Forced to Cancel Your Fundraising Event Because of COVID-19? Here’s What to Do

By: Cassandra Steele, online fundraising and digital marketing communications professional.

The effects of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, are being felt in every industry, but particularly in the nonprofit sector. Because of social distance you’ve probably had to cancel the fundraising events you planned for this Spring.

This was the right thing to do for everyone’s safety and well-being but cancelled fundraising events do leave a gap in revenue that needs to be filled. And these cancellations are also leaving a gap in your donor’s social calendars.

But just because you had to cancel fundraising events doesn’t mean you can’t engage these donors!

#1 Hold a virtual event

The best alternative to having to cancel a fundraising event is to take it online! It might be hard for you to imaging at first but here are some ideas:

Turn your gala into an online event

  • Hold your silent auction online and have your MC and entertain your “guests” through live video during the bidding
  • Make it fun for your donors, this is the only gala they can attend while wearing their pyjamas!

This virtual gala hosted by Splash is a great example of an online event, encouraging participants to raise money online instead of ticket sales. And promises lots of engaging content and surprise announcements!

Turn your walk/run into a virtual event!

  • • Engage with your participants on event day through social media, do live broadcasts using tools like Facebook Live
  • • Reach out to your most engaged participants about filming a short video of themselves that you can share on event day
  • • If you had corporate sponsors lined up for event day, reach out and offer opportunities to engage with the virtual event

Canadian Cancer Society is encouraging Relay for Life supporters to use their online fundraising tools. This is a great example of how to encourage your supporters to take their peer-to-peer fundraising online.

Third-Party events

  • Encourage your donors to create a third party event, sometimes known as a host your own event
  • If you don’t already have a platform for third party events, your supporters can use a tool like Eventbrite for nonprofits to create and sell tickets
  • People are now hosting their birthday parties, game nights, and even movie night online so why not turn some of these into third party events

#2 Connect with your donors

Having to cancel fundraising events because of COVID-19 is also disappointing for your donors. Make sure they know you’re still here and offer some much needed distraction from the COVID-19 news.

Use social media

  • Connect with your donors through social media outreach
  • Share updates from staff on your programs and activities, your donors still care about your mission and want to hear about it
  • Post just to check-in with a motivational quote or a simple message of “we’re here for you.” Encourage supporters to leave a comment and connect with each other

This live Q&A session hosted by Charity: water is a great example of a timely and engaging social media broadcast to your audience.

Get on the phone

  • Call your supporters in a thankathon/wellness check
  • Engage a telemarketing vendor to do a voicemail blast from your CEO or another member of your leadership
  • Reach out through text messages using an SMS marketing platform

Connect with video

  • Use a tool like ThankView to send out personalized video messages
  • Set up a private webinar or video conference with your leadership and your top donors to provide an intimate and live update
  • Upload a video message from your CEO or another member of your senior leadership to social media

This video message from the President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater Dayton is a great example of a COVID-19 video update from leadership.

#3 Leverage other revenue generation opportunities

Your donors had already planned to donate to your cause during your fundraising event. So, try to direct that generosity through another channel.

Urgent digital campaign

  • Tell your donors about cancelled events, about the impact on your revenue, tell them about the shortfall in program funding this gap creates
  • Use social media and email to reach out with this message

Check out this appeal from POWER (The Pennsylvania Organization for Women in Early Recovery) that raised $6,000 over the weekend, so they could continue their services. Read the whole story here.

Monthly giving

  • Your monthly donors among the most committed people to your mission
  • Send monthly donors an urgent appeal that references their generous recurring contributions and that you are reaching out to them specifically because of their dedication
  • Encourage your one time gift donors to make their donation monthly to provide sustainable long term funding

This monthly giving calculator will help you get an idea of how a monthly giving program can help.


Direct mail program

  • Now is not the time to scale back on your direct mail
  • Revenue is likely to slow, but cancelling your direct mail pieces now is going to do long term harm to your revenues
  • Consider ways you can engage supporters that you don’t usually mail with direct mail pieces over the coming months

For help, see How to Talk to Donors and Keep Fundraising During COVID-19.

COVID-19 has created a challenging situation, but just because you’ve had to cancel your fundraising events doesn’t mean you can’t engage your donors. During this time, everyone is learning to adapt and your donors will appreciate the efforts to connect and maintain some normalcy.

See Complete List of COVID-19 Resources for Nonprofit Here.


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