Online Fundraising Ideas: Nonprofit Fundraising During COVID-19

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced the nonprofit fundraising world into the digital-only space almost immediately. While some organizations have had the capacity and savviness to hop onto this trend early, others are still trying to figure out where to start with online fundraising. While we are in this period of transition and tumult, nonprofits that depend on races, galas, school fundraisers, and other in-person fundraising drives are now forced to digitize their efforts.

We have compiled a list of the 20 best virtual (and coronavirus-mandated socially distance-friendly) fundraising ideas that leverage tools like Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, online gaming, and other platforms that can serve as a fundraising vehicle for your organization. Each and every fundraising method comes with real-world examples to spark creative ideas for your own organization!

If Tom Moore, who just celebrated his 100th birthday, can walk 100 laps around his backyard and raise $39 million for front line workers, you can organize a virtual fundraiser too! (Though we can’t promise $39 million)

1. Virtual Poker

Have a virtual poker night! Live stream a featured room with celebrities, or use other zoom rooms for other people to join in a poker tournament. You can use apps like Pokerrr2 or PokerStars.com

In April, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon ran a celebrity poker tournament, and people like Sarah Silverman had funny things to say as they joined to keep things interesting. 100% of the $1.75M in proceeds they raised went to Feeding America. 

Even without celebrities, virtual poker tournaments can be a great way to get people involved, have some fun, and raise money for your organization.

2. Thank Frontline Workers

The USO is phenomenal at thanking brave Americans on the front lines. They have many different campaigns that send signatures to support troops around the world working to battle coronavirus and keep us safe.

After a user signs a virtual message of support, USO sends notes to frontline workers, while directing people to an instant donate page. Think about how you might send messages of thanks to frontline workers, or messages of solidarity to your stakeholders in the region, and then send that user to a confirmation giving page.

Another example from the Michigan AFL-CIO. They are sending a virtual thank you card to all frontline workers for keeping them safe in their region. While people send virtual thank you messages, Michigan AFL-CIO can also build their email list of people that are more likely to donate in the future, if nurtured properly in an email campaign. Read more about using email to increase impact!

3. Virtual Peer-to-Peer Popcorn Sales

Any sort of peer to peer strategy has been changed by social distancing. However, virtual P2P tools are out there, like this one we’re showing you from Double Good.They use it to quickly raise funds by running a gourmet popcorn virtual fundraiser. The entire fundraiser is run via the Double Good mobile app and all the orders are shipped directly to folks in the US, so you avoid the in person contact. It’s kind of like allowing your supporters to do what the Girl Scouts do, selling cookies, but entirely remote via an app, which is perfect for social distancing. 

Holidayheroes.org, a local Chicago nonprofit whose mission is to provide joy and entertainment to children who are seriously ill, created a Double Good virtual fundraiser. They raised about 10k in just 4 days, with all of the supporters receiving great popcorn for their contribution.

4. Live Stream Giving

This one comes from Pat Flynn, who hosted a “Wheel of Fortune” -esque YouTube livestream, which he uses as a platform to help raise money for nonprofit COVID-19 relief projects. Using the Super Chat functionality, he is able to solicit donations from people who would like to have their questions answered on the show. Additionally, each part of the wheel included a shout-out to a sponsor. When the wheel lands on a sponsor, that sponsor makes a donation in exchange for the boost in publicity. It’s a win-win-win for a great cause!

(Note, Super chat is only available to channels that have monetization and are over the age of 18, in eligible locations. But you can turn it into a bit of a game show in other ways and make it fun. You don’t need a huge event.)

5. Telethons and Live Streaming Events

Telethons and live stream events that support online fundraising goals are now happening constantly. We love this example from Americares, a leader in disaster recovery and preparation within the United States. In this example, Americares hosted an event, “COVID is no joke,” in partnership with Comedy Central. This event was headlined by a collection of awesome comedians who came together to produce a massive telethon that was ultimately able to raise thousands of dollars.

