Online fundraising can take many forms, making some of these campaigns challenging to set up. But with all the benefits that they offer, you’d be remiss if you didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Running an online fundraising campaign may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. So long as you know where to find your inspiration, you’ll be in great shape!
To help, we’ve compiled our top tips and tricks for hosting successful virtual fundraising campaigns. But before diving headfirst into our top online fundraising ideas, let’s take a moment to explore exactly what it is and what all it entails.
What is Online Fundraising?
Simply put, online fundraising is a way for nonprofit organizations to secure funding and support via the internet. Roughly 88% of the North American population has internet access, making it incredibly easy for organizations to reach donors where they already are.
Typically, nonprofits kick off their online fundraising efforts with a solid strategy and an online donation form. Once they’ve invested in the right tools, they can expand to more modern techniques, such as peer-to-peer fundraising. Then, supporters encounter these efforts for the first time with the marketing materials organizations send out.
With the right tools, online fundraising allows donors to contribute to their favorite causes the moment inspiration strikes. Plus, a secure platform will enable several payment options and eliminate any fear donors may have about having their personal financial data compromised.
Now that you know the essentials, we can dive a little deeper and take a look at some of the best online fundraising ideas with examples to help. We’ll walk through the following:
1. Custom Donation Forms: Pay It Forward Charleston
2. Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: Working in the Schools
3. Recurring Donations: Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C.
4. Online Giving Days: Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund
5. Mobile-Responsive Giving: United Way of Greater Los Angeles
6. Text Messaging: Taunton Area Community Table
7. Matching Gift Drive: Eli Lilly & Company Foundation
8. Data-Driven Fundraising: PRX
9. Crowdfunding: The Hearsay
Each of these virtual fundraising ideas strategically takes advantage of a particular software feature, driving fundraising results and raising awareness with less effort. The right approach can make or break your success, so let’s dive in!
Online Fundraising Idea #1: Custom Donation Forms
Every great online fundraising strategy starts with a digital donation form, complete with custom fields and an eye-catching design. These features allow you to boost engagement so that donors are motivated to give and share informative details. From here, you should spike support with suggested donation amounts and encourage long-term support with recurring donations if possible.
With the right virtual fundraising tools, you can customize your online donation form to match your brand and achieve your goals. For example, you can:
- Encourage long-term support by adding an option for recurring donations.
- Gather key data with custom fields for additional information, such as a phone number.
- Allow for anonymous donations.
- Change the font to match other pages on your website.
- Redirect donors to a custom thank-you page the instant they click submit.
- Give donors the option to cover the small processing fee so that you get 100% of the funds.
- Accept multiple payment options through secure payment processing—such as credit card and ACH (bank transfer) payments.
All successful online fundraising endeavors start with an intuitive donation form. By using a customizable option, you can even embed it directly onto your website. That way, donors never have to leave your website to donate. If they’re rerouted to a third-party website, supporters may not trust it and abandon their donation altogether.
Find an all-in-one solution that allows you to perform all of the above functions, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful and intuitive online fundraising experience.
Best Virtual Fundraising Example: Pay It Forward Charleston
Pay It Forward Charleston uses a custom donation form to allow users to choose a suggested donation amount, round up donations to cover processing fees, select their preferred method of giving, and provide additional information, such as important contact details. By limiting the fields, the group effectively streamlined the process while still capturing the data they needed.
Plus, their powerful description of their mission alongside the donation form works as a great motivator for donating. Overall, this clean-cut design makes giving easier for the supporters and makes the process friendlier and more accessible to all users.
Takeaway: When you can tailor your form to fit your exact needs, you’ll be able to streamline the donation process and capture all essential data without sifting through any extraneous information. Take advantage of fully customizable donation forms and make the most of your donation process.
Online Fundraising Idea #2: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising
Peer-to-peer fundraising is a strategy in which a nonprofit organization calls on its supporters to fundraise on its behalf. It’s one of the most powerful virtual fundraising ideas, because it harnesses the power of social proof. In short, social proof refers to the idea that people adapt their behaviors to mimic what others are doing. This can directly elevate your cause and attract large audiences so that you can capture the attention of new supporters.
Chances are, you’ve come across one of these campaigns at some point. All sorts of mission-based organizations take advantage of peer-to-peer campaigning, and yours can, too! Here's a step-by-step overview for launching a campaign to reference as you get started:
- Determine your total fundraising goal for the campaign.
