Ever since Shakespeare’s famous character Hamlet uttered the words, “To be or not to be,” the phrase has become a familiar rallying cry. In this environment, it is a refrain that nonprofit organizations have embraced as their own – with a slight twist: “To host…or not to host…that is the question.” 

In early 2020 most organizations scrambled with last minute postponements and cancellations of their major fundraising events before finally converting many of their in-person programs to virtual events. It was expected that the frustrating decision-making process over how to replace income typically raised at galas and other high profile events would end with the development of a vaccine and the ability to control this global pandemic in 2021. 

As we know, that scenario did not happen quite as planned. This left nonprofit leaders to again face the dilemma of deciding ‘to host or not to host.’  While most charitable social services groups worked closely with their donor and supporters, encouraging them to fund their mission rather than their events,  traditional in-person events-driven fund raising tactics still remain almost impossible to replace. 

This was the challenge facing The Center for Great Expectations when it became time to plan for their annual gala. 

Always a successful event, generating much needed revenue for sustaining the organization’s mission and vision, CGE transitioned to a virtual event in 2020 with the anticipation of reinstating it in 2021. In the spring, hope was high that an in-person event could take place after all. But then of course, this capricious virus morphed to produce a new variant and the numbers of Covid cases began rapidly rising again. 

“In the spring of this year, we put every piece of information that we could find on the table and picked it apart as thoroughly as possible, recognizing full well that the world may be in an entirely different place by the time our event actually rolled around,” states Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cummings. “At the end of the day, you make the best decision you can, based on the information you have available, and you move forward.” 

The group  agreed that an in-person event  (for those who chose to attend) was the optimal way to  celebrate CGE’s mission, focus on its many positive successes and, at the same time, cultivate  new audiences and future advocates. 

There was no absolute right or wrong answer, but they asked insightful questions before coming to a final solution. 

From the beginning, the overriding obstacle was safety. To host – or not to host – in person? Acknowledging the significant benefits of sharing the evening in-person, they took key steps to establish a protocol that would allow them to reduce risks and increase safe circumstances: 

  1. They deeply investigated various hybrid models – ultimately deciding that these would all produce an unsatisfactory experience
  2. They engaged in conversation with other nonprofits and corporate companies that had hosted in-person programs
  3. They spoke with the venue to evaluate their air filtration system and determine additional measures that could be put in place to keep the people/traffic flow both comfortable and secure
  4. They discussed at great length the use of masks, temperature screenings, covid questionnaires, as well as whether or not to require vaccines among the guests
  5. They worked with event staff to streamline registration and ensure social distancing measures were in place and tables were appropriately spaced 

The uncertainty fostered by the COVID pandemic has forced every organization to address these concerns. The leaders at CGE understood that there would be no easy answer, no simple resolution, to the query “to host or not to host.” 

They did the best they could. 

They re-examined their goals for the event and came to the conclusion that an in-person event featuring well-known and highly popular honorees would be their best option. Once they made that decision, they had to find a way to produce an extraordinary program focusing on safety while not overlooking the importance of funding the mission of CGE. 

Sitting on the fence was not acceptable. So they considered all the alternatives and then they collaborated, debated, questioned, pondered, and ultimately agreed that they would use their best good sense and arrive at a decision that they believed would be right for CGE. “We’re looking forward to a great (and safe!) night, and we have already seen an incredible outpouring of support thus far,” states Cummings. 

As each organization faces the same concerns, we hope this case study provides interesting perspectives. Do your homework, know your goals, and make a decision with the full understanding that the new way of gathering together is uniquely different from pre-Covid events.  

For more information on CGE’s gala, scheduled for October 1st, please click here. You may also reach out to Tim Cummings at: 732-247-7003, x352 or tcummings@cge-nj.org.

As an Ambassador, Sally Glick, Principal of the Firm and Chief Growth Strategist at SobelCo, brings the firm the experience and insights she has gained during her 30+ years in the profession.  She has spent her career working as a marketing consultant assisting CPA firms across the country. At SobelCo she has responsibility for the firm’s marketing communications/branding and its focus on business development.