While this production features top-tier celebrities and comedians, you don’t necessarily need star power to be successful in your own right. You could easily produce a similar telethon on a smaller scale, using programming appropriate to your audience and community.

6. Facebook Live Stream Donate

In this online fundraising example, the Cincinnati Zoo showed off some of their animals while running a live fundraiser that supported the zoo’s work! I mean, who doesn’t love animal live streams?

As you can see in the screenshot below, there’s a clear donate option that tracks the total amount raised during the live show. It also might be a good idea to have a few planned donations come in at the beginning to kick off the event—social proof is important.

We love this method to fundraise, because Facebook is taking 0% of these transactions. Packaging some of your content that you still have access to and you will be able to put on a show. Of course it’s much easier if you have, say, live animals, but maybe a pet rock or goldfish could work once people run out of Tiger King episodes?

7. Live Stream Gaming Fundraiser

In this example, we’re showing you how ExtraLife.org is uniting thousands of gamers around the world to play games in support of their local children’s miracle network hospital. The project started in 2008, and they’ve raised over $50 million doing these types of things for sick and injured kids through online gaming fundraisers. Check out our podcast episode with Extra Life to learn more about how they raised so much through video games!

There are more tools than ever, like Twitch and Tiltify, to stream games and ask for donations. In addition, these streams are akin to live performances in that they keep people’s attention and allow for the message of the nonprofit to be amplified. Check out a tactical interview we did with the CEO of Tiltify to hear the many ways that the platform was used even beyond just gaming.  

8. The Social Distance Walk-a-Thon

Yes, Captain Tom Moore. (You knew we’d be back to talking about everyone’s favorite British quarantine hero!) You had to be living under a rock in 2020 to not hear the story of Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday walk for the NHS. Tom Moore walked a hundred lengths of his garden for NHS charities and raised over 32 million pounds. 

Captain Moore went viral because that’s the kind of hero we need right now. (The dude is going to be knighted!) While we can’t all have a captain Tom Moore, consider how you are challenging your audience to come up with fun and creative fundraising efforts during quarantine. 

9. Use the Roundup App

Roundup is a fun little app that sits on your phone, connects to your monthly credit card history, and simply rounds up every purchase, turning it into a donation to your nonprofit at the end of the month and usually comes out to around 25 bucks, give or take. 

It can be a fun way to message your audience about donating their change – well their digital change – to your organization. If you’re interested in learning more, you can also listen to our podcast episode on this idea!

10. Coursify Your Content

Let’s say you are at a concert hall, or a venue like the 92Y, that has incredible shows with thought leaders that walk onto the stage and share information that now can’t be done because of social distancing. You can turn that content into online courses that you either charge admission for, or offer for free, and then have a not-so-subtle or subtle ask to donate and sustain the work that you do. 92Y has an entire performance & course calendar now. 

92Y completely coursified tons of their content—from performances to online classes. Think about how you might switch some of your on-the-ground programming into a course that you then charge for or give away for free, but immediately ask for support afterwards. An online tool like MightyNetworks.com can help you super-size this idea.

11. Virtual Trivia Night

Covered by the Ambler Gazette, the McMenamin family started a trivia night, and now they’re attracting thousands of online players who are all tossing in a few bucks to play. They were able to raise up to $4000 for a local food bank through a GoFundMe campaign they established! So basically, you could create this trivia night and offer it up to your audience and pull in these players. 

12. Online Auctions

CharityBuzz joined Chef Jose Andres for a virtual cooking class. This awesome, social distance appropriate event got people bidding, buoyed by interest in the celebrity chef.You don’t have to use CharityBuzz, but you can allow people to bid on unique and extraordinary (virtual) experiences, supporting a given charity.

13. Online Raffles

 This is building on top of online auctions. But with Prizeo, you have an option to submit small donations for a chance to win big! So instead of a big, winner-take-all-type of auction, you can do these online raffles with a big prize but still broken up into smaller raffle-size amounts. (You better believe this author has entered for a chance to win Hamilton tickets post pandemic!)

