So Your Event Was Cancelled, Now What? 

By Janet Ervin

Galas, walks, golf tournaments, luncheons – our email inboxes were filled last week with cancellation after cancellation. I’ve had to cancel or disrupt several events for weather and I once had to shut down a charity walk trail because deer jumped on the path, knocking someone down and breaking their tailbone. Global pandemic is a new one and likely not in any contingency plan you’ve ever written (bonus points if it is – I want you on my team!). 

These events often represent a large part of your annual budget and many leaders are wrestling with the best way to move forward and minimize negative fundraising impact. Should you cancel or reschedule? Go virtual? What should you communicate to donors? Should you make an online ask? There aren’t easy answers or 3-step plans for this scenario and the right solution is going to look a little different for every organization. Here are some tips and resources to help guide your decision: 

Consider an online event or livestream: 

Some events, such as SEED20 have already moved their events to a livestream format. Key considerations include whether your content easily translates to an online format (luncheons could work well, while golf tournaments, not so much!), whether your attendees feel comfortable navigating an online format, and if you have access to the right technology to create a high-quality online experience. Eventbrite posted some great tips for moving a live event online and evaluating whether you have the right technology. 

Switch to a virtual fundraising day: 

This option works especially well for peer-to-peer events such as runs and walks and many organizations already utilize a virtual option for participants. You can set a specific time for your participants to do a run or bike ride on a treadmill or around their neighborhood, then post photos with their fundraising ask. Here are some examples of existing, successful virtual events. This not only helps support your fundraising, it creates community at a time when everyone still wants to feel connected to each other and their cause. 

Tell your story: 

The most critical part of any event is the way you share your story and mission with donors – and this is something that even pandemic and cancelled events can’t take away. Our brains are wired for story and this is what most often compels someone to give. You may have to reschedule your event, but you can still launch a campaign that communicates the importance of your organization. Food security, access to housing, healthcare and digital access are just a few areas heavily impacted right now and it is a great opportunity to communicate your mission.

Share stories about how the current crisis is impacting your clients. Invite people into your mission by communicating what you are doing about it – and how they can help. The Urban Ministry Center, Urban Promise Charlotte and many local schools have already done a great job of mobilizing their donors with a specific ask that meets the needs of their community this week.  

Most importantly – don’t panic! Cancelled events cause uncertainty and sadness, but it also creates opportunity for innovation and for your community to rally like never before. 

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