Hybrid events provide the best of virtual and in-person opportunities for nonprofits.

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As COVID-19 took hold of the country, your organization had to undergo a pretty drastic change. Deciding whether to cancel your events or move them to the virtual sphere was just one of the many great challenges in 2020. 

In 2021, the coronavirus vaccine is available, and with it being administered all over the country, it gives us hope that the world may return to some semblance of how it was before the virus hit. 

Along with the hope of seeing our friends and family again after a long year apart, we also look forward to hosting nonprofit events and seeing supporters in real life again (as soon as everyone is comfortable doing so). 

As we transition back from the stressful events of 2020, make sure you take lessons from our year apart. One such lesson is the idea of adding a virtual element to your fundraising events. 

Here at Bloomerang, we work hard to keep up with these types of trends so that nonprofits can plan to ensure their fundraising strategies are as productive as possible. That’s why we’ll be discussing hybrid events in this guide to help nonprofits like yours plan for 2021 and get ahead of the game with their event planning processes. 

Navigation: 

  1. Definition of Hybrid Events
  2. Steps to Get Started with Hybrid Events
  3. Hybrid Event Best Practices
  4. Hybrid Fundraising Event Ideas

Ready to discuss the ins and outs of hybrid events so that your organization has the best of both in-person and virtual worlds? Let’s get started. 

Definition of Hybrid Events

Hybrid events are events set up to include both an in-person and virtual element to them. These events allow the hosting organization to appeal to and engage audiences both at a physical venue and online. 

Moving into a post-pandemic life, we can expect to see more hybrid events in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. These events allow organizations to make the most of the tools at their disposal. 

Luckily, if your organization has already been hosting events successfully online, you’re already halfway there! Throughout 2020, 70% of organizations that held virtual events considered them to be successful. Plus, if you’ve hosted in-person events before the pandemic, you also know how to host one of those successfully! 

Hybrid events simply split the difference. You’ll need to combine your engagement strategies for your in-person events with those of virtual events to engage both types of audiences in a hybrid setting. 

Steps to Get Started with Hybrid Events

Hybrid fundraising events are specifically designed to reach your audience whether they reside at home during the event activities or if they’re present at the actual venue. You, therefore, need to take very specific steps to reach both audiences during a single event. 

Here are the steps to take to host a hybrid event for your nonprofit.

Set a Goal for the Event

Your event goal will guide the rest of your decisions related to your event activities. Chances are, you’ll have a couple of goals that you’ll want to accomplish with your hybrid event. Defining and prioritizing these goals will help you develop the best possible plan for the event itself. 

For instance, you may want to raise money and engage existing supporters. Now, let’s just say that the priorities for your event are in the aforementioned order, which means your top priority is to raise as much money as possible. In this case, you’ll likely emphasize the fundraising elements at your event, defining them early for both your online and in-person audiences. Because your second goal is to engage your existing supporter base, you might put some additional thought into your event invitations per each supporter segment. 

Choose Your Event Idea

After you’ve chosen your goals for the event, you’ll be able to decide which event audience will help you reach those goals. For instance, if you have an aspirational fundraising goal, you might invite major prospects. From there, you can choose the event idea that will most intrigue your target audience.

No matter who your audience is, if you’re hosting a hybrid event, you need to make sure it’s suitable for both virtual and in-person spheres.

Let’s say you’ve chosen to host a hybrid event for your significant supporters. You might decide to host a gala for these supporters to appeal to that audience. At this gala, you may also include a fundraising auction. By allowing for mobile bidding, your online audience and in-person attendees can compete over the attractive auction items. 

Pick Event Activities for In-Person vs. Virtual

As we mentioned in the last section, the event idea you choose must be suitable for both in-person and online activities. While some activities will likely cross into the virtual and in-person realms, others will be unique to each. 

For instance, the gala we discussed above is available in both an online and in-person capacity. However, you might choose to host additional event activities specifically designed for each sphere. You might open up a wine pull for your in-person audience while offering exclusive event merchandise for your online audience. 

Be sure that you follow best practices for each audience no matter how they’re engaging! Try to make sure they both have equal opportunities to engage with your organization throughout the event. 

For instance, for both audiences you’ll want to make sure you offer: 

  • Gamification features. Gamification may come in the form of a fundraising thermometer or leaderboards for your online audience and small prizes for your in-person audience. This tool engages donors with exciting visual components.
  • Fundraising opportunities. Online giving pages and mobile auction bidding are great ways to encourage your online audience at hybrid events. Meanwhile, you might offer a card swiping station or text-to-give opportunities for those attending in person. 
  • Communication features. Adequate communication with both audiences is necessary for a hybrid event. You might enable chat features or breakout rooms online while team members walk and mingle at the in-person event. 

Activities should appeal to the audience no matter how they’re engaging with your audience. And remember that this means you might have to choose several activities! Those opportunities offered in person might not appeal to an online audience and vice versa. 

