Evaluating your event’s performance can be tricky even in the best of times. And these days, with a still slow economy and increased competition in the event space, measuring success simply by the bottom line might 1) be deceptively disappointing, and 2) result in invaluable go-forward information eluding you just when you need it most.
As the season winds down, and measurement begins to take center stage, here are a few metrics (beyond the cash-in yardstick) you’ll want to stay on top of to make some sound decisions in 2013:
First, make sure you take a close look at what percentage of your participants is actually fundraising. In an attendance-based culture, we often get excited when a lot of people show up—even when they’re not doing anything to help raise money. Fundraising activation is critical data to track—down to the individual—for a number of reasons. Perhaps most important, it helps you identify and then communicate differently with people who are committed to bringing in dollars. These are the participants who are likely to come back to you again and you’ll want to work on maintaining the relationship over time (the upcoming holiday season, in fact, is a good time to thank them). This information also helps you to identify commonalties in these performers and choose the most effective communications methods for future outreach activity.
Also, when do you look at specific fundraising amounts, make sure you’re tracking the average and median dollars raised by the people who are fundraising. All events have a range of fundraisers, and your top performers make your average much higher than most people achieve. This is why median fundraising is important to track. For those of you not familiar with medians, think of it like this: if you lined up all your fundraisers in order by how much they raised, the median would be the person exactly halfway down the line. In fundraising, the median is always lower than the average, and is more representative of what most participants are raising. Knowing these figures will help in your important recognition efforts and target your cultivation work toward high performers—these people are by definition easier to inspire and receptive to calls for increased performance. Here’s where you will see more of your work paying off.
Another key area to be examining is how many people are coming back to your event from year to year. This is important because it tells you how well you are cultivating participants year round and connecting them to your mission. Remember that it’s less expensive to keep people than it is to get new ones. Over time, this will boost your fundraising results as many new participants show up as one-timers and don’t get engaged in actual fundraising. Return customers tend to re-up for a reason—in many cases this means they not only had fun at the event, but they were able to achieve their fundraising goals and understand how important these donations are to your organization. Again, too much time is spent on relationships that don’t’ pay off.
Speaking of ROI, make sure you’re also tracking how your marketing efforts paid off in terms of bringing in new people. When you have paid for media, you want to look at acquisition cost; compare what did well vs. what didn’t. This will help you to eliminate low-yield, higher-cost items and put money back into bigger return, more cost-efficient approaches. (Remember that efforts you put toward “free recruitment” can be labor intensive in terms of staff time and therefore cost-deceptive.) To do this, you’ll want to find out how people heard of your event. The best way to track this is to ask during registration. If the question isn’t part of your registration form already, you’ll want to put it in place for 2013.
Finally, make sure to keep circling back to what’s most important—your mission—and track why people are coming to your event in the first place. Do everything you can to gather information on their connection to your cause. Are they personally tied to someone (be it they themselves, or a friend or relative) that might benefit from your efforts? Are they professionally involved in a related field? Are they just interested in good works and dividing up their efforts between causes? This kind of information will be of great off-season value in terms of relationship building. Tailor (and personalize to the extent you can) your messages accordingly.
Keep these metric thoughts in mind during what’s commonly the time of year that we all take stock of what worked and what didn’t. While your event’s most important goal is to raise money for your mission, it’s certainly not the only thing you should be measuring.
Laurie Schaecher provides data analysis and strategy to both consulting engagements and internal events, including Susan G. Komen’s 3-Day for the Cure. She has 15 years of event fundraising experience as both a practitioner and a consultant. Prior to joining Event 360, Laurie was Deputy Executive Director of the New York City Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, overseeing all fundraising events including Team in Training and Light the Night. She has also lead teams focused on recruitment, marketing, fundraising performance, customer service, and volunteer coordination for events. Laurie holds a Bachelor of Arts from Middlebury College, and currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and 3 children.