising Matters

Virtual fundraising is one of the most important fundraising strategies a nonprofit can have. A virtual fundraising campaign boosts convenience on both the giving and the receiving end, to maximize use of the valuable time on both ends. Virtual or online fundraising can allow your nonprofit to significantly increase your fundraising revenue with just a few simple steps and a strengthened toolkit to work with.

But why is it so important? Virtual fundraising:

  • Offers a simplified donation process for donors. By offering a quick and easy donation process, funds can take the simplest route from a donor’s wallet to your bank account. Additionally, the easier the donation process, the more donations are likely to come through— so more money for your organization.
  • Can be completed from the comfort and safety of one’s home. Especially with the rise of social distancing, but even just considering the sheer convenience, this is a huge benefit for donors— and, as a result, nonprofits. And when you make your virtual fundraising campaigns mobile-friendly, you can further increase the accessibility and spread of your fundraisers.
  • Makes use of common tools in the digital age. It’s 2020 and nearly 95% of Americans are described as internet users. That means, to fundraise most effectively you have to meet your audience where they are— online. Organizations without a strong online presence can even be seen as out-dated or out-of-touch, and potential supporters will likely be drawn to more modern organizations instead. Make your fundraising easily available to all by making use of common digital tools.
  • Allows for more flexible payment options. Instead of being limited to written checks or cash payments, virtual fundraisers expand payment opportunities to include debit/credit cards, electronic checks, and even newer tools like Apple or Google Pay. Again, the easier it is to give, the more people will do it!

These are some of the main benefits of virtual fundraising.

Effective virtual fundraising strategies can carry your nonprofit through the pandemic and beyond. Without them, you risk being left behind the times and eventually losing your network of support. If your nonprofit wasn’t already fundraising online by 2020, it’s definitely time to start!

But no worries— getting your organization up and running with virtual fundraising practices is not as difficult as it might sound.

Suggest an idea for our virtual fundraising ideas list

There are many types of virtual fundraising, including online giving, text-to-give, and crowdfunding.

Types of Virtual Fundraising

Virtual fundraising can come in many shapes and sizes, and no two campaigns are exactly alike. These online fundraisers can vary by methods of promotion, donation process, and overall objectives, but most will fall into one of the following categories:

There are many types of virtual fundraising, including online giving, text-to-give, and crowdfunding.

Online Giving

Online giving pertains to any fundraising campaign that makes use of an online donations platform and can encompass many of the other examples as well. An online campaign is simple to run, so long as you have the right tools.

Start promoting your donation page to your followers and expanding your network to reach a wider audience whenever you can. The most important aspect of an online giving campaign is your streamlined donation page. This way, you can encourage donors to complete the form and confirm their gift as quickly as possible, before losing interest.


A text-to-give campaign, also known as mobile giving, is a method of virtual fundraising that involves a simple text message from a smartphone and can be completed in mere seconds. As an organization, you must first select a mobile giving provider, who will assign your nonprofit a unique phone number.

You then start promoting that number, along with a specified keyword, to potential donors and supporters. When donors text your keyword to that phone number, they’ll be directed to a simple donation form and can confirm the donation quickly and easily.


Crowdfunding is a particular type of online fundraiser that relies on a wide variety of donors making small- to mid-size gifts to the same campaign. Even if a particular gift seems insignificant in itself, the combination of all working together adds up very quickly.

These crowdfunding campaigns are often spread through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, with donors and supporters sharing a single, centralized donation page to their own networks to encourage involvement.


Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, or social fundraisers, enlist your dedicated supporters to become fundraisers themselves. Each individual is given a customizable fundraising page, that they can then personalize to fit their own style. Some of the most successful peer-to-peer campaigns tell a story and provide volunteer fundraisers the opportunity to share what your organization means to them.

Fundraisers then share their individual donation pages on social media with friends, family, colleagues, etc. to get the word out far and wide and ask loved ones to contribute to the campaign as well. Be sure to keep track of each fundraisers’ progress, and encourage friendly competition to boost revenue as well.

Merchandise Sales

Selling limited-time and custom branded t-shirts and other merchandise for your nonprofit is a great way to earn money and engage your supporters. After all, the best kind of donation is when donors get something in return— namely, a nice t-shirt or a mug.

Branded merchandise sales work not only as a source of revenue, but a marketing tool for your organization as well. Every time an individual sports your custom-designed t-shirt in public, they essentially become a walking billboard for your organization!

Virtual Events

Just because public gatherings have been canceled into the near future doesn’t mean events are over. It just means they have to take a different form! Hosting virtual fundraising events— whether you’re starting from scratch or transitioning a previously planned event to an online environment— can be a great way to engage with your donors and earn money for your organization.

