Nonprofits have relied on fundraising events to earn a portion of the revenue they need to fulfill their mission. Word-of-mouth was once sufficient for marketing these vital fundraisers, but today, it requires a more technological, data-informed approach.
This is especially true in light of social distancing guidelines and other disruptions caused by COVID-19. Not only are there fewer opportunities for word-of-mouth marketing, but it would be improper given the fact that many events are now occurring entirely online.
If you want to entice donors to tune in and maximize virtual event revenue, you’ll need to let them know about the aspects and activities they will take the most interest in.
In order to effectively fundraise and engage supporters prior to and during your event, you’ll need to use the data you have stored away. While additional data analysis can make the event planning process a lot of work, it’s completely worth it in the end. Plus, you can streamline your hard work through technology when you use the right tools effectively.
If you want a surefire event that reels in as many supporters as possible, you’ll need to:
- Establish and track data-centric goals.
- Choose the right type of event.
- Promote your event online.
- Track your key performance indicators.
Mastering digital event management can take a bit of practice, but once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be able to smoothly plan and execute your events, both virtual and in-person. When you know what data to look for and how to use it to its fullest potential, your nonprofit will be able to effectively plan and execute successful events in the future. Let’s get started!
1. Establish and track data-centric goals.
This should be the first step in any of your fundraising endeavors! You’ll need to set realistic, measurable goals that are as specific as possible. Using past data to set these goals is the best way to make sure they’re attainable, but don’t be afraid to also aim high.
This can be a difficult balance to strike, but it’s an important skill to master when creating fundraising goals. If your goal is too easily attainable, you’re probably not maximizing your potential. However, if it’s too out-of-reach, your fundraising staff may run into a problem with morale and motivation if they don’t reach it.
You can set one overall goal or numerous, smaller goals. This could include things like a(n):
- Attendance rate. How many people do you want to attend the event? And what audiences will you try to reach with your event? Keep in mind that some segments of your donor base may prefer certain types of events over others. Establishing event attendance goals from the get-go will help you better understand who you should reach out to and what marketing measures the audience will respond best to.
- Press attention. “Press” can mean anything from media outlet coverage to your own social media livestream. Creating a goal around positive coverage can result in more donations for your event, a wider audience, or marketing for more attendees at next year’s event. Make sure you provide a way for audiences at home to also get involved when they view the publicized event, for instance, a well-designed online donation page.
- Fundraising goal. The most important goal of your fundraising event is obviously how much you raise. Look through the data from your last fundraising events. Were they similar to this one? What were your previous goals? Did you reach them? These historic numbers can help you create a goal for this event that is both attainable and motivating.
Once you know your goals, you can better formulate your plans and event budget to better reflect those goals. For instance, if you’re holding a lavish event in order to attract and steward your major donors, you may charge a higher admission fee.
2. Choose the right type of event.
After you’ve set your budget and primary goals, you’ll need to determine what type of event can help you reach those objectives. This requires a deeper analysis of your donors’ interests, past fundraising data, and other past event metrics. When you choose the right event, you’ll get more supporters involved and you’ll build stronger relationships with those who attend. Don’t forget that many of your classic fundraising events can be reworked and transformed into virtual formats.
For instance, many nonprofits host events to spark in-person (or video conference) conversations between major gift officers and major donors and prospects. In this case, you’ll need to know detailed donor information, such as a general understanding of their giving affinity and their philanthropic history. All of this data should be easily accessed in donor profiles, making it easy to send invitations and plan ahead for food, venue, etc. by knowing the anticipated visitor attendance rates.
When choosing the right materials and location for your event, consider these questions:
- Is this an invite-only event? If so, how many people will I invite? What percentage of them can we assume will tune in? Look at past event data to see what percentage of invited guests have attended your other more exclusive events.
- Will you offer open registration? If anyone can register for your event, you’ll need to carefully estimate how many attendees you expect before booking your venue and purchasing other materials. Annual events tend to have the most predictable metrics for event attendance from year to year.
- What kind of venue or technology do you need? When in-person events return, you’ll need to consider how many rooms you need, available parking, and whether it will be an indoor or outdoor event. Consider your budget and how an open space will compare to separate rooms for separate activities. For virtual events, you’ll need to choose appropriate technology to host your conversion, such as Zoom or Google Hangouts.
- Will you be serving food? For a smaller, more intimate event, you may consider providing food to your guests. However, with large events, you have the opportunity to sell food as an additional method of fundraising. Or if a restaurant or food truck sponsors your event, they may sell to your guests at a discounted rate. In the virtual sphere, serving food may also mean that you’re sending meals or meal kits (for cooking-related stewardship events) to your “attendees”, so be sure to factor in shipping costs into your plans.
