Over the past year, organizations adjusted their operations to ensure a COVID-safe environment for staff, volunteers, recipients, and board members. Additionally, everyone had to reimagine annual events that typically made up a core part of fundraising.

Many cancelled events outright, while others drastically changed the format. The gala became the un-gala. The fun run morphed into the un-run.

And while everyone longs for times when social gatherings and events could take place without risk, socially distancing will remain the norm for a while—and fundraising will continue to be impacted.

Interestingly, a number of nonprofit organizations have modified their annual events and discovered their net donation income holding steady or even improving. Part of this stems from lower financial obligations for event staging. Supporters have also rallied in this global time of need.

So, how did COVID-successful nonprofit organizations maintain donations, participation, and awareness? At the most basic level, they created and maintained effective and versatile websites with easy ways to make donations. Better still, their websites had donation pages specific to fundraising events. This not only reinforced their virtual efforts, but also provided flexibility to invitation-only events.

The following provides a look at other ways to successfully make “virtual” your reality.


Social networking has enhanced the tried-and-true peer-to-peer method of fundraising. Peer-to-peer thrives in the virtual landscape and can be attached to any virtual event.

Several platforms are specifically designed to manage personal fundraising pages. To spread the word, individuals and organizations can easily set up funding pages on several social networking sites like Facebook to better reach their community of friends.

To build momentum, engage your constituents to start a fundraising challenge. Be sure to provide this group with your best fundraising materials, including suggested verbiage for emails and social media posts and graphics.

Key board members, staff, active volunteers, and your most dedicated donors help set the bar for others. Share pointers on how to take good pictures, and set up a schedule to remind leaders when to update their pages.

Birthdays serve as an excellent time for a peer-to-peer appeal and provide more even distribution throughout the year. Combining a birthday wish and fundraising for a specific event will likely increase donations.

Deconstruct the Big Event

Your annual fundraising event probably fills several hours with programming to welcome and entertain donors and guests. It likely includes a time for socializing, a highlight feature, an awards ceremony to recognize achievements and, of course, the final appeal. It results in a lot of photos and video that you’ll use throughout the year to create additional marketing materials for your mission.

Thankfully, aside from the physical interactions and face-to-face socializing, you can reimagine most of your programming to fit a virtual event.

You can produce and deliver your main event in less time and with less expense with a livestream. Production quality may decrease, but the current expectations are more lenient, and production services continue to improve as the need has increased.

Consider Alternative Programming

Given the extreme nature of the pandemic, you might consider programming that falls outside the norm. Many video platforms work well for managing large or small groups. Additionally, you can find apps and entertainment services specifically designed for online group interactions. Utilize these in combination to enhance your event’s message, fun factor, and social interaction.

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so don’t hesitate to look to other nonprofits to see what they have done for their big events. Borrow their best practices and make them your own.

Put the Fun in Fundraising

Many activities that you can use in conjunction with your main event translate well to a virtual platform. For example, a livestream performance or hosted awards ceremony can occur in tandem with your main event or serve as one of several mini-events to replace your prior annual scheduling.

Consider these options:

Auctions: This activity translates well to a virtual event, and several technologies designed to replicate the excitement of outbidding a fellow participant exist. Participants can preview donated items via email links with personal notes attached to specific potential bidders. Sending your audience bidding number paddles, libations, or snacks adds to the fun.

Virtual tours and open houses: If you cannot bring people to your event space, bring the event space to your people. A behind-the-scenes tour can be difficult with a large group, but a virtual tour allows for many people to share the experience. Virtual tours are also great for showing off new facilities and exhibits and explaining what it takes to make things work.

If you conduct the virtual tours or open houses live, you can also leave time for a lively question-and-answer session after the tour.

Virtual runs and bike tours: Many nonprofit organizations sponsor fun runs or bike rides as their main fundraisers and promotional events. Making these virtual doesn’t require a lot of effort.

People still register, you still provide a suggested route or duration, and participants still generate plenty of content for your highlight reel. You benefit from these virtual events by asking participants to wear promotional clothing you have provided ahead of time and to take pictures and videos of their efforts.

Planning Ahead, Virtually

What does your new normal look like? As communities get better at navigating health and safety protocols, and as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, new opportunities will no doubt present themselves for fundraising events.

But one thing remains certain—the way we have conducted our fundraising will continue to evolve. Patrons might actually like the casual nature of virtual events, or maybe they will feel so excited to get out, dress up, and party that your formal gala will transform into a super-event for the next few years. (With that in mind, book your fall 2021 dates early!)

Certainly, virtual event provider options will increase and technology issues will decrease. How you tap into the new opportunities is only limited by your team’s imagination.

Next Steps

We are committed to helping your organization thrive. Let us help you brainstorm ideas to keep your fundraising vibrant virtually. Contact a Hantzmon Wiebel team member today to begin your next steps.

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