Meghan DankovichLast month, I outlined three big questions that fundraising professionals should ask themselves as part of the year-end debriefing process. Now that 2013 is here, how can you apply what you learned to make this year’s events a success?

While event planning is a year-round activity, January is the perfect time to ponder questions like these …

1. How did our events perform last year?

Hopefully, you’ve already done at least a preliminary review of your 2012 data. Now it’s time to take a deeper dive by looking at things like these:

  • Histograms charting participant fundraising and donor giving: for insight into variables such as most common fundraising performance levels and gift amounts
  • Basic year-over-year metrics: of not just totals, but also mean, median and mode (if appropriate) and by relevant segments of participant characteristics
  • How well you know your top performers: e.g. how long they’ve been participating, their connection to your cause, how you’ve been recognizing them and why they keep coming back
  • Non-performers and one-and-done’s: e.g. the prevalence of each and possible reasons for their behavior
  • Participant surveys: a goldmine if you structure the questions in a way that allows for both quantitative and qualitative analysis
  • Registration forms: a great opportunity to capture useful information (e.g. participant type, fundraising goal, connection to cause) that you can use to personalize their experience with your event and organization
  • Participant behavior: e.g. how much information they gave you at registration, whether they set up a participant page, how many unique donors they had

As you analyze this data, aim to identify trends over the past three to five years. See any negative trends, such as declining gift sizes or participation numbers? That brings us to the next big question …

2. What’s our strategy for growth in 2013?

In developing your strategy for growth, start by selecting the three or four most urgent of these negative trends. How can you turn them around?

Suppose you’ve pegged loss of high performers, decline in median participant fundraising and a stagnant gift-size mode as your primary concerns. Now you can start discussing the reasons for these trends — and what needs to be done to positively influence them.

The key here is not to overwhelm your staff with recommendations. Give them a manageable number of specific to-dos. Here are a few simple ideas that I’ve found can make a big impact, if warranted by the analysis of your event:

  • Do a better job of “hugging” your top-performing participants.
  • Personalize your communications to acknowledge past participation, connection to cause, etc.
  • Include updated, more-compelling statements of need and impact to crystallize your organization’s mission and share your progress toward achieving it.
  • If you don’t already, charge a registration fee or suggest/require a fundraising minimum.
  • Bump up the suggested gift amounts on your donation forms.

3. How will we measure the impact of what we do differently this year?

There’s no use making changes that you can’t measure. That’s why being thoughtfully proactive about data collection is so important.

As your organization moves ahead, you’ll need to plan out the data you want to collect so that you can do apples-to-apples, year-over-year analysis. Also, be sure to set goals for what you intend to change, state who is responsible for meeting each goal and regularly monitor progress. After each event, get together with your team to assess outcomes, what worked (or didn’t) and why, and what to do differently next year.

If all this seems like too much to handle internally, you can always turn to companies like Event 360, whose fundraising strategy practice can help with things like data collection and analysis, interviewing stakeholders and finding ways to optimize your events.

“Meghan’s Strategy Lab” blog posts are featured monthly. Senior director, fundraising strategy Meghan Dankovich serves as the lead for many of Event 360’s consulting engagements, striving to help nonprofits exceed their event fundraising goals. Her expertise includes strategic planning, implementation of qualitative fundraising work and developing successful quantitative approaches for collecting and analyzing event-related data. 

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