This post was contributed by Kelly Velasquez-Hague who brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause.
Nonprofit organizations of all sizes and missions have needed to adapt to unprecedented waves of challenges over recent months, so your own organization might be feeling a bit adrift. This feeling of instability has been felt deeply by nonprofit professionals tasked with event planning.
How do you adapt your classic events to virtual settings? How do you keep supporters engaged with your events when a million other concerns are on their minds? How can you stay responsive and continue to grow when it feels like you’re floundering in uncharted waters?
Questions like these have become extremely common as event planners are faced with challenges that weren’t at all on their radar just six months ago. But remember, even throughout this disruption, you’re not alone! There are plenty of valuable resources on virtual fundraising and stories about organizations that have found success in the new digital environment that you can read up on to inform your efforts as you adapt to new changes.
Most importantly, your organization’s own records of past events and donor engagement data can provide invaluable insights to strengthen your strategies.
At OneCause, we specialize in virtual charity auctions, classic events with a modern (and now often necessary) twist, so we’ve seen plenty of organizations effectively pivot their fundraising. Time and again, a nonprofit’s own data proves to be among the most useful resources to leverage when planning a virtual fundraising event.
We’ll walk through a few key types of nonprofit analytics and how they can improve your next virtual auction. These are:
- Event revenue metrics
- Other event performance metrics
- Donor data
With a robust CRM or other database solution, it’s easy to record, track, and store all of the data your events generate. And regardless of what type of virtual event you’re planning, your data should figure into the specific strategies you develop. Let’s get started.
1. Event Revenue Metrics
Generating revenue is almost certainly the core goal of most of your nonprofit’s events, virtual and in-person alike. This is especially true of classic events like charity auctions that revolve around bids, pledges, and live donation appeals.
Examining how well your past events performed in terms of revenue generation will help you during your virtual planning process. Look at these specific metrics:
- Event revenue, or the event’s total costs subtracted from the total amount it generated.
- Event revenue by source, or the amount generated through each fundraising outlet at your event. For an auction event, these outlets might include bids, tickets, donations, and add-ons like merchandise or raffle tickets.
- Cost-per-dollar raised, or the event’s total expenses divided by the total revenue it generated. This metric gives you a quick look at whether your event generated revenue, lost money, or broke even. If possible, you can also break this metric down by fundraising source for an even closer look at strengths and weaknesses.
Consider the elements of your event strategies that also influence revenue generation. Pre-event fundraising campaigns and your marketing efforts are great examples. Look for metrics like these:
- Conversion rate, or the rate at which visitors to your online donation form or registration page complete the target action, like making a donation or registering for your auction.
- Cost-per-acquisition, or the campaign or event’s total expenses divided by the number of new donors you acquired. Breaking this down specifically by marketing expenses is also helpful.
Although these metrics don’t directly measure event revenue, they impact revenue generation and are important to effective fundraising. For instance, low conversion rates on your auction registration pages mean that your marketing tactics or supporter experience needs attention in order to retain bidders to generate a profit for your event.
If you’re planning a virtual auction, look at these metrics from past auction events and try to answer these questions:
- On average, are your auctions profitable?
- How much revenue does your average auction generate?
- If you’ve hosted online auctions before, did they meet their revenue goals?
- How much does it cost to attract one new attendee to your auctions?
These insights can help you with one of the most important first steps of planning a fundraising event—setting goals. By understanding how much your events typically raise and through which sources, you can set achievable but ambitious goals (and outline a reasonable budget) that set your next event up for success.
Revenue analytics are extremely useful during the later stages of auction planning. For instance, a concrete sense of what your event needs to accomplish in terms of revenue will directly impact your item procurement and pricing process. How you price your auction items, (think starting bid amounts and minimum bid raises), plays a very direct role in how much revenue your auction is ultimately able to generate. To help, you can explore the OneCause guide to auction item pricing for a complete breakdown of best practices.
Additionally, looking at your event revenue by source can help to reveal blind spots or gaps in your current strategies. Are you missing out on potential pre-event revenue, like add-on purchases, or post-event revenue, like matching gift funds from donors’ employers?
Amid the disruptions of 2020, maximizing revenue is a top priority for every organization, so stay on the lookout for new opportunities. For instance, plenty of major companies have upped their matching gift programs in response to COVID-19, so it can definitely pay to scour your data for revenue gaps over the course of your virtual events.
