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  • Going Hybrid: Planning a Hybrid Nonprofit Gala in 9 Steps

Hybrid fundraising has gained momentum as a way to bring fundraising events to both live and virtual audiences. Think of it as the “best of both worlds.” There are two audiences engaged in your fundraising, at the same time, just from different locations.

It doesn’t matter where they are or what they are doing – attendees can participate anytime from anywhere. All you need to do is send them a link to your fundraising event, and they are off. With hybrid events, donors can engage with your mission by:

  • Tuning into your event’s livestream
  • Bidding on silent & live auction items
  • Building awareness on social media
  • Making real-time donations
  • Purchasing raffles or fixed-price items

Hybrid events have proven to be an adaptable and popular fundraising method for a few reasons:

  • In-person and virtual attendance: Hybrid fundraising allows you to expand your reach and engage donors regardless of geographical location. By engaging donors in person and online, you maximize your attendees.
  • Safety and convenience for guests (virtual): Going hybrid allows you to offer fundraising choices to your donors, allowing them to support your mission in ways that are comfortable to them.
  • Personal connection (in-person): Gathering a small group of donors to attend your fundraising event in person deepens their connection to the mission while still keeping people safe and comfortable.
  • Flexibility for you and your donors: Hybrid fundraising gives you the flexibility of event formats and gives your donors the ability to attend in person, from the office, the kitchen, or on the couch!

As you adapt your event into a “dual experience” format, it’s important to think through the size, goals, and fundraising processes for your virtual fundraiser, ensuring both your in-person and remote attendees receive a seamless experience.

Follow these steps for planning a hybrid event to ensure fundraising success.

Step 1: Consider Your Options & Capabilities

Before jumping in, take time to evaluate your options, outline assumptions, and work through the pros and cons of taking your fundraising hybrid.

Ask yourself these questions when making your hybrid decision:

  • How long do you have before your event? (We recommend having at least 120 days/4 months to plan before tackling a hybrid event.)
  • What is your technical experience with fundraising technology?
  • What’s the focus of the event (fundraising, cultivation, education, or stewardship)?
  • If fundraising, what fundraising activities will you have?
  • Where is your primary audience (and biggest spenders)?
  • Will you be selling tickets?
  • What does the programming look like?
  • What are your goals for the virtual and online experiences?

Your nonprofit’s circumstances and needs will determine whether or not a hybrid fundraiser is the right move for your fundraising.

Step 2: Lay Out an Event Budget & Tech Shopping List

First, review your past events and identify common expenses that your new event will have. Then, list new hybrid-specific expenses.

You will need technology to engage your remote donors and facilitate fundraising for all attendees. So, be sure to get started researching event fundraising software options early and include them in your budget! Not sure what to look for? We suggest finding a versatile, all-in-one fundraising software that:

  • Supports any event type.
  • Offers seamless giving with auctions, donations, raffles, and more.
  • Empowers supporters to connect with your mission, and engage with your cause anytime, anywhere.

Picking the right software that can support your hybrid needs is not only an important step, but critical to your fundraising success. The OneCause Fundraising Platform was built to make giving modern, flexible, and seamless to drive deeper engagement and grow your fundraising.

Step 3: Recruit a Complete Event Team

Don’t try to handle everything on your own! Form a hybrid fundraising team to handle tasks and lessen your burden. A few roles to consider:

  • Event Co-Chairs: Often volunteer-based, these roles oversee the entire event and help lead the teams to success.
  • Fundraising Site Master: A staff member or volunteer in charge of setting up and managing your fundraising website.
  • Social Media & Communications Lead: A person in charge of promoting the fundraiser via email, print, and social media, including recruiting Ambassadors to help increase reach.
  • Item Procurement: A team of staff/volunteers in charge of soliciting items & donations.
  • Sponsorships: A team dedicated to securing event sponsors and event advertising opportunities.
  • Day-of Event Support: You’ll need someone (even a couple if you can) to manage and support day-of event questions and provide assistance to in-person and virtual attendees.
  • Day-of Logistics: Find someone who is ultra-organized and leverage their talents to help build timelines, oversee volunteers, and manage the day-of details.

We recommend recruiting your team early and clearly defining roles to maximize success.

Step 4: Brainstorm Your Event Programming

Generate momentum and energy for both audiences during your hybrid event by having a fully fleshed-out program and timeline. Here are a few top tips when creating yours:

  • Keep your program short (30-60 mins) to keep both onsite and virtual attendees focused and engaged.
  • Create and publish a program timeline on your fundraising site (Giving Center for OneCause customers).
  • Also post it on social media, your website, and other communication platforms you are using.
  • Be clear to both audiences about how they will interact and participate in the program.

You also need a 2-prong strategy to maximize engagement (and giving) for both in-person and virtual attendees. Some experiences will be shared (main program, auction, donation), but some may be different.

For example, an in-person program may include a cocktail hour, on-site games and raffle, entertainment, and dancing while a virtual program may include mailed swag or delivered dinner options and virtual-only program pieces such as “How to make our signature cocktail at home.”

Step 5: Build an Event Website

After completing steps 1-4, you’re ready to move on to your event site. You just need to set up your Giving Center site. We recommend these best practices to get your site up and running:

  • Engagement: The key to hybrid is creating engagement. Make it simple by launching your event site. This will be your main hybrid hub for tickets, event information, registration, fundraising, donations, auction items and bidding, sponsor promotion – everything in one place!
  • Promotion: Through your promotion plans (see more below), drive interested people to your fundraising site to purchase tickets, enter their credit card, and engage (and hopefully donate) early.
  • Mission focus: Have mission messaging/humanize brand with images on your fundraising site. Share impact statements and host videos about your mission to bring your event and cause to life.

