Introduction to Hybrid Events: What & How

Brooke Battle
Written by :

Brooke Battle

Categories: Event Tech

Hybrid events are the new buzz following a season of virtual events.  At Swell, we have hosted ‘hybrid’ events since 2012. Although this event tactic is not widely adopted, it is NOT NEW and there are years of experience to guide you.   

The first hybrid event powered by Swell occurred in 2012.  We did not call it a hybrid event but the concept was simple:  a fundraising event can raise more funds if guests can attend, connect and give from anywhereThis was particularly true of luncheon events with table hosts and health-related events.  Even without COVID, there are many health reasons that preclude a person from attending a large event.  

What is a Hybrid Event?    

  • A fundraising event where guests can choose to attend in-person or online and the nonprofit broadcasts the event for the online/virtual community. 
  • An event where the technology connects the in-person guests with virtual guests so that everyone feels connected.  Through technology, you create ONE space.
  • An event where you can enjoy it from anywhere, on any device and feel like your presence and gift was recognized. 


What do you need to host a hybrid event? 

You may need to think a little bit differently when planning out your hybrid event. Here's what you'll need for a successful event:

  • An event website that allows guests to purchase in-person tickets, allows the organization to issue in-person tickets to sponsors/honorees etc. AND also creates a path for supporters to register as virtual guests. 

You'll want to make sure in-person attendees receive a  registration email tailored toward their experience including information related to "day of details" like parking. At the same time,  virtual guests should receive a different confirmation email with login instructions for the online experience.

  • A system for providing integrated giving so that gifts made during the event can be visible alongside gifts coming in online.

Note: at our third hybrid event in 2013, there were as many gifts coming into the room from online donors as from guests in attendance.

  • AV support to facilitate a strong in-person and online experience (depending on the concept).   

Different concepts will have different requirements, but in general, you'll want, screen(s) for in-person fundraising, support for host-led technology at house parties,  and camera(s) and audio to broadcast the in-person gathering and content. You can also pre-record your content and broadcast it to your virtual attendees at the right time.

You'll also want to make sure that your AV team can livestream for you. Even your pre-recorded video needs to be broadcast at a set time to provide a synchronous guest experience for virtual and physical attendees.

  • Make sure your venue has the capacity to livestream. 

Video files are big and livestreaming takes a lot of bandwidth. You'll need to make sure your venue can meet those needs when you're choosing it. You must be connected to your venue's internet by ethernet rather than wifi.

  • Your run -of-show needs to be planned out in detail.

You'll need a two-column spreadsheet for a strong run-of-show. In one column, you'll notate what's happening for in-person guests and in the other you'll notate what's broadcasting to virtual guests. 

  • Practice
Flawless events look easy, but are the result of lots and lots of practice. You'll want to go through your run-of-show several times before the big day to make sure all of the timing works and any potential hiccups are solved before show time.

What Kinds of Events Will Support In-Person and Online Audiences?

When you're thinking about whether your event will make a good hybrid event, remember this: 

All events have a core. I call it the heart of an event. It’s the part of an event that your guests adore— it is important to identify that element and create a positive online/virtual experience.

The following concepts walk through some tactical steps but only you can truly know what people love about your event.

(1)  Luncheon - Table-Host Fundraiser

-  Determine a set number of in-person tables with remaining attendees at hosted house parties or individual virtual registrations. (It’s helpful if an individual registration can ‘credit’ their registration and gift to an honoree or host)

-  Set up the in-person event with at least one screen and two cameras  -1 camera can be stationary but 1 camera should be mobile

-  Check-in guests at the door (Use mobile camera to welcome guests online and show in-person attendees - it’s fun to have a “reporter” speaking with guests as they arrive)

-  Program

-  It’s possible to use a similar program as your previous years but it is better if the program can move a bit faster for the online audience.

-  If you host house parties - consolidate the programming into 30 mins or less so that guests at the house party can enjoy time together. 

-  Giving

-  Utilize a connected technology so that all guests (online and virtual) can see the giving activity - utilize the screen at the event to show the fundraising updates which will connect your in-person guests to the online activity. 
-  Text to Donate should integrate with the virtual broadcast and the in-person display.  Text based giving is a great tool for house parties as well. 

(2)  House Parties

-  Develop a house party concept that is fun to host (think of the barriers to hosting and try to mitigate them)

-  Invite supporters to be hosts and provide a package (this could be a tablescape, food, wine) which includes some special items as well as detailed information about how they can set up their home technology to tune in.  It may be helpful for hosts to provide information to the organization about their television / technology. - 

-  Program:  At the same time, table hosts tune in to the program which provides an opportunity for a nonprofit to tell its  story to multiple small audiences at once.  Use the program to honor your hosts (this can be accomplished in a variety of creative ways)

-  Giving:   For house parties utilize a text to donate program that syncs with Swell’s virtual module. This allows all guests and home locations to watch the program and the giving at once. 

Bonus:  Consider using leaderboards and rewarding the top house party with a group entertainment gift (top house party enjoys a custom  dinner with local a chef)

(3) Live Peer-to-Peer Events (examples include Cystic Fibrosis City’s Finest events, Smart Party, MS Person of the Year)

-  All guests register for in-person or virtual tickets. (Nonprofit determines the number of in-person tickets available.)

-  Recruit priceless awards - Best of the City,  City Finest, Trip and Lunch with a celebrity or a rare  tour

-  Select community honorees to compete for fundraising honors and equip them with fundraising tools and tips.

-  Host and livestream virtual event with fundraising totals, giving and leaderboards updating real-time in the venue an online 

(4) Dancing with the Stars, Talent Shows, Dance-a-Thon, Lip Sync concepts

-  Issue in-person tickets for teams and sponsors via the complimentary ticket process. This enables the organization to save tremendous time and to have a smooth check-in process.

-  Virtual guest registration by friends, family and supporters from anywhere.  (When these concepts were virtual, nonprofits had online guests and donors thousands of miles apart.) The registrations can be credited to a performer.

- The run-of-show for these events is the same.  However, it’s important to market the content of this even like a show to attract a wide, virtual audience.  

-  All virtual guests receive the reminder email and can log in to watch the event and support friends. 

- The event is broadcast via livestream.

-  Giving is integrated so that team fundraising occurs real-time and updating instantly from text to donate and online giving.  

-  At the end of the night, your website shows a fundraising total that allows your impact to grow and you can announce/celebrate the top fundraising team.