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3 lessons learned from canceled events during the pandemic

March 17, 2022
A woman a hosts an event on Zoom from her computer, using one of the lessons learned from canceling events.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, nonprofit organziations everywhere had no choice but to cancel their events and rework their strategy to find new fundraising opportunities. Many organizations found that they had put all of their eggs in one basket with no backup plans. 

In this article, we’ll cover lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and how your organization can be prepared for anything for future fundraising events. Let’s get started.

1. Understand the process for canceling in-person events. 

When the pandemic first hit, many nonprofits had never had any reason to cancel events at the last minute. This means they didn’t know where to start when it came to cancelations. Now, we know better! 

Before events begin, nonprofits should develop a plan B that they can use in the case of an emergency. Not only that, but they should know the general process for canceling events if it becomes absolutely necessary. These steps include: 

  • Review all signed contracts with vendors to determine if your organization is within the date range for full or partial refunds. 
  • If you sold tickets and/or secured sponsorships for the event, familiarize yourself with the refund process. Can you mass refund all tickets to their original form of payment? Should you do this proactively or ask registered guests to email you to request a refund? How long will this refund process take? 
  • Communicate frequently with your supporters. Sort your event sponsor list in descending order of investment to communicate event changes. 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.
  • Cover all of your bases by disabling ticket sales, updating your website, and announcing the cancelation on social media.

Canceling events is never the ideal scenario for nonprofit organizations. It’s a last resort, but it’s important to understand the steps that you’ll need to take if it becomes necessary. Now, let’s dive into the options you can take to prepare better, more accessible events so they won’t need to be canceled. 

2. Offer a virtual option for in-person events. 

During the pandemic, nonprofits became accustomed to reaching out to supporters on various platforms, from email to social media to Zoom meetings. Virtual events also became a very popular option for organizations to get events back up and running. 

As a result, nonprofits today see major value in creating virtual options for their in-person events, creating hybrid opportunities for their supporters. This means that supporters who are uncomfortable joining in person or who live too far away have the opportunity to join your event online.

When you offer virtual opportunities, you need to be sure both the virtual and physical events have engaging opportunities. Some virtual engagement opportunities to consider include an online auction, virtual games, fundraising opportunities, and communication opportunities like live chats. 

This ensures that all your nonprofit event attendees, whether in-person or virtual, have equal opportunities to participate in your event and won’t feel left out of your fun activities.

3. Personalize interactions with supporters. 

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits quickly realized that people were being overwhelmed with messages from all sorts of sources. This meant organizations needed to find unique ways to stand out. The best way they discovered? Amping up the personalization. 

Personalization has always been a key part of communication strategies between nonprofits and their supporters. But it took on a whole new level in the midst of the pandemic. Small touches like using a supporter’s preferred name in an email salutation can make an impact, but fundraisers left an even larger impact on donors when they first asked how they were handling the crisis.

Moving forward, it’s important to take this additional step to get to know your supporters, especially major donors. Ask them questions about themselves and their interests rather than jumping straight into your organization’s initiatives. This not only shows them that you care, but can also provide crucial insights into which initiatives they’ll be most interested in assisting with in the future. 

Applying these lessons for future fundraising success

The COVID-19 pandemic forced nonprofits to cancel their events. But instead of focusing on the funds and time lost during this challenging time, consider all of the lessons you were able to glean from the challenges you encountered. The lessons listed in this article will help you better prepare for future events and activities. 

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