9 Engaging, Event-Free Fundraisers for Teams on a Budget

As a nonprofit professional, you know how important fundraising is to the mission-driven space. Fundraisers raise awareness for your brand, drive donors to contribute to your organization, and push you closer to accomplishing your mission. However, fundraising events can be a source of stress and frustration for some nonprofits.

Doing event fundraisers puts a strain on small organizations and teams working with tighter budgets. In particular, logistical and financial obstacles can stand in the way of hosting these in-person events. This makes event-free fundraising a desirable solution for organizations looking for affordable fundraising methods.

So you can help your organization host more engaging and cost-effective fundraisers, this article walks through everything you need to know about event-free fundraising, including:

  • What is an event-free fundraiser?
  • How did the pandemic affect fundraising?
  • Can nonprofits hold event-free fundraisers on a budget?
  • What are some event-free fundraising ideas?

If you’re hesitant about holding event-free fundraisers, look at the nonprofit landscape. The nonprofit sector is still seeing post-pandemic impacts on daily operations, including increased use of virtual and event-free fundraising ideas. Learn how you can take advantage of the virtual era of fundraising. Let’s get started.

What is an Event-free Fundraiser?

An event-free fundraiser is just what it sounds like—a fundraiser with no in-person event element. Examples include text-to-give campaigns, merchandise fundraisers, and virtual contests.

Just because these fundraisers don’t have traditional in-person gatherings doesn’t mean you can’t create a sense of community with synchronous virtual meetings. Plenty of unique ideas set your fundraiser apart and don’t involve the hassle of organizing an event.

How did the Pandemic Affect Fundraising?

In response to COVID-19, most organizations had to shift to virtual fundraising to stay afloat. Even as restrictions started to disappear, the pandemic left its mark on fundraising by popularizing the concept of fundraising without an in-person event or venue. In particular, many organizations have come to appreciate how virtual fundraising offers a cost-effective way to engage supporters, no matter their location.

And because virtual fundraising is commonplace now, not hosting in-person events isn’t likely to raise eyebrows. So, if your organization is interested in these benefits, now is the perfect time to integrate online fundraising into your campaign calendar and toy with new, virtual strategies.

Can Nonprofits Hold Event-free Fundraisers on a Budget?

Even if your organization is on a budget, there are still creative and affordable ways to fundraise. Holding event-free fundraisers is an easy way to save. These fundraisers eliminate most costs associated with traditional campaigns, such as paying for venues, catering, and supplies.

What are Some Event-free Fundraising Ideas?

1.   Shoe Drive Fundraiser

Shoe drive fundraisers are a quick, easy way to fundraise without hosting an elaborate event. All you need to get started is space to collect donations and a reliable shoe drive fundraising coordinator. For supporters wondering what to do with their old shoes, this fundraiser is the perfect way to ensure they are used for good after donating.

After partnering with a fundraising coordinator, you receive shoe collection materials. You can place these on-site at your nonprofit’s office or wherever you have permission to collect donations. Then, market the fundraiser to your supporters, encouraging them to donate their gently worn, used and new shoes at collection sites.

This simple fundraiser has the potential to bring in thousands of dollars and engage supporters with an eco-friendly campaign, all without requiring you to hold an event. After the campaign, your partner picks up the shoes for you. Once your donations are processed, you receive a check in the mail for the shoes collected.

2.   Non-Event Fundraiser

A non-event is framed like a traditional, event-based fundraiser with a twist. Promotions for this event should encourage participants not to come. Instead, supporters are urged to stay home and take part in the activities they would do at the event on their own.

Here’s how you can launch one of these fundraisers:

  1. Plan a theme and create invitations similar to a traditional, in-person event.
  2. Add information that encourages people not to attend the event in the invitation.
  3. Fundraise for the event by selling tickets.

If it fits your organization’s brand voice, this is a great opportunity to invoke a sense of humor in promotional materials. For example, making the location on the invitation something like “Your Backyard” can get a chuckle out of your supporters while getting them to investigate further.