Get the Word Out About the Event

Once you’ve decided what your event will look like, it’s time to start promoting it. Use multi-channel marketing strategies to make sure you reach a broad audience. 

First, consider who will be most intrigued by your event opportunities, then use communication segmentation to reach those audiences. For a younger audience of new professionals, you might highlight the networking opportunities available at your event. Meanwhile, for your first-time donors, you might choose to discuss how they’ll learn more about your mission at the event. 

Finally, be sure to tell everyone about both the in-person and online opportunities available for the event. Discuss the activities that will be offered at each and let them decide how they want to engage. This will be especially important as we shift back to a new normal after the pandemic ends. Different people will have varying comfort levels with attending events, so be courteous and allow people to participate how they’re most comfortable.

Host Your Event

You’ve received the registrations, counted the attendees, and set up the event activities. Now, after a long wait, it’s finally time to host the event itself! 

Ask team members to man both the in-person and online activities, ensuring everything runs smoothly on both platforms. Prepare your team for the problems most likely to occur and how you’ll resolve them. For instance, you might standardize your expectations about the wearing of masks at your event ahead of time so that any disagreements can be solved in the moment. Or, you might come up with a detailed backup plan for your online portion of the event regarding what happens if the connection is interrupted. 

After your event itself, compare your results to the goals that you set early on. Ask yourself:

  • Did you fall short of those goals? 
  • Did you exceed them? 
  • What would make the next event more successful based on what we learned from this event? 

This analysis will help you discover gaps in your event planning and execution, allowing you to uncover improvement opportunities for next time. 

Follow Up After the Event

After your event ends, follow up with your audience, thanking them for their participation and support. This will help you develop relationships with this audience, allowing you to engage them more in the future. 

Your team can show appreciation in several forms after your hybrid event. First, you should be sure to send a thank you message to all attendees. Include details in your message that personalize the communication, mentioning whether they attended in person or online being one relevant example.

You might also choose to send a survey to attendees asking what they enjoyed about the experience, what could be improved in the future, and what other information about the event they’d like to share from their perspective. This effort shows that you care about their input. 

Showing appreciation is not only polite, but it also helps build strong relationships with your attendees. These relationships will ideally grow in the future, and your nonprofit will continue reaping the benefits. 

Hybrid Event Best Practices

Your team knows how challenging it is to host in-person events, and you likely also know how difficult it can be to host a successful virtual event. Now, as you combine the two, your team is essentially forced to plan them both simultaneously. 

Planning hybrid fundraising events is not an easy feat! 

That’s why you should be sure to consider all of the best practices possible before you start the planning process. We’ve put together our list of best practices that all nonprofits should keep in mind as they begin planning. While these are by no means the only best practices, they should help play a part in creating the best possible event experience for your audience: 

Employ hybrid event best practices to make sure your audience has the best possible experience.

  • Use high-quality video for any video portions of your event. Your virtual event activities might have some video elements, like recording your leadership or staff members as they discuss the event’s value. As you live stream elements from the in-person event to the online audience, you’ll want to make sure you have high-end equipment. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to hear or see properly as speakers take the stage. 
  • Create an event-specific website for a virtual event venue. This allows your online audience a specific location to find all of the information they need to engage with your various event activities. This is also where your in-person event audience can go to register leading up to the event and learn about what it has to offer. 
  • Provide a number of fundraising opportunities. All of these opportunities should be available to meet attendees where they are. For instance, you might have t-shirts or custom face masks available at the event itself for the audience to purchase on the spot, while your online audience can order them for delivery. Furthermore, you can offer online donation pages on your event website and have a QR code available at the event for your in-person audience.
  • Host a peer-to-peer fundraiser leading up to the event. A peer-to-peer fundraiser allows you to increase your fundraising revenue while engaging your audience early on. Your dedicated supporters will be the ones to raise the funds on your behalf while encouraging their friends and family to register. Be sure to thank these dedicated supporters thoroughly. 
  • Use this event as an opportunity to mingle and develop relationships. Whether in person or online, your team should prioritize relationship-building activities with your supporters. This will help you make the most of the event for both now and in the future. They’ll be more likely to support your efforts in the future if you develop these relationships now. 
  • Consider how your hybrid fundraising event fits into your larger strategic plan. Your strategic plan is your guide to success and growth. As you’re planning your event, consider ahead of time how your hybrid event goals and objectives will best meet the larger goals outlined in this guiding document.

A well-run hybrid event can help your organization succeed in several ways. From raising money to fund your mission to stewarding your supporters, your hybrid event’s goals should align with a specific aspect of your greater goals. 

Hybrid Fundraising Event Ideas

Consider the different types of in-person events and the various virtual fundraising ideas you’ve included in your strategy in the past. Then, think about how these can be combined for your future hybrid fundraising event ideas. 

