Museum Strategies for Event Cancellation, Rescheduling, and Refunds

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By Elissa K. Miller

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, children’s museums, science-technology centers, and other cultural and educational attractions are facing unprecedented challenges in every aspect of operations. After your team meets the most urgent physical safety requirements and addresses other urgent matters, you’ll need to determine how to move forward during a period of extremely limited or altogether ceased operations.

One of the many challenges facing museums is how to handle cancellations of scheduled events, birthday parties, and group visits. In this post, we’ll look at some different options for handling large numbers of cancellations.

IMPORTANT: Check Your Payment Processor’s Daily Refund Limit

Your payment processor is the company that handles credit card, debit card, gift card and e-check transactions. Some registration systems require to you use their payment processor while others allow you to choose the organization you want to work with.

As part of fraud prevention, most payment processors place a limit on the dollar amount of refunds that can be issued in a day. While this limit is usually more than reasonable in normal circumstances, you might reach the limit quickly if you plan to refund a significant number of registrations.

When you know the daily refund limit, you can plan the number of refunds accordingly. So, be sure to check with your payment processor before you start issuing refunds; depending on the answer, you may want to ask them to temporarily raise the daily limit so you can process refunds more quickly.

Customer-Friendly Cancellation Alternatives

Your visitors and members appreciate your programs and understand your value to the community, and chances are good that many of them want to support your mission, especially during COVID-19. Instead of automatically issuing refunds for canceled events, ask your customers to consider the following options.

Offer Gift Cards Instead of Refunds

By converting registration and reservation fees to gift cards delivers the best of both worlds to your customers and your museum. Gift cards will bring families back to your doors as soon as it’s safe, and can be spent on admission, memberships, another camp or program, another birthday party and even merchandise (depending on how your museum store operates).

Your customers don’t lose any money because the gift card covers the value of their payments, and your museum can keep the money on your books to support your operations during this uncertain time.

As an added incentive and thank you, consider rounding up the value of the gift cards or adding an additional flat dollar amount to make customers even more positive toward your organization. 

Offer Memberships Instead of Refunds

If your museum doesn’t offer gift cards or you don’t have a practical way to offer them, or if you simply want to boost memberships, you can offer to apply registration fees to one or more kinds of memberships. As with gift cards, consider rounding up the value as a thank you to your new members.

For customers who paid more than the cost of a membership, you’ll still need to consider issuing a refund or gift card, or asking if they’d like to convert the balance to a donation, discussed in the next section.

Speaking of memberships, you may want to consider extending the expiration dates of all memberships to account for the time that your museum is closed.

Offer to Convert Fees to Donations

Many organizations are asking registration owners if they’d like to convert all or part of their registration fees for canceled events to a donation instead. Depending on your museum, donations may be used as unrestricted funds to support your continued operations without the quid pro quo of a membership or gift card.

Event Cancellation and Rescheduling Tips

The procedure for cancelling events depends entirely on your event management provider, so some of these suggestions may not be available to you.

  • Keep the event on your public calendar, with CANCELLED or RESCHEDULED before the event name. Be sure to close registration first!
  • Update the event’s information page for the event (usually the first page in the registration process) with details on the cancellation or the newly scheduled date.
  • If the event is rescheduled and your event management solution allows you to transfer registrations directly, offer to transfer the registration to the new event. All registrant information and payments should be applied to the new event, and new tickets, confirmations, and receipts should be issued automatically. 

Elissa K. Miller, M.Ed., is communications director at Doubleknot, an integrated online, on-site, and mobile solutions provider for nonprofits and cultural organizations. As the former development director for a regional nonprofit, she’s passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations harness new technologies to streamline operations and support their missions.