There’s a lot of noise out there about all the fundraising events that are being cancelled because of COVID 19. These lead to many questions about what to do about the loss of revenue that results from the cancellation.
Jeff and I asked our colleagues to give their opinions about what to do and we’ve made a list, in no particular order, with some ideas on how to approach this situation.
But first, there’s one truth you must anchor everything on: COVID 19 does not change the fact that your mission – your reason to exist – is important and needed. It’s very easy to lose sight of this point and get off on obsessive analysis and processing of how your “product” or offer is no comparison to this virus and the devastation it has the potential to cause.
It’s the age-old black hole fundraisers fall into that starts with the statement: “Well, the fact is that what we do is really not as compelling as hungry kids or homeless people or (substitute any other cause).” By making that statement, the fundraiser forgets the host of donors and friends who ARE compelled to give to their organization and their cause because (a) they truly believe in it, and (b) they are loyal supporters.
So as you look at and feel the effects of COVID 19, don’t go down this path. Instead, stop and remember why your organization exists and why, even with all of this going on now, it’s still important to support your very worthy cause.
OK, now you’re in the right frame of mind. Here are our ideas on what to do if you need to cancel your event. Again, in no particular order of importance, EXCEPT for the first point – which is very important:

  1. In all of your messaging, remind your donors that now more than ever their support is needed. Be bold to share the net financial effects of the cancelled event. In may sound like this: “As you know, we’ve cancelled EVENT NAME because of the coronavirus pandemic. The loss to YOUR ORG NAME is $XXX,XXX. This is a serious blow to our finances, which is why now more than ever your support is needed.” Something to this effect. Remember, this isn’t the creative execution I am suggesting here… it’s the concept. You need to make this yours. But the point is that your donor needs to understand how important their support is during these times, and how this cancelled event is affecting the finances of the organization.
  2. Find a major donor who would be willing to be a “hero” and help fill the gap. Jeff and I have seen this happen before. Give it a try if you have such a donor.
  3. If tickets are already purchased, offer refunds, but also ask them to consider donating their refund instead – and explain why that’s important in light of the net loss to the organization cause by the event cancellation.
  4. Send out a request for donations when you cancel the event or just after you do. It may sound like this: “Please consider donating what you would have spent (auctions) or given at the event.” Mention things like the fact they’re saving a few bucks on Uber/Lyft or babysitting fees, or they don’t need to buy that new dress now.
  5. Virtual option – online bidding tools have online auction options if people were going to do an auction. One local non-profit simply took away the gala portion of their event and is going bigger on their online auction instead. Another spin on this idea is this: for galas, you can do a Facebook auction, or just a GoFundMe campaign.
  6. Send out a special appeal that outlines the problem, and put it in the context of the need your organization is addressing.
  7. This may seem a little out there, but go with us on it and adapt it. Hold a “Phantom/Virtual” Event. All the program is videotaped ahead of time, with the MC, CEO, Testimony from client, ask, etc. The donors pretend they’re going to the event, get dressed up, make a nice dinner at home and watch the event… then donate online to your organization.

There you have it… some of our ideas on what to do if you need to cancel your event. The important thing is for your donors to clearly understand that now, more than in regular times, their support is needed. If you communicate that core message correctly, your faithful and loyal supporters won’t let you down. Count on it.