Cancelled? What? Why?” Alan Levine

March 5, 2020; Puget Sound Business Journal

Nonprofit events all over the country are being cancelled in the face of a rising tide of infections and fear of spreading COVID-19. This is, of course, no small matter. Cancelling an event often means both the host and participants eating sunk costs, and many nonprofits must be careful with these kinds of outlays. Even NPQ got a note from a grant officer last week suggesting they would consider sharing some of the costs of cancelled events. At the time, it seemed a little extreme, but it seems that organizations and municipalities are falling in line around preventing this potential pandemic.

In Seattle, the idea of actually going ahead with a planned event might be more out of step than cancellation. King County officials recommended that community groups avoid convening groups larger than 10 people. Businesses have urged to allow employees to work from home, but that’s no solution for the people who would have put on the gathering planned by the Arts Fund for its 50th anniversary. That lunch was to have hosted 800 and required any number of workers to facilitate.

For events for organizations that serve populations whose health is already compromised, the need to cancel becomes even more acute. The 31st  Dream Gala presented by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) raised around $3.5 million last year; it was cancelled on short notice.

“We have made this decision out of an abundance of caution and caring, and in partnership with volunteer leadership on both local and national levels,” said JDRF’s National Director/Signature Events, Deniz Satir. “In the end, we felt it important to reschedule as the health and safety of our community is the first priority for JDRF.”

Long-planned events in other places are also being rescheduled, like the annual general membership meeting of Amnesty International, scheduled to host 600 in La Jolla, California this coming weekend. The organization says it will reimburse the travel costs of those who did not get the cancellation notice in time, but it is asking attendees to try to mitigate the costs.

Museums, schools, and other institutions that host groups of people as part of their enterprises are busy developing contingency plans. But it’s possible for these nonprofits to avoid congregating, even if it’s at significant cost. It’s a whole other kettle of fish when it comes to nursing homes or residential programs.

NPQ would love to hear from others who are developing plans and workarounds for planned events, or from funders who are planning to help grantees recover from the losses of this period, even as they hope they will remain primarily financial.—Ruth McCambridge