COVID-19 – What Do You Do Now?

Posted on: March 13th, 2020 by Richard Jung GALA Articles No Comments

If you are like me, the coronavirus is wreaking havoc with my organization.  This week the board, chorus leadership, and staff sat down, and put together a plan to postpone our upcoming concert.  All of this in light of the Governor’s State of Emergency declaration banning all public gatherings in excess of 250 people for the next 30 days.  As our concert was just 9 days away and with a growing concern within leadership and membership alike, around our vulnerable members , the decision to postpone, while definitely something we didn’t want to see happen, in the end became the only decision to make because it was the right thing to do.

So what happened next?  We had a whole 12 hours to put into play a game plan as the Governor had declared that she would be making an important announcement the next morning.  When the public universities announced the shuttering of classes and the campus later that afternoon, it became evident to us where this was going, and the multiple scenarios we were considering narrowed down to just one – postponement.

We had already created a few template emails that addressed various scenarios including moving forward with the concert, but this allowed us to work with one strategy:  How to notify and announce the postponement of our upcoming concert.  As a group we created a timeline for notification of key groups of people.  The first was an official notification to the board and membership that we would be making a strategic announcement about the concert after the Governors Press Conference the next morning.  This short blurb allowed the chorus to know that we were working towards a solution and that we had their vested interest in mind.

The next steps centered on crafting messaging for the following constituencies:  1) a general announcement to the chorus that formalized the decision from the Board Executive Committee in conjunction with Artistic and Administrative support.  2) a pre-alert message sent to the Board of Directors announcing the decision to postpone the concert and how this would be done.  3) a general message was crafted that announced the postponement for distribution to our entire email database (7,984 households) including a reminder that we were a small arts group and their financial support was more important at this critical point in time. 4) an email to vendors, advertisers, and season sponsors announcing the postponement including information about possible rescheduling dates as well as a promise to fulfil all our obligations to them throughout the season.  5) setting up a call schedule to let concert sponsors know of the decision and what they could expect with regards to sponsorship fulfillment both now and in the future.  6) creation of graphic ads for all our social media and web platforms that highlighted the postponement.  7) preparing updated website and Facebook posts for release once the decision was formally announced. 8) crafting a specific email to our ticket holders for the concert that explained the situation and presented a number of options for how to handle tickets and reimbursement.

This was a lot of work but we were definitely ready to go the next morning when the Governor made her announcements.  Like clockwork, over the course of a 3 hour window, each component dropped as planned.  The only hiccup was working in our ticketing platform in getting our template letter to ticket holders on the schedule we had planned.  Working with the template took a little finessing – but that too got released in a timely manner.

So, what is happening?  Well, we expected some demand for refunds on tickets – so far that hasn’t transpired.  We included messaging of a potential reschedule, while it limited our financial liability, we also understood that hard and fast rules against refunds doesn’t always work in situations like this.  So our strategy was this to get our ticket holders to 1) attend the rescheduled concert; 2) If that didn’t work, turn that ticket into a donation to the chorus; 3) move the ticket to our upcoming PRIDE Concert at no additional cost; and 4) refund the ticket.  It is our hope that the first three options will work for most people and that a refund will not have a major impact on our overall budget.  Time will tell.

So what are we learning from this experience?  I think the takeaways are important to note.

  • This may become a new normal for performing arts organizations and we may have to grapple with how we deliver our product not only for the short term but long term as well. Right now we are working under the assumption that we will be able to hold our PRIDE Concert in June.  However, we are still trying to work with our rehearsal space on whether we will be allowed into their space next month.  We still don’t know the extent of spread of the coronavirus and how long we will be working under public gathering restrictions.  If our performance venue will even be open come June.  How do we plan for this potential fiscal reality?
  • What fundraising contingencies do we have in place to survive this short and long-term? Will our donors step up to help us out now?  How will this change the way to fundraise?  What messaging will we need to implement to help audiences and funders understand the fiscal reality we are facing?  While some of the larger groups may be able to weather a truncated season how will mid and smaller sized groups survive? What if this lasts longer than just a few months?  Each organization is going to have to sit down and figure out a game plan for moving forward now – not later.
  • This is probably a key time for groups to work together. While we all like to maintain our independence, sometimes it is imperative that we band together and create a shared vision that sends a clear message – we are working together and we need you to step up and support us.
  • Don’t panic. In order not to panic you must have a plan in place.  This is the time to access your situation and work out a strategy that allows you to move forward in the short-term but also address long-term concerns.  Board and chorus leadership must work together to create a strategy that reminds people of the value you bring to the community; how they can help ensure that your voice continues to be heard; and that you are looking at ways to ensure your voice continues on despite the unknowns we are currently working with.

So there you have some of my thoughts on what is happening in real time.  Development is an art and a science – it is now time to put those two elements and craft a plan that addresses the reality of the moment and possible future scenarios.  Want to talk?  Please feel free to reach out via email with any questions or concerns.

Richard Jung
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