May 26, 2024
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When Should You Cancel (or Postpone) Your Special Event?

Part II

When we left last month’s cliffhanger, I described how close I came to cancelling, or at minimum postponing, a major golf tournament. Thanks to nerves of steel and help from the One Above, many months of planning were not wasted and we had an eminently successful event that made lots of money.

On to the next Fear Factor episode.

I was the executive producer of both the Jewish Hospice and OHEL Benefit Concerts. One year, we booked the Marquis Theatre on Broadway, which featured a stellar concert cast. Our goal always was to create a unique concert with innovations never done before—to give each event its own brand of excitement. One year, not only were we inaugurating a popular Jewish Chasidic concert on Broadway, we also were planning to dedicate a Torah scroll, something never undertaken before in a Broadway theatre.

One month before the concert, rumblings of a stagehands strike at all Broadway theaters surfaced in the news. We were nervous, but nothing definitive was announced so we hoped for the best. A week before the event, our worst fears came to pass and the stagehands struck and picketers amidst wooden horses surrounded our theatre and all others on Broadway day and night.

Thousands of tickets had been sold; the theatre was paid its hefty non-refundable deposit; and other expenses had been paid in advance such as catering, promotional materials, performer down payments and equipment rentals.

A decision had to be made. Keep in mind that our theater rental was only good for that one night and any postponement would have been difficult since no other dates were available to us at the Marquis Theatre. What to do?

Our Concert Committee agreed on a deadline. If we did not resolve the situation by 5 p.m. the day before the concert, we would hit all media with cancellation notices. Ticket and sponsor refunds would be made and months of planning would scatter in the wind.

An unlikely hero came to the rescue. At the time, there was a New York City public advocate who was very connected with the stagehands union. He had been a good friend and he went to bat for us. I was regularly in touch with him and he kept me apprised of the situation. He knew we had a deadline and he conducted serious negotiations with the union on our behalf through the night and following day.

It looked grim. Suddenly, at 4:55 p.m., I received a call from the public advocate who informed me that he negotiated a cessation of the picketing for the one day of our concert and we could proceed. All the picket signs, wooden horses and protesters would be gone and the concert could go on as scheduled. That unlikely hero was none other than Bill DeBlasio, the current mayor of New York City! Our concert was a major success.

So, what are the lessons to be learned from these two major events that were almost cancelled? There are some critical steps a nonprofit should take when planning a major event, whether indoors or outdoors, and these include the following:

  1. 1. Cancellation insurance is a must when preparing for a major fundraiser. In our cases, a significant amount of money could have been forfeited. I have seen monsoon type of rains that caused some golf tournaments to be cancelled or at least postponed. Cancellation insurance should cover both anticipated revenue and expenses and avert a financial catastrophe.
  2. 2. Follow the “Pikuach Nefesh” doctrine. There are times when inclement weather simply requires a cancellation, or at minimum, a postponement. Don’t risk safety and security. Ever! Today, there are events where participants repel off a 30-story building, take part in crazy marathons or acts of God seriously mar the event. Highly publicized events also can draw unsavory characters who can severely impact the nonprofit’s fundraiser. Prepare for extenuating circumstances.
  3. 3. Always formulate a “contingency plan.” Every case is different, so I cannot offer a specific response to every situation. This is for your committee to discuss.
  4. 4. Remember that how you cancel or postpone a major event may affect your organization’s reputation. Be sure to give special consideration to ticket and sponsor refunds. It may dictate your financial success or failure next time.
  5. 5. Communicate your decision quickly to everyone at least 24 hours before the event. Use all feasible means of communication.
  6. 6. Finally, be sure to have a committee in whose hands you can trust making the right decision. This is not a “one person” decision. The president, chair of the board, committee chair and/or senior executive should be invested with the ultimate decision making.

Is your nonprofit ready to raise some significant funds at your major event? Good. Then also be prepared to save a lot of money in case you face the adversity of a disastrous cancellation or postponement. Are you ready?

By Norman B. Gildin, 
president, Strategic Fundraising Group

 Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $92 million in the process. He is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds for their organization. He can be reached at [email protected]. 

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