Hybrid Events: How to Engage Guests at Home

In our recent State of Nonprofit Fundraising report, we found that most nonprofit organizations had to postpone or cancel at least one fundraising event in the pandemic.

Many adapted by holding virtual, online-only fundraising events.

Hybrid Events: The Best of Live and Virtual

An important finding emerged from the State of Nonprofit Fundraising report—nonprofits were able to reach more small and individual donors than ever before by taking their fundraisers online.

However, moving to virtual events wasn’t simple or straightforward. A majority of nonprofit organizations rated “guest engagement” as their greatest challenge. Keeping someone watching from a mobile device or computer screen interested is more difficult than when they are sitting at a table with friends, enjoying dinner.

Now nonprofits see a future where they may be able to hold small, in-person gatherings once more, and they’re searching for new approaches to fundraising to accommodate everyone. But we can’t overlook the high value of continuing to engage remote donors in the future.

That’s where “hybrid” events come in.

How to Design an Engaging Hybrid Event

Technically, nonprofit organizations have been hosting “hybrid” events for years. A hybrid event simply mixes virtual components with live ones—so events where guests could bid at home and get familiarized with the auction items before attending a gala were hybrid events. Events where remote bidders could still participate in the auction, were already hybrid events.

The key to hosting a successful hybrid event lies in combining these existing elements to suit both in-person guests and guests attending virtually. It is a delicate balancing act! And be sure you have the technology and capability to broadcast your event to a remote audience. Creating a program that works for both purposes won’t be quite the same!

If you plan to host a hybrid event with two separate groups of attendees—some in-person and some remote—compare the unique abilities of each group and the inherent barriers to engaging them. How can you embrace these qualities? And do you have tools in your toolbox to overcome the barriers?

  1. A small live audience provides an additional layer of excitement to live programs. Consider all the shows you’ve watched on television that feature audiences laughing, clapping, and otherwise participating in a live show. Excitement is infectious—and a loud, enthusiastic crowd in the background of a streamed event will inherently make it more fun and engaging.
  2. “The people at home” is a powerful element in reality television that hybrid events would do well to embrace. There is an entirely separate audience experiencing the event from a relative physical and emotional distance—which can be a detriment, but also offers a different kind of engagement. Think back to the days of American Idol, when fans could call in to vote on their favorite contestants, and how it made us feel like an integral part of the show.State of Nonprofit Fundraising Report Cover

    Brainstorm with your team and board members ways to bring the virtual audience into the event in a crucial way. Allowing them to “vote” on important decisions at the event is a great way to make them feel like their attendance matters, or give them the opportunity to interact with in-person guests.

  3. Utilize inter-group dynamics! Guests attending from home simply don’t have the same access or capabilities as those who are present in-person, and that’s fine. Instead of trying to put both groups on the same level, leverage their differences in making your event fun and exciting.

    For example, you could create a team for in-person guests and a team for virtual guests who compete with one another to see who can raise more money for the organization. Each team would have different tools at their disposal, of course, but that will unite them in trying to win!

Overcoming Hybrid Event Challenges

The hybrid event concept will not work unless event organizers consider honestly the difference between these two groups of participants, and tailor their event style, setup, and program to each of them separately. Yes, it will be more work in the planning stages—but the potential reward is higher than ever before.

Here are some tips from our team on creating a hybrid event program that ensures all of your attendees leave happily:

  • Devote plenty of time and attention to guests who are present in-person. If they are paying admission to be there (and the virtual audience isn’t), they should receive benefits that make the ticket price worthwhile. Including dinner is a common sense, easy solution that will work well for most groups. But consider what else you can do for your in-person guests off-screen to make them feel special and appreciated.
  • Always ensure that guests participating from home feel important to the overall event, and not just like spectators. Give them a special job to do, or goal to achieve as a group. Encourage active participation, like typing something into the chat, voting, or even submitting videos that can be played at the live event as well. We’ve seen groups do some really fun things, like a “best dressed” competition where guests at home dress up and submit photos of their outfits for voting. There’s a lot of great chances to create comedy and entertainment for both groups!
  • Create incentives. Offer a competition, raffle, or prize for guests participating from home to keep them tuned into the livestream until the end. (If you do offer them a bonus like this, make sure to offer in-person guests one as well!)
  • Maintain one unified vision for the event, while making both groups essential to the execution. This is the only way they will be excited about participating! It is still the same event, and it should feel like it. Whatever fun ideas you have for your hybrid event, make sure you consider how it will work for each group.

Most importantly, entertain all guests with a program and entertainment that they truly want to participate in—something so fun and rewarding it feels like they absolutely can’t miss it!

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