For more than 25 years, the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area has provided programs and services to improve the quality of life for those facing Parkinson’s disease. Operating events across more than twenty locations with a small staff, the organization manages key educational and wellness events for the Parkinson’s community.
When CEO Jared Cohen joined in 2013, the non-profit was struggling to stay afloat. “When I arrived at PFNCA, I was immediately challenged with operating losses that the foundation had for years. The board of directors was really trying to understand, is our model of service even viable?” Jared explains.
Suffering from Manual Processes
Faced with mounting pressure to transform the small nonprofit into a fully sustainable organization, the team needed to scale the program without adding costly resources. Automated efficiencies and donorship opportunities were required to generate net new revenue. Moreover, Jared and team needed to quantify the direct impact of the program on the Parkinson’s community to prove the nonprofit's viability.
PFNCA initially suffered from a lack of automated processes. “When I arrived at the foundation six years ago, we were literally taking hand-written brochures to register attendees,” recalls Jared. Given the elderly demographic of event attendees, the staff had to take special care to parse out key data. Jared notes, “Keep in mind that Parkinson’s is a disease that mainly impacts senior citizens. For many people, it presents where they may have tremors.” He adds that the PFNCA staff would spend hours transcribing the information into an Excel and send confirmations by mail or email. “Emails would bounce back because we couldn’t read the handwriting, we would make errors by inverting numbers for the payments, the phones were ringing all the time...it was incredibly labor intensive” Jared laments.
Creating a Digital Turnaround Story
The solution, Jared found, was Cvent. “A lot of our turnaround story, and we’ve had a major turnaround story, has been because of our use of Cvent. Plainly stated,” he says. The team adopted Cvent’s Event Management and Onsite Solution to streamline their program management needs. Jared explains, “PFNCA uses the Cvent platform for three main purposes: to administer and manage a wellness program portfolio of exercise and voice classes, for an annual educational symposium called Parkinson’s Pointers, and to manage a quarterly educational lecture series.” With hundreds of annual events that promote Parkinson’s wellness and community-building, Jared’s team has seen drastic growth in just a few short years.
Automating the registration process with sleek, modern websites has transformed the team’s day-to-day. With a few simple clicks, they are able to clearly and automatically capture registration details. They can also capture agreements for their liability waiver and digitally issue a badge with a QR code for easy check-in onsite.
Creating Attendee Engagement and Evaluation
The small nonprofit now accounts for every cost point to create valuable efficiencies. By eliminating the manual aspects of registration, the team has found untold additional hours to focus on scaling program offerings. Given the specific demographics of their program participants, they were initially apprehensive of attendee reactions. The response has been impressive. “They really appreciate the ability to log on at any time of day and engage with us through our website, which essentially links to the Cvent platform. The use of Cvent for our wellness program has also added an incredible level of professionalism that we didn’t have before,” note Jared. “I’m constantly being told how amazed people are that we do so much with such a small staff, and in reality we’re doing all that work in huge part because of Cvent.”
Moreover, PFNCA leverages Cvent as a key tool in their end-to-end program lifecycle. “Another benefit of using Cvent is that we have a very robust evaluation and survey capacity,” notes Jared. “So, understanding who is attending our program and how often essentially becomes a lead generation list for us for nonprofit fundraising purposes.”
Ensuring Brand Integrity
To increase donorship, PFNCA was challenged with differentiating themselves from other organizations doing similar work. “It’s important to understand that the Parkinson’s community nationally is very fragmented,” explains Jared. “There are probably a dozen national charities that are involved with Parkinson’s doing all different kinds of work. All of these national organizations have very similar names, so the question was how do we essentially increase our name recognition among our key constituencies in a way that scaled to our ability?”
Jared says the answer was already in his hands. By leveraging Cvent’s built-in marketing capabilities, they were able to promote the PFNCA brand to increase name recognition and revenue streams. The website gives PFNCA the space to market the brand’s story, creating an additional channel for inbound donations. The onsite experience further allows PFNCA to promote their logo, branding, and website on attendee badges and lanyards. “Cvent has allowed us to better understand data, to increase revenue by charging nominal fees where maybe before we didn't, and also allow us to leverage optional donations for every event,” notes Jared.
They also have been able to create key sponsorship opportunities due to the enhanced professionalism now associated with the brand. “We're seeing increases in corporate sponsorship because of how polished our events look using CVENT, and we're able to really use the website feature to promote our sponsors with links,” says Jared. “We’re able to use the communication infrastructure to recognize our sponsors before and after the event with targeted emails as well.” In optimizing these channels to bolster the PFNCA brand, the organization has seen tremendous growth over the last three years.
Fostering Parkinson's Community Impact
PFNCA has vastly increased donorship and streamlined efficiencies to create a fully sustainable organizational model. As the CEO of a small nonprofit, Jared acknowledges there are many important constituencies he answers to. These include the board of directors, other foundations, corporations, and individual donors. Most importantly, he feels beholden to the Parkinson’s community. “It’s really important that we’re building trust with those that we’re serving. By using Cvent, we have an incredible network behind us that gives us data, evaluation mechanisms, and the feedback infrastructure that we never had before,” explains Jared. “Cvent has allowed us to become experts in marketing, creating websites, communicating, and finding efficient ways to evaluate our program. All of these are tools any nonprofit can benefit from.”
In three years, PFNCA has seen a 37% increase in program registrations and a 47% increase in symposium revenue. They have also received over $10,000 in net new donations for their Parkinson’s Pointers series, a free program that is only fifteen months old. Perhaps most impressively, they have doubled their revenue with a 100% increase over the last three years. “With this data, we’re able to tell really powerful stories about how we serve the community in ways that are very tangible," Jared insists.
Maximizing Return on Investment in the Nonprofit World
By creating an efficient event marketing and management solution through Cvent, Jared has seen direct impact on the lives of PFNCA’s constituents. He acknowledges, “It’s incredibly empowering to see the programs our foundation provides, and to see how they’re supporting each other over time. There’s a sense of community in these people coming together, learning from and supporting each other. It’s incredibly powerful.”
Jared credits PFNCA’s newfound use of event technology as a key component in creating a fully sustainable operational model. “When we started with Cvent, we didn’t know what to expect as a small foundation. We thought it was outside of our wheelhouse, and it was a big expense. Every year we’ve increased our work and products with Cvent, and we continue to do so in the future because Cvent is driving our growth,” he explains. Last year, PFNCA even won honorable mention for a competitive award from The Center for Nonprofit Advancement in Washington, DC. In competing with large, multi-million dollar charities, Jared recalls that “the awards committee said they were really challenged in evaluating us because they had never seen a small nonprofit operate as efficiently as we do.”
Jared believes that event technology is something every nonprofit can benefit from, regardless of scale. He explains, “Cvent is an incredibly powerful tool for nonprofits. It more than pays for itself. Cvent allows you to expand and re-engineer how you serve the community. These are the pillars of any nonprofit that is going to be successful, no matter what your size is. It’s all under one roof with Cvent.”