14. Zoom Cocktail Hour

This takes on many different flavors. In this example we’re highlighting Zoom Topia, one of the earlier examples. This Zoom cocktail hour happened on April 2nd, where 200 guests were invited to this cocktail hour, for a fee.

This fundraiser’s success stemmed from a well-designed invitation and program schedule: Guest list performances, signature cocktails, and a host committee made for an elegant, well-planned event. All the ticket sales went to the World Health Organization.It’s the same as doing a live event: create the webinar, charge per seat for people to do this on Zoom, bring in some special guests, and give people an excuse to have a drink in a nice outfit at home. (You can also pair this with some nice wine!) Plus, you can also sync your event with a Spotify group session playlist to set the mood and let people have some fun as well!

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15. Meet and Greet

This is an interesting one – certainly Joe Biden has been benefiting from these virtual meet and greets (for $5k) as covered in Politico. So he’s just selling off – “Hey, have a meeting with me for $5k on zoom.” Pretty straight forward. CharityBuzz is also doing a lot of these with various folks as well. If you wanted, you could go right now and bid on a Zoom meeting with George Costanza or other folks on their list!

16. Virtual Movie Night

Using a fun tool like NetflixParty.com, you can set up a video chat with a timed countdown for your movie, and then watch and chat and joke about it! You could do a documentary screening, and then have an after-session and hold a conversation. You can include sponsorships, as well as ticket fees, for this to mimic the movies!

17. Karaoke for a Cause

While we couldn’t find any examples of people that have done it, we do have personal experience running karaoke online with a fun tool like watch2gether.com. You can simultaneously run a Zoom meeting or live stream on Facebook or YouTube, but with other people singing along to the best (or worst!) karaoke songs!

As a bonus, you can charge for songs and solo requests. We strongly recommend you test your setup first because, pro tip – you’re probably going to need to mute others to avoid feedback and general off-key singing. 

18. Digital Tribute Wall

This was in place well before COVID-19, but in this memorial wall, Donate Life America publicizes very, very touching messages that people have submitted in memory of a loved one. This digital show of affection and support bolsters the cause on a public site that allows custom messages to be posted in exchange for donations in a thoughtful way.

19. Virtual Challenges

In this peer to peer online fundraising technique, your organization can encourage individuals to do crazy (and fun!) challenges in exchange for donations. You can have someone offer to, for example, cut their hair in a bad hairstyle in exchange for donations. Mohawk – that’ll cost extra. Carving a message, your name, that’ll cost extra too!

Look, we all need haircuts. Your fundraiser doesn’t have to do with hair necessarily, but think of a virtual challenge that people can do from home, then create the platform for your audience to go out and give it a go!

20. Sell Branded Masks

We’re starting to see these pop up quite a bit with causes that you might support. While Vistaprint is donating 10% of mask sales to help small businesses, which is awesome, you can contribute and set up ways for people to create DIY branded masks.You could take those designed t-shirts that are lying around and quickly turn them into those t-shirt face coverings. Make sure you follow the CDC guidelines for DIY mask creation and include the branding element. 


This is a great idea if you have too many of those extra large shirts!

Beyond Online Fundraising:Communication Tips to Consider During COVID-19

1. Empathize with your audience. 

Know that everyone’s going through a hard time in one way, shape, or form. 

2. Consider: why now? 

Why is this urgent right now for your audience, for your stakeholders, and why does that actually need to come now? 

3. Connect COVID-19’s impact on your cause. 

It’s important to remember that any one cause does not exist in isolation. It is a fact that there are COVID-19-caused issues that are putting extra pressure on both your target beneficiaries and your supporters, which is why your work is more important than ever.

If you’re looking for more nonprofit best practices, check out the rest of our digital fundraising strategies. And get on the waitlist now for our upcoming online fundraising course from Whole Whale University