Either way, it’s important to maintain a focus on event management strategies as you begin to implement virtual events into your fundraising plan. With high-quality tech tools that allow you to chat face-to-face with attendees and share the purpose behind your cause, you can do your best to maintain relationships with current donors as well as expand your network across geographical boundaries.

Virtual fundraising is a great way to maintain support during the tough times, but it’s also a strategy to keep hold of once things start to settle down. With the right tools and a solid foundation, virtual fundraising can bring your organization further than you might have thought possible.

It's important to have the right infrastructure in place to ensure effective virtual fundraising.

Building an Infrastructure

Having a strong infrastructure in place is an important prerequisite to effective virtual fundraising practices. After all, if you don’t have the right tools and resources, you’ll find it extremely difficult to maintain your online fundraising during this time— let alone do it efficiently.

Here are some of our top suggested tools to build out your virtual fundraising toolkit:

Establishing a solid infrastructure is an important prerequisite for effective virtual fundraising.

Online Giving Platform

An online giving platform provides the tools you need to accept charitable donations online without a hitch. There are two key elements of an effective online giving platform— the donation form and the payment processor.

The donation form is the part that the donor sees when they answer the questions and input their payment information. Once they hit submit, the payment processor works behind the scenes to transfer funds from the donor’s payment method of choice to your organization’s bank account.

Each aspect needs to be carefully optimized to create an effective giving platform. That means, the donation form should be short and sweet and easy to complete, and the payment processor should be PCI compliant to ensure financial security.

With an intuitive online giving platform like the one offered here at Snowball, donors can quickly and easily submit their gifts— in under a minute! Plus, you can get started with a free online donation page from Snowball to start collecting donations today.

Mobile Giving Tools

Mobile giving tools are those that provide the foundation for a text-to-give campaign. With these tools, you can establish your own unique mobile giving phone number and set a keyword. Then, when donors begin to text in their charitable gifts, your mobile giving tools process those requests. And ultimately, the donations end up in your nonprofit’s bank account, similarly to an online giving platform.

Social Media Platforms

Social media is one of the best free resources for nonprofits everywhere. When used effectively, you can leverage your own social media pages to promote your organization, raise awareness surrounding your overall mission, and solicit donations from your followers.

The three most popular social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are a good place to start— but your nonprofit’s specific needs will be dependant upon your particular audience. More niche platforms you should consider include LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, and Tumblr.


A CRM, or constituent relationship management system, is essential for collecting and organizing your donor data. Each time an individual submits a donation, their information is extracted and stored in a database for future analysis. Essentially, a CRM creates a donor profile for everyone that contributes to your organization so you can easily review their contact information, giving history, and more.

There are many options when it comes to choosing a CRM, ranging from fairly basic to quite intricate. One of the most important factors in selecting your software provider is that your tool can accurately contain your data and grow with you as your organization expands.

If a dedicated CRM is out of reach right now, be sure to use fundraising tools that give you full access to your donor data in dashboards and reports. You can also look into free and low-cost CRMs like the one offered by Snowball.

Marketing Software

During this time, your digital marketing efforts will be more important than ever. That means, if you haven’t already, now is the time to invest in a strong suite of marketing software. These tools can assist you in segmenting and targeting your audience, tracking and measuring your progress, and determining the ROI of your various marketing practices.

Marketing software is essential for raising community awareness of your nonprofit, as well as extending your network farther than ever before. After all, the only way you’ll see substantial revenue from your virtual fundraising campaigns and events is if a wide-reaching audience knows how and when to get involved. Platforms to help you create email campaigns or manage your social media posts are a great way to get started.

Optimized Website

Your nonprofit’s website is arguably the most important tool you have, so it’s crucial that you put the right work into it to ensure a well-crafted website. Your site should be the end result that you drive traffic to from your other digital marketing and social media efforts, to effectively inform and connect with users.

A solid nonprofit website should include a brief history, an overview of your mission, opportunities to get involved, and ways to give. This way, a user clicking through can explore and learn more about the organization before, hopefully, deciding to make a donation.

Streaming Tools

With the rise of COVID-19, we have also seen the rise of digital streaming tools. Platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts allow users to host conference calls and maintain interpersonal relationships from a distance. Many social media platforms include streaming tools, as well.

Although it will be important for your nonprofit to have access to all of these tools, you don’t have to select seven different platforms to get the jobs done. Many nonprofit fundraising solutions contain a combination of multiple giving tools to create a suite of fully integrated resources.

Consider seeking a single platform (or two) that can help you manage all of the above fundraising tools. This way, you can reduce the risk of errors and inconsistencies between your various resources, and rest easy knowing your data is as accurate as possible.

Check out some of these top virtual fundraising ideas.

Virtual Fundraising Ideas

Are you ready to start planning your first virtual fundraiser, but you’re not sure where to start? Here are some of our favorite virtual fundraising ideas! These unique fundraisers are designed to be planned and hosted completely online, so they’re perfect for the current social climate.

