In April, our team fielded calls from nonprofits through our virtual office hours. Over the next several weeks, we will highlight some of the questions posed to us along with our answers. Our hope is to help your organization, as these may be questions you are pondering, too.
Q: Do I reschedule my event, shift it from in person to virtual, or cancel it?
The Human Service Chamber of Franklin County and the United Way of Central Ohio surveyed human service organizations in early April to assess the impact of COVID-19 on operations and service delivery. The report is stark.
Of the 89 respondents, 83% experienced revenue loss and 59% cancelled a fundraising event, resulting in a loss of more than $8 million. That’s just the human service sector in Central Ohio. The data doesn’t include arts and culture, higher ed, hospitals, recreation, and a myriad of other facets of the nonprofit community. It’s also a point-in-time report. The data will be even more shocking as organizations continue to adjust month after month.
It’s no surprise that in our virtual office hours we were asked about events.
A: Re-think delivery of your event by going virtual. Keep inviting your donors to support you, but don’t assume another date will make it safe for an in-person event.
No one knows what the months ahead will bring. We may not be able to attend large gatherings until next calendar year. Plus, the fall calendar is already full with organizations who traditionally host their events at that time.
We spoke with the board members of an organization that cancelled their event because of the high unemployment rate. They did not want to ask for money at a time when so many people are ill and hurting financially.
It’s a good point to consider. The numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is incomprehensible. Last week in Ohio, more than 50,000 jobless claims were reported and the week before was 61,000.
We can’t make sense of the human suffering illustrated by the data, but we can make an impact by focusing on the missions of our organizations. Staying connected to your donors is essential work.
The organization typically hosts an auction in the spring, so we suggested they put the auction online. They were also planning to hold an event for supporters to purchase items for a newly renovated space, so we also suggested hosting that event online with photos and an option to support operations. Donors can support the organization by helping them buy light fixtures or helping them pay the light bill.
Another organization normally raises $100,000 through their event with a direct expense of $25,000. The chief executive sought advice on how they could still raise the same amount virtually. It was determined that after indirect costs like staff time were allocated, the event’s true net was closer to $50,000. Rather than raising $100,000, the chief executive could strategize on how to raise $50,000 to fill the gap and reallocate staff time that was previously dedicated to the intensity of gala planning.
We also spoke with the development team of an organization who cancelled a summer event but plans to proceed with a September event. The summer event message would be merged with a spring direct mail appeal so the intent of the event would still be honored while strategically aligning the asks their donors will receive.
Their September event is outdoors, and in four months it may be safe to host, but with so much uncertainty we suggested creating a plan B. Talking to sponsors now about a possible shift and determining a date by which a decision would be made will add some clarity to the ambiguity.
There are so many variables with events, and now with the pandemic, none of this is easy. Keep communicating with your donors to keep them connected to the impact of your mission. It’s essential that we do.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO