Figuring out the digital/face-to-face/hybrid mix is a challenge shared by associations of all sizes, not just large companies. Yael Shapira is director of network engagement and programs for Olam, a network for Jews and Israelis who work in international development, humanitarian aid, and global service. In a recent article on ejewishphilanthropy.com, Shapira outlined the approach his organization is taking to hybrid events. Spoiler alert: It’s a work in progress.
Olam’s decision to return to in-person events is “not a straightforward one for us,” Shapira wrote. “It has never been more evident that ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real and we can’t deny that people no longer want to convene online. They want to come together for face-to-face conversations and connections that can lead to real collaborations in the field.” At the same time, he said, the organization cannot ignore the carbon footprint — one round-trip flight from Tel Aviv to Washington, D.C., was estimated to equal 2.66 metric tons of CO2e, the equivalent of half of a home’s electricity use for one year — or the financial constraints of in-person events. “Nor can we overlook the inclusive and global nature of our virtual events,” he said, which allowed Olam to invite and hear from people all over the world.
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This year, a hybrid conference offered three days of quality virtual sessions, and during the same week, Olam hosted in-person regional gatherings in seven cities. Unfortunately, while more than 400 registrants signed up for the free virtual offering, only 40 percent logged on. On the other hand, nearly three quarters of in-person registrants showed up.
“We don’t have the magic answer,” Shapira wrote. “However, we are lucky: We are a relatively young organization that has the support and flexibility of our board, funders, and leadership that allow us to continue experimenting with models.”
Some of those models under consideration:
- Alternating between virtual and in-person conferences every other year
- Implementing a carbonconscious travel policy for inperson participants
- Including speakers from around the world (particularly low-income countries) virtually, through a hybrid model even when the event is in person
- Creating more virtual programs throughout the year to increase engagement
- Designing the event with a zero-waste mindset, which would include a vegan menu, composting, zero plastic, and digital rather than printed materials.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.