Create a Virtual Fundraising Event: Where to Begin?

Brooke Battle
Written by :

Brooke Battle

Categories: Fundraising

It’s spring fundraising event season and no one can leave the house. All event cancellations have consequences but, for many nonprofits, cancelling a spring fundraising event can significantly impact their budgets and that’s terrifying.

However, there’s no need to panic. The time we live in provides us accessible options that weren’t available in the past. Thankfully, virtual fundraising is a viable option today.

As a result, we are actively assisting nonprofits with converting their physical events into virtual fundraisers. Before we can do that effectively, we need to understand what a virtual fundraiser is in the mind of each nonprofit. Let’s dive into that question now.

What Is A Virtual Fundraiser?

The term, virtual, is a broad one, especially when it pertains to fundraisers. In the scramble to find something, anything, to replace physical events, the term is getting thrown around quite a bit. However, when you distill all the noise into categories, the term “virtual” seems to fall into one of three camps when it comes to fundraising.


Virtual = Online Fundraising

For some, virtual fundraising simply means using technology to host an online auction or fundraising campaign rather than a physical event. Many nonprofits have this feature in place already with an event auction so converting to virtual simply means removing the physical gathering. Events with a basic ticket/registration function will also need an online fundraising solution to effectively ‘put their event online’ and provide a virtual location for giving.


Virtual = Livestream + Online Fundraising

The next variation of “virtual event” takes it one step further by providing guests with a livestream program to support the online fundraising event and/or auction. For this, a nonprofit needs their online technology to support giving and livestream capabilities.

“Livestream” itself is broad. It can mean anything from a quick Facebook or Instagram Live broadcast from an iPhone to the SuperBowl with its full production team. Therefore, technological requirements for this type of virtual event are understandably varied.

This type of event works best when the livestream and fundraising website are in the same place. Asking virtual guests to watch the stream on Facebook and donate through PayPal is unnecessarily cumbersome.

We all know if it’s too hard to give, it won’t happen. So, we want to make it as easy as possible by having everything in one place. This leads naturally into our third, and most comprehensive type of virtual fundraising.


Virtual = An Interactive Fundraising Event

This version of the virtual event is as close as we can possibly get to recreating the in-person event experience online. It combines a livestream program with real-time integrated fundraising activity and interactive features for guests.

It’s the little things that make this kind of event work like not having to refresh a website to see updated fundraising totals, the ability to capture virtual guest information with an integrated registration and virtual ways to reward guests for inviting their friends.

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How Do You Choose?

So, now that you know what virtual fundraising is, how do you choose which type of virtual fundraising is right for you? As in choosing the elements for your in-person events, it comes down to your guests and the kind of experience you want to create for them.

Fundamentally, guests attend your events because THEIR friends attend and you have a strong program. Positive peer pressure creates the fear of missing out (FOMO) among your attendees. To be successful in the virtual space, you need to create the same FOMO online.


Steps to Host a Successful Virtual Fundraising Event

At this point, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed or confused about where to start. That’s ok. We’ll walk you through it and it’s not as hard as you think.

In fact, there are really only three steps to creating a successful virtual fundraising event.

  1. Choose Your Technology
  2. Choose and Empower Your Champions
  3. Create a Positive Guest Experience


Choosing Your Technology

Remember the type of guest experience you want to create based on what we’ve already talked about regarding virtual fundraising events.

If Virtual = Online Fundraising, you have a variety of online fundraising platforms to choose from. Here are some of the questions you’ll want to consider when you’re making your choice:

  • Will your organizational branding be overshadowed by the software company’s or will yours stand out?
  • Who owns your guest/donor data after the event is over? If it belongs to the software company, will it be sold?
  • Are there customization options to help you stand out from all of the other online fundraising events?
  • Are personal fundraising pages, fundraising totals, social media integrations, text-to-give, or other features you want available? Is there an additional cost for those?
  • If you get stuck, what kind of customer support is available to help you?


If you’ve decided Livestream + Online is for you, you’ll want to look at the considerations above plus integrated livestream features. You’ll also want to know which livestream platforms integrate. In other words, can you stream from YouTube? How about FaceBook? Instagram? Vimeo?


Finally, if you’ve decided you want it all and Virtual = An Interactive Fundraising Event, you want everything we’ve talked about already plus a few other things. Look for a platform that not only gives guests a place to give and watch your program, but also fosters guest interactions. It should allow for real-time fundraising updates and livestream features. Create an online venue where guests can literally ‘join’ their peers. This creates an important moment in time for giving, accountability, fun, and awareness—just like an in-person event.


Choose and Empower Your Champions

All successful events start with champions. These people can be your table hosts, an event committee, event chairs, or volunteers. You want to choose people who LOVE your event and your cause. Are there people who love your cause but couldn’t come to an in-person event because of physical or spatial limitations? Don’t leave them out! Anyone can be a champion for your cause, especially in a virtual environment.

Your event committee and table hosts care about your cause and your event as much as they always have. Help them make the jump to a virtual event with you by empowering them with the information and tools they need to be successful.

First, communicate your changes clearly to these champions. Let them know that you are going to use online tools to replicate your fundraising event. Remind them why this fundraiser is important to you, why the timing is important, how long the event has been in existence, and about how many people and event chairs there have been in the past. Finally, celebrate them! Remind them you need them. Everyone likes to be needed and appreciated.

No matter who your champions are, you’ll want to give them the tools they need to be successful. Create a toolkit and/or resources page for them. If you need help creating that, you can download our fill-in-the blank version to help you get started.


Creating a Positive Guest Experience

You already know how to do this part. You do the same things you do to create a great in-person experience. Now, you’ll just do it online. Don’t forget WHY people attend your event?

Create a similar online connection.

  • Your guests don’t attend simply to write a check to your organization.
  • Guests attend events because attending makes them happy.
  • Guests typically attend for social reasons, peer pressure, a commitment to your organization, or a curiosity about your organization.
  • Remember Psychology of Persuasion and Why Donors Need Events to Give.


Communicate with your guests often before, during, and after your event. Make sure that communication connects and inspires in the same way the presentation at your in-person event does. Tell your organization’s story in the way only you can. Remind them why you do what you do and why you need them to help you do it.

Overall, online fundraising and event fundraising are similar. Anytime you are stuck or unsure what to communicate, think about what you would do if it were at a physical event. Then, figure out the equivalent online step.

For example, if your event venue has difficult parking, you know that you need to communicate clearly to provide guests with the information they need or provide valet services to prevent parking from becoming an obstacle to your event.

What similar hurdles might your virtual guests face? Do they know where to go and how to connect to your online event? Is there another question they might have?

Do your best to think about these potential obstacles and remove them for your guests before the event. Online or in a ballroom, your guests are still your guests and you want them to feel welcome and taken care of.



We’re living in an unprecedented time. In remembered history, nonprofits haven’t faced what you’re facing on the scale you’re facing it.

We’re also living in a time that empowers us to connect with our cause champions no matter where they are in the world. Virtual and in-person fundraising events rely on many of the same skills. You can use what you know and build on it if you choose to do so

Your ballroom just became infinite. Your guests want to connect and they want to support you. Will you let them?

If you found this article interesting, you might also like to read. How to Pandemic-Proof Your Event.


Stay Swell!