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Mayes Wilson & Associates

Can we start having special events again?

Julie Whelan Capell |

Fundraisers everywhere want to know: is it safe to start planning for in-person special events again? The short answer is YES!

In many parts of the country, professional sports teams have already begun inviting fans back into the stands. AMC has opened all of its movie theaters, with physical distancing and mask requirements. And Broadway plans to open in September. These venues are able to reopen because the vaccination campaign is going strong and the CDC continues to advise on the best practices for gathering, which we encourage you to keep informed on.

What kind of fundraising events should we be planning?

Based on CDC guidelines as of spring 2021:

– May and June: small gatherings with fully vaccinated people.
– June, July, August: slightly larger events, particularly outdoors (Yay golf outings!!)
– September and October: tented outdoor events, mid-sized indoor events
– November and December: larger in-person events indoors should be possible

Pick a date as soon as possible

Right now people’s calendars are still mostly open. You don’t want to be the last nonprofit trying to get on people’s fall calendars. Yes, there is still a lot of uncertainty. New variants are cropping up and experts say there could be small, localized outbreaks through the rest of the year and even into 2022. The key is to plan in-person events, and have a Plan B virtual event ready to go. And realize that most donors are not going to ask for their money back if you need to switch to online or postpone entirely due to unforeseen circumstances.

Venues are filling up fast

Special event spaces are already crowded. The date you want may already be taken. Not only nonprofit events, but weddings and other private events are all vying for the same spaces. As you talk with venues, be sure to ask them about their COVID policies. Many venues are adding clauses to their contracts requiring you, the renter, to comply with state and federal health and safety orders and to ensure your guests do the same. You may need extra time to run these new contract addenda past your own legal counsel prior to signing.

Are hybrid events a good idea?

While it may seem like a good idea to have a hybrid event (some people in person and some people online), in reality that does not always work out. You are running two different events, which increases costs and staff/volunteer time. And it’s challenging to reconcile the two audiences. Online people do not want to sit though a 3-hour gala and in-person guests do not want to interact with people on a screen.

Don’t give up on virtual events!

Many nonprofits have found that supporters living in other states welcome the opportunity to participate in online events. Opening up your in-person silent auction to online bidders is one easy way to do that, but consider creating an entire event just for online supporters. Over the past year, people across the age spectrum have become more comfortable with zoom and other online platforms, so the barriers to online events is much lower than in the past. One organization we know of recently raised just as much at a virtual gala as they used to get from the in-person event.

Another idea is to break up your large gala into two or three smaller events to better accommodate physical distancing, especially if eating is involved. Some organizations have found their donors actually prefer such smaller, more intimate events.

What else should we consider when planning in-person events?

Prepare your guests by communicating with them about the size of the event space, the precautions you are taking (contactless drink sales, pre-plated food, etc.) and expectations for wearing masks and any heath checks (temperature checks, etc.) that will be conducted upon entry. Be sure to provide masks on site.

Remember, guest comfort and safety needs to be the number one priority. A lot of individuals are ready see people in real life while observing safe health practices!

One of the ways MWA can help is by surveying your members to see how they feel about in-person vs virtual special events.


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