Understanding Obstacles for Your Virtual Fundraising and How to Overcome Them

Over the past year and a half, technology has empowered nonprofits across the globe to innovate their fundraising strategies.

With virtual fundraising, nonprofits are able to find new donors outside of their existing audience base, connecting with local supporters and those in other geographic regions. Virtual events allow for key fundraising initiatives to go on despite challenges posed by a worldwide pandemic. And, social media fundraising allows organizations to raise funds through free channels on which their supporters are already spending significant amounts of time.

However, while technology has empowered nonprofits to reach exciting virtual fundraising heights, new and unexpected obstacles have arisen with the use of tech.

In this guide, we’ll define the challenges holding your virtual fundraising efforts back from achieving explosive results. Specifically, we’ll explore the following three obstacles:

  • Engaging Supporters in Virtual Fundraisers
  • Learning More About Supporters Across the Distance
  • Scaling Up Your Fundraising Effectively

Then, we’ll cover steps that your nonprofit can take today to overcome these challenges. Let’s get started!

Engaging Supporters in Virtual Fundraisers

For every supporter who is eagerly anticipating giving via a virtual fundraiser, you’ll have at least one who is hesitant to embrace the change.

Few things illustrate this better than the peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising statistics from 2020, a year in which all in-person P2P events pivoted to the virtual sphere. In part due to this pivot, each of the top 10 P2P programs in the U.S. reported a decrease in revenue in 2020, ranging anywhere from 16-58 percent.

So much of daily life has occurred through the computer in the past year, from work and doctor’s appointments to birthdays and baby showers. Some supporters are resistant to this change— instead, they want to meet in person, speak with their peers face to face, and experience community among your audience. 

While virtual fundraising is becoming more normalized, this resistance isn’t fading on its own. Thus we have obstacle number one: engaging supporters in virtual fundraising.

To overcome this, we recommend exploring an innovative, additive virtual fundraising effort that can both engage your more traditional supporters and invite new participants: Facebook Challenges.

Facebook Challenges are time-bound peer-to-peer fundraisers that take place entirely on Facebook. They generally have a short timeframe (anywhere from a week to a month), are easy to get involved with (as most supporters already have Facebook profiles), and champion personal improvement, community engagement, and fundraising simultaneously.

Here’s how to plan and host a Facebook Challenge:

  1. Define the parameters of your Challenge. This includes the timeframe and the task participants will complete. For example, participants could walk a certain number of steps per day or read a set number of books over the course of a month. Check out this GoodUnited list of virtual fundraising ideas to spur your brainstorming.
  2. Create the tech infrastructure for your Challenge. During a Challenge, all participants are added to a Facebook group in which they chat with and encourage other participants as they all complete the task in tandem. You’ll want to have this group created and available before advertising the fundraiser so participants can easily join.
  3. Advertise the Challenge. Use paid Facebook Ads to direct prospective participants to join the Challenge. Target these ads to both known supporters of your organization and those on the fringes of your social network— such as those who “like” your page but may not have given yet.
  4. Engage with participants. During the Challenge, participants engage with one another in the group, complete the task, and raise peer-to-peer funds using personal Facebook Fundraisers. Share fundraising and task-related tips, as well as discussion prompts, in the Challenge group to give participants the best chance for success.

As a nonprofit, you fill an “extracurricular” space in your supporters’ lives— they have jobs, families, and other responsibilities that likely take the spotlight. This isn’t a bad thing, but simply something to understand and overcome!

With Facebook Challenges, you present a virtual fundraising opportunity that’s not only easy to engage with, but fulfills the community aspect that many virtual-resistant supporters desire. You’ll engage both current and new supporters, supplementing fundraising revenue and preventing major revenue drops.

Learning More About Supporters Across the Distance

Even if you have high turnout during your virtual fundraisers and connect with a variety of first-time supporters, that doesn’t mean that you’ve engaged those supporters and will retain them for the long run.

