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  • Writer's pictureJane

Why ROI is such a rubbish measure of event success

I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with charities around what typical ROI an event should be achieving.

And I avoid giving an answer for these reasons:

  1. It’s a totally crap measure of success! There said it.

  2. I think we can all agree that an event is not just an income generating activity. Stating an ROI which is a very quick topline snapshot of return (income raised) on investment (expenditure spent) won’t tell you anything about the non-financial value of said activity.

  3. We really should move away from ‘typical’ anything. Comparing your activity’s ROI to another charities isn’t helpful. Why? Because your aims and objectives will differ, your supporter base, access to a committee, capacity internally, willing to do an event internally (can be a massive obstacle if support isn't there), appetite for risk and plans for long term growth… I could go on. There are so many variables.

  4. What is income? Is it ticket sales, sponsorship, donations on the day/night or does sponsorship sit with another team? etc

  5. What is expenditure? Does your team pay for the printing, or does that come out of another budget line? Is your salary included or not? etc

  6. Your starting point may well be very different to another organisations. If this is year 1 of an event, your ROI may be lower because you are trying things out. You may not be 100% sure on messaging yet, or who your audience is. You might have gone for a more expensive venue, or overordered on catering. All these things would be perfectly acceptable situations in the first year of an event, because you’ve never done it before. There are a lot of unknowns.

  7. We don’t live or work in a vacuum. Which means there are constant external factors pushing and pulling which will effect your activity. For example: A member of your team could leave and you don’t have time to replace them before the event, which results in you not being able to spend as much time on promoting it, or sourcing prizes as you’d like. There’s a cost of living crisis which might impact how many tickets or places you sell. There might be a national strike that results in you having to scale back or move to a virtual event instead. Plus countless other things might happen.

  8. It puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on already pressured events team who are not only trying to create a fantastic event on limited resource but are also aware that with every expense they make if the income doesn’t match up it will look like they’ve failed. Many many businesses who have much bigger budgets to spend don’t even break even until year 10 or more. Because they understand that sustainable growth takes time.

If you're asked to submit an ROI for an activity, maybe some of this will help you push back a little.

So I expect you’re thinking what would be better to use instead?

And this is the thing, there isn’t a nice neat 3 word or digit answer. Events are messy. People are messy. The world is messy. The value of an event can’t be quickly measured because how do you accurately measure if it was the catalyst for a mega donation or legacy pledge 3 years down the line? What monetary value do you put on relationship building and supporter stewardship? How do you measure feel good factor?

Having a clear purpose and aims for the event is a far more realistic way of measuring your achievements. For example something like this:

  • The primary aim of the event is to provide an in person occasion for 100 guests to be inspired and motivated to do more for our charity, whether that be on a personal level and/or using their influence to engage more people with the work of the charity.

  • The secondary aim is to learn more about those 100 guests attending and deliver a personalised call to action to high-net-worth and or influential individuals and corporate supporters for follow up conversations about their support moving forwards.

We will measure this by:

  • 50% of guests taking on a secondary ask/attending another event/accepting a meeting request/making a donation etc

  • 80% positive feedback received post event & willingness to attend another event in future

  • Donations of between £25,000 & £50,000 secured as a direct result of attending the event

Etc etc…

Events are fantastic. They’re also multi faceted and reducing their success and value to a 3:1 metric can, in my opinion, do more damage than good.

You’re blooming awesome!

All the love

Jane 😊

PS. If you or a team member could do with some help working out your events plans or career aspirations, I have a couple of mentoring spots available. You can get my support and guidance over a 3 month period, to change your mind on what’s possible for you and your events and provide you with the action steps to start taking big leaps forward. I offer a load of bonuses (additional online training, templates, worksheets, benchmarking reports) and a payment plan so you can pay in instalments. Set up a discovery call here if it could help.

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