Jul 27, 2021

Hybrid fundraisers and how to run them

01-Hybrid fundraisers and how to run them

Hybrid fundraisers and how to run them

Hybrid fundraisers have been around for years. Amid the pandemic, they have become increasingly popular. Their flexibility and inclusivity make them an excellent way to unite people around a meaningful cause — whether they’re attending in person or from their couch.

What fundraising looks like in 2021

Fundraising has evolved dramatically in the past year or so. While early 2020 had many nonprofits placing fundraisers on hold, canceled events were soon rescheduled as virtual and hybrid fundraisers. Virtual fundraisers take place entirely online and encourage live donor feedback and engagement, distinguishing them from an online fundraiser. They usually feature a livestream and may also include online components such as text-to-donate campaignssilent auctions, or online raffles.


Virtual fundraising events have taken on a whole new significance in 2021 with new and creative virtual event ideas. Last year, among nonprofits that put an in-person event on hold, 62% converted to a virtual event. Among those who ran a virtual fundraiser, 70% describe their events as successful. Many nonprofits in the GiveSmart community have found that their first-ever virtual fundraiser met or even exceeded their usual expectations for an in-person event. Thus, even as in-person events return and the world opens up, many organizations are keeping their events 100% virtual in 2021 and beyond.

Another way fundraisers have evolved in 2021 is with hybrid events. With a hybrid gala or other events, some donors will attend a limited in-person component while others join in online. Successful hybrid events seamlessly engage in-person and online attendees so the fundraiser is enjoyable no matter how someone chooses to participate. With many people itching to return to in-person fundraising events in 2021 after going so long without, while others remain hesitant, hybrid events are becoming increasingly popular.

Like virtual fundraisers, hybrid events in 2021 are more involved than ever before. This year, organizations are finding new and creative ways to blur the lines between in-person and virtual events. They’re building on their successes from entirely virtual fundraisers with the traditions that made their in-person events memorable. They may have some guests tuning in online and others who attend in person. Or, they may have several small, in-person “house parties” that are all watching the same livestream and participating in real-time.

This year, nonprofits have found new successes with virtual and hybrid fundraisers by:

  • Incorporating creative sponsor pages and links on the event website to entice local business sponsorships.
  • Providing additional donation options through “buy now” items for people who don’t win their raffle or get outbid on silent auctions.
  • Including a “recurring donation” button on the event website to start building a consistent revenue stream.
  • Combining pre-recorded and live videos throughout the event to present messaging effectively while still engaging donors in real-time.

What are hybrid fundraisers?

A hybrid fundraiser is a campaign that includes in-person and virtual fundraising elements. These events allow donors to participate anywhere while offering an engaging experience for anyone attending live or online. They let you bring your community together for those who want to meet in person. Meanwhile, you can extend your reach to donors attending virtually and offer a range of donation options that can lower the barrier to entry.

You might recognize hybrid fundraisers in the form of:

Online components have always been a great way to extend a fundraiser to people who couldn’t attend. They can also smooth out the donation process by letting people give via their phones rather than paper checks. It’s even more crucial to offer online options when in-person events are limited or unavailable. With a hybrid fundraiser, you can have even more donors join in on the fun by having some attend physically — and socially distant, if applicable — while others participate online without geographic restrictions.

You might be thinking that a downsized gala means you must livestream the program to the rest of your donors at home. While you can easily find production companies that can service those needs, this isn’t your only option for a hybrid fundraiser.

How do hybrid fundraisers operate?

A hybrid fundraiser can look however you’d like it to. It can be:

  • An event you sell tickets to.
  • A campaign that requires buy-in.
  • A drive that allows donors to give whatever they’d like.
  • A sign-up party where donors pay a flat fee to participate.

Whatever fundraising path you take, it’s essential to communicate the relationship between online programming and live activities. We recommend talking with donors in advance to find out their comfort level. They can help guide the decision on how you balance the hybrid event.

For example, imagine your event features hosted house parties at various locations. In that case, make sure to tell hosts that they can purchase a “table sponsorship,” or guests can buy individual tickets like they would at a gala. From there, create itineraries so participants know what time any donation drives are happening, how long the auction runs for, and whether they should tune into any livestreamed or pre-recorded programming. In addition to a run of show, participants should receive instructions for registering for online donating or bidding.

In-person components

The in-person components for a hybrid fundraiser are contingent upon your local city and state regulations and your donors’ comfort levels. Of course, these will vary across organizations and locations. It’s a good idea to survey your donors to see if they would be interested in your in-person proposal before you go through with planning it. You can post surveys over social media, email, or by calling some donors directly to check-in.


