Read This Before You Cancel or Postpone Your Event
You and your event committee have worked tirelessly preparing for your event and you’re in the final stretch. Then--news of a public health scare/crisis hits.
Your event is critical to your annual fundraising revenue--but--should the show go on?
Here’s my guide for what you need to consider as you make the hard decisions and decide on a pre-event communication plan that takes public safety into account.
First and foremost, listen to your local community--if local leaders are suggesting (or demanding) certain people stay out of public spaces, that will obviously influence your decision.
So how best to proceed? You’ll need to weigh the above and have some decision-making tactics at the ready. While I don’t recommend canceling your event, considering a hybrid (“live-virtual”) event or postponing may be prudent. If local public health organizations are asking most people to stay home, cancellation may be prudent until the concern passes. As you consider, you’ll need to ask about cost implications, communication strategies needed to change courses, available/alternative dates for vendors, food costs, etc. Keep in mind that you might lose a vendor in the shuffle which may leave you scrambling to replace that void.
ALTERNATIVE/HYBRID EVENT OPTION
If you’re considering some sort of alternative/hybrid event, for example, holding the event but offering a “virtual” experience for guests who choose not to attend, or moving the entire event to an online live/virtual experience, you’ll need to weigh several factors as well.
Will guests attend still?
Can you create a “draw” for guests? For example, a comedian or desirable keynote to share a message (Ex. “Parenting Children in the Digital Age”) to draw them in?
Do you bring your speakers/fundraisers to the same physical location or allow them to broadcast remotely?
What platform will you use? Zoom? Facebook Live?
How will the interactivity take place?
Venue: Learn right away what your venue canceling/rescheduling policy is. If you can reschedule, ask for available dates right away. Also, ask what their date cut-off is to honor that cancellation policy. It might be helpful to look at dates 90+ days ahead
Catering: If catering is separate from the venue, ask the same questions above. In particular, ask when their food-ordering deadline is.
Auctioneer: Auctioneer policy will vary, so be sure to check-in and ask what your agreement states or if your auctioneer has made accommodations. Keep in mind that, unlike other event vendors, your auctioneer often completes the majority of the work before the event. Also note that rescheduling may be more difficult since you’ve hired an individual, not a team (like catering, AV, etc.)
Once you’ve embarked on this path, you’ll need to consider how to communicate your decision and do so immediately. If you’re rescheduling the event, reach out to your stakeholders/big sponsors first to determine possible dates. Do this before you go public with your decision. Additionally, since these guests are your biggest allies, they can help support you in your decision. Additionally, you’ll need to notify your internal team (staff, committee, board, etc.) before the information goes public.
Be prepared to update your website as soon as you send an email to all guests. Consider contacting table hosts/sponsors personally and before a general email goes out. It’s also not a bad idea to create a Guide to Event Communication document to share with your insiders/close guests, so the messaging to the larger community is consistent.
If you have a new date, include it as a “save the date” in your messaging.
When you make any announcements, stay as positive and proactive as possible. Let them know you’re excited to see them later.
If you choose to go on with your event, communication is equally critical, as outlined above. Guests are making hard decisions on their own, so let them know you’re thinking as well. Additionally, don’t forget to communicate with your vendors to let them know your thought process. Make sure your venue is equipped to field day-of calls.
The decision to alter the course of an event is always challenging, so I hope these guidelines might support you in your decision making process.