8 Ideas for Fundraising Events in 2021

For most organizations, fundraising season is a nickname that’s been given to the last few months at the end of the year when most annual donations are made.  For these same organizations, this period of time can be make or break. And when once a pandemic is added on top of this, the season can be even tougher to navigate.

If the 2021 fundraising season is your first time planning events or working with a professional planner, keep some of these ideas in mind. Each one will provide you with a unique way to engage with potential donors while keeping everyone safe and healthy at the same time. 

Ideas for Nonprofits

For nonprofits, reaching as many people as possible should be the ultimate goal. The best way to do that during and after the pandemic is to shift your in-person events — like auctions and walkathons — to virtual versions. Don’t hesitate to rely on live streaming, social media, mobile tools, and nonprofit-specific software. 

1. Virtual Auctions 

Auctions are a popular way for nonprofits to raise money, and the pandemic hasn’t changed that. What did change is the way these organizations hold their auctions. Instead of gathering a large group of people in one place, they’re turning to virtual options. And that’s likely to continue after the pandemic ends.”Virtual is here to stay,” says Kate Patay, SEARCH Foundation Chairwoman and Chief Strategy Officer of Patay Consulting. Nonprofits must learn how to embrace it. 

Taking your auction to the virtual world even offers some benefits, like reaching a larger audience and, in many cases, reducing your spending. Donors enjoy the flexibility and ease of access. Consider using virtual auction software and mobile bidding tools to streamline the process for both you and your donors. And don’t forget to live stream any festivities surrounding the auction. 

2. Virtual 5ks, Walkathons, and Bikeathons 

We couldn’t gather in town for a big 5K, walkathon, or bikeathon in 2020, but that doesn’t mean these athletic fundraising events couldn’t take place. Virtual versions of this classic fundraising idea are on the rise, and there are so many ways to help your donors feel like they’re part of a team. As a bonus, it encourages more people to get out of the house and get moving safely. 

Have your participants pledge to run, walk or bike a certain number of miles. In return, donors will pledge a certain amount per mile or upon completion. Participants can complete the miles on their own time, so more people are likely to join up for the cause, and you can encourage them to post fun pictures and videos of their activities on social media. 

3. Social Media Challenges 

Speaking of social media, it’s one of the best tools for raising money during a pandemic. Need proof? Let’s step back in time to the summer of 2014 when videos of everyone from your favorite singer to your third-grade teacher dumping ice water over their heads went viral. It started when three young men decided to try to raise awareness and change the perception of ALS — a disease they all had — by filming themselves pouring ice water on each other. In the end, about $220 million was raised for the disease, and since then, huge advancements have been made regarding ALS research. 

But not every organization can do an ice bucket challenge, and not every attempt will go viral. This particular situation worked because it started as something earnest and authentic, not a corporate event. Your goal will be to find what speaks to your audience of donors and what you can do to get it out there, whether it’s a high-quality video that tugs at the heartstrings, a TikTok dance challenge, a memorable hashtag, a celebrity spokesperson, or something more. 

Ultimately, you may have to go through some trial and error with any type of virtual event or campaign. “There have been some virtual ideas that sound like a great plan on paper, and they don’t come together with the way we planned. And for others, we say, ‘let’s give this a shot,’ and it just blows up and is widely successful,” Patay says, adding that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for every organization.  

Ideas for Schools

Schools that are fundraising during this time may have a different approach. Virtual options are certainly available and useful, but the reach for donors isn’t quite as large. So, holding outdoor in-person and hybrid events may be a better option in some cases. The CDC states that outdoor events are safer than indoor, especially when guidelines like social distancing and wearing masks are followed. A family-friendly approach may also be necessary for schools.  

4. Outdoor Movie Night 

Movie night is the perfect fundraising tool for schools because it’s inexpensive, and it’s easy to do outdoors with minimal equipment. Plus, there are several ways to promote safety and social distancing.  First, consider a drive-in movie. Have donors and their families pull up in their vehicles and watch from inside or tailgate as long as they maintain the proper distance. Another option is to have donors bring their own blankets and chairs and spread them out on a lawn. You can use tape or cones to mark areas to promote proper distancing. If you offer concessions, make sure you only provide individually-wrapped items and disposable utensils, following CDC guidelines for food service. 

5. Virtual Game Night 

If you do find it safer to go virtual, consider a game night or tournament. Games like bingo or trivia are basic but easy to manage, but there are countless other options that you can create yourself using video conferencing apps or by turning to sites that feature virtual board games. Raise even more money by asking for local sponsors and displaying their logo for everyone to see. Another option is to set up a tournament with video games like MarioKart or Rock Band. 

Ideas for Both

No matter what type of organization you’re planning an event for, there are so many other ways to work around the pandemic and continue fundraising. Take hybrid events, for example. These combine in-person and virtual components for one singular event, allowing you to reach a wider audience with technology but still connect with people in person — just on a smaller scale. 

But keep in mind that they may involve a little extra work, according to Patay. “What planners need to realize is that the budgets are going to need to increase because you’re basically planning two separate events.” The pay-off is usually worth it though. “While virtual has a broad reach, it can’t replicate that face-to-face real human connection,” she explains, adding that organizations connect with donors better through in-person events. 

6. Hybrid or Virtual Gala and Dinner

One of the best ideas for a hybrid event is a dinner or gala. The in-person portion can even be held outdoors for added safety. You’ll need to provide masks, hand sanitizer, and other supplies to help reinforce health and safety. In the meantime, you can live stream the festivities to your virtual audience. Consider partnering with a restaurant that is willing to donate a percentage of the night’s sales, especially if you are fundraising for a school. Virtual attendees can order takeout from the restaurant of choice.    

7.  Drive-Up or Virtual Concerts 

Concerts came to a halt in March 2020, but the music didn’t stay silent for long. Top-name musicians resorted to virtual concerts or even drive-in concerts at large outdoor venues. And people love it. Consider a virtual or drive-up concert for your own fundraising event. Sell tickets to raise money. If your musician is a celebrity, sell virtual meet-and-greet passes as well. For a school or smaller organization, look to local talent or have students put together their own concert or talent show while implementing the same concepts.  

8. Virtual Classes or Speakers 

While the pandemic hasn’t been easy, many people have used it to attempt to make changes in their lives for the better. And many professionals and teachers who couldn’t do their jobs in person offered virtual lessons and classes that helped us reach those goals, whether it was to learn to cook, a new artistic hobby, some type of exercises like yoga or dance or something more. If you have the budget and access to reach industry leaders who are willing to donate their time and knowledge, have your donors bid on virtual masterclasses and lessons. There’s nothing like learning to cook a celebrity chef’s signature dish or working out with a professional athlete from the comfort of your own home.  

Ready to plan your next large fundraising event? Let CORT Events help you ensure every detail is perfect. We believe Everything is Possible Through Service, and we prove that by listening, learning, and providing assistance throughout the process of planning your event. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you through every step of the planning process. 



Photo by Harry Cooke from Pexels