Cancelling or Postponing Your Events in Light of COVID-19
By: Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
We watched the world change, hour by hour, for several days until landing in our current “Shelter in Place” status.
Initially, as the country began to respond to the coronavirus, we started to feel the impact on our nonprofit events, but they didn’t appear to be in the direct line of fire. But then on March 15th, the CDC issued new guidelines that stated that all gatherings with more than 50 people should be cancelled until at least May 12, 2020. The initial potential impact was now an impending multi-car collision.
With this immediate, unforeseen and drastic change of landscape, it’s crucial that you take control of what you can control by activating the steps to prudently navigate uncharted territory, particularly when it comes to your regularly scheduled programming.
Here’s our emergency action plan:
One of our clients has a calendar of several gatherings each month that can no longer take place in person. But with their existing Zoom account, we were able to easily schedule those meetings as Zoom Meetings. We added the Zoom link to the calendar invitation and added this information to the online registration pages for a very easy pivot.
There are many platforms to take your event online, including GoToMeeting, Skype and Facebook Live. We also discovered that our phone system has an option to host video calls, so we have taken our calls to a virtual level with no additional cost. Be sure to check your existing technology for solutions.
Virtual Events have many other nuances to make them successful, so if you want more information regarding Virtual Events, click here.
Large Scale Events
Annual fundraisers and conferences get a little trickier because they often take months of planning; it is challenging to try to abruptly cancel or reschedule something of that magnitude. A few of our clients had events scheduled within the eight-week lockdown period so they were forced to postpone or cancel due to the CDC Guidelines. Other clients have events coming up in the next 12 to 20 weeks, so we are currently trying to manage a variety of projects for the best outcomes.
Regardless of when your event takes place, you can protect your organization in uncertain times with these steps:
1. Contract Freeze
To financially protect your nonprofit, it is vital that you freeze spending during this period of uncertainty. While we are still making reservations with vendors (so planning can continue for our client projects), we are not executing any agreements at this time so that we can prudently manage the financial risk of the organizations we serve.
2. Analyze Your Risk
Make a list of the contracts that you already had in place as a result of your event. How many deposits have been issued? How many payments are due in the near future? Review these contracts to see what the cancellation parameters are – perhaps there is a Force Majeure clause in your agreements. Many service providers affected by the CDC Guidelines are being gracious by allowing clients to reschedule events later in the year. The ongoing problem that plagues us all is that we just don’t know when these “Shelter in Place” orders will be lifted, so we don’t know if or when it will be safe to reschedule these events. But overall, you need to get an immediate handle on the commitments your organization has made and evaluate what flexibility exists if you have to cancel or reschedule to save your financial resources.
3. Assess Revenues Received
In addition to reviewing expenses, you want to analyze any sponsorships, table sales and ticket purchases that have been made for your upcoming event. Nonprofit leadership will need to review who has already committed and then plan for how to communicate and reach out to these supporters to try to protect their enthusiasm for your cause. We have seen that many supporters are willing to apply their sponsorships or purchases to a new date, and in some cases we have seen ticket buyers offer to donate the cost of their ticket to the nonprofit to support them during these unexpected times.
4. Consult with Leadership
Many people will look to you for recommendations about what to do next, but you don’t have to go it alone. You are part of a team and in these unprecedented times, it is important to bring the leadership team together to make the best decisions possible. Individual leaders have different skills and expertise, and in bringing them together, the team is more likely to think through all options and raise additional questions that you may not have considered.
5. Consult with the Venue
Check in with your venue to see how they are honoring contracts during this time. Many venues are working with their clients to resolve the current matters as quickly and efficiently as possible. Several of our clients are working to reschedule their events, while others are facing full cancellations.
Be sure to review your contract with the venue to know your rights. Most venue agreements have a Force Majeure clause which goes into effect at times like these. It’s best to have an attorney review the contract and notify you of your rights so you are prepared to discuss the cancellation if your venue is being difficult.
This is a challenging time for large chain venues (as they also face shutdown for 60 days or more), so they will generally try to reschedule events when possible. But if you are moving an event online, or if this scheduling delay forces the cancellation of your event, you want to be sure to know your contractual rights.
Once your organization decides the fate of its event, it is best to draft a standard Board-approved statement that can be disseminated. And as you work with leadership to get a handle on the situation, you will need to regularly communicate any updates. Be sure to notify all Board Members, sponsors, speakers, committee members, ticket buyers, clients, members, media, volunteers, suppliers, and all other appropriate parties. Update your event web page and share the details on your communication channels to ensure that everyone has been properly informed.
As you analyze the current situation objectively, it is important to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” model. You need to make the decision that is best for your nonprofit, and then communicate that story effectively. And, in addition to communicating your shortfalls and adjustments as a result of COVID-19, now is the time to look for other financial grants and resources within your community. Many state and federal resources exist that are including nonprofit organizations in their loan programs, and many emergency grant programs are being established. Hopefully with strong communication and outreach, you will find the resources you need in the short term, and as we rebuild after the “Shelter in Place,” we hope that your nonprofit will gain even more support than before.