Raise Money and Build Community with Engaging Online Fundraising

By: Caroline Fiore, Farm Aid       Posted On: August 4, 2020

This blog post is a follow up to our webinar with the same title. You can watch the webinar and see the slides here. 

Happy National Farmers Market Week! While this year’s celebration may look and feel different than years past, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that farmers markets are truly essential. Across the country, farmers markets connect customers to local food and those who grow and produce it, strengthen local economies and support sustainable, healthy communities. Right now, market operators are adapting to the challenges posed by COVID-19 through innovative and unique ways to keep everyone safe. But, these necessary health precautions come at a cost at a time when farmers markets may be suffering from lost revenue due to scaled back market operations, increased budgetary constraints to purchase PPE and other safety supplies and adapting to new social distancing and masking protocols to protect vendors and customers. 

National Farmers Market Week offers a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the markets, operators and vendors who tirelessly serve their communities – and to invite the community to support them during this unprecedented time. NFMW is a great time to kick off an online fundraising campaign to help offset the costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and to keep farmers markets strong. Whether it’s your first fundraiser or you’re a well-oiled money-making machine, there are many ways to engage your communities in this effort. 


Thanks to the resources from the great folks at Farmers Market Coalition, much of the marketing groundwork for a NFMW fundraising campaign has been laid. It’s up to your team to sow the seeds and watch it grow! Consider ways to tailor the NFMW content for your community by including your own unique messaging.

  • Personalize the messaging with stories about your market’s history and community.
  • Highlight the ways your market promotes food access and celebrates diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Focus on the ways your market supports the local economy and encourages sustainability.
  • Share how COVID-19 has impacted your market and all the ways the market is prioritizing health and safety so that delicious, local food makes it to the tables throughout the community. 


Once you’ve developed your messaging, it’s time to spread it far and wide. As the old adage goes: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It can be intimidating to ask your community for donations, especially if you’re not a frequent fundraiser, but now, more than ever, communities want to ensure their markets are strong in the face of COVID-19. Many organizations are reporting that their donors are answering the call for support and responding with increased gifts during this critical time. It’s important to appeal for support clearly – and often!

Be sure to coordinate your social media posts, emails and newsletters, media outreach and in-person fundraising efforts so that your messaging is reflected across all channels. On social media, consider using the NFMW campaign hashtags so that your posts reach a broader audience of potential donors. Take the time to reach out to local media partners and social media influencers to draw more eyes to your market’s fundraising campaign. Gather a group to brainstorm fun ways to engage your audience in new content like:

  • Virtual farm or farmers market tours
  • Behind-the-scenes market videos
  • Cooking or making demonstrations
  • Online farmers market concerts

If you’re up for the challenge, invite community support and participation beyond the ask for a gift by exploring social media engagement opportunities, asking them to share your campaign or create a peer-to-peer fundraiser on your behalf, host an online or live auction, and promote advocacy efforts that support farmers markets.


A recent (their first-ever!) fundraising effort by the Texas Farmers’ Market (TFM) focused on appealing to their community to help them raise $30,000 over three months to offset the costs associated with COVID-19. Through the “Fill Up Our Lemonade Jug” campaign, TFM offered a menu of options donors could support, from sanitizing wipes to handwashing stations to increase staffing needs. TFM made consistent fundraising asks through email, social media, and at the market. Each week, TFM updated their list about the campaign’s progress, providing the week’s donation total and shoutouts to all donors. TFM also hosted virtual farm tours on Instagram, making sure to ask for campaign support each time, and engaged local social media influencers and media to elevate their campaign to reach new people. They even sweetened the campaign by offering free cookies from a local baker in exchange for a donation at a weekend market.


Once you’ve finalized your campaign messaging and content, it’s time to collect those donations! Before you decide how you’ll process funds, it’s important to take note of your market’s tax-exempt status. Gifts to charitable organizations with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, or those working with a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor, are tax-deductible. Therefore, donors must be provided with receipts and acknowledgments for these gifts in order to deduct the contribution at tax time.

Markets with a tax-exempt status can also fundraise using platforms specifically for 501(c)(3) organizations. Facebook offers easy, ready-to-use fundraising tools for non-profit organizations, including the addition of a donate button to your organization’s page and the opportunity to engage your community in Facebook Fundraisers, a peer-to-peer fundraising effort wherein your audience asks their networks to support your market. Peer-to-peer fundraising not only increases engagement and donations, but connects your market to many more donors through your fundraisers’ efforts.

If you’d prefer to raise money not on Facebook, there are dozens of platforms that offer tax-exempt organizations fundraising tools from simple donation processing to text-to-donate, online auctions and peer-to-peer fundraising add-ons. A roundup of several low-cost platforms is available here

Even if your market is not tax-exempt, you can still collect donations! Other ways to raise and process funds include:

  • Starting a crowdfunding campaign (platforms like GoFundMe are available to all organizations)
  • Adding a donation product to your online market or an add-on donation during check-out
  • Setting up a market tip jar (go analog with a coffee can or digital with a DipJar to collect donations)


When you receive a gift, thank your donors for their support, provide an update on the campaign and describe the ways that their donation is making an impact. You might find a way to give them a shoutout of appreciation on your website, in email or on social media. Sending handwritten notes to donors is another special way to show your thanks for their support.


Once your NFMW fundraising campaign wraps, take a breath and elbow bump your team before gathering your data to analyze the results and impact.

  • How much did you raise? What were the average and median gift amounts?
  • How many donors made a gift?
  • How many of those donors were new to you?
  • Where do these donors live?
  • Where did they make their gift?
  • How many people did your posts reach? How many engagements and impressions did you receive? How did your emails perform?

Armed with knowledge about what worked well, you’re ready to start planning your next fundraiser. Harvest time leads into the giving season, which kicks off with Thanksgiving and #GivingTuesday and lasts through the end of the year. Supporters are primed to make donations during this time of year, so it’s a great opportunity to roll out another campaign that reflects on the bounty of goodness your market brings to the community – and appeals for funds to kick off the 2021 farmers market season! 

Caroline Fiore is the Development Manager for Farm Aid. She’s been part of the Farm Aid staff since 2010, serving in various roles across the organization. She works each day to grow and deepen the connection between Farm Aid’s donors and the mission to build a vibrant, family farm-centered food system in America. Her main areas of focus are online and events-based fundraising and supporter engagement.