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Delta Variant Forces Fundraisers to Rethink Events Yet Again

Posted: 8/17/2021

Click here to read on The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The fall fundraising season is shaping up to be another chaotic one, thanks to the Delta variant. With Covid-19 case counts skyrocketing, some nonprofits are rethinking how to host their supporters at events.

Hopeful Horizons, a nonprofit that serves domestic-violence survivors in South Carolina, resumed in-person fundraising events in June, gathering supporters in major donors' and board members' backyards. For now, chief development officer Erin Hall says she's comfortable keeping those going. "They are smaller events, outside, with people who all know each other," she says.

But if case counts keep increasing, will donors want to mingle in the fall? Hall is uncertain. Members of the Hopeful Horizons board are in the thick of planning an event for roughly 150 guests in November, ideally at a venue where guests socialize both indoors and outdoors. The trustees asked Hall whether they should press pause.

"I felt good about an outdoor in-person event a month ago," she says. "Now I'm not sure, and I don't think there are any right answers."

Two days after that phone call, Hall said her team was almost certainly canceling the event.

Many fundraisers decided to scrap in-person events when mask mandates returned, says Samantha Swaim, who consults for fundraisers across the country. As of this writing, just nine of the 31 events her clients have planned for September and October will be in-person parties at board members' homes where no more than eight guests will watch the charity's virtual event together. But guests will be carded before they can attend — no vaccine card, no entry. So far, no one's complained.

Another of her clients is using the same protocol for an outdoor in-person event for no more than 50 people. Supporters who are not attending in-person can also watch the event online.

"Virtual events are still going strong," Swaim says.

Many groups that hosted virtual events in 2020 says they were a success and helped them reach overall fundraising goals.

The United Negro College Fund is moving the annual National Walk for Education online again. The fundraising event for historically Black colleges and universities went virtual for the first time last year and raised $2.9 million — more than any of its in-person walkathons.

Looking forward, the charity plans to offer in-person and virtual ways to attend its March galas, says Diego Aviles, vice president for development for the Northeast Region.

Hall has her eye on the spring as well. If Covid-19 throws another curveball, Hopeful Horizons may not move forward with its annual gala. She says her peers at other charities have similar worries.

"We're all in this together," she says. "There's some comfort in knowing we're all trying to make these decisions."

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