“It’s a real thing right now.” That statement is something that keeps repeating in my head as I read the daily news headline about the COVID-19 impact on our society, especially when it comes to fundraising events of any kind. I also think about what will become of the event industry as a whole, one that I have been a part of for over a decade. I love my job—helping clients create events that have vision and heart. Taking an idea and making it a reality. But when reality now is hosting and attending events through a Zoom screen, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to seeing a future where guests will feel comfortable being in the same room together.
So, what is the answer? I think we are all searching for that and at this point, we’re coming up with multiple planning scenarios and it’s a constant spinning wheel. This is considered an ‘Act of God’ and our ability to plan and hold events of any kind is up to state and federal leaders along with any other agencies that are involved who may also dictate our future event limitations such as venues, caterers and other hospitality-related vendors.
As an event planner, I work with a diverse group of clients ranging from wedding couples to corporate, non-profit, and fundraising clients. Currently, I have a few non-profit clients who still have large gala fundraising events scheduled for later this year. They are looking to me for my expertise in order to help guide them with making the best decisions for their event. However, who imagined an event where you would have to think about staying six feet away from another guest during cocktail hour or at the dinner table? Whose idea would it be to get all dressed up, only to have to wear masks and gloves and they wouldn’t be the cool kind like you’d see at a masquerade-themed ball?
Lately, I have been watching webinars and Zoom chats with other industry leaders having discussions about the future of fundraising and events and have come to a couple of conclusions. The first is that it is a dangerous time to be a non-profit organization. Fundraising has always been a challenge, but even more so now with the threat of not being able to host large-scale events—ones that non-profit organizations have come to heavily rely on to survive yearly. On the brighter side, I feel it gives these organizations a chance to show that they are resilient and adaptable to the times and continue to be relevant in this ever-changing world right now.
There is one thing that will never change when it comes to fundraising of any kind. That is the need to create a sense of community for a cause and by being inspired through their message, you are moved to support them in whatever way you can. Done well, non-profit organizations are the greatest storytellers, sharing messages of need, empowerment, enlightenment, and inspiration; who better to do that in a time where anxiety and fear are prominent.
I work with a lot of non-profit organizations that support and celebrate the empowerment of minorities including women and children; organizations such as Women’s Foundations and Big Brothers Big Sisters. These organizations choose to honor multiple people throughout the year and come together for a night of celebration and inspiration at their yearly events. As their event planner and a believer in their organizations, I want to ensure their message is still able to be told to a society that is craving inspiration, hope, and connection.
I may not know what the next couple of months will look like, but I feel like I have an opportunity to work with my fundraising clients on being innovative and to create a hybrid solution to hosting their events in the future. Thinking outside the box is the only way that they will be able to survive in a world where this ‘real thing’ that we are experiencing is bound to have lasting effects on society.
This hybrid solution consists of a combination of an in-person hosted event along with virtual elements; which I see will be a trend in the future. We must find a way to engage with donors in multiple ways, both in-person and virtually. By looking at a way to host these events, produce and execute them on a smaller scale is critical to getting their message out there, one that people so desperately need to hear right now. If we move forward with these events with true vision and intention, I do not think we can ever go wrong.
I am not saying that we won’t have to be very creative to do this. Possibly even radical, but I see this also as an opportunity to be innovative, to partner with new vendors who bring new solutions to the table or work with others about using their production skills in a different way. Sometimes what you end up with is more beautiful than anything you could have ever planned or envisioned.
To do this hybrid solution that would allow limited in-person attendees (depending on what the restrictions that are in place at the time of the event) along with virtual attendees, fundraising clients will need to create an environment where guests will feel safe.
Here are a few ideas on how I see the future of fundraising events:
In this new COVID-19 world, these are just a few thoughts in a larger list of things that we may have to consider in the near future when it comes to fundraising and events. What I do know for certain is that the world will need to engage with each other again, maybe not in the same way as before, but in a more intentional way. A future guest attending a non-profit gala will choose to go to an event with the intention to show their support to the cause they strongly believe in and are inspired by. They will want to have an engaging experience along with being able to enjoy themselves in a safe environment. It is our duty as event professionals to ensure that no matter the size or platform for these events, we work together to make our clients’ vision become a reality. If we do that, in the end, it will be a win-win for all.