To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of potential hybrid event ideas that your nonprofit might be interested in for the future. 

Silent Auction

Silent auctions are one of the easiest events to transition to become a hybrid event.

Silent auctions have been shifting to include a virtual element even before the pandemic hit. Mobile bidding allowed in-person audiences to use their phones to bid on the items they find most intriguing. This event also allows for conversation and mingling to continue uninterrupted as attendees could bid from their tables. 

Now, you can also use these same tools to engage your at-home audience. Try opening up the online auction a couple of days early so that your online audience can get a head start bidding on the items. This will also drive bidding prices, allowing you to raise more throughout the event. 

Wine Pull

Wine pulls are unique hybrid fundraising event opportunities that pair well with galas.

Wine pulls are traditionally in-person events, but they have the opportunity to be taken virtual as well. Generally, the way these events work is that the hosting organization purchases several wines at different price points. They then decorate these bottles to cover the label and set a price for each bottle of wine. For instance, you might have 1 $100 bottle, 3 $50 bottles, 6 $20 bottles, and 20 $10 bottles. Then, you might sell each bottle for $25.

In this case, if you sold all bottles, your organization would raise $180, having purchased the bottles for $570 and sold $750 worth of bottles. Of course, changing the pricing of the bottles and the amount you’re selling them for can adjust the revenue you can expect from the event. 

Wine pulls are a perfect example of an in-person element for a hybrid event. For your online audience, you might invite them to join in for a virtual happy hour with other attendees. Then, you can live stream speakers and encourage everyone to purchase online merchandise or make donations while enjoying a beverage of their choice. 

Gala

Galas are a hybrid event opportunity that nonprofits can use to engage their high-value audience members.

Galas are traditionally high-end events for an in-person audience and generally include dinner and an auction of sorts. For organizations that host an annual gala event, you’ve probably read quite a bit of literature regarding transferring your gala to the virtual space during the pandemic. Now it’s time to combine these two ideas. 

You can still host an auction at the event, but be sure it’s open to your online audience as well. When it comes to programming, be sure to pre-record or live stream your key speakers at the event. This will allow your online audience also to enjoy this aspect of the event. You can provide food or cocktail kits to your online registrants’ homes to let them join in the eating and drinking festivities with your in-person audience too. 

Socially Distanced Picnic

Outdoor opportunities like picnics make for great hybrid event options as we transition out of the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Who doesn’t love a picnic? As we start transitioning to the hybrid version of events, you should be sure to consider how you’ll incorporate social distancing into the in-person element of the event activities. This approach will help appeal to the comfort levels of your in-person audiences, especially at the beginning of transitioning back to in-person activities. 

A socially distanced picnic is a great way to make everyone feel more comfortable. Your in-person picnic can feature the following:

  • Good food
  • Live music
  • Games 

Include activities that will engage your audience while allowing them to remain outdoors and distanced from one another. Then, your at-home audience can tune into live streams, donate, and otherwise engage with the event. 

50/50 Raffle

50/50 raffles are a great addition to any hybrid fundraising event.

50/50 raffles are rarely conducted independently, but this hybrid fundraising event idea is easily combined with other activities to create another excellent fundraising opportunity either at home or in person. Essentially, your audience members purchase raffle tickets and the winning ticket pulled will receive half of the raffle proceeds as a prize. 

Allow people to purchase tickets either in-person or online so that anyone tuning into your event has the opportunity to win the raffle. This tactic also drives the prize money up further while driving your fundraising revenue higher as well!

Note: It’s important to check your local and state laws before you hold a raffle or any gambling-adjacent activity as there are often regulations for and restrictions on what nonprofits can do when it comes to those types of activities. 

Golf Tournament

Golf tournaments can be made into hybrid events by virtually keeping score for each participant.

Hybrid golf tournaments aren’t tournaments held on Zoom, nor do they require you to set up a putt-putt course in your living room. Instead, these tournaments occur when you set up your tournament to last for several days and allow your attendees to golf at their convenience. The virtual element of this tournament comes from the registration, scoring, and even a grand finale. 

For instance, you might host your tournament for ten days, allowing your participants to register online and book the course whenever they can over those ten days. Then, keep all of your participants’ scores updated virtually so that they can compare with one another. Finally, host a virtual finale to live stream the announcement of the tournament winner and provide them with a prize. 

Wrapping Up 

Hybrid events provide the best of both worlds for nonprofits. Organizations like yours can plan for an in-person or a virtual element to their next event, allowing you to engage both audiences and extend your reach.

As you plan, be sure you include event aspects that will maintain online and in-person engagement levels. The last thing you want is someone leaving early or clicking off your page to update their Facebook status. That’s why you’ll need to carefully plan your event so that it can be as impactful as possible for your mission. 

If you’re looking for more information about hybrid events and virtual opportunities, we have the perfect resources for you to consider:

Looking for software to power your hybrid events? Demo Bloomerang.

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.