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Keep Calm and Plan On

Cameron Magee
on May 25, 2020

While COVID-19 has touched every aspect of our communities, many local and national nonprofits “built specifically to help the most vulnerable” are facing outsized demand while having to postpone crucial fundraising events.

As leaders continue to explore how best to safely reopen our communities, give green light to businesses paused and restart our work away from home, my team and I are counseling nonprofit leaders who are dependent on fundraising galas and events. Just as so many businesses and workers were decimated by the ongoing pandemic, those in the nonprofit world are in crisis, too, as the virus has put major funding at risk.

For organizations so near and dear to our community, live events have been the tried and trusted approach to their annual fundraising. The pinnacle of giving is often centered around a signature giving event. The sense of urgency and call to action from the stage when “the Ask” goes out is powerful. Gathering hundreds or thousands of community advocates into a venue can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in an evening.

I know. My company is made up of a team of passionate, live event production experts. All we do are events – hundreds of them – produced annually for academic institutions, retail, supplier brands and nonprofits. By the first week of March, we could see the direct impact from the pandemic not only on our company, but the countless clients and nonprofit groups we support. Within a week, the calendar was empty for the 80-90-day horizon. March quickly became touch and go. April was completely cancelled for the good of the community. May is in question. When possible, we are urging that instead of cancelling, our clients should instead postpone. At the time of this writing, the Fall is still on. My team and I are confident the day will come when we can safely reemerge from our homes and come together again. And when we do, here’s a few tips to help you salvage your fundraising event plan:

Keep socially distanced but maintain close communication: If you haven’t already, continue to engage with your donors and keep them up to date on your work that provides an important and relevant need, especially during these challenging times, in our community.

Reimagine your campaign: Work closely with live event production experts and reimagine your signature giving campaign or gala. Is the audience now split between in-person and remote? Does it include a streaming or virtual component? What changes need to be made inside the room?

Explore less competitive booking dates: ¬†Just as so much around us is “business unusual” vs. “business as usual,” so, too, will our approach to calendaring events.

Event planners must lead during this time and make informed decisions in a way that shows a collaboration among nonprofits instead of simply competing for donor dollars. As businesses adapt to a new normal, it should be expected that resources may become scarce and audiences might be limited. If we all use traditional thinking to select our postponement dates, we will end up with competing events. Imagine, if every Spring nonprofit event were to postpone to a singular month in the Fall, the results are diluted, and each will be robbing the other of success. From a planning perspective, the 3rd quarter was already busy before the pandemic postponed even more events. From our experiences, the Spring and Fall are among the busiest seasons for events with April leading and October a short second. If we’re not careful, April events will postpone to October. October was already full! Successful planners must adapt toward less traditional event dates. For instance, August might have been previously dismissed as “back to school” season or people returning from vacations. In our new normal, however, an August event might enable your nonprofit to have less competition for venues and vendors. We must use exceptional wisdom and think beyond traditional decision-making. Yes, October sounds like a lovely time to have an event. That’s because it is! And traditionally, that is when organizations plan to have theirs. That’s why it is already so full.

Remember there’s a limited donor pool; stagger nonprofit events: While we work nationally, we are proud to call Northwest Arkansas home. Our vibrant region is home to nearly 500,000 people. Remember, there are only a certain number of guests available to be part of your event audience. Consider the benefits to your organization and the nonprofit community. Stagger each gala instead of moving forward with a plethora of events scheduled and competing on a single date.

Keep calm and plan on: Yes, it’s true that calendars seem to be more fluid these days and there’s a chance a new normal might be anything but, still, it is my belief and hope we’ll have a busy Fall as we reunite teams, communities, and support nonprofits. This is the year to adapt, to opt for less traditional, or to consider useful exceptions to a rule. And, it might even require considering planning your signature event in August.

Need help planning an event? Explore the future of live events and the impact a professional team can have on your nonprofit or business organization. We’re proud to learn about your needs and share our perspective. Check us out online or give us a call at 479.268.7828.

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