Your Silent Auction Q & A

Gala season is upon us and that means many of you are worried about silent auction items. How many do you need? What do people bid on? Your silent auction questions answered here:

How many silent auction items do we need?
Fewer than you think. A good rule of thumb is no more than one item for every 5 guests. Many people attend these events as a couple, so you have fewer bidders than you have guests. And the way you raise money at an auction is by having competition. When you have too many auction items, you not only reduce competition, but you also can overwhelm your guests. If they feel like “shopping” the silent auction is work, they might not even look.

What do people bid on?
You want to fill your silent auction with the things people love to buy. The most popular items are often alcohol, restaurants, staycations, and anything that pulls their heartstrings and connects to your mission. Of course, that begs the question – what doesn’t sell? Some of the worst items for a silent auction include art, jewelry, and photography. The problem is that these items are very subjective and you lose a huge number of bidders because they have different taste, making these items much less competitive.

Is two better than one?
No! Not in a silent auction. I frequently see silent auctions with multiples of the same item, like a restaurant gift card, right next to each other. This kills the competition and almost guarantees those items will each go for well under value. Instead, group those items together into one larger package. Or in some cases you can even go to the runner up bidder and offer the item to them for the winning bid price to double your money.

What should I do with donated items I didn’t want?
Inevitably, you will end up with some donated miscellaneous items that you don’t think will sell. So take all these items, and make it a game. Guests are frequently willing to donate a small amount for the chance to win a mystery gift, which could be worth a lot. There are many ways to do this – balloon pop, mystery envelopes, bean bag toss, putting game…you name it. Just be sure each donor wins an item worth at least as much as they donated.

What makes a silent auction successful?
Make the silent auction fun to shop, and make sure it’s easy to bid and easy to check out. Know your audience, and seek donated items they will want. Follow these tips, and you’ll add valuable cash to your event’s bottom line. And if you need more help, let me know. I enjoy helping nonprofits raise more money at their special events.

Posted in Fundraising Events

Does Your Board Support Your Fundraising Event?

If you gathered all the board members who really support your fundraising event into a room, how full — or empty — would that room be? I am willing to bet that that events with board support are much more successful than the ones without board support. I would even argue that you CAN’T have a truly successful fundraising event without board support.

I have seen terrific events fail miserably when the board wasn’t behind the idea. I have also seen brand new events flourish and bring in huge profits because they enjoyed extensive board support. So how do you get it? Here are a few things to remember:

Think Strategically
What is the real purpose of the event? Hint: “because we have always done it” or “because everyone else is doing it” are not acceptable answers. Here are some of the most common answers:
• Fundraising: prioritize keeping expenses low and revenues high
• Acquisition: prioritize introducing NEW donors to the organization
• Education: qualify prospects by providing necessary information
• Recognition: invite existing donors for upgrade and renewal cultivation
When you raise the conversation to a strategic level, you’re more likely to engage the board and entice or renew their involvement.

Consider Personalities
What do your board members need and want from their involvement with your organization, and how can this event address those desires?
• Some board members are passionate about your program and will engage when they see how you plan to highlight the program or mission at your event.
• Some board members need to be involved up front in creating the idea or making strategic adjustments so they can point to their personal impact.
• Some board members need to be seen and recognized by those in their community as a supporter or a leader.
Just like a corporate sponsor, if you focus on what they need from the event, you’re more likely to get what YOU need from the event as well.

Get Peer Support
So how do you do these things? It’s most successful when you have a board champion who can speak to and engage their peers in these conversations. Start with one, and with planning and intention, the others will follow.

If your board doesn’t support your event, really ask yourself if you have engaged them strategically while considering their individual personalities. And if you haven’t, start by engaging with one board member, and watch your board support grow from there.

This post originally appeared on the Bloomerang blog. You can check out some of their latest research on outstanding success with fundraising events. You’ll see that Dr. Adrian Sargeant and his team focus on ten key factors and “Create Board Champions” is number 10. Click here to download the full report and read more about how your organization can transform your event to make a greater impact than ever.

Posted in Fundraising Events

Best Gala Ever – Here’s Why…

Last week I helped plan the best gala ever – well, at least in MY career – and I have been planning events for 17 years! This was the organization’s first gala ever – and they raised over $250,000. That’s net, folks. There were many reasons it was so successful, such as:

Heavy Sponsorship Support – We raised over half of the money before the event ever started with sponsorships. Many of our sponsors were individuals rather than businesses. They invited their guests to come to the event and with so many sponsors, we didn’t have to hustle to sell tickets.

Unique Live Auction Items – Every one of our live auction items were very unique experiences you can’t just “buy” because you have to have the right connections. That’s a formula for a great live auction. And we kept it short – only 7 items.

Small Silent Auction – We had over 200 guests, but we only had 23 silent auction items. We focused on nice packages, but the range in starting bids went from $75 – $3,000. The guests could spend their time visiting with friends instead of shopping and there was lots of competition for everything.

Specific Special Appeal – Our special appeal (paddle raiser) was for something very specific that people could see and touch. We started the appeal right after an emotional and heartfelt story. We also secured a hefty gift toward the project before the event, which we announced that night to get off on the right foot. The bid cards were flying and we exceeded our goal.

Open Format – We decided to skip the formal seated dinner and went for food stations and passed appetizers with an open bar (wine and beer only). This approach made it fun for our guests and helped the event to end much earlier than it would otherwise.

Excellent Vendors – We spent money where it counts. We hired a professional auctioneer (a must for a live auction) and brought in our own sound to make sure the auctioneer could be heard. The food was terrific and so was the venue.

Overall Expenses Low – Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t spend money unnecessarily. We saved money on wholesale flowers and a volunteer who did the decorations, basic table linens instead of something unique, a nice menu that wasn’t extravagant, a professional and affordable designer, and donated desserts.

It should go without saying that all of this was only possible because of a very dedicated and organized staff and volunteer committee. It was a pleasure to work with them and I feel fortunate to be part of helping them make a huge impact in our world. I am available to coach organizations on how to host a successful fundraiser. Contact me if you’re interested!

Posted in Fundraising Events