How to Decide: Postpone or Cancel
Project managers are good at risk management.
One of the things we do is identify what we can’t control and then find solutions or actions to mitigate these things. Typically, this means we’re thinking through things like potentially bad weather affecting an outdoor event or how to contain a protester at a women’s event.
These types of risk management plans are appropriate, necessary, and responsible.
And then along came the coronavirus pandemic. We’re not going to lie – this challenges even those of us who spend a lot of time identifying and planning for risks.
Once the Centers for Disease Control recommended that many group activities be postponed or canceled, we all took a deep breath. In addition to deciding whether to work from home and how to take care of your personal needs, some of you may also be trying to make plans for an event or gathering that now can’t be held.
It’s true: a great project manager has been there, done that. As Kayla Gefroh, owner of Purpose Learning Group in Fargo, once described: “She’ll have backup plans to mitigate any unforeseen risks and will pack an umbrella.”
When it comes to pandemics, we haven’t “been there, done that,” but we’ve had to make hard decisions about scheduled events that fell through for one reason or another.
Perhaps like us, you’re now faced with no longer being able to hold an event on a scheduled date at a certain location. In some ways, that decision has been made for you. Now it’s the hard part: do you postpone or cancel?
Postponing is likely always the ideal solution, but it may not be realistic. Here are some questions you should consider before making a final decision:
1. What kind of event is it? If your event is required training for professionals or a huge fundraiser for a nonprofit that relies on that income, it makes good sense to reschedule. Even if it takes a couple months to get things arranged, the outcome far outweighs the inconvenience.
2. What are the effects on stakeholders if you postpone? Cancel? Consider your internal stakeholders (immediate staff, suppliers, contractors) and external stakeholders (those with interest in the project, donors, community members). Will rescheduling add more work to a small staff’s responsibilities? Will your donors support you without the event?
3. Does the venue have alternative date(s) available? This is a tough, but practical question. If lots of events are having to reschedule, it may be difficult to find a new date. If you can’t find another date, ask if your venue will refund deposits.
4. Is your speaker or featured entertainment available on an alternative date(s)? Or can someone else step into that role? Finding a new group for background music at a social may be possible. But if the whole purpose of the event is to experience a specific speaker, he or she needs to be part of the postponed event. Otherwise, cancel.
Once you’ve made the decision, communicate, communicate, communicate. If you’ve decided to postpone, try to share the new date at the same time you announce the closing of the original date. We know that isn’t always possible, especially when there’s much uncertainty.
And, to reduce the number of people asking the same question, be sure to communicate updates through social media, email blasts, text, message, and website announcements.
For every project we do at Reach Partners, we include a list of all the things we don’t have control over – both the positive and negative events. We never expected “pandemic” to be on it.
But, like all good project managers, we will find solutions and contingencies that work. We hope you do, too.
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