1. Decide whether the event is cancelled, held virtually, or postponed. Consult with
vendors and key constituents. Make your decision and don’t second-guess.
Contact all vendors to determine if any costs can be refunded or credits issued for a
- If food costs can’t be recouped, ask the vendor to distribute the food to a
foodbank, homeless shelter, school feeding program, or other recipient. If
possible, the food should be packaged in “grab and go” containers. If you are
sharing food in this way, be sure to let your constituents know.
- Your vendors have generous policies and most of your costs can be
- Your event calendar is quite full and there isn’t a logical time to reschedule.
Postpone (for now) if:
- Your vendors will issue credits but not refunds.
- This is one of a very few events you hold.
- The event is key to building affinity with your constituents.
Hold a “virtual event” if:
- You and your constituents are savvy with technology.
- You were planning a silent auction that can easily be moved to an online
platform. Don’t forget to include your traditional “paddle raise” for scholarships
or similar mission-critical causes.
- Here are some thoughtful suggestions: http://bit.ly/VirtualFREvents
- While tongue-in-cheek ‘un-invitations’ for virtual events—“you are invited to
dodge the traffic, avoid speeches, skip the small talk…”—seemingly add levity
to the situation, they undermine the value of your in-person events. Focus on
impact and mission, instead.
2. Contact all major stakeholders by the most personal means possible (i.e. phone
if you can, e-mail if you must). Assign outreach to members of your team. This
- The volunteer committee (chairs, etc.). Let them know how much you regret
the necessity of the cancellation and appreciate their efforts.
- Sponsors. Call the most generous/loyal first. Ask them to convert the sponsorship into a donation. Offer some inventive ways to recognize their generosity. Once you’ve converted a significant sponsorship or two to donations, you can share this message with the remaining sponsors:
Your sponsorship of the [event] helps to fuel our mission. Many of our sponsors* have converted their support into a charitable gift, which is more important now than ever. We plan to recognize their generosity by …. Would you consider doing the same?
- The leaders of key volunteer groups involved (i.e. auxiliaries, docents)
- Board members
3. Determine how you will communicate the decision to your general audience.
For individuals who purchased tickets or tables, consider a message like this:
It is with deep regret that we announce the cancellation of [event]. We care about
your safety and our community.
[If postponed]: We are hoping to reschedule the event. Your tickets will be honored.
[If cancelled]: Your support of the [event] helps to fuel our mission. Many of our supporters* have donated their ticket purchase as a charitable gift. If you would like to do so, we will issue a charitable gift receipt for the full ticket price. If you prefer a refund, please contact [name, contact information].
[If there’s a virtual option]: Please visit our web site to see how you can still place your bid in our silent auction. There are many tempting items, and your participation will help sustain our [mission].
Post a similar message to your web site and social media. Note that you can be transparent as to the importance of the event for your operating budget—so long as you focus the message on impact. (“The funds raised through this event are essential to our budget—specifically, these funds enable our organization to provide youth with our popular after-school program.”)
4. If your event is later in the year and you haven’t yet sent out invitations or finished
recruiting sponsors, consider sending an update to the appropriate audiences:
Re: Our planned [event] on [date].
During these uncertain times, we are carefully monitoring the ramifications for our [event] scheduled for [date]. We will continue to plan—while making prudent decisions before we commit resources. We hope to be able to celebrate with you at that time—and trust that you will continue to support our important work to [cite your mission/impact].
If you have any questions in the coming weeks, please contact [who and how].
*Note: invoke the power of social norming in your message. When supporters hear that
others are responding with generosity, they are more likely to do the same.