To say that 2020 was a year of change is an understatement. Events are typically near the top of every nonprofit organization’s list of disrupted activities and strategies.
While few are missing the stress of hoping the caterer brings the right appetizers, the right video plays at the right time, and the board chair stays within their allotted speech length, losing a big chunk of expected revenue due to a cancelled or postponed event brought about a different kind of stress.
Thankfully, many organizations were able to shift to a virtual event format with limited disruption and, in some cases, even greater success than their previous in-person incarnations.
As it becomes safer and safer to once again gather in-person, hybrid fundraising events are becoming more and more the norm, and for good reason. But what is a hybrid fundraising event, and why is it a good thing?
- We can’t unring the bell
- If done right, hybrid events are more equitable
- Hybrid events encourage nonprofits to get creative
- There are a lot of examples of hybrid events
What is a hybrid fundraising event?
Put simply, a hybrid fundraising event simultaneously or asynchronously combines offline and online experiences. Simply live-streaming your in-person event technically qualifies, but a stellar hybrid experience is one that is multi-channel and interactive.
It’s a broad definition, but it’s one that leaves room for a lot of creativity and innovation. Not only are they growing in popularity and ubiquity, but some supporters will also be demanding them soon if they aren’t already.
Here are four reasons why hybrid fundraising events will be the standard going forward, even as we completely exit the pandemic.
1. We can’t unring the bell.
2020 represents a turning point when it comes to how nonprofits will approach their fundraising events going forward. Not only did it force us to pivot, but it may have forced us to pivot permanently. In other words, virtual fundraising isn’t just a temporary fad.
In a survey of 1,997 nonprofit professionals, OneCause found that:
- 48% cancelled an event
- 40% postponed an event
- 62% converted to a virtual fundraising event
- 19% converted to a hybrid event
They also found that 70% of those that held virtual events in 2020 describe them as successful, with only 3% feeling their virtual fundraising event was not successful at all. 42% of those surveyed plan to hold a hybrid fundraising event in 2021, compared to the 19% that held hybrid events in 2020.
Not only do we have more than a year of experience under our belts, but so do our supporters. In the same way that it might be tough to encourage employees to come back into the office, so too might it be tough to entice donors back into a ballroom.
While some donors may be unable to wait to get back into their formal wear to attend your annual in-person gala, some may be just as happy to support you from their couch for the remainder of the century. To pull the rug out from those folks just because it’s safer to gather might alienate those supporters.
2. If done right, hybrid events are more equitable.
Perhaps the greatest advantage that comes with a hybrid fundraising event that has an offline and online component is that it keeps the doors open to supporters who prefer one format over the other. Not only are you widening your audience, but that audience may also include those who have historically been shut out of your events for accessibility reasons.
Yes, in-person events can be accessible, but likely not to those with limited mobility or who are otherwise unable to travel. Conversely, offering an in-person option may provide accessibility to those for whom a screen experience is not optimal. The National Association for the Arts has a great guide to ensuring that your online events are accessible to all audiences.
A wider pool of attendees also means a higher ceiling on engagement and revenue associated with your fundraising event. Hybrid events truly combine the best of both worlds!
3. Hybrid events encourage nonprofits to get creative.
If your organization has felt mired in the tradition of organizing the same annual event for decades that your team dreads and that barely breaks even, 2020 may have actually provided a welcome respite as well as an opportunity to shake things up.
While golf tournaments and, to my chagrin, Gatsby-themed galas may generate revenue, they likely don’t align with your cause.
In his 2017 study “Great Fundraising Events,” Adrian Sargeant, then a Professor of Fundraising and Director of the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth, found that a fundraising event “should not be an event where individuals pay for the privilege of enjoying the activity, but instead an experience creating attendee empathy towards your mission.”
Granted, hybrid fundraising events won’t automatically accomplish this goal based on their format alone. But the act of reimagining your events holistically provides a great opportunity to reframe the focus of your events around service recipients and not your attendees.
Innovation doesn’t just have to stop with fundraising events. Check out our list of fundraising ideas that will help you raise more in 2021 and beyond!
4. There are a lot of examples of hybrid events out there.
The nonprofit sector has always been steeped in collaboration and shared learnings. It’s hard not to find daily discussions in Facebook and other peer groups around a myriad of subjects, including this new era of event planning.
Simply put: If you need help, want to bounce an idea off of someone, or find out what has and hasn’t worked for others, you’re likely just a message board away. Most are as willing to share their successes—in-person, virtual, or hybrid—as they are their failures.
Check out this case study from Living Stones Academy, a Michigan-based nonprofit that pivoted to a virtual event in 2020. They saw an increase of more than 50% in revenue and attendance.
Not only did they share their playbook in a Bloomerang webinar, but you can also watch the full event here:
If you’re on the fence about dipping your toes into the virtual or hybrid event world, one last piece of advice I’ll offer is to start small. Remember, there’s nothing that says your first hybrid event needs to be a complicated, large-scale affair.
Consider organizing something for a small, specific group of supporters, like your monthly donors, or recent first-time donors. Could you livestream a fireside chat between your Executive Director and a subject-matter expert within your field? Could you add an online live auction to a straight-forward in-person event?
The less pressure you put yourself, the more fun you’ll have in organizing your first hybrid fundraising event.
Schedule a live demo with our partner Bloomerang, and we’ll show you how easy it is to create and automate reports, utilize online and offline fundraising tools, quickly integrate and access all your data, and ultimately create more time to engage your donors.