By Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
For decades, events have been the lifeblood of nonprofits and associations. Then suddenly, March 2020 struck, and the event industry was about to begin a revolution unlike anything it had previously seen.
We thought it might last for a few weeks or a few months, but now the months have flown by and the new normal is here. It is obvious that there are some important lessons that you will want to hold onto for the foreseeable future when it comes to event planning.
Risk Versus Reward
Events have always had some inherent risks, but generally the financial gains have outweighed the dangers. After years of levelling up the annual gala, your nonprofit very likely depends on that event for a large portion of your operating budget. But the truth is that events are financially risky endeavors.
It is important to take a hard look at how you measure the success of your event. Are you raising the awareness and the funds you need? Does the event attract your next pool of individual donors? Or are you holding the event because that is what the nonprofit has always done?
There is a liability with each event that you hold so it is crucial to weigh those liabilities versus the reward to determine if it is the right thing for your organization to do. Does it effectively support and serve your mission? The most successful events tie into the mission, and it should be abundantly clear why the event matters to the nonprofit.
Conduct a Temperature Check
If it has been decided that your association will proceed with an event, the next task is to conduct a brief survey of donors or members to ensure that your potential attendees are comfortable attending an in-person event.
One of our clients wanted to hold an awards dinner to bring their members together late in the summer of 2021, and they chose to secure an outdoor venue for some additional comfort. Then they conducted a survey about their members’ comfort level for indoor versus outdoor events as well as the guest counts that people were comfortable with.
It turns out that members were not ready to return to an in-person event of more than a few people, which would have resulted in a heavy loss for the association. It proved a valuable tool in saving the organization from a financial fiasco.
You may have negotiated contracts for 20, 30 or even 40 years, but contract management has changed since the pandemic struck. The terms in the agreements are shifting as everyone is tightening up their payment demands and their force majeure clauses.
Covid has forced people to think more critically than ever before, so it is important to review your contracts closely and ensure that your organization is protected. One term that organizations are adding to their agreements is cancellation when an event is “commercially impracticable.” This phrase offers a broader cancellation interpretation than previous force majeure language.
Many venues are also trying to get larger deposits up front as they work to recover from the pandemic, but for the associations that we manage, we are recommending smaller deposits with payments being more spread out to ensure that our clients lose less money if an event needs to be cancelled.
And more than ever, it is highly advisable for all nonprofits to invest in legal review of their contracts. New case law is evolving daily with many precedents being set. It is in your best interest to have an expert review all legal documents, so you don’t inadvertently overlook something that didn’t seem important at the time.
Research the Guidelines
Covid guidelines continue to change at a rate that can give the average human whiplash, so it is important to take the time to do the proper research. For most events, you will need to adhere to the venue rules relative to masking and vaccinations, but once inside your rented space, many venues defer to the association guidelines.
Check the CDC guidelines as well as municipal, county and state guidelines. It is advisable to also check with your insurance broker for any insurance mandates that may be in place to mitigate risk liability.
Once you have determined what rules you will adhere to, it is important to share that information everywhere. Include the attendee rules on the registration page, in the email confirmations and in all the email information shared with attendees prior to the event.
And be sure to have a plan in place to enforce the protocols for your event. Some events are asking attendees to sign liability waivers. Apps now exist to help collect vaccination records and Covid test results, or you may want to consider hiring security to manage this component. It is important to outline your plan in detail and stick to it.
Supply chain disruption is real. Items that used to take two days to receive may now take a week or longer. Do your research and reach out to your suppliers early in the event planning process to ensure that you are not going to have unpleasant surprises on deadlines.
We have found that long-time partners of our firm have had staffing issues that are forcing them to limit how many events they can service at one time, so you will want to get your reservations in early and confirm details frequently to secure the most desired companies.
Today we heard that printers are expecting delays on certain paper types and toner. Promotional product companies are having trouble getting items shipped, which can sometimes take weeks for an imprinted item to arrive.
It is exciting to see in-person events coming back because people are craving that personal connection, but it is more important than ever to review the details of your event and ensure that the calculated risks won’t bankrupt your organization. With proper planning, your organization could be on its way to a financially rewarding fundraiser again, and isn’t that what we’ve all been hoping for?