Picture this: your nonprofit is gearing up to host your annual year-end auction. But hold on, you don’t want to limit your event to just your local supporters. To maximize your success, you want to draw in enthusiastic donors from all over the world and provide an engaging experience for everyone in attendance, no matter where they’re located.

If this sounds like a situation your nonprofit has encountered before, there’s a clear answer to how you can rally supporters near and far around your cause: hybrid fundraising. Hybrid events offer nonprofits a variety of benefits, from expanding their reach and boosting revenue to embedding convenience into the fundraising process itself.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to pull off a successful hybrid fundraising event. Here are the questions we’ll cover:

With a strong fundraising strategy in place, you’ll be well-prepared to create an unforgettable donor experience for both your remote and in-person attendees. Let’s dig in!

What is a hybrid event?

According to the OneCause guide to fundraising campaigns, hybrid fundraising consists of an in-person event typically combined with a live stream for virtual attendees to participate. Essentially, this fundraising style combines the best of both worlds, engaging two audiences, in two different locations, at the same time.

Hybrid fundraising can help you engage two audiences at once.

You might give supporters a way to choose whether they attend in person or online, offering the flexibility to select the option that’s most convenient for them. Or, you could reserve your in-person component for VIP supporters like your major donors to help reduce overall costs, and then invite the rest of your supporters to participate remotely.

To assess whether a hybrid event would make sense for your organization and donor base, consider the following:

  • What are your event goals and objectives? Think through the ideal result of your fundraising event and whether a hybrid format would best suit your needs. If your central goal is to increase the number of new donors and expand your reach, hybrid fundraising is a great option because of its ability to serve two audiences at once.
  • What is your event budget? A hybrid event requires having the right online fundraising software to engage your remote attendees and reserving a physical venue for your in-person attendees. This can quickly add up in expenses, but hybrid fundraising often serves a heftier return on investment than an in-person or virtual event on its own. Think through what makes the most sense for you based on your nonprofit’s budget.
  • How many guests can you accommodate in person? Consider venue regulations and requirements, as well as your nonprofit’s event-specific goals. For example, if you want to create a more intimate and engaging in-person experience, you might limit the in-person attendees to just your major donors. This allows you to spend some one-on-one time with your VIP supporters and show that you value their support. With the additional hybrid element, you won’t restrict others who want to attend and ideally increase the amount that your event can raise.
  • How many donors are interested in attending an in-person event? Virtually? Send a quick poll to your supporters to gauge their interest or take a look at your past in-person and virtual fundraising events to view attendance numbers. If a sizable number of people have attended either an in-person or virtual event in the past, you’ll likely be able to round up a good amount of people for your hybrid event.

If hybrid fundraising sounds like it’s the right fit for your organization, you’re ready to dive into event planning. Let’s take a closer look at the tools and strategies you’ll need to plan your hybrid fundraiser.

What’s needed for hybrid events?

No matter the scale or timeline of your upcoming event, you’ll need a few necessities to pull off a hybrid experience without a hitch. These essentials are:

  • Your physical venue. Take a look at your budget and ideal number of in-person attendees so you can pick a space that will comfortably fit everyone without breaking the bank. Plus, check out venues that already offer amenities like tables and chairs so you won’t have to rent these as an added expense. Another consideration is the timing of your event – does it fall during peak wedding season? Is it scheduled in December when many venues may be booked for corporate holiday parties? Certain venues may be less available during these times, so the earlier you can nail down a location the better.
  • Live streaming software. This is a must for reaching your audience at home and keeping their motivations high. Pick a live streaming solution that offers built-in engagement tools like live chat and breakout rooms so you can immerse remote attendees in your event without experiencing any technical difficulties.
  • All-in-one fundraising software. Host your auction, peer-to-peer event, or gala fundraiser on comprehensive software built for raising more and reaching more—no matter if your audience is at home or in person. Plus, software with built-in event management tools will help you keep all elements of your event—from item procurement to facilitating check-in and out—a breeze.
  • Promotional marketing materials. Get the word out! Printed materials and digital marketing channels like social media and email marketing can all help to create buzz around your hybrid event.

