If You Have to Cancel Your Event Because of the Pandemic

Life has changed suddenly for us when the pandemic broke out.

On top of anxiety about Covid, nonprofits have to deal with cancelled fundraising events.

I’ve chatted with fundraisers this week who are having to cancel events that contribute major sources of revenue. One of our Major Gifts Roadmap members is losing a $600k event, an important part of their operating budget.

Today, we want to share with you a guide to make your way thru this unhappy scenario. What do you if you have to cancel a major event?

Never back off !

This may be a no-brainer, but many organizations may feel like they need to step back and leave their donors and sponsors alone. Not at all!

Now, more than ever, it is important to connect, reconnect, and engage even more deeply – everyone. That means all your sponsors, event attendees and auction buyers.

Use this opportunity to talk more about your work, and less about the event itself.

This is your chance to convert event attendees to mission-based attendees.

It could be a pivotal moment in your relationship with these people, –  start the effort to turn them from ticket-buyers to actual donors.

How do you do this?

1. Ask people to donate the cost of their ticket.

When you let everyone know that the event is cancelled, offer everyone an opportunity to make the cost of their ticket a contribution to your work.

I think many of your event attendees might consider this. Be optimistic and cheerful.

Let them know that you are being prudent to keep them protected, but the work goes on. Actually, the work is needed more than ever!

2. Cite real numbers about your operating budget.

It’s ok to share these numbers with your event ticket buyers. Not only is it perfectly ok – it also helps you talk about impact.

You can reveal how much your auction or event makes each year – and how important this contribution is to your operating budget.  (I don’t understand why nonprofits are so reluctant to share their budget numbers.)

It might be the first time an event attendee ever heard this type of information about what you do. It is an excellent time to start communicating with these people about your work and the impact you make – not just what a great party you are having to cancel.

3. Be transparent and honest about the situation.

When you write your donors – again, it’s ok to be totally transparent.

When you are this open and honest, and cite real numbers, it enhances your credibility. You build trust with your donor or event attendee.

Share specifically what you do with the money. Try to be specific about a program or project that the event helps to fund.

For example, say your nonprofit fights hearing loss.  Your annual event in the Bay Area brings in over $500k each year – a significant part of your $3 million budget. It turns out that these funds help underwrite a program that helps kids get hearing aids.

This type of specific information can help open a donor’s heart and incline them to contribute.

4. Silver lining?

Who knows, maybe there is a silver lining to your cancelled event.

Maybe you will sharpen your messaging. Perhaps you’ll find new ways to communicate your impact.

Sharpen your skills in other fundraising strategies.

With a chunk out of your annual revenue, you’ll have to find new ways to make up the difference.  You’ll need to sharpen your skills in all other areas of fundraising.

  • Learn the latest strategies in digital fundraising and communications – and apply them.
  • Beef up your direct mail by hiring a consultant or copywriter and changing your design.
  • Learn to use video and zoom in new ways to share stories of impact.
  • Ramp up your major gifts effort.

Bottom Line on Cancelling Fundraising Events:

All this is not easy. It requires change – which none of us like.

But the silver lining is – that you will develop new communications and engagement skills. You’ll review your fundraising strategies and reconsider the emphasis on events.

And, you’ll start the long term effort to switch event donors to mission-based donors. And that can only be a positive change!