After a year and a half of remote work and virtual events, many are longing to return to in-person activities. With much uncertainty still surrounding the pandemic, safety must still be a top priority for nonprofits planning events. 

How can you tell if your audience is ready to go back to in-person events? And what are the best ways to ensure everyone is comfortable? 

According to this OneCause report on The Giving Experience, 71% of respondents said that they would be ready to return to in-person events by fall 2021, some with added contingencies such as their vaccination status. Still, with new updates about the pandemic every day, it’s best to follow health guidelines to help keep your attendees safe and feeling comfortable.

Here are our main tips to help you prioritize attendee comfort at your event: 

  • Communicate safety measures. 
  • Host smaller gatherings. 
  • Offer virtual options. 
  • Hold your event outside. 

Taking time to plan and account for health safety garners trust. Your audience will appreciate how you’ve taken steps to ensure guest safety is a priority in your events.

Ways to Know if Your Audience is Ready

Let’s take a closer look at how you can determine if an in-person event is right for your organization. Depending on where your nonprofit is located and your supporter base, your audience may prefer virtual events or online campaigns. 

If you’re unsure where your audience stands, send out a survey to gauge how your supporters are feeling when making your decision. In your survey, be sure to ask about: 

  • Number of attendees: How many people are your supporters comfortable being around? Consider including numeric ranges to make it easy. 
  • Location: Do supporters prefer an indoor or outdoor event? 
  • Duration: How long would your supporters want to stay? 
  • Safety measures in place: Should your in-person attendees have additional health precautions (vaccination status, negative test results, etc.)?

As a leader in the nonprofit sector, simply asking your supporters how they would like to engage demonstrates that you value their input. You’re also more likely to increase the attendance at your event if you know what your supporters want and are able to design your event around that.

4 Tips to Help Your Attendees Feel Comfortable

Whether you send out a survey or not, there are safety precautions you can take to increase health and safety to ensure your attendees feel comfortable. This doesn’t mean that your events have to be less engaging! Let’s take a closer look at some tips to help your in-person events prioritize attendee comfort.

Communicate safety measures.

Just as you communicated frequently with your staff while they worked from home, keep your attendees informed about the protocols and procedures you’ll be following for your event. 

Once you’ve decided on your safety measures, make them as easy to find as possible. Look for easy ways to communicate your event protocols, including:

  • Website
  • Fundraising Page
  • Email
  • Direct Mail/Invitations
  • Social Media

 Be sure to be detailed when discussing your safety measures. Will you require masks? Proof of vaccination? A negative COVID-19 test? How are you cleaning your facility? Will hand sanitizer and contactless services be available? Sharing these specifications ensures that everyone has all of the information they need to make the decision that’s right for them.

Host a smaller gathering.

Depending on your survey results, you could decide to host a smaller event. Fewer people can help reduce the risk of transmission while also creating a more intimate donor experience. 

Smaller events are easier to plan and they can forge closer relationships among your attendees. This might be a great option if you want to gather your major donors together to discuss big picture ideas for your nonprofit, or to simply allow them to get to know each other. 

You could also plan a smaller gathering around various peer-to-peer fundraising groups or your ambassador program. Empower your fundraising leaders to plan their own DIY events to mobilize members of their network around your cause. Provide them with assistance by offering resource kits so that they can host a successful event of their own. 

Although smaller gatherings might not be a grand return to in-person events, they will give your attendees a chance to connect with one another outside of zoom screens. The intimacy of a smaller event also provides everyone a chance to speak and mingle, making deeper connections with each other and your cause.

Offer virtual options.

While some of your supporters might be eager to get back to in-person events, others might not be ready. Hybrid events are a perfect solution to include both those ready to gather in the ballroom again, and those who prefer to keep fundraising from their couch.. 

A hybrid event allows participants to attend in-person or virtually. Don’t think of a hybrid gathering as two separate events; it’s more about two different experiences. With the right planning, your hybrid event can engage all supporters in a fun way while meeting your supporters where they are. 

If you’ve never planned a hybrid event before, there are a few basic tips to ensure your event runs smoothly. When planning your hybrid event, be sure to: 

  • Use the right technology: The right technology is crucial for your hybrid event, especially if you plan to livestream any part of your in-person event, host virtual breakout sessions, or manage a large group of attendees. Prevent technical difficulties by testing all of your digital platforms in advance.
  • Encourage engagement: Offer as many chances for engagement as possible. You can create polls, host mixers, or design challenges that get both your in-person and virtual guests involved. 
  • Provide shared experiences: Create opportunities for your in-person and virtual participants to connect and get to know each other. This way, both groups of attendees won’t feel disconnected from one another. 
  • Communicate often: Whether you’re providing a schedule or posting updates on your social media, communicating with your in-person and virtual attendees is essential for any hybrid event. Avoid confusion and make sure that everyone is on the same page with regular announcements. 

Although hybrid events are a fantastic solution to meeting everyone’s comfort levels, remember that they require extra logistical planning. When thinking about a hybrid event, give yourself plenty of time to prepare!

Hold your event outside.

Perhaps a large event is essential for your organization, and you know that your audience wants to be together. If this is the case, you could host your event outside. 

Outdoor events decrease the risk of transmission, and the good news is you have a lot of options to make your event enjoyable for attendees. Here are ideas for outdoor events provide comfort and engagement: 

  • Fundraising run or walk: Get everyone moving with a fundraising run or walk through a local trail in your community. 
  • Concert: An outdoor concert is a great way to raise money for your nonprofit while providing your attendees with an unforgettable experience. 
  • Movie night: Project a supporter-favorite movie on an outdoor projector for everyone to come and enjoy together.
  • Community Yard Sale and Auction: Host a community wide auction on behalf of your nonprofit. 

The possibilities for outdoor events are endless; you just need creativity, enough space, and resources to make it happen. Taking your event outside can help get everyone together without having to worry about putting anyone at unnecessary risk.


With these four tips, you can meet everyone’s comfort levels and still maintain an excellent standard for engaging and productive events. Meeting your attendees where they are — whether that’s in-person, online, or somewhere in between — demonstrates that you want to connect with them no matter the obstacles. Doing so will help you build lasting relationships for years to come.

 

About the Author:

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.