8 Reasons Why Associations Should STOP Using Spreadsheets When Managing Events

With associations collecting more and more data from their events, the significance of following good data management practices has never been so important. New research, however, has found that 1 in 3 associations still rely on spreadsheets when managing events – making data management both inefficient and prone to error. Spreadsheets also pose a security threat, especially in the post-GDPR world we live in today.

So what kind of risks are associations taking when using spreadsheets around their events? And how can event management solutions address the challenges associations face when managing data around their events? Let us take a look.

Read: 10 Reasons Businesses Invest in Event Management Software

1) Not Everyone Understands Spreadsheets

Any association will likely have a number of people involved in managing events, especially those with national and international chapters. Some members may not do well with spreadsheets. And some just don’t understand or like working with grid formats. Some people need something that is more visual or a format they feel more comfortable working with. And of course, different people have different skill sets and some may not be as savvy as their colleagues when it comes to understanding all the relevant tools in a spreadsheet programme.

Events can tell you a lot about your members!  But what kind of data should you be collecting from events and how can it help your association’s growth? Find out by getting YOUR copy of  The Value of Event Data for Associations and Membership Organisations. 

2) The Challenge of Version Control (…and data accuracy!)

Let’s look at a typical scenario where association members are planning an event. They meet to discuss what needs to happen and decide to use a spreadsheet around which all decisions can be based. At the end of the meeting, one of the team decides that it would be good if more information was added to the and updates the spreadsheet whilst at home. Unfortunately, some of the other team members do not receive the revised information. The association now has team members working on different spreadsheets – a situation that can be detrimental to the event’s success.

Version control is always a challenge when relying on spreadsheets. However, using an event management system can make life a lot easier. The data on these systems is automatically updated in the central database so everyone has access to the same information – at any time.  This can be particularly useful when managing things like agendas and delegate lists to ensure everyone is always dealing with the most up-to-date information.

Read: How to Save Time Creating Agendas for Your Events

3) Slower Decision Making

Using spreadsheets to keep track of what has been done and what is left to do is an administration burden. Events have many moving parts and many people involved in running them. When you put the two together, there is scope for things to be missed and for activities that have been completed not to have been crossed off the list. Having to go back and forth on multiple spreadsheets will also take up a lot of your time.

Using a central event management system will improve decision making by providing live insight to important event data like registrations and attendance. For example, organisers can get an accurate overview on how each session is doing in terms of registrations and room capacity. If a session proves to be more popular than anticipated, it can prompt the organiser to swap rooms around or assign the session to a larger room.

4) Manual Data Transfers

Spreadsheets are stand-alone documents and they do not connect to other data.  Any changes made to the information in spreadsheets (for example, delegate lists, agendas etc.) will have to be manually updated on registration sites, websites check-in kiosks, apps etc.  Any event data you have on your members (ex. session attendance) will also have to be manually updated in your association’s membership or CRM systems too – a time-consuming process that can also be prone to error!

Many event management systems can be integrated quite easily with some of the other technology systems used around events.  By integrating your event and membership systems together, for example, you can ensure the event data your membership teams see is always accurate and up-to-date.  At any time, they know exactly what members and non-members are doing around your events, which gives them better insight on what value events bring to your association.  Having live and accurate insight into what sessions members are attending will also make it a lot easier for your association to manage CPD accreditation and attendance certificates.

Read: The Importance of Data Integration for Association Events

5) Inconsistent Processes

Unless all association chapters are adopting the same rationale for how they manage, record and analyse data from events, the results from chapter reporting will not make much sense.  For example, let’s say that the London chapter has one way of doing things which is different to the Toronto chapter. The information given to the main board will therefore be inconsistent and will probably affect decision making as a result.

Instead of using spreadsheets, event management systems can help standardise processes and event reporting across the organisation.  Less time is wasted in collating data and decisions can be made by the board with more confidence.

6) Lack of Valuable Event Insight

Spreadsheets will not provide meaningful business insights in the way that an event management system can.  These tools can save you a lot of time creating, scheduling and sharing data-rich reports on registrations, attendance, sessions selections and more. In addition, they can help organisers with important decision making by giving them access to live critical data on the day of the event. For example, the Eventsforce attendance recording app can track in real-time how your events and sessions are doing in terms of registrations, attendance and room capacity. You can use that information to encourage people to attend the less popular sessions through push notifications on your event app.

Read: How on-site apps can help you run better events

7) Not Complying to GDPR

Another reason for not using spreadsheets for managing events is connected to GDPR.  The EU data protection law came into effect in May 20178 and has since had a profound effect in the way associations manage their data.  Consequently, associations are now a lot more aware of what personal data they collect from attendees, where they store this data, what they use it for and more importantly, how this data is kept safe. Storing and sharing event data using unsecure spreadsheets does not help with GDPR compliance as the data can easily be compromised. It also doesn’t help with things like consent management or deleting any personal information when your attendees ask you to.

Read: How GDPR Impacts the Rights of Your Attendees

Event management systems like Eventsforce can help associations track and manage any consent they get from their attendees in a GDPR compliant way. They can also provide tools that allow you to identify or delete any personal information you hold on your attendees.  This is important as you can get into a lot of trouble if you continue to store any data your members have asked you to delete.  It won’t help your reputation either.

8) Risk of Data Breach

It may be easy to create your delegate lists in an Excel spreadsheet and send them to third parties like venues, hotels and caterers. But the reality is that they are not the safest way of storing and sharing event data. And keeping personal data safe is one of the most important things around GDPR compliance.  In fact, recent research has found that data security is now a much bigger priority for 81% of associations because of GDPR.

Instead of emailing spreadsheets to stakeholders and third-party suppliers, you can allow them to access the information directly from your event management system.  Not only does this eliminate the security implications of sharing spreadsheets but it can also help you better track who has access to your data at any given time. Some solutions like Eventsforce offer additional security tools (see video) which allow you to decide who in your events team has access to your event data and what they can actually do with it.

Don’t forget doing things that minimise the chances of your event data getting into the wrong hands will not only help you with GDPR.  It will also give your members confidence that you are on the case and looking after their information properly.  Doing this all the time will ultimately boost reputation, generate more confidence and create more loyalty for your association in the long-term.


This article outlines the main reasons why spreadsheets are just not good enough, not only for managing events but critically because of issues around data management and data security. Using spreadsheets to manage events has been a practice for a while especially for associations. However, they are limited in application and are no longer viable for those associations that: want to provide great attendee experiences, ensure they have strong trust credentials and want to continue to develop their revenue and engagement.

Events can tell you a lot about your members!  But what kind of data should you be collecting from events and how can it help your association’s success and growth? Find out by downloading our latest eBook: The Value of Event Data for Associations and Membership Organisations.