Virtual Volunteer Mobilization Strategies That Can Solve Nonprofits’ Challenges During COVID-19

COVID-19 is forcing nonprofits to think differently about engaging supporters. For the foreseeable future, remote fundraising and virtual actions will be the norm, as evidenced by the 433% increase in virtual actions on the Mobilize platform in just six weeks. Grabbing supporters’ attention requires having highly engaging opportunities, and lots of them. The unique challenge for nonprofits—especially those that rely on in-person support—will be providing virtual opportunities to their supporters to adapt to this new environment.

We’ve rounded up a list of specific examples of virtual opportunities, organized by nonprofit issue area, that solve real problems and are easy to execute. However, before we get specific, there are some general guidelines for creating highly effective virtual actions and events:

  • Start with the problem (not the solution): Organizations get accustomed to the events/actions they typically run in person. This new environment is an opportunity to rethink solutions to strategic problems and create innovative virtual events that inspire supporters to do more.
  • Think like a political organizer: Virtual engagement is extremely scalable. Borrow from political organizers to build a grassroots movement at scale by empowering supporters locally with the right messages and tools to spread your mission.
  • Tie in a strategic fundraising ask: Take advantage of a high-impact moment of engagement (e.g., sign up) to ask for donations (see our “No Money, More Problems” webinar for how), or host fundraising-specific events like multi-day virtual galas with different speakers, trainings on best virtual fundraising practices and webinars with donor special guests..

Virtual actions that solve for urgent issues:


Urgent issuesVirtual solutions
Improve first line of defense safety net programs to protect people during COVID-19Host a Zoom call for supporters to write letters, send emails, make scripted calls to elected officials like Swing Left is doing
In-person volunteers are disappearing for key activities (e.g., food prep, packing, distribution)Create a virtual call to action for supporters to order meals from restaurants on behalf of beneficiaries
Supplies are disappearing (food/financial)Host a virtual phone bank for supporters to contact local businesses and grocery stores requesting excess food donations
Increased demand for food with school closure, etc.– Host a phone bank where supporters reach out to their networks to donate excess food to local dropoff spot


– Hold virtual ‘town halls’ to educate the community on places people can go to get food


Urgent issuesSpecific examples of virtual solutions
Not enough funding from Federal / state governmentHost a virtual gathering via Zoom to educate supporters on the issue and offer tools to communicate with officials
Not enough COVID-19 specific resources like rubber gloves, surgical masks, additional cleaning suppliesCreate a virtual call to action for supporters to buy/make masks and drop them off or send to a specific address
No way to effectively communicate changes in protocol for key programmatic activitiesHost a virtual phone or text bank to get out the word about COVID’s impact on program changes
Inability to check in on vulnerable community membersLeverage your call system/phone bank to ask supporters to perform mass “companion check ins,” like Meals on Wheels is doing
Vulnerable populations can’t get what they needSpin up a local virtual “bulletin board” where people with cars / online access can sign up to run errands on behalf of others
The cause getting lost in the noisePlan a virtual social media “flash mob” where supporters are asked to post organization or issue graphics on all social media accounts for a set time period. You provide graphics and hashtags.
Lack of human connection and community for vulnerable people (veterans, first responders)Facilitate virtual meetups, book clubs, and happy hours with special guests, like No Vet Alone is doing
Raise awareness of critical, life-saving COVID-19 measures– Host virtual “office hours” where people can drop in to ask questions


– Plan a weekly “teach in” series about COVID facts and advice


Urgent issuesSpecific examples of virtual solutions
Thousands of blood drive cancellations, leading to severe blood shortagesHost a virtual local ‘town halls’ to let people know about new donation sites and safety precautions to take when getting there
Shortage of medical supplies and resourcesFacilitate a virtual gathering for supporters to make masks together, with instructions on material to buy
Shortage of healthy, trained medical staffHost a Zoom training or online course for health teams and community health workers on protection and prevention


Urgent issuesSpecific examples of virtual solutions
Homes for pets are in urgent need as coronavirus shuts down shelters– Recruit foster homes for animals in the shelter


– Host webinars/Q&As about fostering best practices and training tips

– Coordinate virtual meet and greets for individual animals up for adoption (via live streams)


Urgent issuesSpecific examples of virtual solutions
Disruption of young people’s education– Host virtual story time or recess where kids play together on Zoom video
Halting of after-school programs to keep children curious/engagedFacilitate virtual mentoring, college application review, or interview skills workshop, like Mission Graduates is doing


Urgent issuesSpecific examples of virtual solutions
Walk/Run/Rides are cancelledHold live fitness events (like this No Vet Alone yoga class for first responders and vets) with shifts where volunteers could participate during their regularly-scheduled times
Engage supporters between walk/run/rideHost ‘solidarity walk/run/rides’ to show solidarity with people impacted by the disease