Fundraising for Virtual Auctions and Events: 5 Key Metrics (Guest Post)

Virtual events are a key fundraising tool for nonprofits, but they require time, money, and effort to be successful. Given the resources necessary for planning and hosting an event, you shouldn’t have any questions about whether or not your event accomplished your nonprofit’s outreach and fundraising goals. 

Tracking metrics helps your nonprofit evaluate the impact and return on investment of each fundraiser and event. While all events generate a lot of data, virtual fundraising events and auctions make it easier to collect and organize information due to analysis and reporting tools built into your software system. However, in order to maximize the information you receive, you’ll want to define the most important metrics to your organization and create easy-to-understand reports based on these analytics. 

To help your fundraising team assess past events and make data driven decisions about future fundraisers, this article will define five key metrics relevant to virtual events and auctions and explain how to collect and use them to enhance your future event opportunities:

  1. Guest Retention
  2. Average Bid
  3. Marketing Engagement 
  4. Attendance Format
  5. Volunteer Retention 

Remember to equip your event team with the appropriate software solutions to collect data on each of these metrics. Interesting data trends can often be found by comparing multiple metrics against one another, so investing in an integrated system can set your team up for success when it’s time to analyze your data. 

1. Guest Retention 

Your fundraising team will likely want to track how many guests attend each event, but don’t forget to keep an eye on how many guests return after attending your last event as well. Monitoring your guest retention will help your nonprofit understand the overall quality of your events as well as how well your nonprofit is connecting with supporters. 

Logically, strong relationships and high quality events will lead to repeat attendees, so a drop in guest retention may be a red flag for your events team. You can monitor and improve your guest retention rates by:

  • Using your CRM. As CharityEngine’s guide to donor management software explains, guest retention is best monitored by your CRM. Integrating your CRM and your event software will enable your nonprofit to automatically collect event attendance data and link it to individual donor profiles. 
  • Sending guests surveys. Surveys are the most straightforward way to understand why your guests attend (or don’t attend) events. Ask survey questions about what guests enjoy about events and what can be improved. In addition, consider asking guests what kind of events they are interested in attending. Sometimes some event types are just less popular with supporters. 
  • Creating customized messages. Acknowledging a guest’s attendance at your event makes them feel appreciated and can encourage them to come back for your next fundraiser. Reference previous events guests attended and send personalized emails inviting them to similar future events you have planned.

Retaining guests also helps your nonprofit build long-term relationships with supporters. While attracting new supporters is also beneficial, maintaining donors helps build a reliable support base that your nonprofit can count on to attend and spread the word about your next event. 

2. Average Bid

If your nonprofit hosts an online auction, make sure to pay special attention to your bid rates. Auction bids are determined by more than how much a guest assumes an item is worth. Tracking the average bid relative to your items’ market value can provide insight into how well your starting bids and bid intervals help your auction bring in revenue. 

Both under and over priced bidding can reduce your auction’s fundraising potential. Handbid’s silent auction guide advises setting starting bids at 30-40% of each item’s market value and setting low minimum bid increments to encourage bidding wars. 

For many nonprofit auctions, the goal is to drive as many bids as possible (usually around 10-14) and high bid increments can discourage additional bids, slowing an auction’s momentum. By contrast, pricing your items too low at the beginning can result in auctions never reaching the item’s market value, which equates to less revenue for your nonprofit. 

Your nonprofit can also add buy-it-now options to select auction items, allowing guests to bypass the auction and outright purchase items for about 150-200% of its market value. Be selective about which items you add a buy-it-now option to. For lower value items, a buy-it-now price can sometimes be the item’s best chance at reaching above its market value, while high-value items may have their bidding wars ended prematurely, earning your nonprofit less than the item’s potential value. 

3. Marketing Engagement

Your event’s marketing strategy determines how many guests end up attending your event. However, not all communication channels are equally effective, and understanding where your outreach team is finding the most success is vital to planning future marketing campaigns. 

Marketing engagement can be measured through a few performance indicators. Many of these metrics can be determined by web analytics tools, so make sure your website is equipped to track:

  • Platform response rates. Your outreach team is likely using several platforms to communicate with supporters, including email, social media, direct mail, and phone calls. A multi-channel marketing approach allows your nonprofit to create more touchpoints and build brand recognition, but your return on investment for some platforms might be lacking. This is especially true for nonprofits with multiple social media accounts, who often find they receive much higher responses on one platform than another. In some cases, this can signal that your outreach team should limit their total communication channels to ensure messages are always high value, and in others, this can be a wake-up call to reassess the organization’s approach on multiple platforms. 
  • Click-through rates. Click-through rates tell your nonprofit how supporters are finding your website. For example, you might compare your click-through rates on links in your email blast campaign over those in your most recent social media posts. High click-through rates can signal how effective individual posts and entire communication channels are. 
  • Conversion rates. How do your supporters respond after receiving your messages? For your events, you’ll want to track how many supporters you tell about your event end up becoming guests. This is one of your most important metrics as low conversion rates will most directly lead to declines in attendance and vice versa. 

