Our signature event is The Daffodil Ball, benefiting the Canadian Cancer Society, which we conceived in 1994 and have produced each of the 27 years since then. It has raised $37.3 million net and won countless awards for fundraising, décor, entertainment, and cuisine. It was scheduled for April 23 and was to be my last year of producing it. The projected net revenue was $2.3 million.
I organized a conference call early the morning of March 12 with the four Co-Chairmen and the CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society. It was clear to us all that the options were to postpone or cancel. The decision was soul-destroying, but my advice was to cancel because:
1. If we did the Ball in the Fall, it would have meant that the 2021 Ball was only 6 months later and people would probably feel they had just contributed, and not do so again so soon afterwards.
2. The calendar will be jammed with all the events that usually take place in the Fall PLUS all the rescheduled events from April and May.
3. It would be impossible to find a date when all four Co-Chairmen were available in such a short time.
4. There is, very sadly, a strong possibility that COVID-19 will still be around in the Fall and that large events still will not take place.
5. It would not have been possible to organize a virtual version of The Daffodil Ball, however, the raffle will be converted to an online auction.
Later that same day, the Premier of Quebec ordered that all events with more than 250 people must be canceled.
I advised trying to mitigate the loss in revenue by preparing emails for each of the Co-Chairmen to send to each of the companies and individuals they had successfully canvassed, asking that their sponsorship (table) and ticket dollars be converted to donations. The emails stressed that the Cancer Society’s work continues in spite of COVID-19 and their need for funding for research and patient services remains. It was key that the request came from the Chairman who originally solicited these companies.
My office contacted all the smaller donors who committed funds, with a similar letter asking that they still make their promised donations. We also asked all table gift donors, raffle donors, and other prize donors to make their promised donations and that we will use them for an online raffle and prizes for everyone who converts their sponsorship (table) to a donation. We plan to have an online auction rather than the raffle that usually takes place at the Ball.
It was crucial to put a communications plan into effect immediately after the decision to cancel. Therefore, that same day we:
- Informed all confirmed Ball sponsors and ticket purchasers, including comp ticket holders
- Informed all our vendors, trying to reassure them that we would do our best to ensure that everyone would be treated as fairly as possible
- Notified the media
- Notified our 200 volunteers
- Posted on social media
- Announced the cancellation on the Ball website and my company website
One of the most difficult aspects of this was deciding how to compensate vendors whose contracts had not yet been finalized. We went through all paid invoices and estimates, stopping all future work and asking for refunds where appropriate (license fees, rental of costumes, canceling flights for entertainers, valet parking, rentals, cleaning staff, etc). There were naturally some expenses that could not be canceled, but all vendors were treated fairly and there was no discord.
The results of all the above have been incredibly rewarding: Almost all sponsors and donors agreed to convert their promised funds to donations, so the Ball is now showing a NET revenue of $2.1 million. There are still some sponsors who are pending, so this figure could increase. The raffle will be converted to an online auction, which will add still more revenue.
I think we made the best of a pretty terrible situation.