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5 Tips for a Strong Return to In-Person Events in 2022

by holly michaelson

I am so excited to see that many non-profits have been able to safely return to hosting in-person events or offer a hybrid event experience (events with both an in person and virtual event experience) this fall. In doing so, they’ve had to address several challenges:

As you plan to host events in 2022, now is the time to think through how your organization will need to adapt to this new environment. Here are some recommendations to help set you up for a strong fundraising event season next year.

1. Rethinking Logistics at In-Person Events

When planning logistics, remember that people in various parts of the country are experiencing different realities. Culturally, there are differing reactions to the pandemic, and local and state regulations related to COVID-19 vary. In addition, the pandemic has affected local communities to different degrees. Thus, local events should be guided by the local guidelines and situation.

As a result, national organizations that typically set operating procedures for their Chapters/Affiliates will want to plan both universal procedures that support all events, as well as highlight opportunities to adapt to local market conditions. Here are some common safety measures to consider:

  • Your planning should aim to avoid situations that could result in lines or congregations of close-knit people. For example, carefully plan how to address (or in some cases eliminate) registration areas, food and beverage distribution, and facilities as well as high concentration areas such as event starting lines, sponsor booths and children’s activities.
  • Look for every opportunity to minimize hand-to-hand contact such as individually packaging food, ensuring people are registered in advance of the event, and incorporating touchless options.
  • Consider mailing event day incentives (e.g. t-shirts) and supplies in advance. Be sure to factor in global supply chain issues and mailing timelines to ensure packages will arrive in time for your event. This is definitely a case of when the best laid plan could foil you if you aren’t prepared.

And if you’re looking for tools to encourage in-person event participation, Boundless Experience, our brand new touchless check-in experience, allows participants to check-in via their mobile device, once they reach a pre-determined radius from your event location. There is also an option that your volunteers can use to check in participants on their phones, all of this providing an added layer of safety and confidence on-site at your event.

You might be wondering how to put these ideas into practice. I personally had the pleasure of participating in a number of events this fall and am excited to share a couple of recent in-person examples to help demonstrate how some organizations have addressed these challenges. Big shout out to the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Cancer Society for both holding impactful, yet safe events.

2. Recent Examples from Alzheimer’s Association and American Cancer Society

In-Person Event Logistics: Walk to End Alzheimer’s

In-person event logistics

Walk to End Alzheimer’s

At the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the opening ceremony was deliberately shorter to reduce people congregating. A single elected official stood at the start line to cut the ribbon and then he led off the walk. The rest of us fell into step behind him, only walking side-by-side with people that we knew

Refreshments were individually packaged to grab and go and there were hand sanitizer stations all around, especially near the food and sponsor tables. I arrived in my Walk t-shirt and fundraising medal which I had received in the mail.

And while they made a valiant effort to preregister participants, even I brought a last-minute friend with me who wasn’t registered. Onsite, she registered and made a self-donation using a QR code on her phone, thereby avoiding lines or the use of shared pens and clipboards.


In-Person Event Logistics: Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

In-person event logistics

Holly Michaelson (L) at the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides against Breast Cancer

At the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event, registered participants could skip check-in altogether. I was asked to fill out a form to indicate that I was a survivor — and then a volunteer prompt instructed me to keep my pen! (Sounds like an opportunity to promote a corporate sponsor!)

The event organizers offered a rolling start time to allow teams to walk within a two-hour window, instead of having everyone step off together. That made parking easier than ever for this event where it is normally a bit of a challenge! They maintained high energy at the event site throughout the window with continued music, rolling announcements and raffles.

Two survivor friends and I walked at the tail-end and had much of the walk route to ourselves, despite my local event enjoying double the hoped-for turnout on a rainy day this fall. We were able to socially distance, still make strides, and join together for a cause that is deeply personal for us!

3. Managing Expectations

Managing ExpectationsThings will look different now for in-person events, no matter what. You will want to establish these expectations with participants in advance, so they don’t expect business as usual. Help your staff get comfortable with how things are changing and coach them communicate and explain to participants. Set the tone all throughout your communications and create the new normal for your in-person event so there aren’t any surprises on event day.

Long time participants may otherwise expect to return to the same event. As long as you help them to understand that you have their safety as your priority and you continue to steward them for supporting your mission, you should be able to safely navigate changing things up a bit.

4. Reengaging Participants

Reengaging ParticipantsIf some participants took last year off when your event went virtual, you will need to do some extra work to reengage them in your in-person or hybrid event. Participants, especially endurance athletes, are missing in person events and may readily rejoin when they learn your event will be back in person. Be sure your recruitment efforts include lapsed participants from the past two years so they don’t miss the big news. Re-engaging participants is similar to the traditional work we do around recruitment and retention. All of the principles of recruitment, follow up, and stewardship still apply, so make sure this is a focused part of your plan to ensure success.

Now is a good time to amp up the fun by introducing or continuing contests, friendly competition and challenges to provide participants incentive to engage early and often! These are especially appealing to corporate teams who may be trying to engage a remote workforce. Boundless Motion incorporates activity challenges that can facilitate team building and collaboration for both corporate and family teams. Try working with a sponsor’s corporate wellness coordinator and offer a fitness challenge that engages their workforce, promotes a healthy lifestyle and draws employees to your fundraising event. Even better if the company will offer rewards and incentives for activity and fundraising. This will ensure a win all the way around! These challenges can even be presented by the company for added exposure and sponsorship benefits.

We know these events are fundraisers for your mission and the amazing work you do. Looking at industry performance reports, we also know the most successful fundraisers are your most engaged participants. Often times, your most engaged participants have a personal reason for participating. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are presenting a full event experience that brings mission, engagement and fundraising together. That is the secret to the ultimate event experience and will keep your participants coming back year over year, regardless of the challenges life throws at us (like a Global Pandemic!)

5. Creating Community for In-Person and Hybrid Events

Creating Community for In-person and Hybrid eventsCreating a sense of community is always a challenge, especially if you are managing a hybrid event. In addition to all of the ways you typically build community for in-person events, don’t forget to leverage technology.

Virtual pep rallies and pre-event mission sessions are great ways to engage your constituents and keep them feeling like they are an essential part of your mission and success. Record these sessions and allow users to watch them on demand. And don’t forget Boundless Community. This is a great addition to our mobile app that gives participants a digital forum to increase engagement through connection with their event community.

As noted above, engaged participants are generally more successful and loyal. This great new tool allows your participants to connect directly with other participants or teammates, within their event or across the whole event program, helping them foster new connections and ties to your mission. We’d love to talk to you about how you can engage your community in a whole new way!

Looking forward to 2022!

Looking forward to 2022At Charity Dynamics, we are so excited to see in person events coming back and your constituents are too! I can personally say it was great to be back out at a few Walks and feel connected to something bigger than myself.

As we gear up for 2022, remember that we are living in a new normal. Our industry has changed considerably in a very short period of time and it is up to us to continue to adapt and relate to the times. Many of your peers are having great success, despite the pandemic. Wishing you a successful 2022 that brings many opportunities for reinvention and creativity!

And check out more informative blogs from Charity Dynamics here.


Holly Michaelson is a Principal Consultant at Charity Dynamics.

She is here to help, and cheer you on, in getting back to in-person events.