Six Virtual Event Concepts: Fundraising Ideas During Coronavirus

Brooke Battle
Written by :

Brooke Battle

Categories: Event Tips


While nonprofit professionals are accustomed to ‘being creative’, the COVID19 outbreak is taking our creativity to a new level. In a short period, many nonprofits are facing event cancellations at a time when they need funding most. Cancelling in-person events doesn’t have to mean not achieving your fundraising goals.

If you’re looking for ideas to help jump start your creativity around fundraising in a new way, you’re in the right place.

If you already have an idea, congrats!!

Need practical steps to get your idea launched online, read this article detailing how to implement a virtual fundraising event.


Considering a Virtual Fundraising Event? Read our Top 10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting your Virtual Event Platform


What is Different about Virtual Fundraising Events?virtual event case studies

Hosting a successful virtual event is more than just live-streaming your program to an online audience. It may require a new idea. Maintaining attention in an online environment can be tough. How do we know? We’ve been live-streaming fundraising events since 2012 and data shows that guests are quick to exit if the program does not engage the online audience.

Combining fundraising and entertainment by thinking like a producer will help. 


New Ideas for Fundraising During Coronavirus


Host a Competitive “Show”

Audiences love a competitive, reality show and many nonprofits host real-time ‘Chopped’ challenges or (our favorite) the ‘Dessert Dash’ at their physical events. How much more would we love to watch friends compete for a great cause?

  1. Choose an activity or challenge that aligns with your mission like fitness, healthy cooking, sewing/crafts, music anything.
  2. Determine how entries are selected (is it video submission, will you proactively choose community members) and a timeline for the activity.
  3. Each entry needs guidelines on how to participate, how to submit footage or pictures and deadlines.
  4. Finally, your organization produces a weekly livestream on your Swell fundraising site where an audience can watch and support contestants in their effort. Each stream should be recorded and then embedded in the fundraising site so that a person could easily watch the series.


For more details about how this works technically, just reach out.


Recipe Challenge/Cooking Show

We are home. We are cooking. We are also running out of ideas. Can you show us how to virtual fundraising cooking challengemake something new?

How to do it:

  1. This could be done by providing a set group of ingredients, a fresh farm box, or simply challenging kids to a healthy recipe challenge (Michelle Obama led a brilliant national Healthy Recipe challenge).
  1. Once the challenge is outlined, the nonprofit determines how video entries are accepted. And provides entrants with clear rules and instructions for video submissions. (Here is an example.) The pre-recorded videos with a live emcee are the content for your event/show.
  2. On the day of the show guests tune in via livestream. They can interact with one another via chat and vote for their favorite contestants by donating. Just like with any event, the run of show and attention to program detail is critically important to a smoothly running online event.


Speaker / Panel Discussion / Honored Guests

If you’re planning this kind of event, think about your hook. All events need a ‘hook’. Why do your guests attend? Is it to see friends or to listen to a fantastic speaker?

Live Streaming still provides the unique opportunity for musicians, teachers, celebrities and leaders to engage with your audience. In fact, it’s even more unique to see a leader speak to you from their living room.

The keys to a successful virtual honoree or speaker event are the following:Virtual fundraising - honorees

  1. Friends of the honorees want to celebrate their peers and have a way to do so. Creating an online way to “clap” or celebrate an honoree can increase the engagement.
  2. Give them a reason to attend at the right time. Are you showing a special video? Giving a virtual award? Let them know there will be something they don’t want to miss happening during the event.
  3. Choose the right speaker. The speaker should be an authority figure and someone that your future donors really appreciate hearing from. Hearing from this person needs to be an opportunity.
  4. Include the ability for guests to invite friends during the event (and earn a badge) to remind and create the network effect desired.


Host a Virtual Walk (literally)

Ok, time for some #REALTALK. If you’re going to host a virtual walk, there should be actual walking, COVID-19 or not. Otherwise, you’re not hosting a walk. You’re hosting a discussion.

There are several organizations who hosted “virtual walks” in March but the virtual part of the walk was only the fundraising website. The organizations then held a separate panel discussion webinar with nonprofit staff and team captains talking about the cause on Facebook. Nothing linked the donation activity or peer to peer fundraising with the online Facebook discussion. It was tragic.