Virtual pledge campaign

A pledge campaign is a fundraiser that collects promises of a donation to be collected at a later time, rather than right on the spot. Oftentimes, the donation is offered as a response to an event or an activity to be completed by the fundraiser. For example, you can encourage your supporters to solicit donations for every second they can spend with their head in ice-cold water (on video, of course) or any other agreed upon challenge.

Sell limited-time t-shirts

Everybody loves getting a new t-shirt, especially if it’s a unique and visually appealing one. Raise money easily online by designing and selling custom t-shirts for your organization. Be sure to incorporate your nonprofit’s logo, color scheme, and branding style, but make it stand out among other merchandise you may already have. Then, start promoting your t-shirt online and encourage supporters to flock to your online store before you sell out!

24-hour campaign

A 24-hour campaign functions by establishing an air of urgency surrounding your fundraiser. Whether you’re raising money for a current event like COVID-19 relief or another relevant need, limiting the campaign to a single day is an effective way to boost donations during a short period of time. Popular campaigns include #GivingTuesday and #GivingTuesdayNow, which encourage donors all over the world to make generous contributions during a predetermined 24-hour window.

Viral video contest

A viral video contest, similarly to a pledge campaign, involves some sort of outrageous or humorous stunt performed on camera— but this time it’s the participant that gives. After taking part in the challenge, the participant posts their video to social media, makes a donation to your nonprofit, and tags the next person in line to form a chain!

Cutest pet/baby photo

Everyone loves to show off their babies— both the fur kind and the human kind. Collect some money for your organization by turning it into a contest to find out whose is the cutest of all. You can charge a small entrance fee for each photo, and encourage the rest of your audience to vote by the dollar to the picture they think should win. Consider offering a small prize for first, second, and third places— or just stick with bragging rights.

Design contest

Encourage your creative followers to submit their own designs for t-shirts and merchandise or even a new logo. Then have the rest of your followers vote on the fan-favorite. This is a great campaign to run prior to a t-shirt sale, because then you’ll have a unique design ready to go. At the conclusion of the contest, be sure to send the winner a free copy of the t-shirt or merchandise with their design.

50/50 raffle

A 50/50 raffle is one of the simplest fundraisers you can host, and you don’t even have to come up with a grand prize. Sell tickets like you would for a normal raffle, and in the end, the individual with the winning ticket gets the jackpot— which is 50% of the raffle entrance fund. The remaining 50% stays with your organization! This is usually a great campaign to run with an event, but it can be easily adapted to an online raffle with the right software.

Give it up challenge

Usually a “give it up challenge” entails donors going without a favorite snack or drink for a certain time. However, with the closing of all non-essential businesses, individuals around the world have already been going without their favorite fancy coffee beverages and restaurant meals. For this fundraiser, you simply challenge donors to give the money they would have spent on these food and drinks to your fundraiser instead.

Calendar photo contest

Host a photography contest with the intent of turning the winning photos into a high-quality calendar. Encourage your followers to send in their favorite photographs for each month, and select the 12 best to make it in the final calendar. Then, you can even start selling your custom-designed calendar for a donation to your organization!

Matching gifts drive

A matching gifts drive is a great way to boost any virtual fundraiser. Many of your donors are eligible to have their charitable gifts matched by their employers but don’t even know it. That means it’s time to start educating your audience on the power of matching gifts. Then you not only get the initial donation, but also a bonus donation from the donor’s employer.

Many traditional fundraisers can easily be transitioned into the online sphere as well. Check out our complete directory of fundraising ideas for more inspiration.

Here are some of our favorite virtual fundraising event ideas.

Virtual Fundraising Events

Fundraising events are one of the most effective ways to increase audience engagement and drive fundraising revenue. From the donor standpoint, these events can also be a nice reprieve from the monotony of day-to-day life.

Just because you can’t host a public gathering doesn’t mean you should remove fundraising events from your repertoire. By shifting to the virtual sphere, you can continue to fundraise like a champ while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Virtual talent show

Encourage supporters to submit their virtual talent show performances in the form of pre-recorded video, that you can then compile for the public to choose a winner. Consider offering several prizes, including for best overall, most humorous, most talented child, etc. to boost participation.

Virtual gaming tournament

Offer the most popular online games and charge a small entrance fee. Then, organize a multi-stage tournament to determine the ultimate champion. Video game lovers will jump at the chance to play games for a good cause, as well as fight for bragging rights and/or a small prize.

Virtual gala

Maybe your supporters are looking for a reason to get all dressed up, even if it’s just for a virtual event! Invite your followers to an elegant online gala, put on with high-tech video equipment and streaming right to their living rooms. But of course, participants are welcome to join in their pajamas as well— that’s the joy of video conferencing.