2. Other Event Performance Metrics
While event revenue data is helpful, using it in combination with other event performance metrics provides a comprehensive picture of your event strategies and how to improve them. Looking at your past auctions, try to identify metrics like these:
- Attendance, the number of guests who attend your auctions. Break this metric down by total registrants, active bidders, inactive bidders, or any other groupings that yield valuable insights for your next event.
- Your donor or attendee retention rate, or how many supporters you retain from one campaign or event to the next.
- Your donor acquisition rate, or the number of new supporters you secured over the total number of supporters who participated in your campaign or event.
- Average donation amount, the size of the average gift given to your organization. Break this metric down by source or context, like online campaign donations and additional donations added to the ticket price.
- Average bid amount, the average amount that bidders at your auction place on items. Break this metric down by item value ranges for more specific insights.
- Average number of bids, or the typical number of bids that your auction items receive.
- Digital engagement metrics, like social media shares, likes, and pageviews.
These metrics essentially measure how donors and attendees engage with your events and can help you set goals and shape your strategies to improve your fundraising effectiveness. Also ask yourself these questions about your past auction performance:
- How many guests registered and actively bid during the event? How many registered but didn’t show up or didn’t actively bid? What was the ratio for each?
- How many attendees were retained from your last event? Are there any trends in your retention rate across your last several events?
- What was the average number of bids that each item received? Was the auction successful in terms of revenue?
These questions can reveal areas of your event strategy that you might not even realize need improvement. Retention is a common example, and it’s especially important for building more sustainable bases of support now.
If your last event failed to attract many return attendees, or if your attendee retention rate has been dropping over a longer timeframe, you should actively seek to attract more return attendees to your virtual auction. Specifically segmenting your donors by past event attendance gives you a ready-made list of potential attendees to reach out to.
3. Donor Data
The engagement data discussed in the previous section is generated at the individual level (like a single donor’s event attendance history) and used to reveal broader event performance insights (like your retention rates across multiple events). Digging deeper into your donors’ individual data can help guide your auction strategies in even more specific ways.
Examples of individualized donor data include metrics like:
- Marital and parental status
- Individual giving and attendance history with your organization
- Philanthropic history with other organizations
- Wealth markers, like property and stock ownership
- Employer and job title
Some of these data points can be collected through surveys, forms, and conversations, while others are often accessible through prospect research databases.
When your broader revenue and event performance metrics indicate issues or opportunities for growth in your event strategy, it’s individualized donor data that provide the most useful insights for addressing them. Here are a few examples of how donor data can help you troubleshoot your auction challenges:
- Poor event revenue. If your previous auctions didn’t hit revenue targets and/or if your auction items received few bids, strengthening your procurement should be a top priority for your next auction. Find the donors who regularly attend your events and look at their demographic information. How old are they? Do they have young children? What are their interests? The answers to these questions can (and should!) guide your auction item procurement strategy. Check out the complete OneCause directory of auction item ideas if you could use some inspiration.
- Poor attendee retention. If you find that you’re finding it difficult to attract many donors to return to your events, develop a marketing strategy to specifically target previous attendees for your next virtual auction. Personalized invitations and special opportunities for early registration, like a sneak peek at your item catalog, can be effective ways to boost retention. Proactively identifying donors whose individual engagement with your nonprofit is dropping off can guide your long-term stewardship strategies, too.
- Poor digital engagement. If you’re having trouble attracting attendees to the activities of your virtual auction and are seeing disappointing attendance rates as a result, your donor data can help you find the individuals who can help. Are any of your donors especially engaged online? Have they previously served as ambassadors for your campaigns or events? Reach out and ask them to help spread the word about your auction! Personalizing your marketing outreach to donors based on their histories with your work is an extremely effective way to boost engagement and keep your efforts focused.
While bigger-picture revenue and performance analytics help you identify problems and opportunities, individual donor data is invaluable for revealing the more actionable strategies for addressing them.
Generating Data and Putting It To Work
Understanding the minute and big-picture data about your events and audience is critical, and it’s only becoming more important given current events. Targeted outreach is a more effective strategy to help you reach the right donors and stand out in today’s competitive fundraising environment.
This is why investing in the right technology is increasingly essential, too. A robust CRM platform designed for nonprofits will be a solid foundation. Then, other planning, management, and marketing software will ensure that you can generate and then properly analyze plenty of data. Look for platforms specifically designed for facilitating and supporting auctions for the best long-term results.
When working hard to plan and host an event like a virtual auction, your data needs to pull its weight! Use it to find gaps in your strategy, target your donors more effectively, and host your best auction yet.