The Nonprofit Event Debate: Virtual, In-Person, or Hybrid Fundraising Model?

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By Jess Woloszyn
Published August 26, 2021
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Spoiler: A hybrid fundraising model for nonprofit events combines the comfort and safety of engaging donors virtually with the personal touch of live interactions.

It’s natural to debate the best fundraising events for nonprofits as our sector emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that you’re not limited to a single format.

Here’s your complete breakdown of the current nonprofit event landscape, including:

  • 10 pros of virtual fundraising events
  • 10 pros of in-person fundraising events
  • 8 ideas for an event with a hybrid fundraising model 

The Great Debate

In 2020, nonprofits quickly transitioned their long-standing in-person fundraising events to virtual formats for the first time with the help of innovative online fundraising platforms.

Now, as public gatherings begin to resurface, there’s a decision to make. Will you return entirely to in-person events, or will you continue with a virtual model? What if there was a way to do both?

Virtual fundraisers unlock new supporter groups by breaking free from geographic boundaries. There’s also a sense of relief and excitement to return to in-person activities.

Below, you’ll get a complete picture of how each event model offers fundraising value and how a hybrid fundraising model can give you the best of both worlds.

How Hybrid Fundraising Models Elevate Nonprofit Events

Virtual Fundraising Events Delight Donors and Drive Participation

Classy’s Why America Gives report showed the early success of virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty percent of U.S. consumers donated or raised more in a virtual environment than they have for past in-person fundraising events.

Virtual activities typically draw in Gen Z and Millennials but don’t discount other generations. Almost half of Gen X respondents (48%) participated in a virtual fundraising event during COVID-19.

10 Pros of Virtual Fundraising Events for Nonprofits

Nonprofits who host virtual events through an online fundraising tool experience:

  1. Broad participation on a global scale with low overhead costs
  2. Flexible scheduling to accommodate a larger pool of supporters 
  3. A wealth of data to track attendee interactions and online donations 
  4. Improved accessibility to create an inclusive environment for any participant 
  5. Repeatable processes with pre-established campaign templates to host more events
  6. More time to focus on creating memorable experiences for donors
  7. New content-sharing opportunities like donor spotlights and real-time results
  8. Ability  to reuse key event moments and recordings for social media content and future event advertisements
  9. Enhanced visibility of a recurring giving program on any event donation page
  10. The long-lasting impact of your event’s success on the lives of beneficiaries  

In-Person Fundraising Events Offer the Personal Touch That Drives Donations

To understand the impact of personal connection on donor behavior, let’s look at the trends. 

Classy’s Recurring Donor Sentiment Report gathered survey responses from over 1,000 active recurring donors to discover what incentivized them to donate on a recurring basis. For 44% of our respondents, exclusive access to cause-related events was a top motivator. We also saw that 55% of recurring donors feel most aligned to the organizations they give to regularly through connection with those who benefit from their donations. 

When we see results like these from such actively engaged donors, we uncover an opportunity to continue motivating donations through personal experiences. Nonprofits can attract, engage, and retain donors on new levels through in-person elements at their fundraising events.

10 Pros of In-Person Fundraising Events for Nonprofits

Introducing an in-person element to fundraising events provides nonprofits with:

  1. Stronger connection to first-time donors or new supporters
  2. Meaningful networking among donors, beneficiaries, and staff
  3. Personal touches that showcase personality and authenticity
  4. Uniting local communities around location-based causes
  5. Physical swag and handouts that serve as marketing well after the event
  6. A deeper understanding of their supporter base and what motivates donations
  7. Rich participant experiences with more touchpoints for attendees
  8. Natural donor advocacy from interactions between  new and long-term supporters 
  9. Emotion-driven giving that results from seeing others react to a challenge or need
  10. Increased ability to convert attendees into lifelong supporters through recurring giving

A Happy Medium: The Hybrid Fundraising Model

The hybrid event model offers your nonprofit the flexibility to choose which pros matter most based on your specific goals and donor base. Nonprofits can provide any donor who wants to support their cause with a safe and comfortable way to do so. Hybrid models are an effective approach to offering a unique and memorable event experience by enabling a virtual element and a physical element to your event.

How Technology Supports the Hybrid Fundraising Model

Launch a campaign on your fundraising platform that offers both in-person and online registration options. Another route is to bring an online peer-to-peer fundraising component to your event to amplify your reach and enable your attendees to fundraise on behalf of your organization leading up to the event. 

Classy’s  State of Modern Philanthropy 2021 report highlighted the impact of empowering donors to fundraise on your behalf. Four out of five donors who donate to a fundraiser on the Classy fundraising platform are brand new to the organization. Lean on your fundraisers to help you attract new donors. 

Elevate your hybrid fundraising event on Classy with these campaign features: 

  • Dual registration option for both in-person and virtual attendees
  • Utilizing a registration with fundraising campaign to enable your attendees to virtually fundraise individually or as a team 
  • Host an in-person and online action with our integration partner, ClickBid
  • Set a fundraising commitment for your attendees, and if that commitment is met they will get special access to an in-person experience

To get inspired, check out how Pasadena Humane launched a hybrid registration with fundraising campaign on Classy for their most significant event of the year. 

8 Hybrid Fundraising Event Ideas to Get You Started

  1. Gamify your event through platforms such as Twitch 
  2. Take a page from popular fitness brands like Peloton and host an in-person class, walk, or run that virtual supporters can participate in with activity tracking apps like STRAVA
  3. Livestream your galas, concerts, and other events for free on platforms such as Facebook live, Youtube live, and Zoom  to deliver an engaging online experience 
  4. Create an in-person incentive for top fundraisers, such as a concert or meet-and-greet experience 
  5. Host a hybrid shopping experience, such as a garage sale or closet cleanout to allow anyone, anywhere, to donate goods and make purchases with the help of your local post office
  6. Open a live competition to international supporters by creating fundraising minimums for participants to achieve through online peer-to-peer donations 
  7. Get local restaurants to sponsor wine or food tastings where participants get samples sent to their homes to enjoy while a chef or sommelier guides a virtual  tasting experience
  8. Build your event around a social media challenge, like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, that invites  fundraisers to complete a task live on their stories or TikTok feed, engage their followers around your cause, and generate the content you can reshare

Get Ready for the Future of Fundraising 

Hybrid events are just one way to take the recent trends we’ve seen across the sector and turn them into future-proof fundraising strategies. Discover more trends in our extensive report, The 2021 State of Modern Philanthropy.

The State of Modern Philanthropy 2021

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