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  • Writer's pictureSchmucker Advising Group

Virtual? In-person? Virtual? In-person?

The days of uncertainty for event planning are not over. We are dying to live out the breath mint commercials where everyone runs across fields of wildflowers for big embraces. But, this Delta variant is just enough to make us wonder about the viability of holding in-person events. Earlier this year, the AFP Greater Detroit Chapter conducted a non-scientific survey about virtual events in the spring, followed by a town hall conversation in June where we discussed what we learned. Most of our colleagues in Detroit said they plan to keep blending virtual and in-person events in some way.

Even more, there were 6 things we discovered that had made us more successful during the pandemic than we ever imagined we could be virtually. These 6 factors are not just relevant to this constant “loves me – loves me not” type struggle of in-person and virtual events, but also moving forward with events IRL (that’s “in real life” if you don’t have a teen).

1. Creativity. We were used to the same types of events – galas, golf outings and award dinners. But here in metro Detroit, we expanded to so many terrific virtual events since March of 2020, such as:

· Game shows and trivia nights

· Facebook live performances

· Experiences in a box

· Small conversation groups with the CEO

Donor fatigue with events isn’t an issue if your event is interesting and different. However, the same ol’ chicken dinner banquet is an easy “no” RSVP. We can’t engage with our donors and prospective donors if our events aren’t interesting enough for them to come.

2. Inclusion. Driven to virtual gatherings, we were finally able to include those with a variety of limitations like budget, geography, mobility, hearing and vision loss, and more. Our virtual gatherings meant we never had “no shows” due to weather. No one was left out because they are not in town in the winter. Non-profits who had overlooked having sign language interpreters now had captioning. And, if a guest was concerned about whether their vision or mobility would keep them from being able to fully enjoy an event, our events could actually meet their needs. No matter how we deliver our events moving forward, inclusion of all should be a consideration in everything we do.

3. Be yourself. We spend so much time in our profession putting on absolutely beautiful events with polish and perfection that we sometimes forget that reality is okay. Virtual events had people taking risks, not just in trying new things, but in being unscripted, involving their students/residents/constituents in new ways, and setting aside the time-eaters of auctions, ticket sales and raffles. We focused more on our messages and letting our true mission and our non-profit’s culture be evident. Our virtual guests loved it!

4. Videos. Everyone I heard from mentioned their ease with putting something together if they already had videos, as well as being able to reuse and parse out these videos. This includes recording your events so those who can not attend in person still get an opportunity to view from home.

5. Flexibility and adaptation. And a good sense of humor. We were all far beyond Plans B, C and D for our events. Our emcees got sick, children stole the show, and our ceremonies were far from ceremonious. With all of that, our results were stellar. Nearly everyone I heard from reported higher net profits on events, delighted “attendees”, and a team that felt successful from having handled the challenges. On top of that, most of us learned new technology platforms or became expert at those that we had.

6. Technology. Whether they loved technology or not, our colleagues around town said they had to rely on it to really deliver a great event. From Facebook live, to fancy online meetings that allowed people to “sit” at “assigned tables”, to bidding systems, to our basic camera phone, we all got more comfortable with technology. It helped us do better and do more. And probably gave us the right level of discomfort to actually change for the future.

As we continue to move through another strange year, let’s remember the lessons of virtual events and consider how we can integrate these into any and all events in the future.

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