While we can’t gather in common spaces, most of us can still walk outside. Even in places where being outside is not allowed or not possible, there are indoor walking alternatives.

And, really, we need to walk! It helps reduce stress and depression while we’re cooped up and isolated. Let’s combine that need to move with your cause so we can come together and create one of the most entertaining walks ever!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Have your registrants sign-up for the walk just as they would for a real-time walk. If you need a way to do this, Swell’s software makes this easy and affordable.
  2. Your registrants are engaged by your pre-set communication to share information about your organization but to also help you build the walk. You do send them emails, right? Remember, fundraising success is all about communication and building relationships!
  3. Each registrant is asked to submit a short 10 second video from a walk - any walk. (Here is a good example of managing video submissions from Indivisible Austin). Walk from the dining room to the kitchen. Take an indoor walking class. Walk up and down the driveway, on a trail, or on a sidewalk.The important thing here is to walk and to do so in a way that abides by all current local, state, and federal legislation. Make sure you set a deadline for submissions so you’re ready for the next step.
  4. Once all the videos are in. Compile them into a virtual walk video. Invite everyone to come together at a set time to watch the virtual walk and ask them to invite their friends to the livestream. Built in leaderboards, a donate button, and a chat window will allow your most passionate walkers to actively fundraise while the virtual walk continues with a great emcee (obviously!).


Here is an example that took me about about 30 minutes (including the walk, uploading and editing).  It was fun to do and think of sights/sounds to share.  

Virtual Walk


Cocktail Hour / Coffee Tasting / Wine Tasting

When considering virtual event concepts, it’s a great time to think of local businesses who’ve been significantly impacted by mandatory closings. Bars, restaurants, and coffee shops seem to be among the most vulnerable.

Invite your community to a virtual tasting with one or more of your best local establishments! Perhaps a bartender or barista can demonstrate how to make some of their signature cocktails or coffee recipes. People are surely missing during the quarantine!

With advance registration and payment, guests can obtain an ingredient list and have them delivered. You could even work with the restaurant or bar to provide delivery/curbside pickup so guests will have the exact ingredients used in their favorite recipe.

virtual cocktail partyGuests tune-in while learning about the drink, make their own cocktail (coffee or pour wine), enjoy storytelling and give to a great cause. You are building community and connection while providing an evening of entertainment that’s so much better than Tiger King. Go you!



Who’s Coming to Dinner?

This virtual concept brings the element of surprise and the opportunity to meet new friends. It begins with designating individuals to be ‘hosts’ for virtual dinners of up to 10 people. An organization can have multiple hosts each holding their own dinner, which makes this concept easy to scale.


Here’s how this concept works:

  1. Guests buy tickets and select their host experience from a dropdown menu. Use ticketing software that manages the registration and communication portions of this process so you can focus on training your hosts.
  2. Now, determine how guests will get their dinner. Are you partnering with a local restaurant to have guests’ meals delivered? Can guests pick up their meals at the restaurant? Maybe one of your hosts is a local chef who’s providing a recipe and cooking instruction as part of the dinner experience. Be creative here to make this a one-of-a-kind experience.
  3. Concentrate heavily on the guest experience. That’s what makes this concept work. Have you ever been to a dinner party where the conversation waned. No fun, right? You’ll want to keep the conversation moving for your virtual dinner too. Train your hosts to facilitate by prepping them with questions to ask and conversation starters before the event. If your host doesn’t feel comfortable with being the evening’s facilitator, you can have someone else facilitate. Just make sure to prepare that person in advance.
  4. Shhh… it’s a secret! The guest names are known only to the host. At the designated time, the host and guests login to a shared meeting where they can meet, talk, and enjoy their dinner together.


These ideas are just a few to get you started creatively thinking about ways to host your virtual events.  


Check out the results and tips AFTER our experience with over 250 virtual events in 2020. 

Read: Data-Driven Tips for your Virtual Event


All of these event concepts can come to life on Swell’s virtual event platform.  

Virtual Event Features (1)



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About Swell:

Swell is a pioneer in the virtual event and online fundraising industry. The first virtual event concept, Smart Party, launched in 2012 and continues to this day. We’re a software company built by people who love nonprofits for nonprofits and we would love to help you raise money for yours.