Best Practices

Fundraising at a Distance

Mar 20, 2020

The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has led to ‘social distancingrestrictions on public gatherings and travel and the cancellation of almost all major events for months to comeAlongside many public cancellations, nonprofits have also had to postpone or cancel fundraising events, which, in some cases, are their primary fundraising mechanism. How do you replace the imperative funds you would have raised at your annual gala or conference if we can’t meet in-person? 

The Blackbaud Institute reported a 3-year trend of online donations rising by almost 10%. However, 93% of nonprofits surveyed by Salesforce said that they lack the IT and technical staff required to effectively adopt new technology. Given that many nonprofits depend on fundraising events to remain operational and support their missions, it is imperative to find a way to solicit donations, keep constituents engaged, but also not ignore current realities. Here are some virtual fundraising channels your nonprofit can mobilize without needing additional technical IT expertise to continue fundraising amidst the coronavirus crisis.  

Virtual Events & Auctions 

With so much of the workforce going remote, a virtual event holds a lot of appeal. Seattle-based nonprofit Upaya Social Ventures had to cancel its annual gala that 225 people were expected to attend earlier this month and switched to a 4-day virtual gala instead.  

Despite the change, Upaya made the virtual gala feel like a physical one. Upaya’s CEO, board members and auctioneer recorded videos dressed in formal attire explaining the situation and what attendees could expect from the event. These videos were embedded in the gala’s event page and were released over the 4-day period to keep attendees engaged. 

Table captains were made peer-to-peer fundraising captains, who created personal fundraising pages and appealed for donations to their online networks. Upaya notified attendees whenever new videos were published and maintained consistent communication over the 4-day period to keep them engaged and informed.  

Ultimately, Upaya’s virtual annual gala was a great success – the peer-to-peer fundraising captains exceeded their already ambitious targets and the gala has raised over $295,000 compared to their goal of $200,000. Upaya CEO Kate Cochran details how nonprofits can make virtual fundraisers connect with donors here.  

Online auctions are also growing in popularity and many nonprofits have conducted online charity auctions in recent years, to great success. As a nonprofit, you do not have to bear the cost of organizing a physical space with seating and proper lighting while enabling attendees to bid from any location at any time and with increased anonymity. Your organization can also reach a wider audience by hosting auctions online, which could result in more money raised.  

Livestreaming on Twitch 

A subsidiary of Amazon, Twitch is a livestreaming platform on which streamers can broadcast live video content to viewers. Although widely perceived as a platform meant only for gamers, Twitch has hosted events in support of charitable organizations for almost as long as it has existed. Since its founding in 2011, content creators have raised over $120 million for over 300 charities all over the world. 

On Twitch, a streamer would host a livestream dedicated to a nonprofitDuring their video game, the streamer offers running commentary about the cause the nonprofit supports, asking for monetary donations in real time.  Think crowdfunding with a live feed or an online telethon. Twitch itself is not the fundraising platform – content creators use a third-party platform to accept payments 

One of the highest sources of internet traffic in North America, Twitch hosts over 2 million unique streamers every month, more than 17,000 of whom earn money as Twitch Partners. Nonprofits can partner with these influencerswho advocate on behalf of the nonprofit and ask viewers for donations. Although it primarily focuses on video game content, streams dedicated to topics such as artwork creation, talk shows and music are becoming increasingly common. Twitch may represent an untapped fundraising channel and is an opportunity for your nonprofit organization to transparently showcase your work to their audience in real time using video content. 

Alyssa Sweetman, Twitch’s Diversity and Charity Program Manager, recently spoke about nonprofit fundraising on Twitch and highlighted some things you should keep in mind as you consider fundraising via Twitch. Some nonprofits can be reluctant to work with influencers on Twitch because there is concern that gaming doesn’t align with a nonprofit brand. Sweetman suggests that nonprofits should think of streamers as content creators and small businesses instead of as gamersThere is an opportunity to align the charity with a content creator that shares the nonprofits values rather than worrying about specifics such as the game they are playing. She also says that charity livestreaming should be integrated into your organization’s fundraising event strategy to improve consistency in messaging. It is simply an additional fundraising channel.  

