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How to run a hybrid fundraising event

COVID has impacted our lives in so many ways the past 18 months. This “new normal” also brings change, change again, and more change.  This has been especially true in the world of fundraising. With in-person events canceled, fundraisers all over went virtual – with great results!  But what happens now that restrictions have started to ease (or have they)? Are in-person events back? Is it the end of virtual fundraising events? Or is it a combination of the two?

Trying to plan for anything, let alone fundraising events, hasn’t been without its challenges, but now that we’ve experienced the wonders of digital fundraising, it’s going to be hard to turn back. The answer lies in hybrid events. It sounds good in theory, but what exactly does this mean in practice? What is a hybrid fundraising event, and how do you deliver one?

Hybrid fundraising events explained

Simply put, a hybrid fundraising event is any event that combines live, in-person activity with the digital world. Perhaps you’re hosting ‘An evening with…’. In the old days, you might have done this as a live event at a venue holding maybe 50 to 150 people. With COVID precautions and restrictions, this event would have been purely virtual, available via online streaming. In its hybrid form, this event has a small (socially distanced) live audience, and a larger remote one. Perhaps your team and speakers are all there on the day. Perhaps not. A good hybrid fundraising event will take the best of both worlds. Nothing will quite replace the experience of a live event, but there is no reason why you can’t ‘beam in’ your keynote speaker, or event ambassador. Or why you can’t stream live from a remote location and bring your virtual audience into the room – even if only for a moment.

Why go hybrid?

It sounds complicated, and to an extent it is. Bringing together in-person and virtual worlds might take a bit of extra planning and getting used to, but it’s sure to be worth it in the end.

Why? Because hybrid events will help:

Increase your reach: Extending beyond your immediate audience, adding a virtual element to your event means you can reach out to donors and supporters from all over. With streaming and digital engagement tools bringing the virtual experience to life, hybrid events mean your supporter community will always be close by.

Build community: Remember when we used to go outside and talk to people? Hybrid events give you that! For the first time in over a year, you have the chance to bring donors together in person, at one central venue, or multiple smaller ones (think group challenge events). And of course, digital tools make it easy for people to get involved, no matter where they are.

Boost supporter engagement: With a chunk of your audience attending virtually, you know your digital channels are going to be buzzing. Enthusiasm is contagious, and an active online audience is a great way to get in-person attendees involved too. After all, you’ll probably find that the majority of people own a smartphone so it’s easy to join in the digital fun!

Maximize fundraising: It almost goes without saying, but the more attendees you have – virtual or in-person, the more people there are fundraising for your cause, and that means more money raised! Just make sure you’ve got the tools and technology to process all those digital donations.

Ensure COVID compliance: restrictions might have eased somewhat, but COVID is still with us. Hybrid fundraising events allow you to keep in-person numbers down without compromising on ambition. In fact, it could even raise your sights to something bigger and better than ever before.

Planning your supporter experience

We all know that a good virtual fundraising event is about engagement, and a hybrid fundraiser is the perfect chance for you to get creative and take your event management to the next level. To do this, you need to acknowledge the needs of both audiences, think about each separate event experience and how they intertwine. As part of your planning process, it’s important to ask:

-What someone’s live experience will be, and how you can connect them to online activity.

-How to take the magic of your in-person event virtual and engage digital attendees.

Take some time to think through each experience and plan for cross-world engagement. Struggling for ideas to connect and engage your in-person and remote audiences? Why not try…

-Showing your virtual event stream on-screen at your live event.

-Bringing your community together with social media hashtags, an event group, or an app.

-Sending SMS messages or push notifications to all attendees before, during, and after the event.

-Inviting members of your digital audience to speak, ask questions, or present.

-Match-making networking opportunities with video calls between live and remote audiences.

-Setting challenges and asking people to share live photos and updates, wherever they are!

-Inviting audience engagement with live digital polls and Q&As.

-Sharing event progress with fundraising totalizers and cross-audience updates.

Make sure you’ve got the right digital tools

To be successful, you need to have the right digital tools in your toolkit. There is no shortage of virtual event platforms, with many suppliers ready and waiting to embrace the world of hybrid fundraising events. Do your homework. Create a ‘wish list’ of tools for your event and look at the available options (you might even find new ideas that you hadn’t thought of before!). Research and compare quotes and make sure you choose the solution that works for your event. And remember, practice makes perfect. Just because you’ve got video calls and event streaming nailed, doesn’t mean you don’t need a technical rehearsal.

-At the very least, before your hybrid fundraising event goes live, you need to make sure:

-You’ve tried and tested your technology.

-To use a mix of live and pre-recorded content.

-Your events team, speakers, and volunteers are well-briefed.

-Your online and digital donation portals are simple, savvy, and secure.

-You have a backup plan if things go wrong.

Remember, just because you have the reach doesn’t mean your event is accessible and inclusive. Think about physical and virtual access. Are both events accessible to attendees? Is it possible to include subtitles as your event streams live, and are your digital and visual tools accessible to all?

Take a risk and get ready to learn

It sounds so easy. But when you’re the one responsible for pulling it off, the reality can be very different. We can’t take the pressure off, but we can say that you are not alone. Last year, when in-person events were canceled, fundraisers (digital specialists or not) rose to the challenge.

When we look back on the events and campaigns that reflect the COVID-19 era, the sector will be proud of all it has achieved. It took a risk, and that risk paid off. There is no reason why it can’t do the same again. So, get ready to embrace the world of hybrid fundraising events, to take (a managed) risk, and learn from your challenges and successes. After all, if we do not try, we do not grow – and that is the only way to build resilience and keep the sector moving forward.

thankQ CRM can help you get the most out of your events- in person, virtual, and hybrid.  Contact us to see how. Set up your personalized demo today.