Skip to content
We are now Bonterra

3 steps to take before canceling events for your nonprofit

April 13, 2021
A team of nonprofit professionals gathers around a meeting table with water and coffee to discuss alternatives to canceling an event.

Imagine your nonprofit organization is just a few weeks or days away from hosting a fully planned-out, in-person fundraising event. You already reserved the event space, sold tickets, and secured thousands of dollars in event sponsorships. Then something out of your control comes up, and you have to cancel. What do you do? Should you try to reschedule? Consider refunding tickets? Send an apology email?

If your nonprofit organization is considering canceling a fundraising event for any reason, there are plenty of steps you can take before deciding to refund valuable donations. We’ll walk you through the decision-making process and provide options for what you can do instead of canceling events. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Try to reschedule

Before deciding to cancel, first determine if you can feasibly reschedule the event. Gather information from your sponsors and vendors, convene your board, and really think it through. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • How far into the future would you need to push the event? 
  • What other dates does your venue have available?
  • Can you still meet sponsor expectations if you reschedule?
  • How many guests could you retain at a later date?
  • Are there any services you would need to reschedule, such as catering or entertainment?

Making the decision as soon as possible on whether you can reschedule will reduce uncertainty among your staff and in your community. If you and your board can arrange a new date, let your attendees know right away. You may have to issue a few refunds for those who can no longer attend, but rescheduling will save you much more money overall than canceling. 

Step 2: Turn your event virtual

If you determine that you can’t realistically reschedule the event, you could try hosting it virtually rather than in person. You can approach this next step as an outstanding chance to embrace technology and try new things.

By turning your event virtual, you can keep the original date and the majority of your attendees. Start by identifying a minimum of three ideas for online events that raise awareness and support for your nonprofit. Here are a few creative options to consider:

  • Online silent auction: You can easily make the transition to an online silent auction without having to return any of your solicited items. Use an online auction platform to host a virtual auction that’s just as engaging as it would be in person.
  • Virtual 5K: Fun runs and 5Ks also work well as virtual events. Your volunteer runners still collect pledges, run, and turn their running distance into donations. They just do it all in their own neighborhoods!
  • Virtual concert: If you’ve already booked a musician or performer, ask them if they’d be willing to perform for a virtual audience. Set up a livestream and online chat for attendees to stay engaged.

Fundraising event software like Bonterra Donor Engagement’s Guided Fundraising solution (formerly Network for Good) makes hosting virtual events and communicating with donors much easier. Plus, quality platforms come with plenty of features designed to give attendees the same community feel as in-person events. You may even attract additional guests by expanding your event’s reach online. 

Step 3: Start a dialogue

If you can’t reschedule or make your event virtual, the final step is to keep your donors in the loop while you explore other options. Make sure to contact everyone previously invited to the event at least twice a month. Be transparent about the reasons for postponing your decision, and let them know that you’re actively working to find a solution. 

In the meantime, consider launching educational social media posts or an email series to highlight your nonprofit’s work and testimonials from beneficiaries. Talk about the initiatives in progress and ask your audience for feedback. 

The bottom line about canceling events

When you consider canceling an event, do yourself and everyone who cares about your organization a favor and act quickly. Eliminate uncertainty as much as possible, adapt to your current situation, and be transparent with donors until you find a solution that works for everyone.

Ready to Get Started?

    Guided Fundraising
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing
  • Fundraising ideas