Planning a Hybrid Event or Virtual Event: A Framework For Success

Some of the most frequent questions we get asked are about hybrid and virtual events: What exactly makes them different from traditional, in-person galas? What unique challenges do they pose? How do you produce one successfully? We put together this guide to help as a tool to clarify the answers to some of those questions.

What’s the Difference Between a Hybrid and a Virtual Event?
Utopia Experience Streaming Event
Utopia Experience Virtual Event

While most people are familiar with virtual events, many still aren’t sure what exactly it means for something to be a “hybrid event.” Hybrid events offer both a virtual and an in-person program, providing an online experience for those that don’t want (or are unable) to attend in-person, and a more traditional, live experience for those that do.

The major advantage of producing a hybrid or virtual event is that they’re significantly more accessible than live events. People who don’t enjoy going to big parties or galas may tune in. People who are out of town may tune in. Your audience may double in size. Hybrid events, specifically, offer both these advantages and the advantages of a live environment, making them a particularly popular option for many nonprofits.

Where Do I Begin When Planning a Hybrid or Virtual Gala?

When preparing for a hybrid gala (or a completely virtual event), things might be a bit different than you’re used to. Your traditional run of show might need some tweaking to ensure that your program is succinct and deliberate while still being informative, inspiring, and engaging. You’ll want virtual programs (including the virtual portion of a hybrid event) to be less than 90 minutes, and ideally nearer to 60 minutes. A shorter program is the best way to increase audience retention. It helps viewers stay engaged and avoid burnout from lengthy screen time.

Another thing to start prepping is the landing page for your event. Consider using a local/national celebrity who could record a short video on your behalf inviting people to your gala. You’ll also want to leverage social media; accessibility is great, but people still need to know your event is happening. Your online presence, branding, and communication strategy matter now more than ever. Virtual events offer an incredible chance to reach new people: get the word out!

Managing Registration for a Hybrid or Virtual Event
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Using an online bidding platform (such as Greater Giving) is critical for creating a seamless bidding experience for virtual attendees. Once donors are registered through GreaterGiving, they’ll receive a text message and an email with their unique streaming link and instructions on how to join the live broadcast. If you’re producing a hybrid event, those attending in-person will also receive directions to the venue and any other relevant safety information. A reputable online bidding platform is a must-have for any hybrid or virtual gala.

Watch Parties During Your Hybrid or Virtual Event

Watch parties present exciting new opportunities. Consider offering a sponsorship level for hosted watch parties: for a $1,500 – $2,500 sponsorship, your volunteers could deliver a food & beverage care package to each watch party. Additionally, bringing up live videos of watch parties is a great way to involve your virtual audience during a hybrid event. They’re an easy way to bring in-person social interaction back to virtual environments.

The Timeline of a Hybrid Event

One of the biggest challenges of producing a hybrid event is seamlessly transitioning in and out of the virtual program. As you can see below, a hybrid gala, if structured properly, will give in-person donors time to socialize and eat before you begin streaming:

  • 6:00 pm – in-person guests arrive
  • 6:00 pm – cocktail hour (soft music plays, sponsor logos displayed on screens)
  • 6:50 pm – live broadcasting begins, welcome virtual attendees 
  • 6:52 pm – explain mobile bidding, and other housekeeping
  • 7:00 pm – begin program
  • 7:05 pm – auctioneer/emcee to welcome guests and introduce themselves
  • 7:10 pm – fund-a-need video 
  • 7:15 pm – auctioneer to lead paddle raise
  • 7:25 pm – transitional video (donor purpose video, testimonial, awardee video, etc.)
  • 7:30 pm – live auction begins!

[Make sure to directly address your virtual audience and announce virtual bids. Ideally, you should also incorporate multiple camera angles and roaming cameras. Keep virtual attendees involved!]

  • 7:45 pm – closing remarks, thank you
  • 7:50 pm – say goodbye to virtual attendees!
  • 7:55 pm – cocktails and entertainment for in-person guests
  • 8:30 pm – event ends
The Timeline of a Virtual Event

It’s important to keep things efficient. Virtual audiences don’t have the patience of their live counterparts; keep things moving to prevent burnout. Pre-recording parts of the evening can also help minimize risk.

  • 6:45 pm – cocktail hour preshow

[Can include live music, static logos and/or short video commercials of sponsors, online bidding instructions, live auction items, etc.]

  • 7:00 pm – program begins, pre-recorded video of executive director (See example)
  • 7:05 pm – donor video (See example)
  • 7:07 pm – pre-recorded auctioneer/emcee introduction (See example)
  • 7:10 pm – fund-a-need video (See example)
  • 7:15 pm – auctioneer to lead paddle raise
  • 7:25 pm – transitional video (donor purpose video, testimonial, awardee video, etc.) (See example)
  • 7:27 pm – live auction begins  
  • 7:45 pm – auctioneer/emcee closing remarks
  • 7:50 pm – pre-recorded video of executive director (See example)
  • 7:55 pm – program concludes, optional entertainment begins
What Else Should I Know About Running A Virtual or Hybrid Fundraising Event? 

It’s important to have a special code for attendees to use when accessing the stream. This will help you prevent people from interrupting the evening. Additionally, hiring a professional company to plan with you, consult with you, educate and inform you, then handle filming, production, and other behind-the-scenes housekeeping doesn’t hurt! Just as essential is partnering with a mobile bidding platform that understands your needs. Together, Utopia and Greater Giving have the expertise and experience to keep even the most complicated hybrid or virtual events on track and making money.

This Blog Was Written In Collaboration With Greater Giving