What Can Our Past Tell Us About Our Future?

When archaeologists study an ancient civilization, they look for evidence and clues in the material remains that people leave behind to understand how they lived.

As the daughter of archaeologists, I find a great deal of similarity in delving into the secrets that can be revealed by studying the details of our events as reflected in our performance data.

Statistical data help us understand how our programs are performing and highlight opportunities for improvement. In my chapter of the new Blackbaud ebook, Drab to Fab: Peer-to-Peer Event Makeover, I explore the important “clues” to look for in your “archaeological” data.

Here are some of the best ways to get started peering into your past to better understand – and even change – your future!

1. Evaluate your event data from the past 3 years or so.

For large regional and national programs, I usually start my study with representative events from each region. If this is the first year you’re doing some P2P archaeology, start by pulling the following stats:

  • Event level data:
    • Online and offline fundraising totals (separate from sponsorship or other dollars)
    • Participation / registration growth
    • Individual participant and team captain retention rates
  • Fundraising performance metrics
    • Average donation amount
    • Average fundraising per participant
    • Average fundraising per fundraiser
    • Percent of participants who fundraise

2. Compare your performance to industry benchmarks.

You might want to start with the Blackbaud Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Study, which combines three years of event data from 39 organizations that produced over 44,000 events using Blackbaud’s P2P fundraising platforms. This study lets you benchmark your performance against other events in a similar category such as walks, runs, bike, and endurance events.

What can you learn from other nonprofits’ performance?

I’ve been working with a super-successful regional event series that has enjoyed phenomenal growth. Their top line revenue growth over the past 3 years far exceeds the industry average growth rates. On the surface, they look unbeatable, so they should keep doing what they’re doing, right?

Of course! And yet, there’s still room for improvement. When we dug into the event metrics, an interesting picture emerged. YES, they had phenomenal overall revenue and participation growth. Each year however, more and more of their revenue came from registration fees while the average amount raised by their fundraisers declined.

To continue to grow, they could continue to recruit more and more runners. But, with this new insight gleaned from analytics, they know that they have untapped potential revenue in their event. In 2015 they plan to focus on coaching their fundraiser to help them succeed at the task. This new effort will help ensure that as their registrations grow, the organization also raises more donation dollars. It’s a win for their fundraisers and a win for the cause.

3. Develop your own benchmarks for the coming year.

Regardless of what the industry is doing, you want to see your event improve each year. Let your goals for growth dictate new tactics you’ll employ in the coming year’s event season.For instance, if you decide to set a goal of 10% growth in online fundraising performance, calculate:

  • How many online fundraisers will I need to recruit and coach?
  • What should their average funds raised be?

Now set out your tactics:

  • We will do X to convert more participants to fundraisers
  • We will do Y to retain more team captains and top fundraisers
  • We’ll enhance our coaching strategy to help average fundraisers become great fundraisers

While you might not feel like Indiana Jones while doing it, time spent studying your data can yield valuable insights that will help keep your peer-to-peer events vital and growing.