Running a Successful Hybrid Event: 5 Tips for Nonprofits

Picture this: it’s the end of 2019, and you’re an events manager. You’re at your desk or in a meeting with your team, planning out all of your events for 2020. It can be funny to think back to that time. You might wish you could tell your past self a few things about what you know now. You might say something like, “Not so fast, there! It’s about to get crazy!” or, “Don’t put so much energy into inviting hundreds of people. It won’t matter in six months because no one will be able to attend!”

Now that we’re mostly back to in-person events across the country, it can be tempting to ditch virtual events entirely. We want to return to the connection that can only come from being together in the same room. However, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds and greatly benefit your cause by organizing a hybrid event.

Hybrid events offer many advantages for nonprofit organizations. They allow you to reach more people and advance your mission beyond your borders. However, making sure these events are successful can be a challenge. Putting on a hybrid event requires careful consideration and planning. 

In this guide, we’ll cover six tips to help your nonprofit host a successful hybrid event. 

1. Determine who will attend your event in person vs. virtually. 

When you build your registration form, ask your supporters if they plan to attend your event virtually or in person. This will help you prepare for food and beverage, venue space, and your silent auction, should you plan to have one. 

Activities like silent auctions should appeal to both your in-person and online audiences so that your ROI is as high as possible. Investing in silent auction software will unify the bidding process for both your in-person and your virtual guests.

When creating your marketing materials, you’ll also want to consider your guest list. Continue communicating with all your guests leading up to the event with important information about your offerings. Those attending virtually will likely respond most positively to promotional items hosted online.

2. Set expectations prior to the event launch. 

Before the event starts, make sure that no matter if your audience attends in person or online, they know how to engage with your various activities. Communicate these types of details before the event begins, such as the start and end times for activities, where people should park or check in, and how your virtual attendees will log in to access the event. 

Some activities may even require your organization to establish rules as to how they will be conducted and how your attendees can engage. For example, the rules for silent auctions often outline the process for canceling bids, what to do about incorrect bid increments, and the process for closing bidding.

Setting these expectations ahead of the event will ensure everyone is on the same page for the duration of the event, mitigating any confusion and reducing the number of questions asked of your volunteers or staff.

3. Tailor your event activities to each audience. 

Each guest, whether in person or virtual, will experience your event differently, so you will want to ensure that the activities you provide are tailored accordingly.

For example, for your in-person attendees, you might feature: 

  • Table assignments according to attendees’ interests 
  • A donation box for in-person fundraising
  • Food and beverages that set a tone for the event
  • A table of auction items that participants can view
  • Live speakers and opportunities to submit questions via mobile device after a keynote address

Meanwhile, online audiences may have a slightly different view of these activities:

  • Breakout rooms that allow participants to discuss specific pre-determined topics
  • An online auction catalog with quality photos of your auction items
  • An easy way to bid via mobile device or desktop
  • Livestream the speakers and Q&A sessions, allowing participants to submit any questions they have
  • Merchandise shipped ahead of the event
  • Easy donation options through your online donation page

When the world first switched to entirely virtual interactions, many organizations settled for simply live streaming their entire live event on their event website to try to engage their participants. However, it’s much more impactful if you consider how you can truly optimize the experience for both audiences. 

4. Communicate consistently with both audiences. 

Consistent communication is critical for nonprofit event success and to ensure a positive experience for your guests. Encourage two-way communication so your guests feel like they are part of the event and take ownership of your goals. 

Communicate frequently during and after the event activities to keep your guests engaged. Use push notifications, text messages, in-person announcements, and count-down clocks to generate donations, auction bids, and a sense of urgency.

Often, these types of communications are built into your event software. For example, some silent auction solutions provide push notifications when supporters are outbid on their favorite auction items.

5. Ask for feedback from your event attendees. 

After the event ends, you should follow up with your attendees to thank them for their involvement with the event. But more than that, you should ask for their feedback about how they feel the event went. 

Ask for feedback about the live stream quality for virtual participants, food and beverage service for in-person attendees, auction item quality, the level of communication provided, speakers and messaging, and overall experience and satisfaction with the event.

This feedback not only provides an opportunity for your attendees to further engage with you and reminisce about the event but also allows you and your organization to improve your future events.

Hybrid events take a lot of planning and work on the front end, but with the right tools, communication, and constructive feedback, you’ll not only execute a successful event but also reach more people and experience a surge of interest in your cause.