Contributed by Jeff Shuck & Jono Smith, Event 360
When it comes to your fundraising events, if you were starting over, how different would they look? Starting over may not be an option, but in the absence of that, here are ten things event fundraisers and marketers should be considering to reinvent their plans for 2011:
- Become more data driven. The culling, organizing, and assessment of your event data is where the real work happens, and where the real insights emerge. Whether through classification, clustering, or regression, the goal is to make sense of what the data is telling you. The data is always telling you something – although occasionally, it may be telling you that it doesn’t have enough to go on. Bottom line: the tracking, mining, and analysis of data should be central to your 2011 event fundraising strategy. It is impossible to run a successful event fundraising program without understanding the characteristics of your participants and the linkages between those characteristics and giving.
- Understand the difference between metrics and analytics. Analytics has been a recurring theme this year. Event fundraisers are talking about not just measuring more and better, but also predicting donor and participant behaviors. Convio & Event 360 have written about how organizations are making the transition to analytics, and others are beginning to follow this example. One way to start down this road is to begin extracting from your data a better understanding of the type of event you are running. Is it an attendance event that brings out the masses? Or is it a fundraising event that brings in the dollars? If it is the former, then you will want to identify ways in which you can transform the culture of your event from one of participation to one of fundraising. Once you understand and evaluate various key metrics and corresponding benchmarks, you can use your analysis as a blueprint to think strategically about how to improve your event’s future fundraising results.
- Think in segments. One result of your data analysis should be to identify differentiated segments from within the whole of the participant pool, and then to target these segments differently. With Convio TeamRaiser, you can customize your communications across dozens of segments, messaging differently depending upon participant status, participant activity, geographic and demographic factors, and so forth. Even several simple segments could most likely greatly improve performance. In other words, if you have a series of events, there are most likely a subset of events which should garner more attention than others. And within each event, there are definitely groups of participants that we should focus on more than most. Also, be sure to consider the operational questions about segmentation. It is all well and good to identify 50 unique segments, but who will write separate case statements and communications for each one? It is essential that you identify, up front, how many segments you can actually administer.
- Predict future activities. Avoid being caught in simply a descriptive analysis, which describes current participant patterns. This is a very useful tool, but more useful is predictive analysis, which attempts to estimate future giving patterns. For example, on a set of recent projects, we found a strong correlation between the number of emails a participant sends and the amount of money they raise. This is a descriptive characteristic. It seems to have a lot of importance until you realize that you do not really understand the causal mechanism at play. Do more emails lead to more money raised? This would make sense, given that we already know that asking works. The real question is, why do some participants send more email than others? It could be that an efficient strategy is to wait until every participant has a chance to use email – to let them “vote,” as it were – and then only focus our efforts on those who chose to use it. This is basic segmentation developed from descriptive analysis. But while this helps to focus efforts, it is essentially reactive, and does little to develop new gifts. Predictive analysis goes a step further to help answer the question, how do we encourage everyone to send more emails? Who are the most likely people to send them, and what can be done to influence them? As a result of this type of analysis, we were able to find relatively simple ways to encourage more emails to be sent, rather than simply classify the participants into two groups and write one group off. The point here is, it is true that understanding your participants is extremely important. But you should also invest some time in understanding where these participants come from, and how you can better predict who in the general public is likely to join your event.
- Think relationships. All aspects of the event marketing relationship are changing. Social media is perhaps the most obvious change, however there are many others. For example, marketers are questioning whether PR as it is currently practiced will remain relevant. We need to create a new view of the relationship with event participants, volunteers, and donors in which we combine traditional tactics (such as getting started meetings) combined with social media to create entirely new ways to build relationships. Rather than treating social media as a standalone channel or replacement for traditional tactics, event marketers should be looking for ways to use social media to support and enhance the successful programs they already have in place.
- Drive fundraising productivity. In some organizations, fundraisers spend too much of their time doing tasks that marketing should be doing. We’re seeing some organizations use their Convio Online Marketing and TeamRaiser tools to take advantage of automation, email and social media to make personal fundraisers more credible with their donors and shorten the cultivation cycle.
- Use social media to connect and facilitate dialogue. You’re are accountable for your events’ participation in social media—even if your aren’t engaging in those conversations yourself. You must train, educate, and support your event participants who fundraise on behalf of the organization.
- Remember the 80/20 rule. Do you treat all event participants equally? You shouldn’t! The most effective events focus the majority of their efforts on the participants with the highest potential return, which typically constitutes only about 15% of the participant base. For example, nearly all participants who belong to a team raise more money than those who don’t. Additionally, team members are more likely to stay engaged until the day of the event, and become repeat participants. Examine overall team participation to determine the current and potential role of teams in your event. To boost fundraising results, strive to have 75% of your event participants on a team. Consider implementing marketing campaigns that convey to individual participants the benefits of joining a team (e.g., camaraderie, training partners, encouragement, friendly competition, and fundraising tips).
- Give your donor data the respect it deserves. We recommend that you not overlook an analysis of the structure of your data gathering itself. This is an area all-too-often ignored. Though you may appear to have a well-functioning database, it is worth reviewing the current fields and asking questions about each one: Does this field contribute to our understanding of either this donor in particular, or our donor base as a whole? What are we doing with the information we gather from this field? Is it being used? Why or why not? What else could be done with it? What fields are missing? What information do we want or require that we are not tracking? Event 360 configures the Convio fundraising databases for many nonprofits, and we handle the day-to-day administration of several. This includes administration of hundreds of thousands of participants and donor records and millions of transactions. Part of our expertise in this area includes not only the information technology work of configuring which fields to track and monitor, but the strategic work to assess which information to gather and why.
- Be different. The audit and evaluation of your events should include comprehensive participant, donor, market, and competitive analysis. Understanding how you will compete and differentiate your events is critical to success. Plenty of nonprofits have me-too run, walk, ride events that are financially successful because they understood what participants want and how they compared to competitors, and they executed well.
While some of these ten tips may appear straightforward, their execution rarely is. If you need help implementing any of the steps, visit www.Event360.com to learn more about Event 360, a Convio authorized solutions partner.