Taking time to be intentional when building your site will pay off in the long run.

Step 6: Develop Your Event Program

As we mentioned during the planning phase, it is important to clearly map out your program and timeline for both audiences to help the event go smoothly for everyone. Once the live event kicks off, make sure you:

  • Keep supporters fully engaged throughout your hybrid event. Make sure your attendees, especially virtual attendees, stay engaged by incorporating plenty of interactive elements, using compelling multimedia, and fostering plenty of communication in your event program.
  • Stick to your timeline. Try to stick to your timeframes and program. The more you manage your timeline, your donors will be happier and more apt to stay engaged in your fundraising!
  • Use gamification tools. Speaking of boosting engagement, gamification is an extremely effective way to ensure donors stay excited throughout the event. Fundraising thermometers, auction leaderboards, ambassador contests, matching gifts, and award ceremonies can all boost your event’s energy and drive stronger fundraising results.
  • Send updates and share progress. Be sure to give donors updates on high-value items, progress toward your goals, and reminders about when the fundraising will close. Use live-streamed and text message communication to keep them in the loop.

Most of all, remember you will be speaking to two audiences: in-person attendees and virtual supporters. Make sure to use talk tracks, instructions, and information to make it clear what each audience needs to do. Being clear and setting expectations helps attendees focus on having fun and raising more for your cause!

Step 7: Begin Promoting Your Gala

Hybrid fundraising provides a great opportunity for nonprofits to open their fundraising to supporters across the country or those who are local and can’t make it to the event. Do it up right!

Follow these 5 best practices to promote your hybrid fundraiser:

  1. Inform supporters. Let supporters know you’re going hybrid. Give them the dates of your event or campaign and tell them about the goals you hope to achieve. Don’t forget to tell them how you plan to use the proceeds!
  2. Explain how to participate. If you are simply taking your auction online, let people know it’s the same site and software they would use for your onsite auction. Reassure them that the only thing different is that they can bid from wherever they want!
  3. Share the link to your fundraising site. Share the link to your site so supporters can start bidding and donating. Put your auction catalog, donation appeal, and fixed-priced items (raffles, parties, merchandise) on your site to boost excitement.
  4. Leverage ambassadors. Think about your most loyal supporters, volunteers, donors, and staff, and make them Ambassadors. Tap them to help you spread the word far and wide about your hybrid fundraiser. Motivate them with contests for who can get the newest bidders, donors, or social reach.
  5. Blast on social media. Social is the hybrid fundraisers’ best friend! It’s free and has unlimited reach. Create a social media plan to promote, engage, and excite supporters. Be sure to embed mission messaging, impact statements, and the “why it’s important.”

Step 8: Build in Pre-Fundraising Opportunities

Build the excitement and extend the life of your event by building in pre-fundraising opportunities! Walking into your event with money already raised starts things off on a high note – but it won’t happen without a bit of planning ahead of time.

Follow these 3 steps to get started:

  • Publish your event site early and promote it often. From event details to auction items, upload what you can. As long as the site is functional (published with key event details), you can start promoting it.
  • Offer online-only opportunities. This is a great way to drive traffic to your event site. Whether it’s ticket sales or online-only raffles, encouraging supporters to access your site early increases donor engagement before the event.
  • Create an ambassador program. With ambassador fundraising, you take your most loyal supporters and turn them into active fundraisers for your cause! Create a friendly competition between ambassadors and have them compete for event ticket sales, securing sponsors, collecting donations from their social networks, and more!

By building in pre-event fundraising opportunities, you’ll already have momentum leading up to your event!

Step 9: Conduct Multiple Test Runs

If you are planning a livestream, Do NOT let the day come without doing at least one test run-of-show so that you are familiar with the technology and troubleshoot any issues before event day.

Avoid every event planner and fundraiser’s nightmare and bring together your team to test:

  • Microphones
  • Internet bandwidth
  • Video quality
  • Live stream platform features
  • Virtual background
  • Fundraising capabilities

It’s also a good idea to have someone who’s not connected to your mission or event review your run-of-show to make sure it runs smoothly and makes them feel connected to your mission.

Step 10: Execute Your Fundraiser!

As the day of the hybrid fundraiser rolls around, it’s time to get fundraising!

Make sure each team member understands their day-of responsibilities. Have a staff member (or volunteers) on hand to answer questions and troubleshoot tech challenges for virtual and in-person attendees.

Depending on your campaign and the fundraising technology you choose, execute your launch plan. Be sure to:

  • Turn off ticketing options. If you are selling tickets online, be sure to have a cutoff date/time, and clearly communicate when ticket sales will close for all attendees.
  • Start the bidding. If you did not do pre-bidding, be sure to open your auction early on event day.
  • Turn on your online donations, fixed price items, and any other online fundraising activities.
  • Clearly explain the bidding and donation process to your attendees. Provide instructions on a custom page, have an FAQ page, or supply a quick training video on your site.
  • Send frequent communications and updates to your supporters to keep the momentum going and sustain bidding leading up to your event.

And finally, have fun!

Wrapping Up

Congrats on making it through your first hybrid fundraising event! After any fundraising event, following up is critical.

To drive deeper engagement, immediately follow up with donors and express your gratitude to everyone who attended and donated. Thank them for their support, talk specifically about the impact of their gifts, and offer additional ways to stay engaged with your cause.

Then, evaluate the success of your hybrid event by tracking your performance and using the reporting/analytics in your fundraising software. Ask yourself what went well and what can we do better next time?

After thanking your donors and analyzing your data, you will be ready to rock your next hybrid event to drive greater fundraising results and cultivate better supporter relationships.


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