- Set up a main peer-to-peer fundraising campaign page.
- Recruit passionate volunteer fundraisers to create their own individual campaign pages.
- The nonprofit advises the online fundraising team on how to effectively run their campaign pages.
- Advise your online fundraising team on how to effectively run their campaign pages.
- Track and report the donations from each of the individual campaigns.
Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns have the power to massively expand your donor network and bring in more donations without added expenses. The best part? Your organization can still tell its story, but your fundraisers can also express their personal connections, which can reinforce the necessity of your work and increase the contributions you receive.
Top Online Campaign Example: Working in the Schools
Based in Chicago, Working in the Schools is a movement that aims to promote better public education for students in Chicago Public Schools.
Powered by Donately, they were able to offer a streamlined peer-to-peer fundraising experience. Featured below, you can see the total funds raised as well as top volunteer fundraisers. The progress bar acted as an especially effective strategy because it offered a visual representation of how far they were from their goal, which helped encourage donors to continue sharing and contributing.
Thanks to well-designed templates, volunteer fundraisers were able to get their personalized pages up and running in no time. Below, you’ll also see how a volunteer fundraiser customized his campaign page to communicate his connection to the cause. The page also includes information about the main campaign and an intuitive donation form for visitors to use, resulting in him exceeding his personal goal!
Takeaway: Peer-to-peer fundraising is a powerful online fundraising method that should not be overlooked. When you elevate your online campaign to a social level, you can expand your reach and generate more momentum by inspiring a wider group of individuals to back your cause. Remember, humans naturally feel empathy, so by offering a compelling voice and personalized touch to your online fundraising campaign, your volunteer fundraisers can leverage social proof and ultimately work wonders for your goals.
Online Fundraising Idea #3: Recurring Donations
Recurring donations are when your donors can automatically repeat their donations on a regular basis. Offering a recurring giving option on your website helps make your revenue stream more predictable, and by incorporating these options into your donation form, you offer your donors the opportunity to set this up according to their own donation amount preference and frequency of giving.
Depending on your donation tools’ functionality, you can:
- Set the recurring gifts to occur weekly, monthly, or annually.
- Give donors the option to make the donation they give today a recurring donation directly on the form.
- Allow donors to manage their recurring donations themselves and update their plans, saving your staff time.
- Easily collect these regular donations via credit card, ACH (direct deposit), or PayPal.
- Get notified when recurring donations fail so that you can take the appropriate action to fix them.
Recurring donations play a significant role in online fundraising. For one, they can directly increase your revenue by influencing supporters to sign up with a couple of clicks, creating a consistent revenue stream. Also, they give your donors more flexibility in the plans they choose.
Your donors retain control of how much they want to give, with the option to adjust their plans at any time. Plus, when your nonprofit receives notifications about changes in recurring donations, you can take action to ensure the strategy stays strong as a whole.
Best Virtual Fundraising Example: Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C.
Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. is a network of area professionals working to make a difference in their community by eliminating poverty housing in the District. Through membership dues, they’re steadily fulfilling their vision of improving the lives of those most in need by improving their living situation.
Below, you’ll see they offer a unique membership experience through recurring donations. Those who wish to become members can select from one of two recurring membership options: a $5 monthly gift or a $60 annual gift. All users need to do is select their choice and enter key giving data, such as payment information and optional fields regarding their interest in the cause. After hitting submit, they don’t have to worry about submitting membership dues in the future.
Takeaway: Setting up a recurring donation option increases your chances of securing more contributions over time and allows you to establish a consistent revenue stream. Further, the level of control donors receive for adjusting their plans creates a sense of trust since they can stop donations at any point. This way, they'll be comfortable in their decision to select the recurring donation option and effectively connect with your team for the long term.
Online Fundraising Idea #4: Online Giving Days
Giving days are wonderful for gaining momentum and building awareness for your cause. Simply put, they’re time-based fundraising challenges with the goal of raising revenue within a 24-hour time period. Shifting these opportunities to the digital space makes them much more accessible. These campaigns harness the power of social sharing and stand to gain the most momentum when coordinated alongside a peer-to-peer or a crowdfunding campaign.
