June 2020 – Lauriane Lebrun, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

While social distancing guidelines have relaxed in many areas, large, in-person events are still being cancelled and postponed left and right.  If your nonprofit is facing an event cancellation and gearing up to process a mountain of refunds, now is a good time to consider your other options.

  • Suggest a Full or Partial Donation Instead of a Refund.  As Claire Axelrad of Bloomerang explains, “People understand and can be surprisingly forgiving.  And generous.  The important part is simply to tell them what’s going on.  If you’re forecasting a shortfall, let them know what this is.  This impacts everyone.  They can’t understand how it impacts your program unless you tell them.”  Instead of giving refunds right away, ask registrants if they would be willing to donate their ticket fee (or even just a percentage of their ticket fee) to help sustain your organization through this difficult time.
    • Expert Tip from DonorPerfect: “To keep things organized on your end and make it easy for donors to communicate whether they’d like to donate their ticket amount or request a refund, consider sending a short survey with your event cancellation email asking them to choose their preference.” 
    • Bonus Idea: Encourage registrants to donate their ticket fees and show your appreciation by giving donors a shout-out on your website, social media, and/or in an email blast to your contacts.
  • Offer to Transfer Tickets to Next Year’s Event.  If you had to cancel your 2020 annual conference, for example, ask registrants if they’d like to “transfer” their ticket to your 2021 conference.  Your sponsors may be interested in this option, as well.
  • Transform Event Tickets into Raffle Tickets.  Try asking your registrants if they’d like to be entered into a raffle in lieu of a refund.  The prize can be whatever is most appropriate for your organization – a gift card, a discount on membership dues, etc.
  • Turn Your Event Cancellation into a Membership Drive.  If some of the people who registered for your event aren’t members of your organization yet, consider allowing them to put their ticket fee toward a discounted membership dues payment instead of a refund.  

Nevertheless, simply issuing full refunds may be the best approach for some organizations.  If you’ve determined this to be the right path for your nonprofit, just be sure to keep your overall revenue situation in mind.  You can check out my article on how COVID-19 is changing the nonprofit revenue model for ideas about sustaining your organization through the pandemic.

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Always consult your attorney, accountant, and/or insurance provider to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or concern.