How to use data to grow your next event

How did we even run our events before we had so much data available? It used to be that data just told us how we did. The big difference now is that data can be used to tell us how we’re doing in real time and help us guide the success of our events. I look at event data in three phases:

  • Before This is the planning period before your event opens for registration. Here you should benchmark your plan for a successful event.
  • During This is the period from the opening of registration through event day itself. The major focus of marketing and communication is on the 12 weeks of fundraising before event day. In this phase, you’ll use fundraising data and marketing data to keep sign-ups on track and correct fundraising progress.
  • After This covers the period after event day through closing out your event’s fundraising. It involves wrapping up fundraising, analyzing success and summarizing data for next year’s event.


A successful event is usually the result of thorough planning. It’s best to begin with an understanding of what data sources you want to include. For our clients, we recommend using DonorDrive’s Event Insights, our built-in reporting, Google Analytics and Facebook analytics. You want to use all your data sources to trace your success last year. The most important things to look at are where your donations and registrations came from last event. In DonorDrive, you can do a custom export that shows the URLs the visitors came through. We also benchmark how many registrations and donations came from Facebook ads and boosted posts the year before.

The analytics you collect can help you segment your audience for messaging, like new participants vs. returning participants. For instance, setting up an event page in Facebook can bring in 90% or more of your new participants. If your goal is to get new participants, that’s an awesome way to do it. If, on the other hand, the goal is getting lapsed participants back, we recommend doing a very targeted Facebook ad campaign and then relying heavily on email and personal outreach to those people.

Create a calendar

Another best practice is to set up an event calendar that includes a schedule for your marketing and messaging. If you do that up front, it will make analysis easier. You have a record of what you did when, so you can compare your daily messaging with daily numbers in your fundraising software. As mentioned, we encourage DonorDrive clients to do their marketing and messaging push starting 12 weeks out from event day. There’s benefit to multiple communication strategies supporting each other. Coordinating messaging for email, Facebook, Google Ad Words, etc., can play off each other for a bigger impact.

It’s important to evaluate all your data together. You can use Facebook’s data to analyze day and time trends, but you have to layer it with other information to get the real picture. For example, you may see the day you ran a Facebook ad you had an awesome response, but then discover you also sent out an email that day. You need to examine everything you’re doing to see if there are correlations that are affecting success.

Set goals

It’s important that you set goals for the two most important key performance indicators: revenue and participant numbers. Based on the average dollars raised per participant in past years you can calculate how many participants you’ll need this year to hit your revenue goals.

Conversion rates, especially those in Google and Facebook, are helpful in determining how many people you need to reach in order to hit your registration goal. They also serve as a benchmark for improving your event marketing effectiveness this year through better messaging and targeting. Since you know how many people you need to reach and the costs for your spend, conversion rates are also useful for setting your marketing budget. Note that the less targeted you are in ad placement, the more your conversions are going to cost.

Make sure you set up a page for your event in Facebook early, even before registration begins. This becomes another space to attract supporters and start conversations.


We focus on the 12 weeks leading up to your event, because that’s the most critical for enlisting participants and for getting them to fundraise. Messaging and marketing are both both vital for engaging returning, new, and lapsed participants. The plan is pretty logical: At the start of the 12 weeks, your focus will be recruiting and by the end you’ll be pushing fundraising exclusively. Your goal should be to get participants registered as soon as possible to give them more time to fundraise.

In the recruiting phase, you’ll be asking new participants to get involved, reminding past participants to register and enouraging lapsed participants to come back—with specific messaging for each.

How to get new participants

New participants will want to know why they should participate, so ads and boosted posts are likely to be their first contact with your organization. You have to get them to understand your mission and its importance quickly, and then make it clear to them the impact they can have personally in their fundraising. Show your mission through photos and video and encourage them to start a team with their friends. Make sure you follow up immediately after registration with messaging that makes them feel they’re joining a community of fundraisers who are making a difference.

Based on last year’s retention rate, and the participant growth numbers you want to hit, you should have a good idea how many new participants you need to recruit. Make sure you hit your weekly target for new participants and correct your plan if you‘re not seeing results. You can expect to devote a large portion of your marketing budget to recruiting.

How to get participants to return

Returning participants often just need a few reminders to register. Let them know they’ll have a bigger impact if they register and fundraise early. Upload your list of last year’s participants to Facebook and you can market directly to them. Reminding people of the fun they had can be effective at getting them back, so post photos and video of last year’s event on Facebook and Instagram and boost them. Make sure your participants tag themselves in photos. As they share those posts, Facebook will tell you the ones that are hot and recommend that you should boost them.

How to get lapsed participants back

Lapsed participants are worth the extra effort to get back since they raise two and a half times as much as new participants. We recommend to our clients to use email, social media posts and text messages through DonorDrive to reach out to lapsed participants. It’s important to follow that up with Facebook ads and organic posts.

