In-Person Event Trends
In-person fundraising events are back with a vengeance. As we emerge from a buttoned-up world, we’ve noticed some subtle and not-so-subtle changes in the ways people are approaching and enjoying in-person events after a long hiatus!
Here are our notable observations. Keep them in mind when planning your next in-person or hybrid fusion fundraising event.
Shorter. Sweeter. Simpler. Streamlined.
Virtual events are short. No one wants to tune in for longer than 45 minutes, even if the content is stellar. This concept of brevity has infiltrated in-person events. We’re noting three to three-and-a-half hour runs-of show – down from four to five hours of pre-pandemic content. For live programs, most orgs are opting for 50-70 mins of live content, max. If you’re including a live auction, be aware that these are also being pared down to a maximum of nine live auction items (with the sweet spot being, five).
Shorter or No Live Auction
Some orgs are foregoing the live auction altogether and focusing on other revenue streams – special appeals, raffles, games, drawings. Many are still holding live auctions, but with far fewer packages and diverse offerings and price points. Traditional silent auctions are also beginning to fall by the wayside. Why is that, do you think?
Online Auctions Outperform Silent Auctions
You guessed it! Not only is setup easier with online auctions, they are raising more money than traditional silent auctions. Silent auctions are so much work. They can keep a team of ten busy for weeks upon weeks! From requesting goods, services and/or gift cards, to picking up donated items and transporting them to the venue, to displaying them artfully and enticingly – it’s no small feat!
On the contrary, online auctions are simply easier. Sure, you still have the procurement process, but posting photos of the items you’re selling from anywhere is much simpler than retail display onsite. Online silent auctions can also be for sale for a longer period of time and can be marketed to people near or far – not just the lucky ones in attendance at your event. No doubt that’s why, on average, online auctions are outperforming silent auctions by 40+%. This is not a fad we anticipate going away anytime soon.
There is even more emphasis on mission language today than ever before in fundraisers and benefit events. It’s splashed across big beautiful signs, event programs, peppered throughout all live speeches, the video storytelling. We’ve identified two other “modern” elements seemingly borrowed from the days when virtual fundraisers were the norm: One is more videos and other visuals, like PPT slides, as opposed to exclusively live content with very little to no visual assets. Speeches are more often recorded, set to music and layered with b-roll, graphics and/or still imagery. The other element is giving your viewers something to look forward to – a “teaser,” if you will. For instance, at Dove Lewis’ Wet Nose Soiree, their program included precious pictures and bios of animals who were later featured in the live program. What a fantastic way to give folks a reason to stick around!
Venues + Guests
So what has changed logistically in terms of the return to the ballroom? For one – the ballroom itself! Many orgs are opting out of super-formal venues, themes and attire. Instead, they’re leaning into venues with flexible outdoor capabilities, more casual seating and less formal food options. Stadium and theater style seating are also popular right now. We’re also noticing events ending earlier. Around 9pm, typically.
We’re noticing fewer people overall at events (10-25% fewer). Some folks are still not ready to gather in big groups. But the ones who are? They’re FILLED with energy and enthusiasm. The atmosphere at in-person events is such a joy to witness. Folks are ecstatic to be socializing in person – there’s SO MUCH to catch up on! Folks are much more talkative than we remember them being in 2019. So don’t skimp on sound. You don’t want donors and guests to strain to hear what their fellow philanthropists have been up to for the past two years. You might want to consider some “quieting” techniques for when it’s time to get folks to where they need to be – seated for dinner, or in front of the stage to be close to the fundraising action. Need tips on how to get them to where they need to be gracefully? Reach out!
A final consideration: If you’ll feature multiple speakers, procure multiple microphones. Safety first, always! Would you want to speak into a mic that just had someone else’s hot saliva all over it? Thanks but no thanks. And speaking of safety, are you including written Covid protocols within your event marketing and communications? If not, consider it. Donors feel much more comfortable when they know what to anticipate at your event.
The protocol doesn’t have to be elaborate or detailed. Simply ask guests to upload proof of vax or a negative test result during registration. This is becoming de rigueur in the events industry; software companies are making it a normal thing. Place hand sanitation stations throughout the event space, including on tables, and you’re on your way to creating the safest environment you possibly can.
If you have guests in the room and revenue stream items to sell, you need cheerful, enthusiastic sales people. You’ll sell more raffle tickets with folks who are excited, friendly, approachable and fully embracing their roles as ambassadors of your org. Ticket sales plummet with folks who just stand around waiting to be asked a question. While you don’t want them standing around, you do want them standing out. So encourage salespeople to go nuts with attire and flair! Adorn them with lights, glow sticks, big bunches of balloons, top hats – anything that’s higher than your guests’ heads, colorful or illuminated will be eye-catching in an event setting. Convivial sales people who seem more like guests than employees at your event often sell twice and even three times as many tickets than a “passive” sales force.
Centerpieces + Decor
With regard to decor, a good rule-of-thumb is this: Try to spend as little as possible on things that don’t make you money. Table centerpieces, for example. They can be lovely, but they’re not as lovely as the faces of your tablemates and you never want them to be a distraction! Keep centerpieces small. No taller than 12 inches. Never allow them to block peoples’ faces or your auctioneer’s view of attendees. Ideally, tie them into your brand or mission. Lighting is yet another fab way to add some pizzazz without breaking your decorating budget.
Light the Way
Lighting is an underrated tool when it comes to adding atmosphere and setting a mood. Lighting significantly affects peoples’ moods, even if they don’t realize it! Throw in some color for maximum emotional impact. Professional AV vendors are well-versed in using lights and color to set the mood of the event and evoke the strong feelings you’re after. Need recommendations and/or referrals? We’ve got you covered – all you have to do is ask!
Seating + Tables
Seating and table setups can also look different than they did pre-pandemic. It’s all built around distancing and less formality. In many cases, orgs are eschewing tables altogether and opting for stadium-style or theater seating. We’re seeing more of those smaller two- and four-top bistro tables. As for larger tables, they’re being set up farther apart, so even with chairs pulled out, folks maintain a comfortable distance from their tablemates. Additionally, we’re often seeing six or eight people seated at tables that can fit 10. The amount of intimacy you lose with the extra space is negligible, but what you gain is a safer environment in which to gather. Overall, guests seem to be fans of the new setups. After all, who doesn’t like more elbow room when dining? Your left-handed guests most certainly do!
There’s a place for buffets, but it’s NOT at your fundraising event – especially now. No one is excited about standing in line, serving themself, sharing serving utensils or having folks breathe all over the food. As a result, we’re noticing a trend toward more plated meals, passed heavy apps and family style meals replacing buffets, even at events that previously (pre-pandemic) happily embraced them.
Isn’t it marvelous to get back to some semblance of normal?! It’s absolutely glorious to see our friends and donors in 3D. For those who aren’t quite there yet, hybrid and virtual events are still fabulous ways to show your support. Something for everyone = more inclusive fundraising. That’s what we’re talking about!