What to Do If You Have to Cancel Your Event Because of COVID-19

Fundraising Events

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The coronavirus, COVID-19, is causing widespread alarm across the globe. The illness has disrupted manufacturing, caused major stock market volatility, and shut down concerts and other major events. Chances are good that both your development staff and your event participants are concerned about COVID-19.

At a time when many employers encourage their staff to work from home and avoid crowds, your organization may be considering canceling your event. We encourage you to err on the side of caution and cancel any events that could pose a risk to your donors—especially if cancelling large events is recommended by health authorities in your area. In fact, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee is implementing a state-wide ban of events with an expected attendance of over 250 people. Your donors will appreciate your efforts to keep them safe even if you cancel an event they were looking forward to.

But what do you do in the event you have to cancel your fundraising event? Here are our tips to overcoming event cancellations due to coronavirus.

Determine if your event can be held digitally

Some events can easily be transitioned to an online event. For instance, if you’re hosting a 5K race, you can transition to a virtual 5K and ask participants to track their progress at home and report their results to your organization. Postpone the physical event until COVID-19 has been contained and no longer poses the threat of a pandemic.

Connect with fundraising participants for the live events and ask if they’d agree to hold the event online and fundraise digitally on behalf of your organization. They could raise funds via their own unique personal or team fundraising pages or set up Facebook fundraisers directed toward your nonprofit. You’ll need to ensure your organization is set up to accept donations via Facebook to make Facebook fundraisers work for your organization.

You can make your Facebook Event Page your event information headquarters. Share regular updates with participants and supporters. Award fundraisers for reaching fundraising milestones by shouting them out on Facebook. Let them know that despite not having a physical event, their efforts are being noticed and appreciated. Promise to hold the event later in the year (if possible) when the risks posed by coronavirus are minimized.

Postpone events and transition to interactive fundraising campaigns

If your fundraising event requires in-person attendance and you’re wary of creating an opportunity for coronavirus to spread, postpone the event until a different time of year when the threat has been minimized. In the meantime, you can replace the planned event with an interactive fundraising campaign.

Develop an appeal to raise funds for the cause the event would have supported. Reach out to those who registered or regularly support the event and let them know that despite postponing the event, you still need their support to fund your program(s). Implement a multi-channel appeal. Send a direct mail appeal, email and text your contact lists, and post about your campaign regularly on Facebook. To execute this campaign as effectively as possible, take the opportunity to build in chances to interact with your supporters. Create thank-you videos and video updates (these can be recorded on your mobile phone) and send out links to videos and share them on social media. Invite your supporters to interact with you, too! Ask your supporters questions via social media or quiz them on what they know about your nonprofit and the problem(s) you address.

Ask supporters to help in other ways

The coronavirus outbreak has been problematic for more than just health reasons. This illness has caused a disruption in the production of goods manufactured in China and has been incredibly detrimental to the stock market. Many of your supporters—particularly your major donors—may need to hold off on making donations until the economy is more stable. This uncertainty can make people feel unsure about giving to your organization in case they need those funds to respond to an emergency.

While you wait for the economy to stabilize, don’t ignore your supporters. Instead, reach out to long-time supporters to check in with them, see how they’re doing, and ask if they can support you in a way that costs them nothing but a little time. Ask if they can share the story of how they came to support your organization, ask if they’ve been affected by the work your organization does, and ask if you can share their story as a testimonial on your website or in your donor newsletter.

This strategy helps you by providing social proof that your nonprofit is worthy of supporting. People tend to think highly of organizations that were rated favorably by real people asked for their opinion. More than that, calling to check in on your donors and have a conversation will put you at the top of their minds when it’s time for them to start giving again.

In fact, nonprofit thought leader, Claire Axelrad, cited an experiment by Penelope Burk that found a connection between donor thank-you calls and increased giving from donors. This experiment found that by calling to thank donors within 48 hours of their gift, “those called gave an average of 39% more than those not called— and they gave 42% more even after 14 months!”

If it’s prudent to cancel your fundraising events, prioritize your donor retention efforts in their place. You may find that just by calling, thanking your supporters, and wishing them well during the coronavirus outbreak you will be rewarded with a long-lasting relationship and more gifts in the future.


If the coronavirus outbreak causes you to cancel your events, know that there are ways to keep moving forward despite this challenge. Don’t put supporters at risk by refusing to postpone or cancel an event that could put them in contact with the coronavirus. Instead, host what events you can digitally and replace events with a multi-channel fundraising campaign. For major donors, the stock market’s volatility makes giving a risky prospect. Instead of making asks, prioritize donor cultivation and relationship building. You can ask for a testimonial or just call to check in and let your major donors know you care about their wellbeing during the outbreak.

Don’t forget! Qgiv’s here to help, too. For advice on setting up an effective fundraising campaign to make up for cancelled events, or to find alternative ways to host your events digitally, email support@qgiv.com or give us a call at 888-855-9595.

Your fundraising needs are changing, and we’re here to support you during this difficult time. Many organizations are shifting their in-person events to virtual formats and utilizing mobile giving and text messaging to engage their donors. If you’d like to learn more about how Qgiv’s tools can help you continue to raise vital funds while keeping you and your donors safe, please contact us—we’re here to help.

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