If you’ve already led virtual events in the past, you’ve likely got a few of these tools available. The main idea is to prepare early. Hybrid events can be logistically complex, so it pays to be prepared.

What are common types of hybrid fundraising events?

Hybrid fundraising events are extremely flexible and can be adapted for all kinds of event formats and audiences. Here are four of our favorite hybrid event ideas that can work in a variety of contexts:

Gala-style auction event

A hybrid gala with an auction component is one of the best ways to rally supporters around your cause and inspire them to push your mission forward. Not only is an auction experience highly engaging, but it can also help you raise more funds through high-energy bidding wars!

There are a few key elements to a successful hybrid fundraising auction:

  • Mobile bidding: Forget disorganized paper bids! Mobile bidding can be used for both silent and live auctions to streamline the bidding process and make everything accessible right from attendees’ phones. Plus, the right mobile bidding tool will equip your nonprofit to automatically send outbid notifications, pulling supporters back into the bidding action.
  • Early registration: To get people registered for your auction, marketing, and digital promotion is key. Your mobile bidding site will be the one-stop shop for all things mobile bidding, so it’s best to get as many supporters in and bidding as soon as you can!
  • Pre-bidding excitement: One of the smartest strategies you can implement in your online charity auction is pre-bidding. Pre-bidding allows you to jumpstart your fundraising, build excitement for your main event, and extend the life of your auction.
  • Scoreboards: Use leaderboards and scoreboards via live stream to gamify your auction and get everyone focused on the goal of supporting your organization’s mission. Scoreboards spark healthy competition and make giving fun!

Hybrid auctions can be extremely effective for raising money while engaging your donors with an exciting experience (and amazing items). Take advantage of their fundraising power!

Small group watch parties

Turn table sponsors into small group watch parties! Virtual tables of 8 or 10 can gather in a table sponsor’s home and view the livestream event together. Here are 3 tips for engaging watch parties:

  1. Pre-event contests: You can gamify your watch parties by organizing a competition. Announce that the table with the most silent auction bids placed before the event will win a prize to be enjoyed during the livestream event. Wine, dinner, and/or a shout-out during the event with video/pictures shared to the in-person event are a few options to choose from. Make it unique to your mission!
  2. In-event gamification: Take the excitement up a notch as your event unfolds. Create a competition between each “table” (small group party) and offer a prize to the winning group. You could build your competition around the number of social media shares, a number of bids, or any other engagement metrics you’re looking to boost.
  3. Social media competition: Have individuals post pics of their viewing parties on social media and use a special hashtag. Reward your top 3 favorite posts or the posts with the most likes. You’ll be surprised what great (and free) visibility you can drive with this easy tactic.

Having small groups gather together for your mission will create a community unique to your event and more memorable experiences for attendees. It’s an easy way to drive engagement and boost your hybrid event’s results.

Other ideas we love

Hybrid fundraising is only limited by the bounds of your imagination! Here are a few other ideas to put on your radar as you plan your fundraising event:

  • Golf: Invite your VIP supporters to a fun round of golf, then engage an at-home audience with golf updates, silent auctions, and livestream programming. ​
  • Education-focused events: Your supporters are curious about your cause and want to know how their donations are being used to power good. Help them learn more about your mission by inviting a select few donors to attend an in-person presentation, speaker series, or seminar. Then, livestream the content simultaneously to a wider online audience.
  • Drive-ins: Make a traditional drive-in movie night or concert hybrid! Invite attendees to drive in to an onsite or outdoor location to enjoy programming or entertainment, and then participate in mobile fundraising. You can also invite guests to take part in your event virtually from their homes.

Essentially any traditional fundraising event, from walk-a-thons to trivia tournaments, can be made hybrid. You’ll just need to make some adjustments so your virtual attendees can fully experience and enjoy everything you have planned!

How do you plan a hybrid fundraising event?

Now that you have an idea of what a hybrid fundraising event is, what you need, and ideas for some event styles—it’s time to start planning and executing.