Virtual auction

Both live and silent auctions are great ways to engage donors in a fundraising event that they can also get something meaningful out of it. By transforming these auctions into virtual events accessible from anywhere in the world, you can widen your reach and bring in new attendees to bid and support your organization. Start procuring items and setting up an online catalog to get your followers excited!

Virtual fun run

Just because you can’t host a community fun run doesn’t mean your supports can’t exercise on their own for a good cause. Simply determine the goal distance (typically 5 or 10K), and challenge participants to run or walk their own route. Just make sure runners can track their distance with a smart-watch or tracking app.

Virtual cooking class

With the majority of the world under shelter-in-place guidelines, it’s a great time to start improving home cooking skills. Offer a virtual cooking class with a professional chef who is willing to teach attendees as they walk through the steps of a nice, home-cooked meal.

Virtual art class

Similarly, many home-bound individuals are looking to pick up a new skill or hobby. That means it’s the perfect time to host a virtual art class. Between painting, sculpting, and drawing, there’s so much to learn!

Best of all, your nonprofit may even be able to save on some of the upfront costs associated with event planning such as renting a venue and catering fees. Instead, you can use some of that extra funding to invest in the right digital resources you need to host an exquisite online event.

Be sure to follow our virtual fundraising pro tips.

Virtual Fundraising Pro Tips

If you’re new to virtual fundraising, it may seem a little overwhelming at first. However, by following these tried-and-true tips for online campaigns and events, you’ll be a virtual fundraising pro in no time.

These are our best practices for virtual fundraising campaigns and events.

Best Practices for Virtual Fundraising Campaigns

  • Make sure all virtual campaigns are optimized for mobile. Did you know that over 50% of total internet traffic comes from mobile devices? That means it’s crucial that you ensure the mobile-friendliness of any virtual fundraising campaign you run, lest you miss out on a significant chunk of potential revenue.
  • Invest in the right virtual fundraising software. Though you might be wary of the upfront costs associated with fundraising software, it’s important to have a solid foundation to build your campaign from. Consider Snowball’s free and low-cost fundraising solutions to get you started without breaking the bank.
  • Allow for streamlined recurring donation setup. Encouraging recurring donations is the easiest way to boost your donor retention rates and maintain a stable stream of revenue throughout the year. This way, you can save the time and resources you may have spent on constantly soliciting new donors. You might be surprised at how many donors will opt for a recurring gift when it’s as easy as clicking a button.
  • Have a well-designed donation page as your foundation. There’s a lot of thought that goes into crafting the perfect donation page and maximize donations. While a positive user experience, design, and content are essential, the main purpose behind a donation page is to boost conversions —which, in this case, is donations.
  • Encourage supporters to share your campaign. This is how you can reach new supporters and get the word out. When your current network interacts with and spreads your campaign materials, they help you reach new donors with similar interests and values. It can be as simple as hitting the “share” button on Facebook!


Best Practices for Virtual Fundraising Events

  • If possible, keep the event open for a longer timespan. While most typical live events take place in a single evening, the flexibility of virtual events allows you to adjust that timeline a bit. You want to keep the timespan short enough to encourage urgency, but long enough to accommodate for various schedules and timezones.
  • Encourage supporters and attendees to invite others. Make sure to encourage past supporters to both partake in your new virtual event and to invite others. This is a great way to extend your reach, because attendees will tend to invite others with similar interests. Perhaps, consider an incentive for the participant who invites the most friends to spark some friendly competition.
  • Target planned events to your specific audience. You know better than anyone what your nonprofit’s specific audience appreciates, and it’s good practice to take that into consideration when planning your new event. For example, a majority-Milennial audience tends to gravitate towards different events than a predominantly older audience. The income, location, and lifestyles of your supporters are good characteristics to look at as well.
  • Start promoting events long beforehand. Depending on the size and scope of your event, it’s a good idea to start promoting several weeks— or even months— ahead of time. This way you can pique community interest and maintain continuous updates as the date approaches.
  • Allow for extra donations on top of ticket sales. Just because you sell tickets to your virtual fundraising event, doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a donation too. Budgets might be tight at the moment, so some attendees may not be able to give any extra. However, it’s still a good idea to make it quick and easy for those who do have the means to make a bonus donation on top.

There you go! When you implement these simple tips into your new virtual fundraising campaigns and events, you can start to see success right away. Check out our complete guide to online fundraising for additional information and resources to get started.

Wrapping Up

Virtual fundraising is a strategy that will significantly improve your nonprofit’s operations not only during this time of disruption but going far into the future as well. If your organization has yet to adopt virtual fundraising as a practice, now is the perfect time to do so.

With the right tools, you’ll be able to ensure sustainability, and maybe even growth, in the midst of a pandemic. After all, the world is struggling and your constituents may need you now more than ever!

To learn more about virtual fundraising and other modern donation practices, check out the resources below:

Free Text-to-Give and Auction Tools


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