Targeted Impact: Episode 5 Recap with Rich Vallaster

Events August 12, 2020

Sayana Izmailova

By Sayana Izmailova

WildApricot’s Targeted Impact is a free bi-weekly Q&A session with experts in the membership and nonprofit space, dedicated to helping membership organizations thrive. 


We invite experts to answer your most pressing questions on topics ranging from membership growth to virtual fundraising and everything in between.


In Episode 5, we invited Rich Vallaster, Events & Trade Show Wonk, Certified Events Manager and Director of Client Relations & Support at Personify’s A2Z Events.


Rich answered questions from the audience on all things related to organizing events in the time of COVID-19: how to make the move to virtual events, what to charge for them, how to organize virtual trade shows, how to fundraise and much more. If you were unable to attend this episode of Targeted Impact, be sure to check out the recording.


As always, because we didn’t have time to answer every question from the audience, Rich has kindly addressed the remaining questions in this blog post. These are grouped by topic, so feel free to read it in order or jump to a topic that interests you the most:


Q: How would you determine what to charge for a virtual event?  

We have to (as event organizers) start raising the bar on charging if we want to be sustainable. Organizations are often providing a virtual event similar to an in-person one and charging far less. However, with so many attendees, exhibitors and sponsors having little experience, the tolerance to try something new at the “old” price is a challenge.

Much will depend on your audience (and how the pandemic has impacted them financially). I continue to see sub $300 for many significant events. Some organizations have moved to a high-volume strategy (more people by charging less). Bundling is also an important consideration to increase revenue to you as the organizer and value to the attendee.

Some of this is a marketing/education challenge. What value are your audiences getting for the investment? Can you bundle in other items to make the virtual aspect more appealing or even a no brainer? Can you create very low entry points with the ability to purchase more?

I worked with a virtual event where their baseline was $20 but most registrants “upgraded” to larger packages. It gave them on-demand sessions, additional content, additional access to speakers and more seats at the event. There is a lot of trial and error at this point with each event. Finding that sweet spot will continue to be a moving target.

Many will need to look at the platform's investment as a baseline fixed cost (if it is not pay per registrant) and other expenses. Many are charging a percent of their in-person fees while others have decided flat costs or no charge. There can be value in getting more attendees in the long-term at a lower price. You can hope that as more attend, many may convert at your in-person event in the future.

I also believe in evaluating your audience to help guide pricing. If they are particularly challenged financially, it is hard to charge "normal" rates. Pricing surveys are also tricky since they may work only to give you a data point at the top of what people are willing to pay (and even that is probably not accurate).

Financially, it is obviously less expensive to attend or exhibit virtually. Large events that typically charge for in-person events are financially stable enough to not charge virtual attendees, but for smaller events that are typically under 500 attendees, that’s not always the case.

Regardless of size, most have not been able to charge the same amount due to the perception that virtual events are not as useful or valuable as in-person. For some events, I would agree that it is true. For others, they are offering even more value (and less expense to the attendee/exhibitor/sponsor), but the perception is still the same. Don't forget, most audiences have never attended a virtual event to this point. If they attended one early in the pandemic, it probably wasn't the best example, as many were still learning. I see more success in volume at lower prices, with sponsorship helping to fill the gap.

Finally, a note on cancellation policies. I see some modifying their cancellation policies to either be more or less flexible. Both have their advantages and disadvantages to both parties. In general, much like the travel industry, people are looking for more flexibility in the uncertain world. I also prefer never to refund but defer their registration to the next event or next year. Sometimes it is advantageous to offer an incentive to move the money forward. For example, convert your 2020 registration to a 2021 registration and upgrade the ticket to include more value.

Hybrid Events

Q: Do you think the future will see hybrid events with some in-person attendees and online streaming for those who are unable to travel? What would be the best registration fee structure for an event like this?

Yes. This will be our new "normal" for some time. There will be a few audiences:

  • Those who will travel and want to meet in-person
  • Those who do not feel comfortable traveling but will wish to have online options
  • Those who do not have a budget or their company restricts travel
  • And finally, those who have no desire to consume the content online

Landing on the “most conducive” time zone to the largest audience is critical. Plan some buffer room in your schedule should things need to shift or get delayed due to technical issues. Understanding the technology and how groups will communicate back and forth is vital. Having a moderator or event host to keep things moving is also helpful when you have mixed audiences.