In DonorDrive, we make it really easy to find lapsed participants in our Event Insights dashboard: just tap a circle and download a report. Once you know who your lapsed participants are, you need to determine why they aren’t coming back. A survey is a good place to start. Then start heavy outreach to them based on their answers. If they were dissatisfied with last year’s event, address their concerns. If they moved out of the area, they can still contribute as a virtual participant. Thank them all and tell them they’re missed. To get them back, a personal call or email is very effective and usually worth the effort.

Take care of your captains

Beyond recruiting and encouraging fundraising for all participants, give special focus to team captains. That’s a whole data set not related to retention or getting new participants, but you really want to make sure they’re engaged. They play a crucial role in recruiting and their team is responsible for 10 times the dollars of an individual participant. I would have a Facebook group exclusively for your team captains. You can communicate with them, pass them assets, and give them instructions. It’s also useful to create a fundraising platform training video just for captains, so they become experts in using your software and help their team when there are fundraising questions.

In DonorDrive, we recommend running a Team Captains report to determine if they’re following best practices and are on track. Make sure they’ve told their story on their fundraising page (as well as on their team page,) added an avatar, added a photo or video, connected with Facebook and Twitter and sent out team invites. If not, get in touch and let them know they need to be doing these things. Have successful team captains suggest things or throw out a question related to best practices on the Facebook group, like: “Hey John, Andy, and Meg, can you share why sending emails through DonorDrive have helped in your success?” Having your most successful team captains help your other team captains is a really great way to get them moving.

Be flexible with your budget

Budget your marketing spend, but keep back a rainy-day fund. If your data is showing that registrations have skyrocketed, you might have to pivot to a fundraising strategy to take advantage of all those participants. We split budgets out by acquisition and fundraising. If you’ve overspent on registration and were successful, you may want to then use your other methods, like email and organic social media, to drive fundraising.

What to do if you’re missing the mark

Sometimes even great plans don’t hit goals. It’s best to do weekly assessments and see if you’re on target for registration and fundraising, based on historic weekly data. In DonorDrive, our Event Performance Monitor can parallel last year’s event for easy benchmarking. Once you’ve compared this year against last, then go back and step through the process like a real participant. Starting with the moment the event first pops up in their feed or inbox, do a gut check and determine if the experience you’ve created for them is working. Often we’re looking so deep into the data that we miss the common sense stuff.

Say you send out a communication and you expected many lapsed participants to sign up from it. Go back and send it to yourself. Then ask yourself what you would have done if you got it. Does the subject line work? Is it too text heavy? Is there a call to action? People want short and sweet. If you’re looking at data weekly, it makes it really easy to shift when things aren’t working as expected.

You don’t have to look at 50 metrics every week. Looking at very basic metrics, like registration and fundraiser activation, really helps you focus your efforts on what’s important that makes your event a success. Don’t overwhelm yourself with pulling so many reports.


First, you have to let the dust settle before you evaluate success. Obviously you can’t get new registrants at this point, but those you have can still fundraise and you should heavily encourage that. Posting photos from the event, telling everyone thanks, talking about how many came out, how much was raised and how much more you need to hit your goal for the event—all help drive post-event donations.

You can highlight successful fundraisers in messaging and on social media. Sharing their passion after the event date makes sense, since you can also add the success story to the messaging. Sharing with your participants can inspire more fundraising and donations. It’s also inexpensive to take any remaining budget and boost those posts. Many organizations raise 20% of total event revenue after event day.

Send out a post-event survey

Set up a survey so participants can rate your event. Ask if they’re likely to promote it. That will have a big impact on retention as well as your acquisition strategy for next year. The simpler the better: Would you recommend this event to friends? Yes or no? Why or why not? If people are telling you they aren’t coming back, it will cost you more in marketing next year to make up that loss.

The awesome thing about understanding what’s good and bad about your event is that you can use that data to guide communications for next year. Promote what people said they loved: “Remember how you loved the food last year? We made it even better.” Let them know you’ve heard them on their dislikes: “We’re listening. Here are the improvements we’re making.”

How to analyze last year’s success

In analyzing this year’s event, look at the same metrics you did pre-event. It’s also useful to benchmark your event with others like it. That way you can determine if problems are market-wide of just with your event.

The key performance indicators we recommend for our DonorDrive clients to look at post-event are: total raised, amount raised per participant (both new and returning), zero-dollar fundraisers, percent coming from each marketing channel, and retention rate. Observe what these are telling you about your event and determine how you’ll have to pivot to improve next year.

One more thing: based on your data, plan a communication strategy to keep participants engaged until next year event.

Ready to explore how DonorDrive can help you?