The Hybrid Event: 5 Tips for Better Fundraising Results

Sometimes you uncover great, new ideas through careful research and execution.

Other times, new knowledge is a hard-won prize gained from running the gauntlet of trial and error. This is the story of the hybrid fundraiser.

Throughout 2020, planners were forced to go online to hold their annual fundraising events virtually when large gatherings were prohibited due to the pandemic. The change required major cuts to their programs, a new focus when working with sponsors, and a drive to make it more inclusive for a broader audience. Organizers came up with new, innovative ideas to engage their audience and motivate giving, even when their guests were tuning in from remote locations. The results were surprisingly good for many nonprofits, which has brought us to the next generation of fundraising—the hybrid event.

The Hybrid Event

A hybrid fundraising event combines a traditional in-person fundraiser with a live-streamed virtual event that attendees can access online from anywhere the internet is available. Both formats share a similar theme and some program details overlap, but they differ in several specific ways to accommodate the restrictions of their distinctive formats. Together, they offer an exciting, easily accessible way to fundraise that can reach a broader audience, while retaining the glamour, fun, and purpose of a traditional gala. It also addresses the general societal shift to socializing online, while at the same time continuing to retain a personal connection with the donor community.

The Move to Hybrid

Taking a chance on virtual events has offered event planners the opportunity to test drive new ideas. Their ingenuity and persistence paid off when they successfully reached their annual fundraising goal and gained more donors.

Want to find out more about hybrid events? Check out Greater Giving’s webinar “From Virtual to Hybrid-Planning into 2021 and Ahead” with Samantha Swaim of Swaim Strategies. In it, she will examine the key findings event planners uncovered while hosting virtual events and offer useful tips and tricks to create an engaging hybrid event.

5 Tips for a Successful Hybrid Event

When planning a hybrid event, organizers strive to transform many of the same experiences their guests have at an in-person event into a virtual format through either a live-streamed or taped production. We’ve put together five tips to help you get started creating a hybrid event that makes sense in both the real and virtual world.

1. Two Compatible Programs, One Great Hybrid Event

To create a successful hybrid event, you’ll want to plan both events separately, with some program details shared to present them as one cohesive event to guests. Choose a similar style and theme for both events and include the most profitable program activities whenever possible given the restrictions of the different formats, such as the silent auction, games, raffles, and the Fund-a-Need push.

To generate excitement for your virtual audience, consider pre-event contests, social media competitions, watch party gift boxes, and other pre-event activities as a way to get your virtual audience motivated. Add a fundraising thermometer to your presentation online and have one presented at your in-person event that will be proof your pre-event fundraising has already impacted the goal.

2. Scale to Size

While a traditional in-person event wants to go big, with all the pomp and circumstance of a grand affair, a virtual event must be scaled down to be at its most effective.

When determining the length of the program consider a typical attendee’s attention span. For example, a three-hour event should be scaled down to half that amount of time when delivered online. Schedule breakout sessions and presentations throughout the program to break the event up into key blocks before bringing the attention back to the larger event.

Your silent auction is another area to adjust for an online audience. Opening the bidding early and running it online throughout the program will provide more opportunities for bidders to find, bookmark, and bid on their favorite items. Scaling back the number of items in the auction will keep the confusion down and help your guests as they explore the prizes up for auction.

3. A Focus on Partnerships and Collaboration

A hybrid event offers more ways to involve everyone invested in its success.

Team members and volunteers play a crucial role in producing a successful hybrid event. Each one brings with them specific skills that can be matched with a key role at either the in-person event or during the virtual event.

Your virtual event requires a professional IT team to ensure the presentation is always available to online attendees. Set designers, show producers, and an emcee who understands how to engage a virtual audience can provide the guidance and insight to catch those areas that can be improved upon. Your social media mavins can engage with the online audience in an online chatroom and provide regular announcements throughout the event, so choose someone with a great online presence.

Board members and ambassadors are your great promoters, both online and off. Board members can spread the announcement locally, with personal invitations given to people in their personal and professional circles, and brand ambassadors can generate interest within their social networks.

Sponsors will be eager to support hybrid events due to their expanded representation online and in-person. Along with the expected signage and shout-outs at the in-person event, create space for their branding during the virtual event through rotating banners, brand placement in chatrooms, fundraising goal thermometers, and other features. If you are sending out gift boxes to the attendees’ homes, you can also include the sponsors’ products or branded gifts in the box.

4. The Guest List

The guest list for a traditional event is often targeted at a key donor demographic and must stick to the venue’s capacity requirements. During a hybrid event, the sky’s the limit! Taking your event online means you have dropped the restrictive count requirements that come along with an in-person event. Spread the word to as wide a network as possible by promoting it on social media and websites that promote local activities.

5. The Program

Key program details, such as the theme and style of the event, will ensure your hybrid event is seen as one cohesive event, regardless of whether your guest is joining online or in person. Adjustments can be made to the branding, sponsorship opportunities, and attendee gifts, while other program features will need to be revised to accommodate the different formats.

Rely on professionals to gauge the technical, lighting, staging, and other requirements for your virtual presentation. Create interactive chatrooms and texting apps that attendees can use when the silent auction bidding begins to ensure the program is available for the attendees and they can easily contribute.

A host specifically trained in presenting televised events can help identify areas of the program where there are opportunities to draw in viewers and gain new donors. They will be comfortable on camera and understand their relationship to the set and how they will be seen online. Your marketing team can help you put together a great video presentation that will provide insight into your organization and format it to be used at both in-person and virtual events.

Gratitude Goes a Long Way

Event planners overcame challenges and gained new skills in 2020. This year they are putting all that knowledge to work in their hybrid events, but some rules will always remain the same. No matter what your work involves, how much you raise, or how big your staff is, asking for support, two-way partnerships, thanking donors, and accommodating your guests is fundamental to a successful fundraiser.

Follow up the event with a video message shared online and through personal notes to everyone who made a difference, whether it’s through the gift of time, money, or talent. Showing your gratitude will bring them back to future events with more enthusiasm and investment in your work.


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