Why we should all learn to embrace failure in our events
The recent Events Fundraising Conference held in June saw charities big and small, from across the UK, grapple with the issues affecting their events.
Failure is almost an inevitability in the world of events today. As the market becomes more competitive, it’s made it more difficult for charities to leave their mark. And that’s before we consider the socio-economic factors that influence everything we do. But rather than plugging away with the same ideas and merely throwing money at the problem, we should learn when to innovate, re-invent and go back to the drawing board.
It happens to all charities, big and small
The RSPCA may be a household name, but even it has faced challenges in its events and sought to innovate when faced with failure. After two years, its mass participation dog walking event, My Big Walkies (first known as Big Walkies), was proving to be too expensive and was making a loss. Dog owners loved the event but just weren’t raising enough money to cover costs. How could they get more dog walkers involved, raising more money and all for less cost?
Last year, together with creative agency Open, the RSPCA transformed the event from a physical one to a virtual one, with digital at its very centre. Through research, it identified the core audiences that the event would appeal to and created a tailored marketing strategy for each group, whilst also making use of influencers and celebrities to further promote the event.
The changes proved successful, with the cost to recruit participants less than half what it had been the previous year and the remittance percentages jumping significantly. Following the event the RSPCA listened to participants’ feedback and analysed the online behaviour of the dog-walkers which it used to build on the success of the event’s transformation.
Be proactive not reactive
As the market matures and begins to slow, the ability to identify plateaus, predict downturns and plan ahead will become much more important. Helen Mower, Head of Fundraising at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice embodies this mentality. Bluebell Wood's soapbox derby smashed all its financial and non-financial targets last year and became one of the most successful events the charity has ever organised. The result of this was the event being crowned the deserved winner of the Best of Use of Events at the 2017 National Fundraising Awards.
But, Helen knows the lifespan on experiential events is finite. Despite coming off the back of such a successful year she acknowledged that there could be only a one or two years left in the event's lifespan before they would have to go back to the drawing board. She explains that her team is meticulously monitoring all the data it can get from this year’s event to spot any trends and offer insight. Have sign-ups slowed down? Will as many spectators turn up to watch in the second year? Will participants fundraise more? All of these are vital metrics to be analysed. And all the while they’ve continued to innovate across their portfolio and launch other events like colour runs and mud runs too. The aim, she explains, is to be proactive and to change direction while you’re still ahead.
Failure isn’t fatal
The common theme across of all the talks at the Events Fundraising Conference was that almost all events will see drop offs in numbers eventually. But, from galas to dog walks, and mud runs to art trails, the ability to innovate, stay creative and be responsive to opportunities will always serve you well.
Who is taking part in the event? What are we asking them to do? And why would they want do it? These are the simple questions that need to be asked time and time again. Because when you know the answer you can start to test, review, innovate and change for a positive outcome. As the saying goes, ‘Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be’.
Ben Gibson, Events Executive – Sports and Adventure at Breast Cancer Care