There are so many different ways to host an event. And with the recent pandemic, having events in-person has been harder (or even impossible), while virtual has been the way to go. Since social restrictions have decreased, it's been hard to determine whether to go back to having in-person events or sticking to virtual ones.
In fact, in a survey with around 8,200 marketers all over the world, it was found that 40% of their events were being planned as virtual, 35% were planned to be in-person events, and 35% were considering hybrid for the year 2022. Which type would be best for you and your organization? There are pros and cons for each approach that you'll want to consider. So, let's take a look at the core differences between in-person and virtual events.
When deciding whether to host an event virtually or in person, think about what you hope to accomplish. Do you want constituents to donate at the end of your event, do you want a large number of people to attend, or do you simply want to bring donors closer together through personal connection? Which type of event would work best for what you need?
In-person events take a lot of detailed planning and organization. Plus, no matter how much you plan, you have to be prepared for more attendance barriers. For example, the weather could suddenly turn, which can have a drastic impact on in-person events. If the event were being held outside, you may have to cancel it entirely and reschedule. Even if it was an indoor event, bad weather could still affect your turnout because people may not feel comfortable driving in certain weather conditions. In addition, other organizations may plan an event on the same day and clash with yours.
In-person events also cost more. You'd have to consider renting event space, hiring staff and caterers, booking live entertainment, employee travel costs, and even finding hotel space for speakers, an MC (Master of Ceremonies), or hosts for the event. You'll have to deal with more no-shows for an in-person event.
But if you're looking to build a connection with your constituents, then in-person events are the way to go! Being face-to-face can help you build relationships and trust with alumni, making them more likely to give time and money to your organization again and again.
Having an event in person is way more personal and memorable than having one online. Yes, online events can reach so many more people and help the organization grow, but it’s harder to make a personal connection. In-person events provide human-to-human connection. There's nothing like leaving the comfort of your own home, experiencing something that you might have never done before and interacting with other people offline. And with in-person events, you encourage the participation of board members, pull diverse groups together, unite people toward a common goal, increase commitment with old and new givers, and build camaraderie among constituents and their fellow donors.
Online events don't need as much planning, and they don't rely on clear skies. You can even look into the option of virtual venues, which doesn't have the cost of renting a building or large space and can add a lot to the experience if you're planning a virtual event.
Virtual events are more flexible and don't have as many limits on attendance. They also allow you to collect more information, and feedback is easier to collect to improve future events. Going virtual also has the advantage of being more eco-friendly with less waste and no transportation required. There are so many tools that can help you set these types of events up with ease. If you already spend time on the computer for work or even just for fun, you won't have a hard time trying to navigate a software and plan for an event online.
But with a virtual event, attendees are more easily distracted, leading to less actual participation. There is a greater chance that they’ll get pulled away by social media, email, or their internet browser on their computer or phone. They could also walk away from their computer entirely, or have children or pets that are competing for their undivided attention. Virtual events have a lower attendance rate and a higher no-show rate than in-person events. And how many of those people are focused and participating?
In-person events greatly reduce distractions for your participants, and for the most part, they're 100% focused. They may scroll on their phone, but the chances of them focusing and interacting are way higher at an in-person event than they are at a virtual one.
Virtual events also pose technological challenges. Technology issues that impact virtual attendance (such as "Help, I can't connect!" or "I don't know how to get in!") can lead to support issues.
To sum up, if you want more people to attend the event, the virtual option is for you. But if you want a smaller event with a more personal experience for attendees, then you should definitely plan an in-person event.
In-person events build bonds that can have a greater long-term effect, both pulling in new attendees and reinforcing your relationship with old ones. However, taking attendance and gathering reports and data after an in-person event is more difficult to do than online. If someone decides to cancel last minute, it's a much bigger pain to deal with when you're trying to get other things done at an event than when you're simply hosting one online. You'd need to re-adjust table seating and let caterers know that someone has canceled and now you have a different number of people to feed.
So if you want to maximize attendance but are okay with lower engagement, then a virtual event is the right choice. If you want to limit distractions, keep your audience engaged and have a larger budget, then an in-person event is the option for you.
Competing for Attention
Recently, virtual events have been more popular, and that makes it more difficult to stand out. Many other businesses and organizations are using online events, so it can be hard to differentiate your event. You need to be sure your event stands out against all the others that are fighting for your constituents' attention. Whether you're hosting virtually or in-person, try to be as unique as possible to make your event stand out over all the other organizations'.
If you're wanting to cultivate donations, either option could work well. Virtual events can give attendees all the information they need about your organization from the comfort of their own home and give them the opportunity to give online. Virtual events also let you reach more people from farther away, as some constituents might not be able to attend a live event because of location, clashing schedules, or a plethora of other reasons.
In-person events, however, build camaraderie among fellow alumni and give them an emotional reason to donate, and allow you to ask for a donation in a more personal way. There's more incentive to give when they're attending an event and seeing for themselves what mission your organization supports. If they're simply looking online, it can be more difficult for them to feel encouraged to donate. In-person events allow you to go out and meet the people who might be willing to give to your cause. Humans are emotional givers. The more moved we are, the more likely it is that we'll give. Having that face-to-face connection with attendees can boost any kind of donation, and it's more likely that those donors will come back to you because they trust you more.
Raising money might not be your goal, and that's okay! Events aren't always about raising money for your organization, sometimes they're simply a means of further building a relationship with constituents.
How to Decide Your Type of Event
Hosting an event in-person or virtually is up to you and your organization’s goals. Both types of events have positive and negative attributes, and whichever one you decide to do has its challenges. Consider your staffing, time, management, and how you want your dream event to be portrayed.
Do your research! You want to have as much knowledge as possible before you make your decision. Know what your resources are, know your plan, and find out how your staff and volunteers work best. Maybe you have a team that's great with technology and can help you put together a fantastic virtual experience, or you may have entertainers who are great at working toward a fun live event. Whatever you decide works best for you, remember what your reasons are for putting an event together in the first place, and have fun with it!