In terms of registration fee structures, I would first start with your hotel partners to make sure you negotiate (in the pandemic world) a better attrition policy given the unknowns. In both the in-person and much more so in the virtual world, people make decisions on attendance much closer to the event than ever before.

I would love to think that it would be the same cost, but I don’t think most markets are there yet. Attend in-person and you get in-person benefits plus access to virtual content afterward. Attend online only and receive all the content on-demand without the costs and inconveniences of travel, etc..

Many events went “free” early on. That is not sustainable long-term. Unfortunately, I only see most charge in the $200-300 (on the high-end) range for content. I would think about that revenue as an add-on to the in-person event if they would have attended your event. Yes, there are costs involved, but hopefully, both revenue from in-person (assuming reduced attendance for a while) and on-demand may help create long-term revenue growth.

Read More: Virtual Events are Different

Virtual Trade Shows

Q: How do you organize a virtual trade show?

These require a platform (such as Personify’s A2Z) to help showcase and connect buyers/suppliers on product and service interests.

What your virtual trade show actually looks like will vary — some are offering year-long marketplaces now while others are driving attendees to the virtual exhibit hall over time.

Here is example of a virtual event we created to illustrate a best use case.

Setting up exhibitors in a virtual event takes a lot more education than before. Exhibitors and sponsors not only need to understand the technology they are using but how to best exhibit virtually. What they are not spending on many traditional trade show expenses (booth build-out, drayage, etc.) should now be spent on additional marketing and incentives to get attendees to engage.

We are finding that exhibitors are struggling since trade shows are often the best place to meet prospects and current clients. They are desperate to feed their pipeline. I encourage you to talk to their marketing team (or whoever handles their marketing) since they are often driving the need for conversion from field events such as trade shows.

Read More: Personify Launches Virtual Conference and Expo Solution

Participant Engagement

Q: Do you find virtual events should be kept shorter due to attention span issues or burnout? What’s the best way to keep them interactive and engaging?

Yes. People are distracted and have reduced attention spans. On-camera meetings and consuming more digital content is also creating burnout. If you are concerned about accomplishing your goals in less time, you can spread your event over more days/weeks to break up your activities and content. Regardless of approach, make sure you keep people connected. Think of a good book, you need a narrative and storyline to keep you flipping to the next page or chapter.

Since a lot of events are content focussed, you have to make sure the content is highly relevant. If you did a call for papers/speakers/proposals pre-pandemic, is that content still relevant?  Are your speakers good at using the virtual tools to engage online (chat, polls, Q&A, etc.)? Keep in mind that many speakers have never presented in this type of environment.

In general, make things shorter and incorporate breaks (since many are still at home doing work). Remember that your attendees are only a tab, click or tap away from distraction. Create reasons (and sometimes incentives) to stay engaged with games and fun activities. Impactful speakers who make use of engagement tools are a great place to start (polls, quizzes, discussion forums before/during/after, etc.) With so many attendees at home, events have gotten very creative by sending swag items (food, souvenirs, etc.) and event materials to “interact” with to the event participants’ homes.

Another common concern for many organizations is getting more elderly (and hence less technologically adept) participants to engage in virtual events. To address this, train your events team to provide technical support remotely, keeping in mind that older audiences prefer support over the phone. Allowing audiences (of all ages) to get in early to your event and “try it out” will help reduce day-of support, too (when your team is the busiest).

Read More: Remote collaboration expert Nancy Settle-Murphy on participant engagement in virtual events

Break-out Rooms

Q: How effective are break-out rooms in virtual events for valuable networking? How do you successfully set them up?

As long as you provide a topic or affinity (similar title, interests, etc.), break-out rooms can be beneficial. People are craving interaction with their peers, so these can be very valuable. They just need to have a clear purpose and reason for people to talk, though it doesn’t always have to be a serious topic.

Setting up break-out rooms certainly varies by platform. Even Zoom offers break-out room capabilities. I have seen some struggle so I would rehearse it. In general, I would set-up the room/topics/speakers/etc. in advance to make sure each room is ready to go and people don’t get lost. People can also go to other rooms by simply joining them.

