Originally posted July 15, 2021. Updated November 17, 2021 and January 20, 2022
In mid-summer 2021, nearly all U.S. states had fully reopened and governors across the country had dropped COVID-19 restrictions. Then came the Delta variant and restrictions returned. Followed by Omicron. The fluctuating pandemic status causes event planners to continually reconsider which event format will be the best fit for their upcoming events. We offer event format advice, points to consider, and additional resources to aid your decision making.
Virtual events often cost less and reach a larger audience when compared to past in-person events. You also have a greater chance to include hard-to-schedule keynote speakers and celebrity hosts since travel time and travel expenses are no longer factors.
It is important to note that fall calendars filled quickly and the same will be true in Spring 2022. If you already booked your AV production company and fundraising host/auctioneer for a virtual event, you risk losing your top-choice vendors if you have to change your date to secure an event venue. If you definitely want to add an in-person component, consider including a studio audience or hosting a separate watch party for your virtual livestream rather than cancelling your virtual event.
Livestream in Front of a Studio Audience
Focus your event on your virtual audience while giving a select group of sponsors or ticketed attendees a fun experience as your studio audience. This is a great option if your AV production company broadcasts from a large studio. This one of a kind, behind the scenes experience could also include a special reception for the studio audience after the event.
Host a Watch Party
If your supporters are eager to gather for an event, and you want to retain the benefits of virtual fundraising, hosting an official, ticketed watch party is a smart idea. By livestreaming from a studio, you’ll ensure a high-quality broadcast for everyone at home. You’ll also have fewer technical requirements to meet when selecting a venue for the watch party. To ensure everyone’s safety, you can place restrictions on those attending in-person (such as proof of vaccination and temperature checks).
Hybrid events give you the option of reaching both an at-home audience and inviting guests to attend in person. Unlike hosting a studio audience or a watch party, the hybrid event shifts the focus to the in-person audience because the event is livestreamed from the event venue.
When planning an on-location hybrid event, give thoughtful consideration to your guest experience and script your program carefully to be inclusive of both audiences. Does the content of your program offer enough reason for someone to tune in from home to watch this event? Does your event fundraiser rely on mobile technology and will your in-person audience be able to use it from the event venue? Be sure to add additional staff and volunteer roles during the event to support both audiences.
This is the closest version to pre-pandemic events we all enjoyed. When going back into the room to host a live event, consider the length of the program and what your plan is to keep attendees safe. Best practice for virtual events is to limit the program to 60 minutes. Shortening your in-person event to 2 or 2.5 hours could be a good idea to keep your audiences’ attention while we all get used to being out and about again. Though restrictions have lifted, event organizers should still consult state health authority and CDC posts for guidance on hosting gatherings and risk factors you need to consider.
No matter what your peers decide to do, select your event format based on your unique event goals. How have you been successful connecting with your supporters during the pandemic and can you incorporate that into your event? What is your ability to limit risk for your audience and organization? As you consider your options, we invite you to contact us to discuss the various event formats and opportunities associated with each.
Additional Resources from Our Partners
- Now what? Event plans in the time of Omicron – (Blog post from Swaim Strategies)
- Determining the Best Format for Upcoming Events – Fundraising Bidness Talk, Episode 25 (Video from gEvents, LLC)
- Nonprofit Fundraising in 2022: Will virtual events stick around? (Blog post from Greater Giving)
- Next Gen Hybrid Event Fundraising Made Easy (Blog post from Auctria)
- Guide to Virtual Fundraising Events in 2021 (Blog post from Network for Good)
- 3 Reasons to Include Virtual Elements in In-person Fundraising Events (Blog post from MobileCause)
- Your Event Needs a Spare Tire (Blog post from Artisan Auctions)
- Tips for Planning a Hybrid Fundraising Event (Article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy)
- Hybrid Fusion Fundraiser Webinar: Planning, Logistics & Event Execution (Video from Marquam Auction Agency with Swaim Strategies and Raise Agent)
- Guidance for Organizing Large Events and Gatherings (Centers for Disease Control)