Fundraising Events and the Pandemic: What to Do This Spring, Summer and Fall

Published on May 5, 2020

Brian Saber

President of Asking Matters
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COVID-19 has brought about mind-blowing challenges for our non-profit world. Fundraising is currently a roller coaster. It’s hard to know some days what the next step should be.

Special events are a particular challenge. Most organizations have had to cancel or postpone an event or start to rethink one. I’ve been coaching organizations the last month and here is what I’m recommending to them:

Dealing With Already Cancelled Events

  • Do not reschedule for the fall. Large group events might still be banned in the fall. Even if they’re not, the season is short (Labor Day – Thanksgiving) which means we’ll all be cannibalizing each other. Instead, pick a date for next spring now and for this year either:

Go Virtual
Have a virtual benefit. You can still provide most of the program virtually (speeches, videos, participant stories, awards) and you can hold a raffle and/or auction online as well.


Have a Non-Benefit Benefit
Ask everyone to contribute what they would have given if there was an event. Many organizations have done so and are finding they can get 80% or more of the revenue. And since you don’t have to rent space, feed people, etc., you might even come out ahead.

Preparing for Events Scheduled for Summer and Fall

  • If scheduled for June or July, consider moving to August. It’s a safer bet.
  • If scheduled for September through December, keep the event on the books and start fundraising.
  • Regardless, have two distinct plans. Show donors and sponsors how the event will play out either way. Assuming one plan is the original event — a large gathering of some sort — for the alternate plan, choose from:

Go Virtual
See above


Divide and Conquer
Have a series of smaller events, which we can only hope will be doable by Fall. Consider asking sponsors and table captains to hold individual events through which they can solicit their guests. People can develop their own event, or you could create one or more events that your volunteers can choose from. If you are running races, perhaps the solicitor still runs, documents the run, etc.

Non-Benefit Benefit
If the choice is between a live event or no event, ask sponsors to solicit gifts and promise their donors a special thank you at the appropriate time. Perhaps they can make a wonderful dinner or take everyone out to dinner at some point. Or in some other way entertain or thank their donors.

Identifying Donors to Move Out of the Event Cycle

This is a golden opportunity to try to move donors out of the difficult (as we are seeing) event cycle. Many donors (e.g. board members) contribute to your events because you ask them to… not because that’s how they want to contribute their money. If your events are successful because of this kind of obligatory, do-the-right-thing giving, consider asking donors to contribute their gifts outright. It will serve you much better in the long run. Don’t worry if your event is smaller. Bigger isn’t always better.

When you move donors out of the event cycle, their gifts become less transactional and more relational. The gifts are not dependent on you offering some wonderful time, or the donors being available to attend, etc. Best of all, the gifts don’t have the same cost. Special events fundraising is just about the most expensive form of fundraising (behind direct mail), whereas major gift fundraising is much more cost-effective. Only planned giving is more efficient.

Best of luck as you navigate these uniquely awful times.


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