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Cancelled event crisis

publication date: Sep 20, 2018
author/source: Ann Rosenfield, MBA, CFRE

The rain was coming down in buckets but it wasn't just the rain. It was the thunder. Once we heard that thunder, we knew that the walkathon wasn't going to happen today. Here's what you need to do when your event is canceled.

Safety first

If safety is at issue - cancel right away. Most events use electricity and water or high winds + electricity can be a fatal mix.

  • If you have any power at the event, be sure to talk to your AV tech to ensure everything is quickly turned off.
  • If possible to do safely, quickly unplug everything.
  • If there is lightning, get everyone to safety. If there is a shelter, get inside. Be sure to unplug everything that is in an outlet. This is not a time to charge your phone.
  • If people have come by car, car can be a shelter. Remind people to watch for downed power lines. Be aware that you and your guests shouldn't be in a high place.

Minimize the inconvenience

  • If your cancellation happens before your event, get a quick email out to attendees to let them know that the event is cancelled. Hopefully, they haven't left for your event but, even if they have, they can turn around.
  • Email or call any vendors to let them know the event is cancelled
  • Post the cancellation on your website.
  • Be sure to salvage what you can - for example, give out any food to participants before they go.

Take care of sponsors

  • Stuff all the post event loot bags with any sponsor materials and give to your participants before they go.
  • Be sure to have all your event collateral visible
  • As soon as you get back to your office, develop a sponsorship recovery plan to make up for any lost benefits. Options could include
    • eBlast to attendees
    • Mailing to all attendees
    • eBlast to your whole list

Take care of attendees

Your attendees ended up with cancelled plans. Be sure to reconnect them to the cause with a heartfelt thank you.

  • Send a thank you to attendees with a reminder about the cause that day or the next. A "even though the weather didn't cooperate, thanks to you we raised over $xxx dollars for [cause]."
  • If you have an automatic set of thank you eBlasts going out, be sure to update them and keep thanking attendees for their support of the cause.

Even though the event is cancelled, 

 Take care of volunteers

Your poor volunteers have worked all year. And now all their hard work is being washed away.

  • Send a thank you from your most senior leadership person - your ED, your Board chair - thanking them for their hard work. Similar to the attendees remind them that even though the event was cancelled, their hard work still helped the higher goal of the charity.
  • Send a second thank you letter (yes, snail mail) and thank them again. Have it signed by your senior people or by a beneficiary. Let them know how much the event raised and thank them again for their hard work.

Problems with events happen. With good safety measures and a good back up plan, you can keep a natural disaster from becoming a fundraising and stewardship disaster.

Over the years, Ann Rosenfield, MBA, CFRE has had two of her events rained out. It all turned out fine in the long run. 


Lightning safety 


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