Make sure your team is tracking all of these indicators to identify trends in your data, rather than collecting data for only one or two metrics. For example, a low conversion rate alone only tells your nonprofit that something in your marketing campaign needs to change. When paired with low click through rates on one of your major communication channels, you can begin to make more targeted improvements. 

4. Attendance Format 

Virtual events skyrocketed in popularity last year, and hybrid events are expected to gain popularity throughout 2021. Even as many nonprofits are beginning the transition to in-person events, some guests might have found they preferred attending virtually. Make sure your event software can accommodate in-person, online, and hybrid events, and monitor which event type leads to the highest attendance. 

This is especially relevant for hybrid events. The hybrid model works well with a variety of event types including auctions, which can have an in-person gathering and continue bidding online days after the event’s launch. For these events, keep track of:

  • How guests attend. At hybrid events, your team will need to juggle guests that are physically present while also engaging those who attend online. Use guest registration forms ahead of time to determine how guests will attend so your event team can staff volunteers appropriately. Comparing attendance between in-person, virtual, and hybrid events can also provide further insight into which format your nonprofit’s events most excel at.
  • Interactivity rate based on attendance format. Hybrid events can occasionally lead to online guests being neglected if not effectively planned out as it’s easy to get caught up in only connecting with the people who are physically present. Tracking how engagement changes based on attendance format can help your event team adjust your strategy to ensure everyone is given equal chance to participate in your event opportunities.
  • Geographical location. One of the benefits of virtual events is the ability to expand your audience without the limitations of physical location. For both your virtual and hybrid events, keep track of how many geographically distant supporters are in attendance. Doing so can provide unique insight into the overall success and potential of your online event activities to bring in new audiences. 

Also, remember to consider your volunteers and how they prefer to lend support. Like your guests, some volunteers may be geo graphically distant and prefer to help out virtually. Measuring in-person and online registration rates will also help your volunteers by allowing your nonprofit to staff your venue and live-chat with adequate numbers of volunteers. 

5. Volunteer Retention 

Events require extensive preparation, and a major component of event planning is often volunteer recruitment. You can save your event team time sifting through registrations and improve your nonprofit’s connections with volunteers by tracking your volunteer retention rate. 

Volunteers lend their time to your nonprofit for all sorts of reasons, but you can still gain general insights from your volunteers by monitoring your retention rate and outright asking them what they do and don’t like about working at your events. Many nonprofits have found success in retaining volunteers by:

  • Showing their appreciation. The easiest way to increase your volunteer retention rate is to show your volunteers you appreciate all they do for your nonprofit. Be sure to regularly thank your volunteers and consider hosting volunteer appreciation activities or wrap parties after your events. 
  • Sending surveys. Your volunteers are making an investment of their time in your nonprofit, and sending surveys shows that you care about their opinions on your nonprofit’s direction. Even if you receive negative feedback, volunteers appreciate being asked for their input.
  • Using volunteer management software. You can show your volunteers you appreciate their efforts by staying organized and never wasting their time. Volunteer management survey allows nonprofit event teams to communicate with, schedule, and check-in on volunteers during every part of your event. 

Building long-term relationships with your volunteers provides your nonprofit with a variety of benefits in addition to spending less time finding replacement volunteers. For example, this guide discusses the potential of volunteer grants, which are donations made by corporations after their employees volunteer a certain number of hours. For your nonprofit, volunteer grants are essentially free money, so encourage your volunteers to follow through on researching if they qualify and offer help if they encounter any stumbling blocks. 

Metrics help your nonprofit measure its success as well as opportunities for improvement. By comparing different data trends, you can discover key information that can point to places where your nonprofit can improve or shine a light on opportunities to capitalize on for your next event. However, remember that data alone doesn’t make improvements, so be sure to follow through and create data-driven plans to act on what your metrics tell you.


Jacques Jarman is Chief Revenue Officer at CharityEngine. He has over 20 years of leading sales and marketing technology strategies for client partners across secondary education, big data and high tech software and consulting services.

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