These in-person components could include some dynamic fundraising event ideas such as the following:

  • Fun runs, 5Ks, walk-a-thons, marathons, or races: Here, donors participate on their time, in their preferred area, then report back with their mileage and time.
  • Golfing: A hybrid golf fundraiser could take place on a course that’s open for tournaments, or ask golfers to play on their local course and send in their scores. Incorporate fundraising elements throughout and have games and gimmicks with a low barrier to entry.
  • Dinners, picnics, and in home-hosted parties: Some donors might opt to get together in small groups for dinner outside at someone’s home or a picnic in the park. This idea is an excellent, socially distant way for donors to continue building community and discussing your organization’s mission, messaging, and impact while supporting your cause.
  • Drinks at a brewery or winery: Bars and restaurants in most areas of the country are open for outside and indoor dining, so partnering with a local brewery or winery could be an option for donors to drink, mingle and participate in outdoor games such as cornhole to benefit your organization.

Online components

The online components for a hybrid fundraiser are likely something you’re already familiar with. They might include:

  • A livestream of the event for distributed guests or several smaller watch parties.
  • Online silent auctions or livestreamed live auctions.
  • Online raffles with digital ticket sales.
  • Online shopping pages with donated items that attendees can purchase outright.
  • Text-to-donate campaigns.
  • Digital peer-to-peer fundraising pages with giving thermometers that update in real-time.

The secret is determining how the virtual components fit with an in-person activity of your choice. The online portion allows your hybrid to be successful and inclusive so donors near and far can support your mission.

Tips for planning hybrid fundraising events

Once you have a general idea of what kind of fundraiser you want to run and how the virtual world and the physical world will intersect, you can dive into the logistics of planning and executing your event. Here are some hybrid event planning tips to remember.

1. Focus on virtual engagement first

As hybrid events enter into the equation, your number of live attendees will be smaller. You’ll probably have many more guests tuning in online. Since the virtual component will comprise most of your audience and likely a good chunk of your donations, it’s critical to prioritize their engagement and enjoyment.

Think of virtual fundraising event ideas first, and then consider how to incorporate a live audience second. In-person events are naturally engaging, so by focusing on making the event worth attending from home, you’ll create something your virtual and hybrid guests will both enjoy. One step toward this goal is to dedicate an emcee for virtual guests. With someone responsible for energizing your online crowd, it’s much easier to remember and cater to your virtual attendees during the hustle and bustle of a live event.

Pre-recording some of your content allows you to use editing to make your content more engaging online and in person. You might choose to broadcast your pre-recorded content in a simulive format so live and virtual guests can watch it together in real-time. The other option is to make the content available on-demand for a limited time. This approach makes your event’s entertainment feel more like streaming services and lets your fundraiser stay top of mind for a longer period so you can collect more donations.

2. Find the right virtual fundraising event platform

Virtual events and in-person fundraisers alike can benefit from an intuitive events registration platform and online donation technology that makes charitable giving feel effortless. Your technology should ease your event planning burden and simultaneously offer a top-notch user experience so donors are more likely to keep giving. The right platform can encourage more donations with silent auction outbid notifications and support for multiple fundraising opportunities, ranging from golf outings to raffles to online shopping.

At GiveSmart, we’ve been using our powerful software to make live fundraisers better from our inception. With mobile bidding, online silent auctions, and other digital fundraising tools, we’ve helped our nonprofit customers meet and exceed their fundraising goals. Our technology has also been the perfect solution for our customers transitioning to virtual events, allowing them to create branded event websites and livestream their virtual programming. With our experience streamlining live and virtual events with smart technology, we’re the perfect solution to make your hybrid event stand out.

3. Decide what kind of planning support you need

Planning a hybrid event adds more logistical components to the equation. While most live events need some audio-visual technology support, a hybrid event may need even more. You’ll need someone to manage the livestream, simulcast, or other virtual components while the live event is in progress. Some nonprofits may choose to work with a full-service event production company to handle these needs. Others may use fundraiser event technology like GiveSmart, which can offer live in-person event support and ensure the technology runs smoothly for all attendees.

4. Market your event beforehand

Take advantage of a hybrid event’s ability to expand your reach by planning early. Note that virtual events often have different audiences than in-person events. When planning a hybrid event, you’ll need to reach both types of prospective attendees in your marketing. Consider your secondary and tertiary audiences and create specific marketing strategies to appeal to these supporters.

Safety is one priority to remember when marketing the live component. Reassure your donors that your in-person event will follow all safety regulations and that you’ll do everything you can to make sure guests stay safe. Highlight your mask policy, hand sanitizing stations, socially distant seating, rigorous cleaning procedures, and any other safety precautions your event will feature.