3.   Social Media Challenge

There is always a new viral trend or challenge in the fast-paced social media world. You can create a social media challenge to encourage supporters in your network to get involved.

As a type of peer-to-peer fundraising, these campaigns have the potential to reach new audiences while also securing donations. Consider sharing a challenge on a platform like Facebook that makes it easy for people to connect and share with their friends.

For example, you might challenge supporters to post videos of themselves centered around a particular theme related to your mission. Just make sure the challenge you put together is relevant to your mission and attainable for participants.

4.   Virtual Auction

Auctions are a popular way to fundraise, but they typically require nonprofits to hold an event. However, virtual auctions are the way to go if your organization prefers event-free fundraising. Instead of hosting the event in person, switch to an online auction.

Holding a virtual auction removes the need to find a venue, giving you more time to focus on finding an auction software or learning how to price items. You can also decide whether to hold the fundraiser asynchronously through an automated auction platform or host a synchronous video call. Gathering on a group call adds community connection that might get lost in virtual events.

5.   Virtual Watch Party

To hold a virtual watch party, simply find a movie related to your cause or allow your supporters to decide by voting on a few picks from your nonprofit. This allows your supporters to learn more about your organization’s mission while supporting your nonprofit with donations.

To make the movie night feel more special, schedule a specific date and time for everyone to tune in. Sell tickets for the movie or homemade snack packs for supporters to enjoy as they watch at home. To boost engagement and connection with your supporters, set up a forum or video chat for discussion about the film.

6.   Merchandise Fundraiser

Another way to fundraise without the burden of organizing a venue is to create merchandise specific to the campaign or project for your fundraising.

Because this type of fundraising can involve investing in an inventory before launching the fundraiser, nonprofits should gauge their supporter’s interest in the campaign with a survey. Use these answers to guide whether you throw the fundraiser, which items to carry, and how much stock to hold. If you can’t launch a survey or aren’t sure about the answers you received, release a conservative amount of merchandise and restock if needed to prevent losses.

7.   Online Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are a great way to get supporters outside to explore the community while helping support your organization. To get started, design a scavenger hunt that contains instructions and clues of different locations in your area—bonus points if those locations are meaningful to your organization. Then, sell tickets for the scavenger hunt, giving people access to the clues online.

While your supporters have fun traveling to the locations you’ve listed and searching for clues, you can take advantage of other online fundraising opportunities. Ask participants to enter an email address or phone number along with their donation to garner useful donor data. You can use this information later to launch email or text-to-give campaigns.

8.   Text-to-give Fundraiser

It’s the perfect idea if you’re looking for a simple way to fundraise. Not only is it no-fuss for your organization, but it makes donating convenient for your supporters.

A text-to-give fundraising campaign allows your donors to text message a number and directly donate to your cause. All you need to do is find a platform to host the campaign and encourage participation. Don’t forget to share and promote the fundraiser on social media platforms, email lists, and other media channels—after all, people won’t be able to find out about this campaign on their own.

9.   Contests

There are countless ways to implement contests into your fundraising strategy. No matter your mission, there is probably a contest theme that applies to it. The best part is that contests are very easy to host online.

To host a contest, simply find a theme that aligns with your organization’s mission or appeals to supporters. For example, the Funds2Orgs guide to church fundraising suggests hosting a dog show so staff and supporters can show off their pets while donating. Contests are a great fundraising option for a variety of nonprofits, such as:

  • Religious organizations
  • Educational nonprofits
  • Environmental organizations
  • Animal organizations

The most important part of setting up a contest is finding a theme your supporters want to do. Remember to enjoy the process as they search for and brainstorm contest ideas.

Just because your nonprofit is on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice exciting fundraising opportunities. Cutting out in-person events from your fundraising efforts is an easy way to save money, so funds go towards furthering your mission rather than renting a venue. With a bit of creativity and innovation, your organization can still hold fundraisers that inspire your supporters to give.