7 Innovative Fundraising Strategies to Build Engagement and Raise More Money Online

COVID-19 has changed the fundraising landscape for nonprofits. Even organizations that previously relied on in-person events to raise donations have been forced to pivot to an online environment that presents a unique set of challenges.

At the forefront of these challenges? Holding in-person events or visiting high-profile donors for more personal pitches is no longer the safest option. It’s not the most financially sound one anymore, either. Online alternatives have proven to be more cost-effective and efficient, giving your audience more convenience and thus more opportunity to engage and donate.

Simply put, donors have moved online, and nonprofits are following. But this is a real transition for organizations, not business as usual. A reactive response, where you’re simply transferring what you’ve done well in a live mode into digital spaces, is not a strategic one — it’s not setting you up for success. The online landscape is crowded, and can feel impersonal, which makes standing out all the more critical as you try to raise money.

This is why strategic innovation is key. Engaging your audience is critical to reaching your goals for fundraising, fostering goodwill and community building. We can help with that. Check out these 7 creative ideas we’ve outlined for online fundraising that can help you to truly connect with donors and build momentum in a digital environment.


1. Virtual Concerts and Events

If your traditional fundraising efforts have consisted of in-person events, you don’t have to scrap them entirely. Instead, consider building virtual alternatives that meet your audiences where they are: online.

Take concerts, for example. You can host a virtual concert, bringing together local musicians who support your cause. Audiences can purchase tickets, with proceeds going to your nonprofit, and attend a livestream event on platforms like YouTube. The gated entry creates a more exclusive experience for donors and the musicians, which in turn fosters engagement and delight.

You can enhance the experience by adding a VIP event before or after the main acts. This could be a hosted zoom session in which donors get to meet musicians or request songs for additional donations. Elevating the level of engagement can excite the community and move you closer to your fundraising goals.

You can apply this strategy across virtual events. Galas, movie nights, and even relevant speakers — things that bring your audience together while driving donations. As long as the event feels like a true experience to your donors, you’ll get plenty of interest in and funding for your cause.

2. Crowdfunding Opportunities

Don’t underestimate your audience’s desire to help out, especially when it comes to supporting a cause they believe in! Crowdfunding is proof if this, given how critical a role it played for many nonprofits during the pandemic.

The core concept is simple: instead of asking for donations yourself, current donors and other stakeholders ask on your behalf. You can provide the backend and messaging support they need to be successful, but otherwise sit back as they get their peers involved.

Crowdfunding sites, like Donor Box and GoFundMe Charity, can help you set up a system where donations are easy to gather and direct toward your nonprofit and cause. You can build a system that gives your advocates basic messaging and information, or go more hands-off and just give them the link or set-up they need.

All that’s left is watching them go to work! Passionate donors will be happy to share their passion with peers and play such a personal role in advancing your cause.

3. Live Streaming Fundraising Drives

Remember those old-fashioned phone drives, with celebrities taking calls for a good cause while millions watched on TV? They’re no longer passé — they’re vintage. The key to success? Live streaming, which attracts millions more viewers every year.

Bring in speakers and presenters who are familiar to your audience. Have them each create short snippets where they can talk about what your cause means to them. You can even have a couple of them pre-record their remarks, to cut into the livestream and to share on social media.

You can organize your whole event around the speakers. Build a script for the event, no longer than 60 minutes, in which you introduce the cause and invite your guests to speak on the topic. You can even create interactive segments in which any paid attendees have a chance to chat with your guests live.

Most importantly, drive all actions toward a donation goal and keep a live count of where you are. This motivates anyone tuning into the live stream to contribute and help you cross the finish line. By the end of the night, you should have a strong total of donations, especially when promoting the livestream on social media, via email, and other digital channels.

4. Virtual 5K Races

5K races and other endurance events are classics in the fundraising arena. Of course, our virtual environment can make these races difficult, if not impossible to execute. After all, you don’t want to bring together hundreds of people to support your cause during a major pandemic.

