3 Great Ideas for Engaging Online Fundraising Events

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3 Great Ideas for Engaging Online Fundraising Events

The pandemic has created unique challenges for the nonprofit sector. At this point, your staff has already adjusted to remote operations, and you’ve likely resumed core mission-critical activities that needed to be paused early in the crisis, like fundraising and stewardship events.

As the pandemic continues, so does the need for fundraising. In fact, your constituents’ needs may be more critical than ever. Unfortunately, the economic downturn and resulting social distancing guidelines create an uncertain landscape for fundraising in the era of COVID-19

Fundraising coordinators have had to adjust goals and explore new approaches for connecting with donors. Many nonprofits have turned to online events as a way to safely continue their fundraising efforts. 

To help your nonprofit finish the year strong, the Handbid team has compiled a few of the most effective and engaging ideas for online fundraising events.  We’ll explore virtual auctions, peer-to-peer fundraising, and virtual galas, so you can determine which type of event will help to hit your fundraising goals and create a memorable experience for supporters.

All of these options will create the opportunity for your supporters to contribute to your organization and feel more connected to your mission, even from a distance. Let’s jump in and explore some advantages and best practices of each.

Host a virtual auction

When you think of charity auctions, you probably think of two main types: a live auction and a silent auction. In a live auction, an auctioneer will sell off a handful of big-ticket items in a high energy event. A silent auction takes a more subdued approach, with items displayed on tables for bidders to browse throughout the duration of the event.

A virtual auction can incorporate elements of both live and silent auctions for a lively and powerful virtual event.

Benefits of virtual auctions

Your donors already believe in your mission and are happy to make contributions to your organization without receiving anything in return. However, with a silent auction, they can receive a valuable item in exchange for their meaningful support, creating a mutually beneficial experience.

And a huge benefit of a virtual auction is the ability to reach far more prospective bidders than would otherwise be possible. The online format allows for greater scheduling flexibility and a much wider geographic reach. We have even seen success in virtual auctions staying open for a longer period of time, giving your donors more time to bid on items and donate. 

Best practices for virtual auctions

While auctions are one of the most lucrative fundraising events you can host, they do take a substantial amount of time to plan, so get started early. It will take time for your procurement team to secure and purchase plenty of desirable auction items. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all timeline, so don’t stress about following a specific planning calendar.

As part of the planning process, the right online auction tool will handle all the necessary details in one centralized platform, from registration to payment processing. It’s best to choose an auction-specific solution rather than a more comprehensive fundraising platform. 

Using powerful online auction software can save your team time, create a more convenient experience for bidders, and help you raise more for your mission. 

Handbid’s guide to choosing the best nonprofit auction software recommends looking for key features including:

  • Simple registration, bidding, checkout, and distribution processes
  • Support for online and in-person events
  • Robust reporting and analytics
  • Bidder engagement functions, like push notifications 
  • Customizable payment options
  • Cloud-based capabilities

With features like these at your fingertips, you’ll be well prepared to host a highly successful virtual auction event.

Create a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign

In a peer-to-peer fundraiser (P2P), your supporters will fundraise on your behalf. Often, this is held in tandem with a big finale event like a run or a walk-a-thon, where fundraisers will collect pledges based on the number of miles completed.

In recent years, most of the fundraising in peer-to-peer campaigns occurs over social media, which translates well into a fully online event. You can also hold a virtual walkathon or other finale event in which supporters complete an activity individually, report back to your organization on their results, and then come together for an online celebration.

Benefits of peer-to-peer fundraisers

This kind of online fundraising event can help your nonprofit expand its reach. Each of your supporters’ social networks is an untapped asset that can be leveraged through P2P fundraising—bringing in more money for your mission. It can be hugely profitable without a huge investment of time from your fundraising team.

Additionally, peer-to-peer fundraising engages your current supporters and helps strengthen their connection to your nonprofit. By spreading the word about your organization to others, your existing donors may invigorate their commitment to your mission.

Plus, as discussed in this DNL OmniMedia article, a virtual P2P fundraiser offers the unique advantages of accessibility, low cost, and low risk of cancellation due to outside circumstances.

Best practices for peer-to-peer fundraisers

To boost the success of your peer-to-peer fundraiser, implement the following strategies:

  • Provide helpful resources. Many of your supporters probably have limited fundraising experience. Make sure you provide them with the tools, training, and resources they need to be successful. Consider hosting live online Q&A sessions with your fundraising experts throughout the duration of the campaign.
  • Choose the right platform. Choose P2P software that makes it easy to set up a main campaign page, start individual fundraiser pages, and track progress. Make sure the software is mobile-friendly, since over 50% of global web traffic comes from smartphones.
  • Encourage competition. A little healthy competition will create a more exciting experience for supporters and fuel additional fundraising revenue. Consider incorporating elements like leaderboards and fundraising thermometers so your supporters can see how their efforts stack up.

Throughout the process, make sure to convey your appreciation to your supporters! They will feel more motivated to fundraise if they understand how important they are to your nonprofit.

Hold a virtual gala

Even an event like a gala can be pivoted to an online fundraiser! With livestream video capabilities, you can still unite supporters from a distance and create a memorable experience for all.

Benefits of virtual galas

Virtual galas provide a stellar opportunity to showcase the impact your supporters have had on your mission. You may consider publicly honoring your most generous contributors during the event, but be sure to show your gratitude for donors of all levels. Showing appreciation for all your supporters is a key way to boost donor retention rates.

Best practices for virtual galas

A virtual gala can do double duty as a fundraising event and a stewardship event. To make an even bigger impact, you could also combine a virtual gala with another event element such as an auction, or stick to tried-and-true programming and awards. No matter what activities you decide to include, you’ll want to focus your efforts on strengthening your relationships with attendees.

To make sure you engage supporters effectively during your virtual gala, consider the following strategies:

  • Display impact. This guide to virtual fundraising events recommends creating programming that focuses on your mission, such as sharing behind-the-scenes photos or inviting staff and volunteers to share first handfirsthand stories about your nonprofit. You may even present testimonials from constituents who have benefited from your work. This can help attendees form a stronger connection with your organization.
  • Test technology. Be sure to troubleshoot ahead of time to reduce the risk of any technical difficulties. Practice your livestream and have your guests check their connectivity. You’ll also want to share detailed instructions with attendees so that everyone can get connected. 

With some creativity and the right tools, you can create a virtual gala that rivals an in-person fundraising event.


For the foreseeable future, most fundraising events will need to be virtual ones. Luckily, online fundraising events offer effective opportunities to engage supporters and generate funds for your mission. With one of these ideas, you’ll have a strong plan in place to round out the year. Good luck!

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