Evaluating Event Formats: In-Person, Virtual, or Hybrid
Events are a staple in the nonprofit sector, helping to meet various purposes like fundraising, donor acquisition, and supporter engagement. However, with the rise of different event formats, planning your next nonprofit event has become more complex. Not only do you have to pick the type of event, such as a charity golf tournament, gala, or bake sale, but you also have to decide if your event will take place in-person or virtually.
To help simplify your nonprofit event planning processes, this guide will evaluate the three most popular event formats: in-person, virtual, and hybrid. You’ll learn what the benefits and drawbacks of each format are, empowering you to make an informed decision for your next event. Let’s get started!
In-person nonprofit events are straightforward. They are the most traditional type of event, taking place in a physical space where supporters can socialize with one another. Common ideas for in-person nonprofit events include fundraising galas, donor acquisition lunches, and community engagement events.
Some of the benefits of in-person events include:
- Positive atmosphere. By having all your attendees in the same location, you’ll be able to effectively create a lively atmosphere with music and lighting. Plus, it’ll be easier to amp up the crowd and get attendees excited to give and support your mission.
- Personal interactions. Although your fundraising event will have a theme or main attraction, there will be lulls as you prepare for the next activity. At an in-person event, attendees can easily interact with one another and socialize during these breaks, keeping them engaged.
- Stronger connections. Not only will attendees be able to interact with one another, but they’ll also be able to connect with members of your nonprofit’s staff and witness the impact of your story firsthand. This allows them to form stronger emotional bonds with your nonprofit, helping them to “buy in” to your mission and pledge their support.
- Sponsor involvement. In-person events give you a great opportunity to involve your corporate sponsors. Depending on your event sponsorship packages, sponsors can display their logos, invite their employees, or interact directly with attendees. In-person events are a unique opportunity to build deeper relationships with the businesses in your community.
- Community building. Through in-person events, you can build a tighter-knit community by allowing like-minded individuals to gather together to learn more about your nonprofit and give you their support. This can lead to strong peer-to-peer relationships, allowing you to build a devoted community that will champion your mission.
Although hosting an in-person nonprofit event gives you access to a variety of benefits, it’s not without its drawbacks. Some of the drawbacks of in-person events include:
- Cost. Depending on what type of event you host, you’ll incur overhead costs for venue, catering, entertainment, and more. This means that in-person events can end up being rather expensive.
- Limited attendance. Since your event takes place at a specific location, your attendee pool is limited to individuals who live around that location. Although some of your staunchest supporters may be willing to travel further distances to your event, you may not be able to count on a big turnout if you have a national or global audience.
- Logistically complex. Especially if your event is on the larger side, you’ll have many logistics to contend with. For example, you’ll need to set up your lighting and music, design the layout of your event space, script your program, and more. That means that planning your in-person event may be more time-consuming than if you were hosting a virtual event.
Keep in mind that some of the complexities that come with in-person event planning can be alleviated with technology. For example, if you’re hosting a sports fundraising event, you can supplement your event with an online fundraising site to help you maximize support. Or, you might use mobile bidding software at an in-person auction to facilitate the smooth flow of donations. Integrating technology into your in-person event planning can ease your administrative burden and create a more user-friendly guest experience.
Virtual events are held online and are increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons. Some of the benefits of hosting a virtual nonprofit event include:
- Cost-effectiveness. With a virtual event, you won’t need to worry about booking a venue or paying for catering. This makes this event format much more cost-effective than the in-person format.
- Greater outreach. Since virtual events are held online, distance is no longer a barrier to attendance. That means that you’ll be able to reach people from all over the world with your event, raising awareness of your nonprofit’s brand and mission.
- Increased flexibility. A feature of virtual events is that they can easily be recorded. After your event is over, you can release the event footage on your nonprofit’s website. This allows supporters and interested individuals who weren’t able to attend your event to stay up-to-date and engaged with your nonprofit.