Chances are, you’ve encountered one of these online campaigns at some point, such as one of the most notable ones: #GivingTuesday. While this virtual giving day takes place on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving each year, a second day, #GivingTuesdayNow, was also created out of the necessity to combat the negative effects of COVID-19 on the nonprofit sector. Taking place in May 2020, the PayPal community alone raised approximately $65 million on #GivingTuesdayNow, which was an astounding 43% higher than the previous 7 days leading up to it, proving that it created a surge in giving amidst the pandemic.
Seeing the impact this creative online fundraising idea can create, it’s clear that time-based campaigns work wonders for nonprofit fundraising. Giving days are able to gain so much momentum for a number of reasons. Overall, the expedited timeline sparks a sense of urgency in supporters and encourages them to act now so that they don’t miss the opportunity.
As you enter your online giving day, keep these tips in mind to keep it going full-steam ahead:
- Emphasize your organization’s longevity so that prospects recognize the long-term value in supporting your mission.
- Direct users to your optimized donation page in every marketing outreach initiative so supporters aren’t forced to locate it themselves.
- Highlight opportunities for getting involved, such as signing up for your newsletter or simply sharing your online campaign on social media.
- Incorporate compelling photos and videos that emphasize the importance of your mission and tug at your donors’ heartstrings.
There are a number of ways you can set your online giving day up for success. So long as your online donation page is ready to go, an online giving day is bound to rally up some fundraising dollars for your mission!
Top Online Campaign Example: Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund
The Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund is a prime example of how a well-timed campaign can make a powerful difference in generating funds. While not exactly a giving day, they effectively create a sense of urgency by presenting their cause as being in dire need of support.
Below, you’ll see how their clean-cut design gets down to business and draws attention to important page elements. Specifically, the imagery draws users in and the language is concise yet moving. They harp on the financial needs of the Chicago community right now to effectively persuade individuals into donating.
Takeaway: An accelerated timeline can work wonders in helping your nonprofit reach your fundraising goals. Pair the right donation tools with a timeframe that makes sense for your revenue goal, and you’ll be well on your way to virtual campaign success!
Online Fundraising Idea #5: Mobile-Responsive Giving
Half of all nonprofit website traffic comes from mobile devices, making mobile-responsive donation pages a must. This means that it’s designed to look and work great on every device by adjusting to the screen size on which it’s being viewed.
Some advantages of mobile-responsive giving include:
- Securing more donations. Don’t worry about donors abandoning the page as a result of poor formatting or unreadable text.
- Accepting donations from any device. With fully-responsive donation forms, your donors will be able to easily navigate the page and make a donation from any device.
- Viewing your dashboard from any device. View your donor and administrative dashboards on mobile devices as well, so you can manage your giving on the go!
It’s essential that you incorporate mobile responsiveness into your donation pages, because each day, more and more donors are accessing your donation pages on their mobile devices. Today, 51% of all nonprofit website traffic comes from mobile devices. Without responsiveness, prospects will struggle to interact with your form, making the process more difficult and increasing the likelihood that they’ll abandon their donations. Make sure donors can contribute the moment motivation strikes, no matter what device they’re using at the time.
Best Online Campaign Example: United Way of Greater Los Angeles
United Way of Greater Los Angeles offers a mobile-responsive giving page that can be viewed across various devices automatically.
Thanks to mobile responsiveness, all of the necessary elements on a donation form can be viewed without issue. The page’s imagery, text, and form all automatically adjust to fit any device format, whether it’s on a mobile device or a computer. Even on smaller screens, you can select from suggested giving amounts, opt into a recurring monthly gift program, round up your donation to cover the processing fee, and fill out all other necessary fields.
Takeaway: Meet your donors where they are by making sure your campaign page automatically adjusts to any size device. When your online campaign can be viewed across multiple platforms, donors will appreciate the intuitive experience, and you’ll start forging long-term relationships with them.
Online Fundraising Idea #6: Text Messaging
Active communication and marketing strategies are crucial for any virtual fundraising endeavors. After all, how do you expect someone to contribute to your online campaign if they never hear about it?
Phone usage has become intertwined with our day-to-day lives. Think about it: how often do you go out and see people checking their smartphones, even just for a split-second? How often do you check yours? Today, 96% of Americans own a cell phone, making this one of the most effective ways to reach your donors!
With the right text messaging tools, you can:
- Customize text codes and responses in order to collect donations. Send your donors a customized link to your donation page via text message where they can give directly to your cause.
- Pair it with your online campaigns. If you’re hosting a virtual campaign, consider incorporating your text messaging platform to make giving convenient.
