Plan a Year of Virtual Fundraising for Your Small Nonprofit

by | Feb 7, 2021 | Development/Fundraising

With so much uncertainty in this new year, a virtual fundraising plan is even more essential than ever for your small nonprofit.

A fundraising plan is ALWAYS a good idea.

It gives you a road map, freeing you from the paralysis, doubt, and fear that can grip you, especially when you’re trying to fundraise during a pandemic

But how do you make a plan when you have no idea what the future holds? 

By building a plan that’s flexible, easily adjusted, and includes plenty of virtual strategies! 

With a full year of virtual fundraising events and campaigns on the calendar, you’ll feel confident you can raise the money you need to fully fund your programs, regardless of how long the pandemic drags on or what else may happen.

First things first: what do your donors want?

The best way to choose virtual activities is to think about your donors first.

You see, virtual fundraising is not about what you need or your convenience – it’s about what donors are interested in being part of. 

What types of experiences can you provide for your donors during this time of isolation and stress?

Your donors are likely looking for opportunities to:

  • Connect with others
  • Learn something new
  • Feel good about the cause they have chosen to support
  • Play a key role in making lives better
  • Have fun

How can you provide these opportunities for your donors and make it a win-win for both of you?

When you assume all your fundraising will be done virtually, you can fit more activities into your annual calendar. Virtual fundraising typically requires less planning and upfront cost, and they require less commitment from the donor.

Plus, time moves differently online than in real life, meaning you can do more in a month online than you would normally do offline. 

Here’s your plan in a nutshell: 

  • Aim for one or maybe two large virtual events and three to five mid-size strategies throughout the year. 
  • Then flesh out your calendar with tiny asks like a Five Dollar Friday on Facebook, an online t-shirt sale, or a flash crowdfunding campaign for a need that only costs a few hundred dollars. 
  • Add plenty of communications and warm touches, and you’ll have a well-rounded annual fundraising plan that will serve you well!

First Step: Signature Event

Fundraising events typically are a lot of work and require months of planning. 

Now, because of the pandemic, it’s wise to make your event partially or completely virtual.

It’s best to make your event a signature event, so everyone associates it with your nonprofit. Put all your event energy into that one event, do it well, then move on to other things.

Depending on the event, you may be able to repeat it later in the year.

There are basically two kinds of events: The Community/Fun Event and the Heartstrings Event. And either can be done virtually in part or in whole.

Community/Fun Events are widely promoted and encourage people to do something active or fun while supporting your cause. This kind of event can help you find new friends for your nonprofit, but these folks are participants, not donors, and that’s an important distinction. They’re attending your event because it’s fun, or they’re getting something out of it. Supporting your cause is not the main reason for their participation. You can try to convert them to donors, but it’s tough to do.   

People usually leave Community/Fun Events feeling good. And that’s good for you because they’ll likely talk about their experience for several days afterward, telling friends and co-workers what a blast they had! That can help build buzz for next year, so do whatever you can to make sure people have a good experience at your event. 

Community/Fun Events can range from virtual 5Ks to Bingo nights to online concerts – the sky’s the limit. Use your imagination to create a fun event that your donors will love.

Heartstrings Events are more specific to your cause and are designed to attract people who already care about your mission. Typically, a Heartstrings Event has one main goal – to ask people for donations. Point Blank. Attendees have either been invited by you or someone else close to your organization, or they have purchased tickets – which means they already care. And they know they will be asked to donate during the event.

Heartstrings Events can range from small gatherings of potential donors to large crowds in ballrooms, restaurants, or other venues.  A well-run Heartstrings Event can pave the way for faithful donors who will support your nonprofit’s work long term.

What event is right for your situation depends on a lot of things, including your organization’s strengths, your personal strengths, what you have time for, and how much money you need to raise.

Sprinkle in some mid-size fundraisers

Mid-sized events and activities are smaller fundraisers that you can host during the year to generate funds, build relationships, and bring in new donors.

These take much less time to plan and execute and can include email asks, peer-to-peer campaigns, and giving days like Giving Tuesday.

Here are some examples of mid-size activities you can host:

  • Virtual facility tour: Take donors on a tour of your organization, focusing on how you are meeting needs during the pandemic. Point out a specific, tangible need if you can that you need help with. For example, if your after-school program is in dire need of Chromebooks or hands-on science kits so students can work at home, mention these needs and ask viewers to give. If you operate a food pantry, show the increased number of people lining up for emergency food boxes and talk about how the expenses to cover the increase aren’t in your budget.
  • Facebook Live campaign: Plan a series of Facebook Live events focused on a theme. This is a great opportunity to talk directly to your donors about how they can step into a heroic role and make people’s lives better through a gift to your organization.
  • Online Gift Card Auction. We’ve seen online auctions before, but this one is so easy and has been quite successful for many nonprofits. This is an event that can be managed ALL online, and keeping it to gift cards means that you can send prizes to winning bidders all over the country! Ask local businesses to donate gift cards (all amounts are welcome). You might even ask your volunteers and donors if they have gift cards lying around that they’d like to donate (many people have a card or two tucked in their wallets). Try to get gift cards for a variety of services and products like automotive services, hotels, national chains, and restaurants to appeal to a wide variety of people. 

Finally, add some super-simple strategies 

These are the quick-and-easy strategies that can bring in much-needed dollars for small, solvable problems that are easy to explain and understand. 

  • Birthday fundraisers on Facebook: Ask your supporters to hold a Facebook fundraiser on their birthday.
  • $5 Fridays: On a specific Friday each month, ask supporters to chip in to fund a small, specific need.
  • Wish List Drive: Ask supporters to purchase items from your Amazon or other store Wish List. Donors will appreciate the opportunity to purchase a specific item that you need.

Make your fundraising count!

Now that you have filled out your calendar with fundraising events and strategies think about ways to make each event the most it can be. 

With every event you plan or strategy you execute, make sure you are telling your strongest stories and meeting the needs of your donors.

  • Use more matching gifts: Ask your most reliable donors to contribute a matching gift that you can leverage during virtual fundraising.
  • Communicate often with your donors: With fewer opportunities for in-person events and activities, communication is more important than ever. Use social media, email, phone calls, and even snail mail to keep your donors in the know.
  • Create and share more videos: Videos don’t have to be professional quality to resonate. Get comfortable talking to your cell-phone camera to engage supporters in your organization’s work. A ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at your nonprofit will captivate many donors when virtual fundraising.
  • Tell more stories: Tell stories that capture the depth and breadth of your work. Tell short, poignant stories that capture the spirit of your organization.

Your calendar is your road map

Use Post-it Notes or a digital planning board to move events around, making sure you don’t have asks piled on top of each other that target the same donors.

Make sure you have the volunteer capacity to pull off each event. If you have doubts, move that event to next year and focus on strategies requiring less planning. Add key planning milestones to your calendar, especially for your larger events.

Then, start planning your first event and strategies, using your calendar to stay on track. Know that by working steadily year-round on fundraising, you will build excitement for your organization’s work and bring in the money you need to fulfill your mission.

Sandy Rees is the Founder of Fundraising TV and Chief Encouragement Officer at Get Fully Funded. Sandy shows founders and leaders of new and small nonprofits how to fully fund their dream so they can make the difference they want to make in the world. She has helped dozens of small nonprofits go from “nickel-and-dime fundraising” to adding 6 figures to their bottom line. Sandy shows her students how to find ideal donors, connect through authentic messaging, and build relationships that stand the test of time, so that fundraising becomes easy and predictable. Find out more at

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