The Future State of Events
It’s been just over a year since the pandemic upended our lives. Additionally, every American is now eligible for a vaccine. COVID-19 restrictions are easing, and mask requirements look to be on the decline. This is encouraging news for nonprofits, who heavily depend on events for revenue. While it may be tempting to rely exclusively again on in-person events where possible, nonprofits should instead opt to utilize the lessons from this past year to implement hybrid events. The hybrid event format shows promise as a vehicle for increasing revenue, reach, and donor engagement even long after the pandemic has faded.
The Definition and Evolution of Hybrid Events
In the simplest form, hybrid events are a combination of live and virtual events. The live event can be complete with an in-person audience, keynote, and other program elements; then, a virtual component is added so that guests can engage no matter where they are. Generally, the virtual component involves an online representation of the live event via livestream and can include pre-recorded content as well.
Before we dive into the benefits of the hybrid model, it is important to note that hybrid events have slowly been evolving for years – long before the pandemic hit.
With livestreaming tools readily available on services such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, events ranging from red carpets to small auctions have already made their way, at least partially, online. Coming out of the pandemic, we not only have additional tools, but we have honed their use as it pertains to generating interest and participation in online events. The way forward seems clear: utilize these methods to expand events from local, relatively exclusive, and donor dependent engagements to a hybrid model where the whole world can participate.
Revenue Generation with Hybrid Events
One of the primary concerns to any organization hosting an event is, can they generate the needed revenue? After one year of observation, with hybrid events comprising a relatively small number of observed instances, it is unequivocally “yes.”
The primary benefit of a hybrid model is its ability to greatly expand your number of attendees. The more attendees, generally speaking, the greater the chance that you can receive more donations leading up to or on the day of the event. With that said, it is still unclear how much an organization can increase their net revenue through hybrid events due to the wide range of costs, production values, etc. The typically high food, beverage, and venue costs are quickly replaced with in-home dining deliveries, videography, and streaming services with custom platform builds. Each organization will need to make smart choices regarding how to best engage their core constituents’ needs on site versus the costs of incorporating production opportunities that will appeal to virtual attendees.
Hybrid Events and their Infinite Reach
Another benefit of the hybrid model is the near infinite reach it grants its organization. Prior to the pandemic, most organizations’ events had a reach of only those that were in the room – perhaps expanding beyond to loyal supporters of the mission via “text-to-pledge,” online auctions, etc. With the advent of the hybrid model, however, the reach expands to anyone. This significantly changes the calculus for an organization, as it allows events to shine a digital spotlight on their mission that can resonate outside of the ballroom. A side effect of this is that programming has been forced to become much tighter. People at home, or at offsite watch parties, are Zoom fatigued, and want to consume something quick, informative, and engaging. Now, with a tighter focus inspired by this global reach, we see organizations achieve success with significantly shorter, but more impactful events that can engender community amongst viewers. It also gives groups an opportunity to find speakers, hosts, or entertainment that might not have been available or affordable before. With an A-List host virtually running the proceedings, everyone can feel involved and connected to something special.
Instilling Community through Hybrid Events
Perhaps the most exciting way that the hybrid model has changed events is through donor engagement and recognition opportunities. In terms of sponsors and large donors, the hybrid model excels compared to in-person events by allowing for more exposure, as well as more participation from their constituents. This model is particularly successful when organizations can support “watch parties” at multiple locations, attended by groups representing institutions or corporations that have aligned with you in meeting your goal. These smaller in-person gatherings can also provide the tight knit community atmosphere that can invoke stronger feelings toward the organization, as well as future donations and participation.
The Promising Future of Hybrid Events
While the pandemic dealt a devastating blow to many organizations’ fundraising plans over the past year, there is a silver lining. We now know the best tools for incorporating non-local benefactors and participants into your events, and we also have learned the best ways in which to do so to maximize donor contributions.
While the costs may vary more than with traditional events, the return can also be far greater. Due to the nature of hybrid events, we now can see that revenue can be raised from a significantly larger pool of attendees; we can unite supporters of the cause regardless of where they are in the world; and we can recognize them far more efficiently than before. Successful organizations will clearly use hybrid events for many years to come.
About the Authors
Patricia Gill (Director) has 13+ years of nonprofit and hospitality experience, with a proven track record in event fundraising, planning and execution. Since joining the Orr Group team in 2019, Patricia has produced and executed over six major fundraising events, including three virtual events over the past year alone. Prior to joining Orr Group, Patricia served as the Director of Special Events and Corporate Development at Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, as well as Director of Events and Catering at Wink Hotel DC, the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, the Park Hyatt Washington and the W Hotel in Washington DC, where her planning portfolio extended from galas, corporate retreats and multi-day conferences to embassy dinners, political events, award shows and weddings.
Katie Makris (Director) has built her career on her passion for planning and executing high-profile nonprofit fundraising events. During her time at Orr Group, Katie has produced a wide array of galas and special events, including organizations such as Equal Justice Works and the Trust for the National Mall. Before joining Orr Group as a full-time Director, Katie owned and operated a successful nonprofit events consulting business, in addition to leading numerous events for organizations such as Ford’s Theatre and the National Capital Chapter of the National MS Society.
CJ Orr (Vice President) began his career at Orr Group working on events, including leading strategic initiatives and fundraising for large scale galas. CJ has managed and executed countless events for the firm, ranging from small major donor cultivation events, to $1M+ fundraising galas. CJ is currently serving as the senior project manager for two virtual galas taking place this Spring.