- Boost peer-to-peer fundraising participation. Easily instruct your constituents to create their own online fundraising pages. Through text messaging, send them directly to the sign-up page to create a seamless experience.
Text messaging is a fantastic way to communicate with donors, and when used effectively, it can maximize your online fundraising dollars. Get creative, and the sky’s the limit!
Top Online Campaign Example: Taunton Area Community Table
Taunton Area Community Table (TaCT) puts a modern spin on the traditional soup kitchen by providing nutritious meals free of charge to anyone who walks through their doors—no questions asked! While brainstorming online fundraising ideas, they added crucial specialized texting tools to their arsenal.
With the right texting software, organizations like TaCT find that connecting with donors virtually is a breeze! The image below exemplifies how seamless the process truly is, for both your donors and your team! When powered by Donately, all that your donors need to do is text a customized code to a designated number. Then, they’re instantly greeted with a friendly message and a link to the mobile-responsive giving page.
Takeaway: Communicating with donors is an essential part of any effective online fundraising strategy. Whether you pair it with your virtual campaigns or simply use it to disseminate important announcements, text messages give your audience a new, more modern way to connect with your cause.
Online Fundraising Idea #7: Matching Gift Drive
Corporate philanthropy is an ever-growing phenomenon in the online fundraising community. In short, businesses vow to give back to their communities’ philanthropic causes to enhance their public image and to support their employees’ good deeds. One primary way they do this is by offering matching gift programs.
In short, matching gift programs are when an employer offers to match their employees’ donations to eligible nonprofits. They represent a major online fundraising opportunity, so tap into this by incorporating corporate matching gifts on your online donation form. You’ll need to include information about how to access a matching gift database, so donors can determine if their gift is eligible to be matched by their employer.
Let’s take a look at just how simple the matching gift process is:
- A donor makes a gift to your organization.
- They research their eligibility for their employers’ matching gift program using a matching gift database tool.
- If eligible, they follow the indicated next steps to submit a request to their employer.
- After confirming the donation with your team, the company sends a check to your organization.
It’s as simple as that. Don’t leave free money on the table! Make sure your donors know they can potentially double (or maybe even triple!) their gifts to your cause without reaching back into their pockets. Best of all, donors may be more likely to donate in the first place if they know their gifts are eligible to be matched—84% of them are more likely to do so to be exact. Let them know exactly how they can boost your online fundraising, and they will, especially since it comes at no extra cost to them!
Best Online Campaign Example: Eli Lilly & Company Foundation
To strengthen support for United Way of Central Indiana’s mission, the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation launched a $1 million corporate match challenge for new corporate gifts and new matches on employee giving. This unique online fundraising idea was established to encourage local Central Indiana business leaders to join them in cultivating an all-inclusive, thriving community.
What started as a valiant effort to solidify their partnership with the United Way turned into some real change in the community. While the aspirational $1 million hasn’t been reached yet, they’re well on their way with more than a quarter-million raised. The prominent fundraising thermometer shows the progress and encourages others to contribute to continue propelling the efforts forward. Below, you can take a look at the motivational language used to inspire action among other community businesses.
Takeaway: Corporate philanthropy is an often overlooked source of virtual fundraising revenue. Tap into these funds by promoting matching gift opportunities to prospects, and you’ll find that many people are willing to submit a simple form to their employer if it means also expanding their impact. Further your donors’ impact on your mission and boost your online fundraising with this simple virtual fundraising idea!
Online Fundraising Idea #8: Data-Driven Fundraising
The best virtual fundraising campaigns make effective use of insightful donor data. Data-driven fundraising enables you to grow your impact online in ways far beyond your goals. However, gathering this data manually simply isn’t feasible, especially if you're part of a large organization with a substantial donor base.
Instead, you’ll need to employ a dashboard that offers a range of insightful data from your online campaigns, so you can quickly get a pulse of your online fundraising efforts. With a fully-equipped dashboard, you’ll be able to:
- View your most active donors.
- View popular donation amounts.
- Identify trends, like high volume days of the week.
- Gain insight into how effective each online campaign is.
- Understand which virtual fundraising strategies do or don't work well.
Using the data you gather, you can easily send targeted communications that appeal to specific groups of donors, determine the best possible times to make donation appeals, and figure out how to improve your future fundraisers.
Searching for all this information in separate locations within your software will eat up all your time that can be better spent elsewhere. Instead, try data-driven fundraising! You’ll consolidate all of your crucial data into one convenient place, so you can focus on enhancing your online fundraising strategies and raising awareness for your cause.