Then again, you don’t have to. The formula for taking your fundraising race into the virtual realm is simple: Announce the rate and specify the cause you are looking to promote. On the registration form, clarify that participants will walk or run the distance on their own, and ask each registrant to specify the distance they think they can reach. The registration fee is calculated according to the distance. For example, a one-mile walker may donate $20, while a 5-mile runner may donate $100. Online races also allow you to take the concept further. For example, you can include an option for registrants to host their own mini-crowdfunding campaign, asking others in their social circles to contribute their own donations to their walk or run.

And of course, you can connect the effort to social media. Send promotional items like water bottles to registrants, and create an event-specific hashtag. Now if you ask registrants to share their walk or run on social media, you can gain additional exposure for your cause that also functions as promotional visuals for the next event.

However, customizing the sender can make a significant difference in grabbing your prospects’ attention in a crowded inbox.

5. Social Media Storytelling

Don’t underestimate the power of social media in driving fundraising efforts. Done right, it might just become the single biggest driver for awareness of both your cause and your nonprofit in particular. After all, we’re talking about the medium of choice for more than half the world’s population.

The key, somewhat counterintuitively, is to not (just) ask your audience for money. Doing so will get old quickly, and will cause more followers to block your content than it encourages them to donate. Instead, it pays to focus on one area that’s a particular strong suit of social media: storytelling.

Every nonprofit has a story. Every cause supported by the nonprofit has one, as well. The two are typically closely connected, but not identical. Telling that story, and illustrating the impact stories that donations and contributions have made in the past, can go a long way towards building audience goodwill. The story also prepares them for more direct fundraising efforts.

There are plenty of examples of nonprofits leveraging social media to supplement their fundraising efforts. Look no further than charity:water, which shows the impact of donations on a daily basis — all while talking about the company background. By the time donors are done reading, they’ve invested enough that you don’t need a direct call to action for them to desire making a contribution.

6. Donation Matching Campaigns

Speaking of impact: what if you could tell your audience that their gift will count for more than they’re actually contributing? In a way, it’s the reverse of a sales coupon, maximizing value for your audience to entice them to contribute with a donation.

That’s what matching online donations can do for a fundraising campaign.

It requires finding donors willing to provide that match. Corporate partners or large existing donors may be up for the challenge; the former to increase their own brand awareness, the latter because they tend to recognize that agreeing to match donations means their own money has a higher chance of drawing in support for the cause they support.

After that, it’s all about the presentation. For example, you can create multiple “challenges” at specific gift amounts or time cadences. Gifts may be matched if made before Sunday, or as long as the drive reaches a total of $5,000. Then, promote the campaign heavily to new donors or past donors who haven’t given in a while to entice them to jump back on.

Gift matching is especially successful if you can provide live updates. If donors know that their $100 contribution will be matched to put you over your $5,000 goal, they’ll be more likely to donate that amount. That’s how you can maximize the impact of each donation even while increasing your transparency and engaging your audience online.

7. Digital Auctions

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a good auction to raise funds for a good cause. Whether or not you’ve utilized this concept for in-person events, online variations of auctioning donated goods can move the needle for meeting, even exceeding, your fundraising goals.

The process is simple. Ask for local stakeholders, like members of the board or existing donors, to donate anything from experiences to rare collectors’ items around a given theme. Then set up the auction using a site like 32auctions or OneCause, set your time frame, and let the bidding begin.

Of course, as is the case with in-person auctions, you’ll need the value of the items for tax purposes. Beyond that, it’s fun to set a minimum bid and watch people’s competitive spirits take over. Be sure to actively promote your auction through your other digital channels, especially as it draws to an end.

Ready to Build Your Digital Fundraising Efforts?

Fundraising may never be the same. While the pandemic forced many efforts to go online, the success of these virtual efforts means that nonprofits now have a host of innovative fundraising tactics to try out, share with their audience, and build into their strategic planning.

The possibilities range widely, from online concerts to digital auctions, but the key concept remains the same: reach your audience where they are, make it engaging, and make donating fun and straightforward. That’s how you can build a strategy designed to make your online fundraising efforts successful.

Beyond some great strategies, your nonprofit may require more comprehensive efforts to meet your goals in this radically new normal. Ready to sharpen your core understanding of the digital nonprofit landscape in 2021? Get in touch.