5. Plan for contingencies

A hybrid event lets you stay flexible amid changing safety regulations and restrictions on in-person gatherings. Still, adding an in-person component can introduce uncertainties. To prepare for anything that might come your way, make sure you have plenty of backup plans — and maybe some backups for your backup plans.

When booking venues and vendors, see what you can do to negotiate more favorable cancellation policies. While traditionally, vendors require lots of advance notice to issue a refund, changing circumstances may mean revisiting those policies. Keep in mind that the event industry has been struggling. While they may not be able to issue a full refund, see if you can negotiate a partial refund in exchange for a better cancellation window.

On your guest-management side, don’t sell any in-person-only tickets. Anyone who wants to attend the live component should have access to the virtual event. That way, if your plans change or an attendee feels unwell, they can still participate virtually. You’ll avoid issuing refunds and will still be able to count on excellent attendance.

6. Carve out attractive sponsorship opportunities

A hybrid fundraiser event represents a fantastic opportunity for many corporate sponsors. They can benefit from advertising to a live, in-person audience while also taking advantage of digital marketing opportunities. Since a hybrid event can have a larger audience, sponsors can reach more people through you. It can be an excellent fundraising strategy for your organization when you offer creative sponsorship opportunities such as:

  • Logo placement or ad space on your virtual event website.
  • A pre-recorded or live “word from our sponsors” during the event.
  • Video ads before or after on-demand content.
  • A sponsored notification on the text-to-give or mobile bidding component.
  • Logo placement on a banner or slideshow during the live event.

Choosing between virtual and hybrid fundraisers in 2021

Maybe your organization has already mastered virtual fundraisers and is ready to take them to the next level with in-person components. Hybrid events can have some distinct advantages, and virtual events won’t be disappearing anytime soon either. How do you know whether your next fundraiser would be better as a hybrid event or a virtual event?

Let’s talk about the advantages of each.

Strengths of virtual fundraising

Nonprofits’ total online donation revenue grew by 32% in 2020, in no small part due to their pivot to virtual events. According to The Giving Institute, both the number of gifts and the average gift size increase with virtual fundraisers versus in-person fundraisers.

As many as 73% of event planners were able to successfully pivot to a virtual event in 2020, and many saw some fantastic benefits along the way. For example, 34% of planners identify the increase in attendance as the top benefit of virtual events, while another 27% point to the lower overhead costs. Some of the advantages of a virtual event include the following capabilities:

1. Keep guests safe


When every guest is attending virtually from home, it’s much easier to follow safety regulations. You won’t have to contend with capacity limits or keeping attendees socially distanced. You also don’t need to monitor local, state and federal guidelines to ensure your event is staying compliant amid changing rules. Every guest can attend safely from the comfort of home.

2. Save time and costs

One of the biggest advantages of a virtual event is that fewer logistics are involved. Without renting a venue, coordinating catering, or hiring in-person event staff, you can save time on planning and cut costs along the way.

This is a key advantage of a virtual fundraiser over a hybrid event. While a hybrid fundraiser may still save costs by allowing you to use a smaller venue and less food and staff, they still require logistical planning. They may even add to the equation since your team may need to coordinate pre-recorded and livestreamed content alongside all the planning that comes with an in-person event. If your nonprofit is short on time or resources to pull off a fantastic fundraiser, a fully virtual fundraiser is the way to go.

3. Grow your audience

An easy benefit of hosting a virtual fundraiser is that there’s no limit to how many people can attend and from where. Many organizations reach a wider audience when they introduce virtual events or digital components of a fundraiser. Many nonprofits can host people outside the range of their in-person events. New supporters who may not want to commit to an in-person event or a large donation can join the livestream without having to stay for the whole affair while giving whatever they can afford.

Attending a virtual event has a much lower barrier to entry. Attendees can join in without spending time getting ready or driving and can even join in anonymously if they prefer. As a result, virtual events can draw a much bigger crowd.

4. Design a virtual-friendly experience

One potential hurdle with a hybrid event is that there are two types of donor experiences to manage. At a hybrid event, your nonprofit has both in-person and virtual attendees to keep happy. In the excitement of the live, in-person components, your team must remember to interact with the virtual audience, too. However, when the entire event is virtual, every attendee is on the same playing field. It’s easier to prioritize a digital-first experience that will appeal to every attendee.

