Hispanics in Philanthropy 2020 Leadership Conference

Transitioning An Annual In-Person Event to A Virtual Event In 8 Weeks


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) was forced to cancel their annual in-person 2020 HIP Leadership Summit and pivot to a virtual event. With the clock running, The Wakeman Agency enabled the organization to pivot to a virtual conference, planning and executing an event that deeply reflected the spirit of the organization and the communal experience to meet their audience expectations. Widely attended, the virtual conference not only checked the box as a successful fundraising event, it also left participants feeling energized and motivated to continue their advocacy efforts on behalf of the 60M+ Latinx people around the globe.

Springing into Action to Save the Event

Along with countless other nonprofit organizations across the country, HIP was compelled to cancel their signature in-person annual event, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual HIP Leadership Conference was originally scheduled to occur in Los Angeles in June. However, in the devastating early spring of 2020, as the scope of the COVID -19 crisis emerged and stay-at-home orders were mandated, it became clear that the group could not safely gather. HIP leadership was faced with stark choices: cancel altogether, postpone until a later date in the year that may or may not be viable, or hold a virtual conference.

The Wakeman Agency team supported HIP’s strategic evaluation of these options. While HIP understood that logistically the event could transition to a virtual format, there were very legitimate concerns about how to emulate the environment and energy  present during  their live gatherings, as the event is often a place where relationships are fostered and renewed. Postponement was fraught with uncertainty and pitfalls, as the duration of the pandemic was uncertain. Canceling altogether would result in the loss of essential fundraising dollars, as well as the crucial opportunity for the HIP community to discuss issues facing Black and Brown communities—many of which were now compounded by the pandemic.

Although HIP experienced some reluctance and resistance to the idea of a virtual conference, The Wakeman Agency convinced HIP’s  leadership to make the bold move to pivot to a virtual gathering. With exponential pressure facing the Latinx community, it was more important than ever to pool their collective expertise. HIP agreed to move forward with a virtual summit with the tacit understanding that the Wakeman Agency would develop a program that honored many of the Latinx traditions that were present in their live conference events, while also creating many opportunities for engagement between speakers and attendees.

Over a period of eight weeks, working closely with the HIP team, The Wakeman Agency ideated a fully virtual event. The scale of the event was complex, with 36 workshops, five plenary sessions, a virtual happy hour with a live DJ on Instagram, and networking opportunities. An important component of our work was to develop the themes for the plenaries and connect those topics to emerging urgent issues related to the pandemic.

As we restructured event and promotional content, flow and pricing, our team updated communications with speakers and sponsors. We also negotiated with the LA venues involved in the original event plan, to obtain full refunds for all services.

Having produced virtual events in the past, The Wakeman Agency was able to quickly identify appropriate technology partners to fit the budget and technical needs for the conference. A major differentiator was that the HIP Leadership Summit was to be held entirely live, with no pre-recorded content. We trained and tested HIP staff, speakers and performers to master the virtual platform, while also staffing each session with a support person for speakers and panelists added peace of mind.

A Fundraising and Advocacy Success Story

HIP’s in-person conference usually attracts 400-450 attendees. However, more than 600 people participated in the virtual event. While the price of tickets was lower, it was offset by securing more attendees, in addition to the greatly reduced cost of holding the event online. HIP was also able to recruit additional sponsorship for the virtual event.

Leaders from the philanthropic, corporate and nonprofit fields were able to participate in interactive sessions and dialogues on the critical issues affecting the Latinx community. HIP’s conferences are well-known for their ability to bring a diversity of voices and the virtual event was no exception. Participation from attendees was incredibly strong. Comments within the virtual platform and social media helped to create a sense of community and elevated the important issues that were discussed.

The Wakeman Agency has a long history of creating events for social causes that resonate deeply with audiences and drive support. We’ve developed virtual events for over a decade and understand that transitioning an in-person event to a virtual event requires more than a cut and paste of the original plan. More planning and care of the attendee is required to optimize engagement and create a valuable attendee experience. While many organizations perceive virtual events as a poor replacement for in-person events, we see great opportunity with virtual events, as organizations can expand their reach to wider audiences, while curating custom user experiences. As organizations continue to navigate the new normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we look forward to lending our strategic and creative guidance to produce profitable events that strengthen connections with key audiences.

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