By Cheryl Stern (with an assist from Joann Collins)

Continuing our Collaboration Drives Innovation series and our goal to provide real, practical help to organizations navigating the non-profit and events spaces amidst this global crisis, Brand Manager Cheryl Stern talks out our approach to managing communication. Previously we’ve tackled working from home, participant coaching, and rethinking events.

It’s safe to say that anyone who manages any type of communication for an organization longs for simpler times right now: when an email or social media message was a relatively straightforward thing. Gone are the days when we could craft our communication without taking a thousand new and ever-changing factors into consideration. Even the simplest of messages now involves a complex new layer of thought.

For that matter, I know we all long for a simpler time in general. I find myself feeling nostalgic for the way things were just a couple of months ago… but also for the true simplicity of my childhood — when being cooped up at home would happen by choice — usually because I was busy replaying my favorite movies over and over again on our beloved VCR. That ritual was my happy place. A safe space with friendly and familiar voices; a welcome distraction from reality. So, because I love a good metaphor, and have a soft spot right now for those simpler times, let’s explore some event communication tips as though we’ve just popped in the COVID-19 VHS tape and pressed play.

Grab a bowl of popcorn and your oversized remote and join me.

First things first: Hit the pause button.

  • In a situation like the one we’re currently experiencing, the important first communication step is to take a look at any scheduled emails, recurring emails and autoresponders, and pause them. Take the time to assess the content and determine what is and isn’t appropriate given the current environment. Nothing is business as usual when in a crisis, and if you continue with standard communication as though it is, you risk coming off as tone deaf and insensitive.
  • Continue to postpone all less important or technical/logistical communication to a later date when it is more likely to be noticed and better received.

When you’re ready, press Play.

  • When you do start to send emails and post messages to social media, acknowledge what’s going on. This is an unprecedented, stressful, and confusing new reality. Your audience may have lost their jobs; they may have sick family members. Recognize that your non-profit and your cause are lower down on the list of people’s concerns and priorities these days.
  • Be as clear and upfront as possible when communicating event changes, postponements or cancellations. Put yourself in your participant’s shoes and try to think through all of the possible questions and scenarios that they will present. Prepare a detailed FAQ for your staff to answer questions.
  • Limit outgoing messaging to important and necessary information. This can still include lifting spirits and answering potential questions, but be mindful of the increased amount of communications people are getting lately.
  • Change the focus of your communication from your event to your cause’s mission. This is particularly useful when the fate of your event is still in question. If you don’t yet know whether your event will be postponed, cancelled or turned virtual, you can keep your participants engaged and fundraising by sharing information about how your organization needs funds now more than ever and, if applicable, how your organization’s mission serves those affected by COVID-19.
  • Keep lines of communication open. Make it clear to your participants how they can reach you when they are ready. As time goes on and people start thinking about events and fundraising again in this strange new environment, questions and concerns will come up. Providing a place where they can get timely, informative, and compassionate answers is key.
  • When you can, take a personal approach — send a text or email sent directly from a staff member, or make a phone call, rather than sending a generic email. This is particularly important for participants who have a long history with your organization, who you may know personally and have done a lot of fundraising for you.


Be kind. Rewind.

Take a look back at the resources you’ve given to participants and provide revised fundraising tools, tips and suggested messages that adapt to the current crisis. With social distancing in place, participants’ typical fundraising efforts may be impeded. Help your participants find ways they can still support your cause and give them guidance on what to tell their donors.

Don’t be a pirate.

Remember those lengthy FBI warnings at the beginning of every video cassette about copyright infringement if you dare to make a copy of the tape? While it’s pretty unlikely you’ll face a fine for copying someone else’s coronavirus messaging, there’s still an important lesson to be learned here. Your messaging should be authentic to you and should provide new information. Too many businesses have felt obligated to send an email with no real information, just general platitudes, because they are seeing everyone else send emails. So, hold off on sending that “here’s what we’re doing about coronavirus” email until you really have something to say.

Fast Forward.
We’re sorry to say that this button on the remote is broken for now. We all wish we could hit fast forward and put this crisis in the past. We’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, we’ll continue to take a thoughtful approach to supporting and communicating with our participants — and each other.


When not playing the role of participant in everything from 5Ks to marathons, Cheryl works as the Brand Manager for MuckFest®, helping to deliver a meaningful event experience to others.




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