Strengths of hybrid fundraising

Interest in hybrid events is skyrocketing right now. As many as 73% of event planners expect hybrid events to remain a long-term trend. Meanwhile, 66.5% of event professionals plan to use the hybrid format as their go-to as in-person events resume. Nonprofits can gain many advantages by making their future fundraisers appeal to in-person and virtual attendees alike. You might consider planning hybrid fundraisers to achieve the following goals.

1. Reach more donors

While large, in-person fundraising may be challenging right now, a hybrid event makes it possible. The ability to attend virtually opens your fundraiser to unrestricted guest counts and donors around the globe. People can also fit them more easily into their schedules. Someone who wants to give without buying a gala ticket or who has never attended your events before may also be more likely to check out a low-commitment virtual component. If they like what they see, they might participate in person next time.

2. Gain more insights

When your ticketing system, silent auction, and donation interface are online, you can gather more complete data on all your donors. You’ll have emails to add to your mailing list and data to understand how your supporters prefer to bid or give. Plus, you’ll always be able to contact your raffle or silent auction winners.

3. Remain nimble and flexible

When planning an in-person fundraiser, there’s always a chance that things won’t go as planned. Changing safety regulations, a scheduling conflict with the venue, or even a rainy day could put your event on pause. Hybrid events let you hope for the best and prepare for the worst with any fundraiser. If you’ve been planning an engaging virtual component from the start, it’s easier to switch gears to an entirely virtual event without refunding tickets.

4. Improve your return on investment

Many nonprofits have learned that virtual events save on costs. Fewer logistics are involved in working with a smaller venue, and it’s cheaper to book speakers or entertainment for a virtual session.

Moving forward, a hybrid event may let you rent a smaller venue and still include many donors without the logistics of managing an extensive in-person guest list. By planning an engaging virtual experience, you can also save costs with pre-recorded speakers and entertainment. Plus, hybrid events can help you grow your audience, which means more sold tickets and donations.

5. Stay relevant in a tech-centric world

As much as people love and miss gathering in person, the devices in our pockets will always hold a special place in our hearts. They come with us wherever we go and make our lives easier in every possible way.

Technology streamlines the giving process for fundraisers. People who support your cause can enter their credit cards and donate in only a few taps. They can also send links to their friends for a peer-to-peer campaign. If they’re participating in a silent auction, they can browse the packages from their phones and receive instant alerts when someone outbids them. Planning a hybrid event lets you stay tech-savvy and appeal to the modern donor.

How do you choose between virtual and hybrid fundraising events?

An excellent first step is to poll your donors and sponsors. The choice can stem largely from their comfort levels and preferences. You may have some people who are yearning to go to a live event again and others who would prefer to tune in virtually. Looking at the ratio will help you determine if a live event component is worth it.

A hybrid event might be the better option when:

  • You can safely and legally host an in-person gathering.
  • The content and activities would be enjoyable for a live audience.
  • Your donors ask you to host a live event.
  • You have a certain aspect of the event that works better in-person, such as an art-viewing or golf tournament.
  • You have enough time and staff to plan both in-person and virtual engagement opportunities.

A virtual event might be your better bet when:

  • You’re unsure about or unable to keep in-person attendees safe.
  • Your event works better over video.
  • You have a tight budget.
  • You have some time to pre-record video content before the event.
  • Unpredictable safety regulations make planning for an in-person component more challenging.
  • You have less time or staff to dedicate to planning in-person event logistics.

When planning a hybrid event, make sure you consider how many guests you can accommodate based on local regulations and your chosen venue’s size. Your number of virtual attendees can be nearly limitless as long as the event is worth attending digitally. Also, consider which of your essential donors would like to participate physically versus online.

Hybrid fundraising event FAQs

Every hybrid fundraiser presents unique challenges, which is one reason partnering with an event production company can be so valuable.

We regularly work with production companies such as Utopia Entertainment to help our clients achieve fundraising success and audience engagement during their events. Here are some of the most common questions we receive about planning a hybrid event with a production company.

1. How can we make our “house-party” guests feel engaged?

Have your various house parties turn in team names. Your emcee or auctioneer may call out those team names during the program to make the event feel interactive and engaging. Pre-record videos of each house party or watch party. If you’ve seen The Bachelor, you are familiar with the watch party concept. Film crews “crash” various watch parties and those pre-recorded videos will stream during the live program. This approach is an excellent way to keep your event fun, fresh, and interactive.

2. What is the best way to run a virtual live auction?

What steps do you recommend someone take to make sure their live auction portion isn’t confusing? While many GiveSmart customers use our software to support silent auctions, we also offer options to streamline mobile bidding during a live auction via video chat.