Additionally, many traditionally in-person events can easily be adapted to fit a virtual format. For example, silent auctions, galas, and fun runs can be successfully adapted to the virtual sphere.
However, virtual events also come with drawbacks. Some of these include:
- Technology costs and challenges. Depending on the type of virtual event you host, you’ll need to invest in software solutions that make it possible. According to OneCause, you’ll almost certainly need to leverage a live-streaming event solution to enable supporters to participate in your event in real-time. However, your event’s success will be fully dependent on your ability to use this software—and if you run into an issue on event day and aren’t able to troubleshoot, then your event may fall short.
- Reduced personal interaction. During in-person events, attendees can mingle and socialize with one another during downtime. However, with a virtual event, that can be more challenging. While you can consider putting attendees in virtual breakout rooms so they have a chance to network, for some, this might not fully replace the connection of being face-to-face.
- Lowered engagement. Prolonged screen time can lead to fatigue, reducing your attendees’ attention spans and interest in your event. This results in a lower level of engagement and can make it more difficult for attendees to connect with your event and your nonprofit.
Although virtual events have drawbacks, if you leverage their benefits fully, you’ll find that these events are well worth your time and effort. You may also find that some event types are more conducive to success in the virtual format, such as expert panels and webinars. Thoroughly research your options and consider how you can tailor a virtual event experience to your unique audience. Swaim Strategies recommends fundraising books as an often-overlooked resource that you can use during your research.
With hybrid fundraising events, you’re getting the best of in-person and virtual events. Hybrid events take place partially in-person and partially online, giving you access to the following benefits:
- Accessibility and inclusiveness. Hybrid events allow attendees to participate in the way that’s most convenient for them. Some individuals who prefer face-to-face connections may choose to attend in person, whereas other supporters across the globe will have the opportunity to attend virtually.
- Increased fundraising capacity. With a hybrid event, you can leverage the excitement and energy of an in-person event and the reach of a virtual event to maximize your fundraising potential. For the in-person portion, focus on creating a sense of community and connection. For the virtual portion, incorporate interactive fundraising elements such as a fundraising thermometer or donations leaderboard. This will encourage supporters to be generous with their support and stay immersed in your programming.
- Dynamic engagement. The combination of virtual and in-person elements in a hybrid event pushes nonprofit event planners to think creatively about engaging their audience. It also allows you to engage your supporters in a new and fresh way, such as through a studio audience experience, creating a memorable experience that empowers your attendees to form stronger connections with your nonprofit.
Just as hybrid events are the best of in-person and virtual events, they also have drawbacks that stem from these two formats. These include:
- Complex logistics. Although hybrid events typically have a smaller in-person component than an entirely in-person event necessitates, having virtual components to also plan makes event logistics more complicated. Alongside worrying about catering, you’ll also need to consider where your cameras will be situated for live streaming, for example.
- Multiple audiences. Having multiple audiences makes for a unique challenge in the hybrid format. In particular, you’ll need to make your virtual attendees feel as included as your in-person attendees to keep both audiences engaged. This can be difficult for nonprofit professionals who are not experienced with event planning.
- Integration challenges. Seamlessly integrating your virtual and in-person components from a technology standpoint can also pose a challenge. For example, if you have a fundraising thermometer, you want to ensure that it is up to date and reflects the gifts made by attendees both in-person and virtual.
Although hybrid fundraising events may seem more challenging than in-person or virtual events, when planned and hosted correctly, they can generate a lasting impact for your nonprofit. If you’re unfamiliar with hosting hybrid events, consider working with a nonprofit event planning company. Professionals from the right company will leverage their experience and expertise to create an event that meets your goals and is meaningful for your supporters.
When planning your next nonprofit event, thoroughly consider which event format would best suit your organization’s needs and help maximize support. In-person, virtual, and hybrid events all have their own merits and drawbacks, so don’t focus on pinpointing a flawless event type. Instead, determine the event option that will best address your nonprofit’s current goals, meet your audience’s interests, and advance your mission.