Before settling on an idea, consider your budget, event management software, and other resources. Maybe you’re working with a limited budget or don’t have many volunteers to staff your event. You should consider this before you choose an idea and start advertising it.
If you’re looking for virtual or classic event ideas that will please the most supporters, just ask! Ask them about what type of event they would like to attend and go from there. Make sure you save their responses so that you can use the data from these surveys for this event and future ones.
For more ideas to inspire your next fundraising event, take a look at Snowball’s list of fundraising ideas!
3. Promote your event online.
How can you expect people to show up to your event if they never hear anything about it? You’ll need to actively promote your event, and the best way to do this is by reaching your supporters where they are.
Create segments in your nonprofit’s donor database based on their preferred methods of communication. Then, you can reach out to them on the platforms you know they’ll respond best to. For instance, you may create various segments for the following outreach platforms:
- Email. This tends to be an extremely effective promotion platform because messages are sent directly to the inbox of your supporters. Draft these emails using auto-fill personalization that pulls from data in your CRM. For instance, pull the preferred names of donors to auto-fill in the salutation of your message.
- Social media. Many organizations are trying to reach their supporters through direct messaging on social media nowadays. Consider this trend when you’re working to leverage your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other platforms for event promotion.
- SMS messaging. Most people are rarely more than an arm’s length from their cell phones. Text messages are an effective way to reach many, especially younger, supporters where they are.
- Direct mail. Supplement online outreach with non-digital strategies such as direct mail. When you draft direct mail, make sure you include an easy way for supporters to respond to the letter. For instance, you may include a return envelope stamped and addressed to your nonprofit. Or you may share the URL for the event registration page so they can go online.
Data in your nonprofit’s CRM will help inform which of these platforms to use for outreach. Consider the platforms that have had the highest open and click-through rates in the past. Or send a survey to supporters to better understand their preferences.
No matter which platform you use, most of the work to send these messages is done digitally (yes, even for direct mail!). Consider this: Where are you pulling addresses from? What about social media handles? Or phone numbers? All of this data comes from your nonprofit’s CRM. Don’t discount its value in establishing the content preferences that best attract your readers.
4. Track your key performance indicators.
Remember the primary goals you made for your event? Just looking at a single massive goal can get overwhelming. Instead, create benchmark objectives and set key performance indicators (KPIs) for yourself to make it easier to track progress and help you achieve goals.
For instance, if your goal is to attract a certain number of registrations for the event, create a red, green, and super green goal for yourself. These types of benchmarks look like this:
- The red goal is the minimum number of registrants that you’ll be satisfied with.
- Green is a good reach goal for your organization.
- A super green goal is one that greatly exceeds expectations for your nonprofit.
Keep track of the registrants who come through your event platform. Then, make sure all of these registrations are also saved to your CRM. You may even be able to set up a dashboard on either of these software platforms to easily access progress towards these goals at a glance!
Or, let’s say your primary goal has more to do with fundraising. Consider tracking your progress towards your ultimate fundraising goals leading up to the event. When you’re raising funds using digital resources, tracking your fundraising dollars becomes a much more manageable task.
Not only will tracking your progress keep your team motivated, but it can also motivate your supporters! How? Supporters want to know that they made a difference, and knowing their gift propels you to your goal can motivate them. We recommend using a fundraising thermometer to publically track your fundraising progress towards your goal. This allows supporters to see a visual representation of the impact their gift will have towards your goal.
Plus, you can download a fundraising thermometer for free! Bloomerang’s fundraising thermometer is free for any nonprofit to download. Try posting updates of the thermometer to social media, including the image in newsletters, and displaying it in your office/event to further motivate fundraisers.
KPIs are a great way to track your progress and make sure you reach your nonprofit’s larger goals. Choose attainable KPIs that will help maintain motivation in your office and among your supporters.
Once your event has wrapped up, make sure you evaluate your newly-implemented digital event management strategy. You may also choose to compare the success of the virtual event to that of your in-person events.
Managing your event via technology can be a bit confusing at first, but if you choose straightforward software, you should have no problem. In fact, it should make planning your event easier by streamlining every aspect of it.
The two primary software solutions you’ll be using to create a digitally-informed and streamlined event are your CRM platform and donor management platform. If you’re looking for new software that will help you plan your next event, consider the referral guides for CRM software here, or event management software here to start your research.