Current events have made abundantly clear what some nonprofits have learned the hard way in the past; events can sometimes be cancelled because of circumstances beyond your control. What used to be an isolated incident due to a venue closing, a vendor going out of business or other reasons is rapidly becoming the new normal as health concerns and an abundance of caution create cancelled music festivals, sporting events and dozens of conferences.
But what if the cancellation is yours? How do you plan around the loss of a major gala, annual meeting or other event?
The answer may be as simple as making your event digital.
While it certainly won’t have the same impact, it also won’t have the same overhead, and with the right communication and motivation, it can still be a winner.
Step One – Pivot and Manage the Message. An organization we have worked with in the past had an abrupt leadership change just before an annual meeting. Rather than reshuffle the meeting at the last minute, they asked potential attendees to brown bag a lunch that day and donate the difference between the lunch and a ticket to attend. The result? No cold chicken in a hotel ballroom, increased direct giving, and grateful donors who didn’t have to take a long lunch. Think how you can reframe the negative of a cancellation into a positive, and come out the winner.
Step Two – Use the Tools You Have. Already have a Facebook Page? Facebook Live content like testimonials, appeals and donation matching opportunities and encourage the Watch Party function with your audience. Create short YouTube videos and have different event sponsors match views with dollars. Create a hashtag and utilize retweets for funding. This gives you a quick alternative with tools you already have.
Step Three – Add Tools Where it Makes Sense. While you’ll have a shortened timeline, a cancelled event presents the opportunity (and some freed up budget) to review your current digital tools, and improve where you need to. Video conferencing, Peer-to-Peer platforms, CRM and a responsive website will all allow you to better fundraise and manage your online efforts, and minimize the financial blow a lost event might cause. Look for tools that provide robust, but easy to use functionality, and quick implementation, so you can hit the virtual ground running.
Step Four – Be a Resource. Explain why you’re cancelling and offer up actual common-sense reasoning. And become a conduit for the sharing of best practices and real advice from reputable resources. Your state’s health department, the CDC and other sources should be as amplified as the meme’s and rumors, so play your part.
Not to say you can’t have fun too. There is an excellent website that will take your favorite song lyrics and add them to the handwashing poster. As long as the message is clear and level-headed, the delivery can be light. Do your part to “flatten the curve” (my early front-runner for phrase of the year)
To see a real-time example, check out this great story about a virtual gala that a Seattle-Based charity put on.