Let’s break it down into 7 steps:

1. Set concrete goals

Follow the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goal setting model so you can create actionable objectives that keep your team on track. Beyond setting a fundraising goal, you should also set objectives for expanding your reach and keeping donors engaged.

2. Secure sponsors

Whether you reach out via email, phone, or through a personal connection, it’s all about creating value when soliciting corporate sponsorships. Lead with your mission, create an emotional connection, and emphasize the value a corporation stands to gain by partnering with your nonprofit.

When hosting a fundraiser online, make sure to communicate the benefits and perks of sponsorships in the virtual world. Specifically, explain the brand visibility the sponsor will receive during a hybrid event via your marketing channels (social media, website, email, etc.).

3. Build your hybrid toolkit

Choosing the right solutions for your toolkit will help make your event a success. Beyond having event management tools, it’s important to think about how you’ll facilitate and organize item procurement (if applicable), marketing, donor management, and other elements that are part of running a successful hybrid event. An all-in-one fundraising platform will give you access to everything you need to keep donor engagement high and build a quality event experience.

4. Promote your event and explain how it works

For your hybrid event to succeed, it has to stand out online. Donors need to know about your event, how to sign up, and what to expect on the big day. Create buzz with a multichannel marketing plan that leverages email, social media, and peer-to-peer tactics.

When supporters have the choice between attending your event either in person or virtually, more explanation and communication will be necessary to leave little room for confusion. You know your donor landscape, so get creative in the different ways to grab their attention online and clearly explain how the event will work!

5. Develop engagement strategies in advance

Reaching people, capturing their attention, and inspiring them to give is key to event success. Leverage diverse virtual engagement strategies, like live chat and breakout rooms, to make your mission stand out to remote donors. Plus, mobile fundraising tools can make the donor experience more engaging and accessible for all of your supporters.

6. Use gamification tactics during the event

To prevent a “donor slump,” turn your campaign into a competition. With bragging rights at stake, your participants are more motivated to stay engaged until they reach (or exceed) their goal. Leaderboards, contests, and fundraising thermometers are classic and easy ways to boost engagement with gamification.

7. Actively communicate before, during, and after

Communication is key to minimize donor confusion. You should communicate with your attendees before, during, and after your hybrid-style fundraising events:

  • Before: Promoting your upcoming online event is essential for success. Having the right audience can propel your organization above and beyond its fundraising goals and invigorate those working toward your mission.
  • During: The day of your hybrid fundraiser has come, and it’s time to open up fundraising! Once your event has officially been launched, make sure you optimize donor communication in person and online for the best engagement. Consider recruiting both a live and virtual emcee to keep the event flowing smoothly for both audiences. Designate a tech support lead and/or virtual monitor to actively communicate with and help remote attendees, too.
  • After: One of the best parts about having all of your donor data in one central location (your fundraising software) is how easy post-event follow-up can be. After your event concludes, recognize everyone, especially your standout donors, for the key roles they played in making it a smashing success!

Your post-event thank-you notes can play a critical role in your donor retention strategy, so it’s important to carefully think through your recognition strategy. eCardWidget’s guide to thanking donors recommends tailoring your thank-you notes to your supporters by including a personalized greeting, referencing the donation amount given, and explaining the impact of the donor’s contribution. Make sure to also let supporters know how much you raised in total and how these funds will be used to advance your mission.

When done right, hybrid events could be the secret recipe that catapults your fundraising to new heights. Use this guide as a foundation for your next or first hybrid event. Meet your donors where they are—whether that’s in person or online—and prioritize a dynamic, user-friendly experience that will help you form lasting connections with supporters.

Author: Karrie Wozniak, Chief Marketing Officer, OneCause

Karrie has spent more than a decade bringing innovative technology and fundraising strategies to the nonprofit industry. As one of the first executives at OneCause, Karrie combines her 20 years of experience in marketing with her passion for helping nonprofits expand their reach, leading industry research, marketing strategy, and fundraising consulting initiatives. She is also an active speaker on donor and fundraising trends, and has been featured on Forbes.com, Philanthropy Journal, and Nonprofit Hub.