Top Virtual Fundraising Example: PRX
Below, you’ll see PRX’s optimized online donation page that makes giving quick and seamless for donors. What you can’t see is all the behind-the-scenes work it’s doing in terms of capturing data.
Through data-based fundraising, PRX makes smart use of hidden fields to capture essential data. Further, they conduct A/B testing to locate what on-page factors motivate prospects to complete the process and which deter them. This way, they can design the most effective page that will convert supporters.
This is just a tip of the iceberg as there is a host of other effective data-capturing methods nonprofits can employ!
All of this data flows into Google Analytics so that they can get a holistic picture of their fundraising and locate areas of improvement all in one convenient location. Instead of spending time reviewing online fundraising data, their team can now keep focus exactly where it needs to be: engaging donors and promoting online fundraising campaigns.
Takeaway: By keeping your data organized, you can sort through all your online fundraising priorities and run the best campaigns possible. Remember, your time is important—especially in the virtual fundraising world. Every minute you can save counts. So put that recovered time toward the cause you care so much about!
Online Fundraising Idea #9: Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is another online fundraising idea that harnesses the power of social sharing. Much like peer-to-peer fundraising, you create the main fundraising campaign page that’s then shared online with supporters’ friends and families. With passionate online campaign supporters, you’ll effectively spread your message far and wide.
As you start designing your crowdfunding campaign, keep these best practices in mind to fulfill your online fundraising potential:
- Solidify your story. Crowdfunding is about more than securing donations. It’s about capturing the hearts of donors quickly. Before launching your online campaign, be prepared to share your mission’s story creatively and concisely.
- Set a relevant timeline. As you’ve learned, time-based campaigns are fantastic for inspiring immediate action. Be sure to select a relevant deadline based on your online fundraising goal and the number of your active donors.
- Create an aspirational goal. However, don’t set one that’s likely unachievable, because you’ll risk both donors and staff when you don’t reach it. Instead, take a look at previous online campaign results and set one that’s marginally higher.
As you set up your crowdfunding campaign, you’ll need access to several key donation features. Your tools can make or break your online campaign, so be sure you can effectively customize your donation form to capture essential data and securely process payments. Backed by powerful tools, you’ll be able to successfully share your mission with a wide range of individuals.
Best Online Campaign Example: The Hearsay
The Hearsay decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund their first studio album with Plaid Dog Recording Studio. Powered by Donately, they set an achievable, yet ambitious goal and then exceeded it thanks to the power of a well-designed campaign page and tons of social sharing!
Take a look at the example image below, and you’ll see that the clean-cut design really emphasizes key page elements, such as the campaign title, a personable image, and a fundraising thermometer. Incorporating tools like donation thermometers takes this campaign to the next level. Not only does it act as a gamification feature, but it also communicates progress toward the total fundraising goal in a transparent way.
Below the fold, there’s sufficient information detailing the online campaign’s purpose as well as suggested giving amounts that detail the perks that come with each donation amount.
Takeaway: Crowdfunding is a powerful online fundraising method that relies heavily on social sharing. So long as you have passionate supporters and implement an effective timeline and campaign goal, you'll easily catch donors' interest and spread the word about your cause.
Following these virtual fundraising ideas and examples can help propel your online fundraising efforts forward and solidify your revenue stream. By taking advantage of features like custom donation forms, recurring donations, and mobile-responsiveness, you'll make it easy for donors to navigate your platform and give in the ways that best suit them.
Be sure to research these features for nonprofits and incorporate them into your overall online giving strategy. Not only will you make things easier for your donors, but you’ll make it easier for your team, too. From here, you’ll be on your way to maximizing your donations and fostering meaningful relationships with your supporters!
If you’re interested in learning more about donation software features and other ways to enhance your online fundraising, check out the helpful resources below:
- Virtual Fundraising: The Nonprofit’s Complete Guide for 2020. Learn all about successful virtual fundraising with this comprehensive guide that’s chock-full of top-tier tips.
- 100+ Unique (And Easy!) Fundraising Ideas. Need some engaging fundraising ideas to pair with your next online campaign? Check out this extensive list for inspiration!
- 9 Online Donation Tools: Key Software to Help You Raise More. The right donation tools will set your online fundraising campaigns up for success. Kick off your search with this guide.