If you had to grade your last virtual fundraising event, what would you give yourself? Did you get an “A?” Would you give yourself a “needs improvement?” After all, virtual fundraising events require the same kind of planning and execution as an in-person event!

These virtual fundraising event ideas are creative, innovative, and fun to engage with. Check out what other higher-ed organizations have tried—can you make them work for your next push?

Idea #1: Participate in a Giving Day

When Giving Tuesday launched #GivingTuesdayNow to respond to the unprecedented needs charities were facing as a result of COVID-19, lots of schools and colleges participated. That particular giving day is over, but could you participate in a regional giving day? Could you even launch your own school-wide giving day?

A lot of work goes into participating in a giving day—if you’ve ever participated in one, you know how much time is spent planning email blasts, social posts, and other elements. But they can pay off! Look at how well this #GivingTuesdayNow campaign went for California State University San Marcos:


Want to Try? Here’s Where to Start

No two giving day campaigns are alike! But, if you’re interested in participating in a giving day (or creating one of your own), here are some good places to start:

  • See if any regional giving days for your area are coming up
  • Research other schools and colleges to see how they’ve run their giving day campaigns
  • Set a fundraising goal
  • Sketch out a rough schedule for posting and raising awareness
  • Work with staff to connect with students, their parents, and local partners to start building a plan and getting people excited
  • Use the right fundraising software to find and communicate with donors

Idea #2: Put Together a Virtual Dinner Party

Whether you want to host a small party for a select group of donors or a large party for a big group, flex your creative muscles by putting together a virtual dinner party. During the age of social distancing, nonprofits have learned to bring their supporters the experience of attending a dinner party virtually. Virtual dinner party entertainment ranges from streaming musical entertainment, virtual keynote addresses, and even live dance and bartending classes.

If you decide to host a virtual dinner party, it’s important to have a schedule. Entertainers, speakers, and other participants should know when they’re slated to present, and someone from your organization should be in charge of switching between presenters and fielding questions from participants. Schedule a quick run-through in the days preceding your event so everyone is familiar with the schedule and the technology they’ll use to run the stream.

Want to Try? Here’s Where to Start

  • First, make sure you have the necessary technology: a streaming platform, cameras, microphones, etc.
  • If you’re running a larger event, confirm that your streaming platform can accommodate your number of guests—some tools have limits!
  • Put together an entertainment lineup that will keep donors engaged between your mission updates and fundraising appeals

Idea #3: Host a Virtual 5k

Charity 5ks are time-honored fundraising events. They’ve been around for years, and current technology makes it easy to turn a classic event into a virtual one.

Try putting together a virtual event where students and staff raise money for your school using a peer-to-peer platform, then participate in a virtual 5k. You may want to run on the honor system and just ask participants to share selfies of their run/walk on social media using an event-specific hashtag. Or you could explore some more high-tech options to let participants “prove” they did their 5k. There are all kinds of ways to do this! If people use FitBits, run trackers, or other tech, they can submit screenshots of their progress. Or you could take a cue from this event, which gave participants a way to mark their 5k route on Google maps. As a fun engagement piece, participants could see where others were running for the same event!

JA Virtual 5k

Want to Try? Here’s Where to Start

This is just like a regular peer-to-peer event, but with a simple twist. If this kind of event appeals to you, here’s how to get started:

  • Decide how you want people to be able to participate in your virtual event
  • Put together a peer-to-peer event, complete with participation information
  • Recruit a small group of people to kick off fundraising and recruit more participants
  • Build a plan to help engage people and show off their progress

Idea #4: Host Virtual Classes

Try connecting with donors by hosting virtual classes they can join for a small fee, or let donors know the class is a fundraising event and make asks throughout the event. As for what your class could cover, get creative! Your staff may have ideas: someone could host a yoga class, an art class, a cooking class—the possibilities are endless!

Just as you would with the virtual dinner party, do a quick rehearsal before your event. Make sure your instructor knows how to use your streaming platform, has the correct equipment, and has a general game plan for their lesson. Your moderator should be handy to answer questions and interact with attendees! Periodically, remind your donors why you’re raising money and give them a way to contribute.

Want to Try? Here’s Where to Start

This is a fun, easy way to entertain your donors and raise some money. If you want to host a virtual class, start by:

  • Fielding ideas from other staff who may want to teach classes
  • Schedule an instructor(s) for your class and come up with a plan and schedule
  • Test your platform and practice so you can avoid technical issues
  • Start promoting your class!


Recent world events (and recent advances in technology!) have contributed to a rise in virtual events. Nonprofits have taken notice, and many organizations—including higher ed organizations—are taking note. If you’re thinking about running a virtual fundraising event, try these four ideas! With a good plan, some technical know-how, and a little creativity, you can engage and inspire your donors to support your work while they’re having fun.