While we defer to our partners like Raising Paddles or A Higher Calling Fundraising Solutions on questions like these, we do have a couple of tips for you:

  • Invest in an experienced mobile bidding partner, such as GiveSmart.
  • To be mindful of program timing, keep your total number of live auction items between three and seven.
  • Hire a professional auctioneer and a production company that understands streaming, program design, and auctioning in blocks rather than individual items.

3. How can we handle costs and permitting requirements for drive-in movies and musical performances?

If you’re providing a public movie showing, you need to register your event with the county and apply for a permit for that particular movie to not infringe on copyright laws. As long as you’re not pushing to a social media site like Facebook or Instagram, there should not be any issues with music. For larger audiences, you’ll want to hire a professional entertainment company, a DJ, or a band that has registered with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. This organization provides an annual membership to play licensed music publicly.

4. How long do we need to plan a virtual event with a production company?

Virtual and hybrid events take more planning from a production standpoint than a live event does. We prefer a six-month window. However, the great thing about a virtual or hybrid event is that you can host it on any day of the week. Dynamic teams like Utopia Entertainment have produced events within 14 days while still helping nonprofits exceed their fundraising goals. We suggest operating on the same timeline as your traditional live event. Six months or longer is ideal.

5. What are the best items and packages to sell with a silent or live virtual auction?

The highest ROI auction items from last year to this year have not changed. Sports and travel packages are still popular. These packages have started to extend the timeline and provide more flexibility around “use-by” dates.

Experiences are also popular. One of the highest-grossing items? Chef tastings. In the past, you would have to go to a restaurant. Now, chefs are providing cooking classes through video chat! How fun would it be to have Gordon Ramsay, or someone similar, providing a cooking class to one of your donors?

6. How important is interacting with viewers during a livestreaming event?

Viewing donors during the livestream is not as crucial as having a professionally-produced program.

One of the essential components is to work with a production crew that offers you a lot of options. The ability to change to and from different backgrounds and show off your sponsors is paramount. Many technical components make up a virtual event. The screens, the music, the computers, the speakers, the cameras — it’s unbelievable. It’s not the type of thing you want to do in your basement as a DIY project.

7. How can we handle accessibility with a virtual event?

For many older donors or those with disabilities, virtual accessibility like closed captioning is critical. The good news is, many event production companies, like our friends at Utopia Entertainment, have experience working specifically with nonprofits that serve those with disabilities. This experience makes them adept at providing a range of accessibility options to virtual attendees. In addition to closed captioning, they might even suggest a second stream with an audio description.

Make hybrid fundraising simple with GiveSmart

GiveSmart is a fundraising event platform that can make in-person, virtual, and hybrid fundraising events more enjoyable for guests and easier for nonprofits to manage. Our feature-rich solution lets you create attractive, mobile-friendly event websites that act as a hub for your livestreams and online donations. We can support mobile bidding, silent auctions, text-to-give and peer-to-peer campaigns, raffles, and more! For your live event components, we offer registration, seating, and guest management, alongside the option for on-site support on the day of your event.

Our intuitive software encourages your supporters to give more by making donating easy and fun. We also make your hybrid event easier on planners by handling some of your planning and logistics along the way. With GiveSmart, collecting donations and managing attendees is more convenient so you can focus on your mission and messaging while making a real impact in your community.

To learn more about running top-notch hybrid fundraisers with GiveSmart, give us a shout or request a software demo. Or, watch our latest webinar on virtual and hybrid fundraising for more expert advice.


This webinar explores hybrid fundraisers even further
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What our clients say

We needed a platform to make sales online and to track and display ads for our sponsors. GiveSmart was perfect. We ended up making close to $15,000 more than we had hoped for. Definite better ROI than we anticipated. The interface is easy to use and provides plenty of options to get help if needed.

Michelle M.

The Rotary Club of South Whidbey Island

Using GS has created ease in auction bookkeeping, payments, and generating post-event thank you/tax letters. While we were online during COVID, our interactions with our GiveSmart via phone, email, and zoom were seamless. A representative always got back to us within the day. I would recommend GiveSmart to anyone doing a large online event.

Julie G.

MicroFinancing Partners in Africa

GiveSmart is highly flexible - you can use it for [a] simple registration and check-in, to full-scale galas with complex order forms, onsite upsells, live auctions, seating management, and more.

Jamie F.

Hope Chest for Breast Cancer

GiveSmart is easy to use and ideal for virtual events and can be used for in-person events to manage the silent auction, seating charts, and check-in to the event. Being able to use the platform for unlimited events within the contract year is very useful and being able to add other users and volunteers for different levels of access is helpful as well.

Dawn L.

Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County