Congratulations! Your non-profit organization has just pulled off a well-attended fundraising event to kick off a major campaign. It might have been a cocktail party, or an auction, or a walk-a-thon. Maybe a local celebrity spoke to raise enthusiasm and encourage pledges. You took in enough in donations to be pleased with yourself. But that's not the only way to tally up your results.
Cash is King...
It is easy enough to add up what you spent to put on the event, and subtract that from the total of all the checks and pledges you received, and thus determine your financial return. Your Return On Investment (ROI) for the event will be the revenue minus the investment, divided by the investment. ROI = (R - I)/I
...But You Can't Measure Everything with Money.
Nonprofit donations are typically the end result of a lot of hard work. Those checks and contributions usually grow out of careful and diligent cultivation of an organization's image and its relationships. So it is reasonable to ask, "In what ways did our event contribute to that cultivation?" How did your event improve your relationships with donors, members, and all the other people who make up your audience?
The best way to quantify the health of your relationships with your membership or audiences is to survey them on a regular basis, ideally quarterly. (For more on relationship surveys, see this article.) Conducting a survey online is quick and convenient thanks to survey sites like SurveyMonkey. To determine how your event has changed your relationships, it may be valuable to do before- and after-the-event surveys. This is especially true for larger organizations.
There are alternatives to surveys that you can use to quantify the non-financial results of your event. Let’s consider a hypothetical example. Suppose your non-profit has hosted a party to begin the public campaign for a fundraising effort that will involve hundreds of donors, will last a couple years, and will hopefully benefit from public funding approved by referendum. Suppose that the party was well-attended, with a brilliant and engaging speaker, and you had significant income at the event in the form of donations and pledges.
How else did your organization benefit from this event? Here are five possibilities to look at, along with tips to maximize them:
1.) New Members
Every new member that your event brought in means new annual income into the future. A one-time pledge for your campaign is a great thing, but gaining a new member can be of far greater value, when you consider a member's lifetime value as a revenue source.
To determine the lifetime financial value of a new member, ask your administrative staff to calculate the average annual donations of a member, and the average length of membership of a member. If your average member provides $100 per year in dues and donations, and if your members retain their memberships for an average of five years, then the lifetime value of your average new member is at least $500. How does this compare to one-time contributions to specific campaigns?
Tip: At fundraising events, always have a system in place to encourage and sign up new members. Use your event to gain face-time with important donors and supporters. In follow-up correspondence with attendees, or when getting in touch with those that did not attend, it is important to encourage them to become members. In this way the work you put into your event will continue to pay off long into the future.
2.) New Friends
Members of the public who are not members but who are more-than-passingly familiar with your organization are a valuable audience in their own right. Every person whose knowledge of your organization was deepened or improved as a result of your event (whether they attended or not) is of value, because they are now more likely to join or donate or otherwise support your organization in the future. This is especially important if you have a public funding vote coming up. People who know more about your organization are more likely to support its mission with their vote.
This audience of friends includes a potentially large number of people: event attendees, people who received an invitation but did not attend, and people who just read or heard about the event. Make an effort to determine how much it increased thanks to your event. One way to put a value on these new friends is to consider how much effort it would take to generate them without an event. How many newsletters or articles or other efforts would it take to generate that many new friends. How much staff time does that represent?
Tip: When designing your invitations, insure that they communicate your mission and important details about your new campaign. If possible, when planning your event, encourage those you invite to bring their friends or other interested parties as guests. Design all your event publicity to inform the public, so that, whether or not they attend the event, people will learn about your organization and its mission.
3.) Public Image and Share of Mind/Pocketbook
Your organization is not the only non-profit in town, and your event is not the only fundraiser on the calendar. Most of your attendees will belong to other organizations and attend other events. Your organization is always in competition with other non-profits for share of pocketbook and share of mind, and your attendees will compare your event to similar events.
Your organization's ability to manage an event reflects strongly on your ability to manage your mission. Because your event came off so well, you have received valuable public exposure for your organization. You've demonstrated the quality of your board, staff, and volunteers. Also your ability to run projects and gain community support. Everyone who attended your event came away thinking, “Wow, those guys have got their act together." Consider what their impression would have been had your event been poorly run.
Just as a positive newspaper article generates favorable exposure for your organization, your event and its publicity results in favorable exposure. The event's invitation generated positive exposure, as did whatever newspaper or word-of-mouth coverage you received. Again, this is especially important in light of the support you need in the upcoming public funding referendum: every vote may count. Simple familiarity with your organization may be sufficient to to sway a vote.
Favorable exposure improves the image of your organization in the minds of your members, friends, and the public in general. It is of great value, but is a bit harder to quantify than revenue, members, or friends. One way to evaluate your exposure is to consider how many people were exposed to your mission and messages as a result of the event and its publicity. Now compare that to how much effort it would take to reach that many people without an event. How many hours of staff time would it take to generate all those articles and publicity?
Tip: Before your event, take pains to plan and organize carefully. Keep in mind that how the event is managed and run will be noticed, and your organization will be judged against similar nonprofits. Before and after the event, leverage its occurrence and success in whatever press release(s) you send out, for instance to announce the public phase of the Campaign. In any media coverage of the event, every attendee will seem to be a supporter of your organization and your Campaign. Thus it is important to emphasize the number and diversity of the attendees in your press releases and interviews, and to include photos showing large numbers of attendees. If possible and appropriate, make a connection between your organization and the upcoming vote.
4.) Potential Volunteers and Board Members
Your event attendees have demonstrated their interest by their presence, and are thus likely prospects for your future volunteers, board, and committee members. So your event has value in that it encouraged attendees to become more active in your organization. Any volunteers, sponsors, or contributors that were brought on especially for this event are more likely to participate in the future.
Tip: Use an event's volunteer or sponsorship opportunities as a reason to approach new volunteers or donors you'd like to cultivate. Similarly, use requests for in-kind donations as a way to court persons or businesses from whom you'd like future support. Once a person or business has made a small donation of time or money, they are more likely to support you in the future. Make sure you thank and recognize them. Suggest possible future projects.
At the event, have current board members keep their eyes and ears open for likely volunteer prospects. Following a successful event is a good time to approach attendees who you would like to bring into your board or volunteer pools.
5.) Your Organization’s Morale and Experience
Your event will have provided valuable experience to the volunteers and staff involved. The morale and enthusiasm among your organization’s board and membership will probably be especially high after a successful event. (But note that labor-intensive events can tax volunteers to the point of exhaustion, or even bitterness.)
There is plenty of evidence that good employee morale leads to happier customers, and a similar dynamic may well exist between non-profits and their donors. While it is difficult to quantify the value of morale, you can certainly use an increase in morale to your organization's benefit. If the mood of your organization is especially high following an event, then it is a good time to undertake those tasks that volunteers and board members find onerous or difficult. For instance, it is often difficult to motivate board members or volunteers to make fundraising phone calls or pitches; the confidence boost of your successful event may energize them.
Tip: Use events to provide experience to your staff and board members and to build their confidence. Take the time to congratulate yourselves, and to learn what contributed to your success. Take great care to recognize and reward the most active and effective volunteers for your event -- especially those who appear overworked or under-appreciated.
(Thanks to Powered by Professionals for the image.)
Bill Paarlberg is editor of The Measurement Standard blog and newsletter. He is also editor of the books “Measuring the Networked
Nonprofit,” by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, and “Measure What Matters” by Katie Paine.
Follow Bill Paarlberg on Twitter.
The Measurement Standard is a publication of Salience/KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Chairman and Founder Katie Paine will be glad to talk with you about measurement for your organization.