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Help! Coronavirus Might Force Me to Cancel My Fundraising Event

Hi. How do I go about creating a plan B in case my spring gala gets canceled because of coronavirus fears? It’s at the end of April. (Or really any worst-case scenario. All of this has really made me realize that my org tends to put all its eggs into one basket with no backup plan).

Recognizing the accelerated spread and increased awareness for COVID-19 since the question was submitted last week, I think it is smart to skip head to Plan C – CANCEL: Specifically how to cancel in style. Stay tuned for next week’s article on “Thanks, COVID-19  – how to hit your goals without your annual event.”

1. Review all signed contracts to determine if your organization is within the date range for full or partial refunds.

If not, contact all vendor(s) to determine the cost of a rescheduled date, at least one year from the original date. As soon as you have ALL numbers and timelines in place, draft a one-page document for Board Review. If you received items for an auction, consider the cost of moving it online this year. Compile and crunch all relevant numbers related to cancellation. Identify a proposed date for 2021 reschedule. Make a decision on how to proceed.

2. If you sold tickets and/or sponsorships for your event, familiarize yourself with the refund process.

I encourage you to err on the side of being overly generous with individual guest refunds and sponsorships. The public relations nightmare is not worth the savings or a balanced budget. I don’t want to see any nonprofit event become the next Fyre festival. Questions to consider below:

  • Can you mass refund everyone’s ticket to the original form of payment?
  • Should you do this proactively or ask registered guests to email you to request a refund?
  • How will your organization use funds when individuals did not request a refund?
  • Can registered guests elect to donate their registration fee as a gift to your nonprofit?
  • How long will the refund process take (or individuals and sponsors)?

3. After all the essentials are confirmed and tested: communicate, communicate, communicate.

This is when Network for Good’s fundraising software helps you and your organization look like a star. Sort your event list in descending order of investment. In many cases, the first call will be to the lead sponsor of your event. This call should come from the highest level of your organization’s leadership with talking points regarding the factors considered in the decision to cancel. After all your sponsors are notified, email all registered guests followed by invited guests.

Keep your communications brief with easy to read details regarding next steps front and center. Here’s an example from another canceled event: SXSW.

4. Cover all your bases.

Make sure the event cancellation is posted everywhere and appoint a single contact for all event-related inquiries. Disable ticket sales, update your website and announce on social media. Include a link to the CDC’s website for the latest information and public health recommendations.

Bottom line – this is a headache and a very important drill. Everyone who has survived an unexpected natural disaster can attest the region is better prepared for the next one. Embrace this as an exciting opportunity to discover how technology can help. Perhaps your entire event could be held online this year?

I’m always searching for a silver lining and believe that COVID-19 will be the catalyst many organizations need to start sorting their eggs among multiple baskets. Sadly too many organizations learn this lesson the hard way, so kudos to you for taking the time to think ahead!! This will pass and I am confident we will all be stronger as a result.

Ask a Fundraising Coach is Network for Good’s weekly advice column, where Personal Fundraising Coach Andrea Holthouser tackles your toughest challenges in the world of fundraising, nonprofit management, donor relations, and more.

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