While every donation and virtual fundraiser participant makes a difference, it’s common knowledge that retaining donors is significantly more cost-effective than finding new ones. Plus, continued connection over many years is the path to increased engagement, as supporters will often give in higher amounts as their relationship with your organization grows.

Unfortunately, connecting through technology can make it challenging to truly learn about your virtual supporters and tailor your future engagement with them accordingly.

Many nonprofits use a broadcast-style communications strategy for virtual fundraising. For example, they’ll send out mass emails and make social media posts that generally allow for one-way communication from the nonprofit to supporters. We recommend seeking out ways to facilitate two-way, one-on-one conversations with each individual virtual fundraising supporter.

For example, you can have conversations with supporters via Facebook Messenger. The steps are fairly straightforward:

  1. Host a Facebook Challenge using the steps above.
  2. Post thank-you notes on the fundraisers that individual participants create. (Bonus! For tips on how to do this, check out GoodUnited’s guide to thanking donors on Facebook.)
  3. In that thank-you note, invite participants to connect with your nonprofit via Facebook Messenger.

The rest is history! You should tailor your conversations to the supporter’s interests. For example, ask questions about why they participated in your fundraiser, how they’d like to engage going forward, and their preferred communication method. Then, you can share encouragement, fundraising tips, and future opportunities that align with their answers.

Scaling Up Your Fundraising Efforts Effectively

Many of our tips for overcoming your virtual fundraising obstacles involve additional work for your team. Planning new fundraising events, monitoring and engaging within Facebook groups, holding one-on-one conversations with each of your virtual supporters— these many tasks may simply be outside of your team’s capacity.

Your team’s limited capacity is a virtual fundraising obstacle in itself. But, there are tools specifically created to help you scale up your nonprofit’s virtual fundraising strategy.

For example, there are now social fundraising solutions created specifically to help you host fundraisers and engage supporters through Facebook. These services will not only manage the events from start to finish, but also thank 100% of the participants who join the events and hold ongoing communications. The entire process can be automated, allowing you to scale up your virtual fundraising efforts easily.

Further, you can invest in fundraising-adjacent solutions such as automated prospect research analytics software or even matching gift software. The prospect research solution will allow you to advertise your virtual fundraising opportunities to the right supporters while matching gift software will help you maximize the impact of every donation you receive. 

The combination of these three solutions can empower you to boost your virtual fundraising before, during, and after each campaign without any additional effort on behalf of your team.

While virtual fundraising is becoming more and more normalized, that doesn’t mean that it’s free from challenges— far from it, in fact!

When you first pivoted to virtual fundraising well over a year ago, you had to make the swap nearly overnight. Now that we know these fundraisers and sticking around, you can optimize your efforts for success in the long run.

You can host additive fundraisers and explore one-on-one communications as a tool to build relationships across the distance. Even further, you can invest in automated tools to continue scaling up these efforts successfully.

As our “new normal” continues, tech can help you navigate these changing times and continue thriving with virtual fundraising. Good luck!

About the Author

Maria Clark | Executive Vice President, Partnerships and Chief Evangelist at GoodUnited

Maria Clark is a nonprofit executive and technology evangelist with 30+ years of industry experience. Today she serves as Executive Vice President of Partnerships and Chief Evangelist for GoodUnited, the social fundraising solution. Maria is a champion of the new and has fearlessly led change management efforts throughout her career. 

Previously, Maria spent 33 years at the American Cancer Society, a top #20 US nonprofit and the leading cancer research nonprofit with an annual $800+M budget, in roles spanning all aspects of nonprofit communication, operations and fundraising.

Most recently, as Senior Vice President for Peer to Peer Development, Maria led strategy development, planning and implementation for name brand ACS events like Relay for Life, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a robust gala and golf portfolio and the Raise Your Way DIY platform, as well as championing new digital strategies that support community fundraising. 

Maria lives with her husband Derek in Dallas, Texas, where she has a deep history with the nonprofit community. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Notre Dame School, a special needs Kindergarten through post high school in Dallas, and remains active in the Leadership Dallas Alumni Association. Maria is mom to two adult daughters, Devin and Corrie, and her fur baby, Ozzy.

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