Hybrid Events - Virtual Gala Type 4 of 4

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Virtual Galas come in different flavors depending on your budget and the social distancing rules that are in place at the time of your gala.

There are four major categories of virtual galas: 

  1. Virtual Gala at Home
  2. Virtual Gala in a Studio
  3. Virtual Gala with Pods
  4. Virtual Hybrid Gala

Today, we'll focus on Type 4 -- the Virtual Hybrid Gala.

The thought of doing a hybrid event is all the rage right now, because it signals the beginning of the end of the pandemic and the hope of returning back to some degree of normalcy.

Let's dive into what people mean when they use the word "hybrid" vs what hybrid events are likely to look like when they arrive later in 2021 or in 2022.

Most of the nonprofit leaders that we've heard use the term "hybrid", have used it in a way that seems to communicate this complex sentiment:

  • I'm saying "hybrid", because I don't want to be "virtual". I hate virtual. I think my donors will hate virtual. I don't understand virtual, and don't even want to think about it.
  • I like the word "hybrid" because it allows me to fantasize about being back to normal. Back to inviting a group of supporters into a space and using my years of knowledge and experience to create a great event.
  • In my "hybrid" gala, 99% of my effort will be focused on ensuring that my in-person guests have a great experience, and oh, by the way, the "hybrid" part of the event is the camera parked in the back of the room, streaming to anyone who wants to watch virtually, but that aspect of the event is only going to get 1% of my attention.

We completely understand why nonprofit leaders feel this way, and why they're eager (as we all are) to get back to normal.

But when hybrid events arrive, they're going to need to be much more balanced in terms of the experience that they create for the in-person attendees and the at-home attendees.

Here's a scenario that you're likely to face:

  • You've planned a hybrid event, and in your heart, you're thinking that 99% of your attention will be focused on the in-person audience.
  • But then you discover that several of your board members and/or major supporters are not yet comfortable going into the ballroom, and they want to experience the gala virtually.
  • This small handful of people is likely to donate a third of your fundraising goal, so the idea of just committing 1% of your energy to them is a nonstarter. 

You will need to create two separate experiences (one virtual and one in-person) that are equally meaningful, equally valuable, equally powerful in conveying your mission and equally capable of driving fundraising.

This will be the reality of hybrid events, whether it's later in 2021 or sometime in 2022.

I think a perfect model of this type of hybrid is an NFL football game. You have an in-person audience and an at-home audience. they have two different experiences, but both are enjoyable, desirable and effective.


The in-person audience gets the crowd noise, the ambiance, the concessions, the weather, the "pride" of having the access and/or the cash to purchase the tickets, and the ability to focus their attention wherever they want.

If they want to stare at one player on the sideline, they can do that. If they want to stare at the cheerleaders, they can do that. If they want to stare at people in the stands, they can do that.


The at-home audience doesn't get the ambiance or prestige of the stadium, but they get a play-by-play announcer, and a color commentator, and instant replays from multiple angles, and graphics, and cut-ins with quick highlights from other games.

The at-home audience can't choose what to look at, but they always know where the ball is, because the camera follows the ball.

The quarterback takes the snap, and the camera focuses on the quarterback. Then he throws the ball, and the camera follows that ball in the air until it reaches the receiver, then the camera follows the receiver.

The play-by-play guy describes everything that happens during the play, and the color commentator explains "why" the quarterback threw the ball, "why" he threw it to that receiver, and what that play means in the context of the game.


This is what hybrid events will be like.

We will need to create two experiences that are significantly different, but equally satisfying to your major donors.

We'll need to find a way to weave the virtual experience into the in-person world. Here are a few simple ideas:

  • CLOSE-UP VIEW - Cameras are small these days, so your production crew can place cameras close to the stage (that don't block the view of the in-person audience), and cut to them periodically so the at-home audience has a closer view and/or a different view than the in-person audience.
  • CAMERAS ROAMING THE ROOM - Your at-home audience can enjoy moving through the crowd with the camera, and having the guests say something to the audience at home, "Hey it's Bob Smith! Tom Dowling, I know you're watching at home, and I'm telling you right now, that you're not going to beat me on that Cabo trip!!" (think red carpet interviews before the Oscars).
  • PLAY-BY-PLAY / COLOR COMMENTARY - You might have a person or two whose job it is to commentate on the event. To tell the audience at home what's happening and why (think Nick Cannon on America's Got Talent).
  • SHORTER PROGRAM AT HOME - The in-person audience arrived at 5:30 pm for the cocktail hour, and will be there until the event ends at 9:30 pm. You're at-home audience might tune in at 6:30 pm, and watch a quickly edited 30-minute mashup of the cocktail hour, with interviews with guests, red carpet photos, name-dropping prominent guests, etc. and then the main event starts for both in-person and at-home at 7 pm.
  • VIDEOS DURING THE BREAKS - While the servers are dropping the plates for the in-person audience, the at-home audience is watching some type of fun, engaging, inspiring video(s)
  • FUNDRAISING EQUALITY - When it comes to bidding on auction items, you'll need to create equality between your in-person audience and your at-home audience. Either everyone is bidding on their phones, or you're conducting the bidding in-person with someone taking bids online and communicating them to the auctioneer.
  • MEALS AND DRINKS - Of course, you can deliver a catered meal and drink kit to your guests who are watching at home.

You get the idea.

The simple truth is that the in-person reluctance of one or more of your major donors will be the driving force that leads you to create a meaningful virtual component to your hybrid event.

Creating a virtual variant sounds like a burden now, but these donors are going to give you the impetus needed to unlock your creativity and design hybrid events that are truly wonderful experiences for both the in-person audience and the at-home audience.

And when that happens, hybrid events will become a staple forever. Long after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, we'll be enjoying the innovations and improvements that were created during the pandemic. Hybrid events will be one of them.


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