The show must go on(line): How Humanitix helped organisers to hold events during the COVID-19 lockdown


Humanitix co-founder Adam McCurdie.

With the shut down of face-to-face conferences and festivals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Humanitix co-founder Adam McCurdie says the business has spent the past few months helping thousands of organisers to transition their events to a digital format.

The not-for-profit ticketing platform — which donates 100% of its booking-fee profits to education programs — has created a virtual events hub, which hosts a range of features that help to sell tickets, and ensure that content is only accessed by online attendees.

McCurdie tells SmartCompany that the hub is the first of its kind, and the feedback has been “phenomenal”.

“Almost everyone in the events industry has taken a massive hit [because of COVID-19]. Being able to run a digital event can be a substitute of sorts, but it’s often difficult to switch from in-person to [an] online [format],” he says.

“But event organisers have really appreciated the quick changes that were made to support them while lockdowns were in place.”

Humanitix is providing refunds to patrons if their event has been cancelled due to the pandemic. But, in doing so, it is unable to fund educational programs through the booking, as no profit is made.

“Other ticketing platforms were keeping booking fees from cancelled events, and customers weren’t getting their funding back, which wasn’t helpful,” he says.

“There’s an obligation to do everything you can to refund [patrons] and support organisers during this difficult period.”

Year-on-year growth of 250%

McCurdie, who co-founded Humanitix with hedge fund analyst Joshua Ross, says the pair developed the not-for-profit in order to help close the global education gap.

They focused on education because, McCurdie says, research suggests it’s “one of the best ways to enact multi-generational change in Australia and overseas”. They targeted booking fees as “everybody hates [them], and it’s far better to use them to support education programs”.

Humanitix — which has a team of 18, and has facilitated events ranging from small cooking classes to conferences and festivals with 10,000 people — has grown roughly 250% year on year, and channelled more than $500,000 in funding to educational programs.

Following its launch in 2016, Humanitix received funding from the Atlassian Foundation and the New South Wales Government and, in 2018, it secured a $1 million grant from Google’s Global Impact Challenge.

It has also developed a partnership with Facebook, as reported in SmartCompany in 2019, which allowed it to integrate with Facebook’s Event API, in order to promote events and sell more tickets.

McCurdie says Humanitix is now focusing on funding indigenous scholarships and girls’ education programs.

He says funding from Atlassian’s philanthropic arm helped Humanitix to become self-sustainable. But, it generates revenue through booking fees. He adds that the social enterprise’s disruptive business model has a sustainable and scalable impact in funding different programs.

“Part of the reason we set up Humanitix as a not-for-profit was to have no shareholders,” he says.

“The more successful our platform, and the more booking fees we generate, the more funding we can provide with zero leakage going to shareholders.”

A ‘big swing’ back to live events

McCurdie anticipates that online events may grow slightly post COVID-19, but there will be a big swing back to live, face-to-face events in the future.

He adds that there may have been glimpses of heightened attendance at events due to its online format, but he hasn’t seen a scale effect where large numbers — who otherwise wouldn’t have attended — have tuned in to the live-stream, webinar or virtual event.

“People are realising how important it is to be a part of a community where you interact face-to-face, and I think that will come back in a big way,” he says.

With restrictions easing across the country, McCurdie adds that it’s the organisers’ call on whether they want to begin preparing for, and promoting events that may take place later on in the year.

“Really, we’re trying to be as helpful as we can during this uncertain time,” he says.

“Event organisers have been hit terribly hard, and are keen to get back to doing what they love [so] it’s awesome to see organisations starting to look forward.

“Hopefully things start to open up again soon.”

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.


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