How To Have A Successful Fundraising Gala Without Planning an Auction

Did you know this is possible? I know, it pains me to say it as an auctioneer, but you can have a successful Fundraising Gala without having any auction. I know what you are thinking! Surely, she can't mean NO auction. She must be talking about Silent Auctions. Nope. I mean NO auctions. No silent auction. No Live Auction. You can just have a Fund-A-Need (sometimes called a special appeal/cash auction/giving moment) and have a very successful gala.

When auctioneers started conducting Fund-A-Needs, it was because they noticed that after their live auction of 8-12 items, there were some bidders who bid thousands of dollars, but because they didn't win the auction item, that money was lost. So instead of losing that revenue, they would do a catch all ask to try to capture that money from donors. 

Fast forward 10 years.

Now, the Fundraising Appeal/Fund-A-Need portion is the highest revenue generator for most of my events. In fact, I have clients that don't have an auction at all, they just have a Fund-A-Need and it is wildly successful. 

With the right strategic preparation and planning, your organization can have a Fund-A-Need or Special Appeal that will engage the majority of your audience and allow them to partner financially with your organization in the amazing work that you are doing. 

How to make your Fund-A-Need successful: 

1. Pick a specific need within your organization

This is important because it helps you set a specific goal for your fund-a-need and it allows your guests to have something tangible that their funds will be going towards.   I know your organization does many wonderful things to further your mission, but your donors want to be inspired and given a specific way that they can help your organization. 

2. Work your program around the need you are addressing that night

I am a fan of keeping programs short and sweet, but making sure every minute of the program is focused and intentional so that you can keep your guests' attention the entire time and ensure that they are fully engaged when we present the Fund-A-Need.

A program formula I like is:

  1. Welcome (by emcee, president or board chair)  2-5 minutes
  2. Brief Overview of Organization and Mission for new guests 2-5 minutes
  3. Brief overview of what has been accomplished in the past because of the donors in the room and an introduction of what is next for your organization (the need of the night)  10 minutes
  4. Brief Testimonial of someone your organization has helped  (ideally a video testimonial so you can control the time and the attention of the audience) 2-5 minutes
  5. Fund-A-Need/Special Appeal by auctioneer 10-15 minutes
  6. Thank you to all the donors in the room and the specific Sponsors by President/Executive Director/Board Chair/Etc 10 minutes
  7. Entertainment/Raffles/Housekeeping Announcements

This all takes less than an hour and you should start the program as soon as the salad is cleared so that people can eat dinner while listening. If people are eating, they won't be as tempted to talk to those around them and you will have their full attention

Every event and organization is different, so this formula is just a guide to get you started. Schedule a consultation with me to discuss how you need to order your program for optimal success. 

3. Tell a story behind your need

Storytelling in nonprofits is widely talked about these days. We all (hopefully) know that storytelling is important and that is because stories emotionally engage potential donors. 


If you are raising money for medical research, don't bore your guests with statistics and science. While, I think that stuff is super interesting, it takes a lot of energy to listen to and process. Instead, tell a story about someone everyone in your audience can relate to. Perhaps a mother, or a child. A story humanize the need which inspires action.

If your school is raising money for technology, don't talk about the apps and programs (no one cares or understands), instead talk about the teacher who was able to make a breakthrough with a struggling student because she integrated technology into her lesson plan. Every parent can remember a time when their student struggled with something and would give anything to help them get it. 

Brainstorm this. There are so many great resources on nonprofit storytelling. As a part of my tailored consultation, I can help you decide what stories will make the biggest impact on your Fund-A-Need. 

4. Inform your donors before the event

Some of the most successful Fund-A-Needs I've conducted have engaged the donors before the event. The invitation featured a story of someone impacted by their organization (specifically the cause at hand). Their email reminders had another success story. They shared videos on their social media feeds. So when the donors showed up that night, it was not their first time being exposed to the need or the organization's capabilities. They had been courted and prepped and were ready to be invited to partner in helping with the organization's mission. 

If you want to see if dropping your auction is the right choice for your fundraising gala or you want your event to be more focused and engaging in general, schedule a Call with me.