The Advancement Angle: Proceed, Postpone, or Pivot?
You’ve got an incredible lineup of speakers. Your contracts are all signed and sealed. Your sponsors have all confirmed their support.
You’ve convened countless meetings with your staff and volunteers, and everyone is finally primed and ready to go. You’ve double- and triple-checked menus to ensure all attendee dietary restrictions are accommodated. You’ve sold out—with a waiting list.
You keep repeating three words to yourself:
Cue pandemic, and all those carefully laid plans go swirling like some diabolical snow globe from the deepest level of event management hell.
This was reality for both associations and higher ed institutions alike this past spring. Many of us are still tuning in for the daily guessing game of “Proceed, Postpone, or Pivot to Online?” while considering a host of different factors as we plot the best course forward.
For us at CASE, that has meant reconvening our all-star community college volunteer committees and leadership teams for the Federal Funding Task Force, Conference for Community College Advancement and the Conference for Community College Grant Professionals. We identified the key components, unique value proposition, and goals for each program; reviewed the careful planning work they had completed in some cases just weeks before the pandemic struck; and reassessed the feasibility of what they had planned in light of new and ever-shifting circumstances.
From there, we made the difficult but obviously necessary decisions to transition FFTF work with federal program officers online this year and reimagined both conferences as the CASE Community College Advancement Seminar Series and the CASE Seminar Series for Community College Grant Professionals.
When making these decisions, it’s important to not only truthfully acknowledge challenges and limitations, but also to identify new opportunities. While we are all disappointed that we are unable to meet in person for these highly anticipated annual convenings, we also recognize that the shift to online formats will allow many community college professionals unable to participate in previous in-person iterations, due to travel or budgetary restrictions, to take advantage of these key professional development opportunities.
Due to a different pricing structure, institutions that may have only sent a single individual in past years can now include their entire foundation or division staff at a single institutional group rate. FFTF participants may now be able to reach federal agencies that have moved outside the confines of Washington, D.C., that would otherwise have proven too difficult to reach for an in-person visit. So, if you find yourself in a quandary about your next gala, auction, alumni award ceremony, anniversary celebration, or annual crab feast, consider the following:
- Don’t just hold an online event to check a box. Boil your event down to its key goals and values for your institution, sponsors, and attendees. Can you still deliver on those goals and values in an online format? If so, then get creative and move forward with the online option.
- After the event, make sure you debrief with your team: What was more difficult than expected? What went unexpectedly well or proved especially successful? Are there any new aspects of the online event that you had never done before that you would retain for future events regardless of delivery method?
- If your event doesn’t lend itself well to the online treatment, consider postponing or cancelling. Awards ceremonies, anniversaries, or other annual celebrations can often be postponed until later in the year or rolled into the following year.
- If you have to cancel, ask attendees and sponsors to consider donating a portion or all of the cost of their ticket or sponsorship. Tell them about the importance of the revenue raised by the event by using real-life examples. Discuss the realities of how the pandemic has impacted your operating budget. That will only cast the power of their contribution in an even brighter light.
- Finally, take this opportunity to take a hard look at events, the resources required to execute them, the net revenue they raise, and the value they provide for your institution. This may be the perfect opportunity to sunset some long-standing and resource-intensive events that would otherwise prove very difficult to discontinue.
If you’re still unsure of how to handle your next event:
- Post a question to the CASE Community College Community Discussion Group.
- Catch up on our recent community college CASE ToGather, Virtual Fundraising in Review.
- Drop me an email or a phone call (1-202-478-5570). I’m always happy to connect, and I may be able to direct you to some additional CASE resources, other community college colleagues—or both.
No matter what your decision, though, know that you are not alone. Some community colleges have gone ahead with previously planned golf outings. Others have celebrated virtual galas and online auctions. Still others have postponed banquets and awards ceremonies to spring or summer of 2021 and adamantly maintain that all of this WILL be over in time for their rescheduled event.
For those of you in that last bucket, you have our wholehearted and unanimous support!
CASE’s Community College Advancement Seminar Series will take place October 15-27. Registration will include access to three more seminars in 2021. Click here to register or for more information.
The CASE Seminar Series for Community College Grant Professionals will begin November 5, and continue on the first Thursday of each month until June 3, 2021. Click here to register or for more information.
About the author(s)
For more information about CASE's community college resources, contact Marc Westenburg, director of the center for community college advancement, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 202-478-5570.