September 15, 2014

Putting Data to Use for a Successful Nonprofit Event

One of the simultaneously most rewarding and most difficult aspects of nonprofit work is the reliance on community members to support an organization’s cause. It can be challenging to communicate the importance of a nonprofit’s work in a way that motivates action in others; however, when an organization does successfully reach those people, whether they be volunteers or simply curious parties, the results can be tremendous in terms of both generosity and support. For your group to see this kind of impact, you need to place an emphasis on helping outside individuals establish a personalized relationship with the cause at hand. The best time to create this one-one-one dynamic and instill a stronger connection with the issues at hand is your organization’s events. Fundraisers present valuable opportunities to generate a stronger understanding of and commitment to the given cause within the attendees. This may sound like a daunting task, but it all comes down to maximizing the available data and integrating it with existing customer relationship management (CRM) systems like Blackbaud to enhance the event experience for each individual.

The many uses of data for enhancing an event can be broken down into three categories: before, during, and after.

Planning the event

The planning and promotion of an event is your first opportunity to begin gathering valuable information about your invited guests. It’s your first point of contact with the attendees and, as we all know, a lot can be gained from a first impression.

As you collect the registration data, there are several beneficial methods of segmentation that can be implemented based on the information you receive. For example, has the attendee come to this event in the past? Better yet, has he been coming for the past several years and knows more about the event that the presenters? If this is the case, use that information to put a personalized touch on his event materials. He doesn’t need the background about the event itself, but might appreciate something more along the lines of a “Welcome back!”

Gaining this kind of valuable information ahead of time is simply a matter of asking the right questions. Initial submission and interest forms offer the opportunity to ask far more than simply names and titles. Use the chance to learn about an attendee’s background and goals, and you’ll be able to make strong connections with the right people before the event has even started.

At the show

When it comes to asking the right questions, it’s not all about learning how you can improve the pre-event experience; you can also use that data to personalize the event itself.

While larger components such as keynote speakers or auction items are often set in stone before registration data comes in, there are smaller finishing touches that can be put in place with less advance notice. Are some of your attendees vegan? They might appreciate some appetizers that reflect their dietary needs. Does someone go by her middle name? Show you paid attention by putting that on her nametag. Is there a group of people who spend their weekends hiking? Work your recent experience on the Appalachian Trail into the conversation when you introduce yourself.

The devil is in the details, and people will respond to that extra effort, or lack thereof. For nonprofits that run on the generosity of others, both in terms of time and money, personal connections can make all the difference. Data will open the doors to these more impactful gestures, which can lead to memorable nights for your attendees across the board.

The wrap-up

Your chance to put data to use isn’t over when the last guests leave. In the same way the pre-event registration questions create opportunities for customization, a well-crafted post-event questionnaire can be a valuable commodity. Your attendees appreciate personalized efforts before and during the show because it shows you’ve taken the time to appreciate their contributions; a survey following the event that asks for honest feedback — and then acts on it — demonstrates the same genuine interest and gratitude.

Which speaker was most well-received? What auction item motivated attendees to contribute their highest bids? Once your event data is fully integrated with your existing system, you can check which attendees are repeat donors, and whose average donations increased following the event. This information can help you gain a much clearer understanding of what worked and what didn’t, allowing you to reduce costs on unnecessary initiatives and ultimately improve the event’s overall effectiveness and return on investment. More importantly, these are the kind of highly beneficial adjustments that will result in even happier attendees the following year. Happy attendees are the same attendees who recruit their friends to come to the next event, and in the nonprofit community, that kind of word of mouth is the most valuable resource available. When you combine these sorts of customized touches before, during and after the event, you ensure your event becomes cost-effective and highly optimized to be more than just buzz; it becomes a catalyst for results. And all you need to make that happen is the right data.

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Matthew Wainwright
Matthew Wainwright is Director of Marketing at Attend.com. He comes from HubSpot and agency Catalyst Online.
Interest Categories: Data, Fundraising
Tags: CRM, Data