In terms of how many people to allow into each break-out room, this is somewhat dependent on how good your moderator/host is and what the goal of the break-out is. The bigger the room, the more command and control is required to keep everyone involved and engaged. Much like a focus group, it also requires someone to make sure there is equal time to speak since often a few people can easily dominate the conversation. There will be those who want to “lurk and listen” versus participate. If you have 30 people and ask everyone to introduce themselves, you will not even get past introductions in an hour. And if you have huge groups of people just listening, isn’t that just a regular session? It is reasonable to take 10-25 for most discussions (10 will probably be non-active participants). 10-15 if you want everyone to participate on multiple topics in an hour-long block.  


Q: Is there a preferred online platform for interactive meetings and virtual events?

Start with your existing technology first. Zoom, GoToWebinar and others often offer essential engagement features (Q&A, Chat, Polls, etc.). Regardless of choice, it is less about the technology and more about the abilities of the speaker/presenter/moderator who is using it.

The other thing to consider is whether you want to have a live presenter for your event or a pre-recorded session. “Live” or simulated live (promoted as a live but broadcasting recorded) often draw more attendees since people are concerned that they’ll miss the sessions. However, pre-recording is safest and highly encouraged to avoid technical issues. Depending on your solution, it might still allow your speakers to participate in the live chat, Q&A, or discussions during their sessions. For example, Personify offers a solution that allows serving recorded sessions with the added benefit of discussion around these sessions.

Most virtual event platforms and webinar solutions can handle pre-recorded sessions with the ability to view on-demand afterward. Monetizing or selling registration adds additional complexity to plan for.

Read More: How to Host a Successful Virtual Fundraiser for Your Nonprofit


Q: How do you continue to attract sponsors if you move to a virtual event?

Networking must be far more intentional in the virtual world. Connecting sponsors with their desired contacts or audiences in a direct manner may be the best option. While you may have fewer overall interactions, these intentional meetings can be even more valuable. Networking in small environments (including Zoom) can be useful. You will need to help educate them on how you plan to execute your event in the virtual world and how they will be involved.

When asking for sponsorship, think about the value proposition you’re offering to the sponsor. While the opportunities may be different in the virtual world, connecting them with your audiences is still what they desire and what you must deliver on.

Events (in my opinion) need to accomplish on the 4 Cs: content, connections, community, and commerce. Sponsors still desire connections with your audiences, being a part of your event’s community and commerce with leads and interaction with current clients. They also (depending on your event) may be involved in producing content as well. Their value proposition has not changed, it is more challenging in some ways, but their requirements haven’t changed.

I always encourage organizers to start with a call to see why they would want to sponsor and how you can make it work online. Many are bundling or creating incentives to participate virtually now and in-person in the future.

Read More: How to Write a Sponsorship Letter (+ 7 Templates)

Fundraising and Membership 

Q: Any advice on how to fundraise and drive membership in these times of challenged incomes and lack of in-person contact?

This is the best time to be honest with donors about your intentions with the funds, the challenges faced by your organization and recognizing the donor challenges, as well.  Connecting with your donors during these uncertain times and asking them how they want to help can lead to unexpected opportunities.

I hope that as confidence increases or a vaccine becomes closer to widespread distribution, raising money will rebound as well. Governments around the world are working on protecting economies and their people.

In terms of driving membership, you could consider a couple of options: offer discounted virtual event registration for members, bundle in membership with a virtual event or offer exclusive content/speakers/sessions/events for members.

Read More: 20 Online Fundraising Ideas Perfect for Any Cause (Social Distancing Approved!)

So there you have it! A huge thank you to Rich for joining us on Episode 5 of Targeted Impact and for taking the time to address the questions we didn’t get to in the live Q&A session.

Don’t forget, if you didn’t get a chance to attend the live session, you can check out the recording here.

What’s Next?

Episode 6 of Targeted Impact is just around the corner. On Thursday, August 13, at 3:00 PM EST, we will sit down with Katie Appold, Executive Director of Do More Good, to answer your most pressing questions about nonprofit branding, marketing and leadership.

Sign up here and come prepared with your questions for Katie. Hope to see you there! 

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