It doesn’t have to be a daunting task to get started. Prepare brief, easy to remember blurbs about your programs that are easy to recall for content creators. Prepare impact statements that include the name of your organization and cause, the value of the donation that would get something done, and the benefit recipients of the donation would receive. Charity livestreams are an additional layer of work for streamers, in addition to their regular livestream, and this information can be used as they ask for donations. 

With regards to engaging Twitch influencers, you should consider that influencers usually promote charity livestreams weeks, sometimes months, in advance to give their audience time to save up to donate. Streamers essentially give up their income from livestreams in support of your organization and don’t host more than 3-4 charity livestreams in a year. Communications should be honest, authentic and personalized. Many influencers receive several requests for charity livestreams daily and may not respond if they don’t feel strongly about a cause but don’t want to say no.  

YouTube for Nonprofits 

YouTube Giving enables creators and qualifying nonprofits to embed fundraising campaigns that appear next to videos and live chats on YouTube. Viewers can donate to campaigns directly on YouTube via a ‘donate’ button. Eligible nonprofits can request a free Google for Nonprofits account. There is a short verification process and requests are processed in 2-14 business days.  

Donations to nonprofits made on YouTube are non-refundable and nonprofits receive 100% of funds donated, since YouTube covers transaction fees. The ‘Live Chat Donations’ feature enables creators to raise funds on behalf of qualifying nonprofits. Be advised that it may take up to 2 months for your nonprofit to receive donations. All donations made in any given month are disbursed on the 15th of the following month. 

Nonprofits can also make use of the super chat function on YouTube. Super chats allow YouTube users to pay to pin their comment on live chats during live streams, making them conspicuously visible and making it easier for creators to respond to comments and thank donors live on air. This could be a useful short-term option for nonprofits who do not want to wait for the verification process before fundraising   

Facebook Fundraisers 

Facebook allows users to fundraise for a nonprofit from a repository on the site. Users can then create their own fundraising pages with information about the cause and why they want to support it.  

Facebook also allows nonprofits to set up a ‘Donate’ call to action button on their pages, which can redirect users to an external landing page or can allow them to donate directly from Facebook. Organizations can use this functionality on their page header, in advertisements, in posts, and in Facebook live sessions.  

There are some downsides to fundraising on Facebook. It is optional for donors to provide contact information such as their email and phone number. This could make it difficult for nonprofits to build relationships with one-time donors to convert them into recurring ones. There is also a lag in payment of about two weeks after donation periods, which themselves are two weeks, if the payment is received via Facebook Payments. In addition, Facebook periodically changes its algorithm, which changes your organization’s or your posts’ visibility in the live feed. Nonprofits must keep up with these changes and adjust their activity on Facebook accordingly. 

These downsides may influence the resources a nonprofit chooses to allocate to Facebook fundraising campaigns in the long term. However, given the current climate and the fact that almost 30% of the world’s population has Facebook accounts, Facebook can be a very useful tool for nonprofits in need of some cash flow.

Plan for the Long Term 

With the pandemic still ongoing and an expected global economic slowdown, 2020 is shaping up to be a difficult year for nonprofit fundraising. It is important for your nonprofit organization to focus on the finer points of engaging donors virtually.  

Virtual fundraising events facilitate visual storytelling, which is more effective at soliciting donations than appeals based solely on statistics. World champion auctioneer Bobby D. Ehlert advocates for nonprofits to think of auctions as the midpoint of the fundraising cycle, instead of as its culmination. He says that the future of auctions and fundraising events in general will revolve around creating the best possible experience for donors and non-donors at their event whether it’s hosted in person or virtually.  

One way of doing so is by developing a process of properly thanking donorsDeveloping the right gratitude process has been proven to make donors more likely to donate again in the future. An advantage of live fundraising is that it makes donating an interactive experience in which donors don’t have to move to a different page to donate and streamers can thank donors immediately and publicly on airSome YouTube channels even make separate videos answering questions or responding to comments in super chats above a certain amount. Also, some podcasts mention paying subscribers by name at the end of their podcast and offer them extra content.  

With virtual fundraising already on the rise in recent yearsand current restrictions reducing in-person activities, there will likely be an accelerated rate of adoption of virtual channels. As you accept more payments online, it is also important to work with a payment processor that understands your needs. While it is an uneasy time for nonprofits, there are opportunities to reach potential donors now, and a further opportunity to develop strategies to utilize online channels of fundraising when our new normal arrives.