Fundraising auctioneer

Determining Donation Levels for your Fundraising Appeal and Securing a Momentum Donor

Fund-A-Need Basics: How to determine your donation levels and secure a momentum donor for your fundraising appeal | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

Determining Donation Levels for your Fundraising appeal.

First, you need to decide how many donation levels to have. There are a couple amazing mobile technology companies I get the pleasure of working with, but there is one called Auction Harmony based in Minneapolis who I think just has the most beautiful donation display on their Kindle Fire Tablets. There are 9 spaces. That is for 8 donation levels and one "other" section. This is a great rule to follow whether or not you are using technology for your fundraising appeal.  

So how do you determine your levels?

The first way, is by assessing who you have on your guest list and determining their donation levels.

If your organization has never received a donation over $5,000, you are not going to want to start your initial donation at $20,000. Does that make sense?

Securing a momentum donor 

You are going to want to identify a few donors who have potential to be your highest level donors and approach them about being momentum donors during your fundraising appeal

If this is not your first fundraising event, you can probably get by with looking only at the records from previous events. Who has given a large amount in the past? These would be the first people I would talk to. However, you are also going to want to consider donors who gave at other times throughout the year, because they clearly care about your organization, and you could provide them with an opportunity to inspire others to give by being a momentum donor. 

I understand how hard these conversations can be to initiate, but trust me when I say it is worth it and you will probably want to queue your major gifts officer in on this because they are skilled at having these conversations. You will want to thank the donor for their previous contribution. Then you will want to make sure they are planning to attend your event and explain the amazing project your guests get to fund at this year's event. Explain that you are going to fund it in one evening, and that it's going to be exciting and create a ton of energy, and ask them if they would want to be the hero to set the tone for the evening. Be transparent about your goal and include them in on the strategy and how impactful a momentum donor can be. It is so exciting for the audience to see that first hand go in the air quick which sets an expectation and excitement over generosity. This donor has the unique position to be able to create that, if they an commit to giving at a specific level that you decide with them in the meeting. Then it is important to ask if they would like to be recognized by name and make sure you communicate that to your auctioneer in advance as well as tell them exactly where the donor is sitting so they recognize it when the hand goes up! 

Frame this as an opportunity to start something amazing. Because you are reaching out to donors who have given in the past, your success rate should be fairly high. 

After you've had a couple of these conversations and have determined what the highest amount someone has committed to in advance, that is a good place to start. Hopefully you have a couple of people at the first couple of donation levels to get the show started. Once other potential high level donors see the applause and energy around this donation, it is likely you will receive a match at these levels.

Say your highest commitment is $10,000, I would recommend making that your highest level. Then go down 7 more levels after that: 

$10,000
 $5,000
 $2,500
 $1,000
 $500
 $250
 $100
 $50
Other

The reason, you ideally want to start where you have a committed donor is because when you start too high and have no donors, it kills momentum, which kills energy which discourages giving in other levels.

Fund-A-Need Basics: How to determine your donation levels and secure a "momentum donor" for your fundraising appeal | Sarah Knox Fundraising Benefit Charity Auctions

The fundraising appeal is a momentum game.

Every part of your program should be strategically leading up to this point of engagement, then BOOM! You get a donor right away and it is a domino effect. More hands fly in the air or everyone whips out their phones to secure their donation and see their name on the screen. 

If you don't have a starting momentum donor and have no idea where to start, try starting at 10-20% of your total goal and break it down from there, again I highly encourage you to brave these conversations. They may feel uncomfortable, but focus on the donor and it will take the pressure off you and make it more exciting for them to commit. You will be so glad you did this!

This should give you a good start on determining donation levels for a profitable fundraising appeal. If you have any additional questions, please share them below. I would love to answer them. 

Market your Live Auction Items before the Event

You must absolutely market your Live Auction items before the event. 

This may be obvious to some of you, but you'd be surprised how many events I've shown up at where the guests had no idea what was on the Live Auction that night. 

Start Soliciting your items early

One reason most organizations don't market their items is because until the last minute, they have no idea what they are. As soon as you think about planning your event and setting a date, start talking about live auction items. Brainstorm them with your team and take action on pursuing the items. 

Get firm commitments and all the details from your item donors ASAP

As soon as you think you have an item. Close the deal. As soon as you have the firm (hopefully written) commitment from the donor, get all of the details including pictures, dates, etc so you can start an item write up early on in the event planning process. The more you know ahead of time, the more effectively you'll be able to market your items during the planning process. 

Feature the items in the Save-The-Date

Because we are focusing on spectacular items that are exclusive and offer a broad appeal (see my video from Monday if you aren't sure what I'm talking about), you are going to want to tease your guests with these items from the moment they think about the event. This will help them to prepare accordingly. If they are already thinking about taking a trip in the next year, they can plan to bid on the trip in your auction.

Help them remember the items are 100% for a good cause

I welcome you to use tag lines like: 

"A trip that's for the kids, except you don't have to bring your own." 

"A dinner experience that feels as good as it tastes." 

Ths is a playful way to remind them that while they are getting amazing items, they are also supporting your organization. It's more than a large purchase. 

Share the items in your email and social media communications leading up to the event

The two weeks or so before the event, send out emails and social media posts featuring the items. You want your bidders to be thinking about these as they plan the budget for the evening. Whether you like it or not, everyone comes to your event with a budget in mind, but you can help them determine whether they will spend their $5,000 at your event or at the one the following night, by letting them know what you have to offer.

If you are sending things via social media, share it multiple times because everything moves so fast online and you don't want anyone to miss it. 

Feature them online through your mobile bidding website

Even though bidding is not available online for the live auction items, you should still list it on your mobile bidding website. Most companies allow you to have items that aren't open, but you can list a picture, description and all the nitty gritty details for your guests to view before they arrive. 

Some organizations mail out programs in advance. This can get expensive because most people forget to bring the program to your event, so you have to print twice as many. This is a great alternative.  

Keep marketing them the night of the event

Most of you know to have a clearly marked display of the live auction items where everyone can view them. While this is so necessary it still doesn't give people all the time they need to read all the details they need to make an informed decision. All of the items should be listed and described with all the details in the program as well. 

Get creative

I recommend printing the live auction items and putting them on the doors of the bathroom stalls and by the line at the bar. This is a perfect place where you have a captive audience to view the items.

Hosting a fundraising auction? Market your live auction items before your event with these tips | Sarah Knox: Fun female auctioneer for fundraising, benefit and charity events

Why this is so important: 

You want your guests to come to your event with the decision to bid so that you can leave it up to your auctioneer to get them to give beyond their budget.  

It is much more impactful to get more money out of a guest who already decided they wanted the item. They've been thinking about it for weeks and will be disappointed if they don't win it. Compare this to springing live auction items on your guests and expecting them to drop $1,000 let alone $10,000+ without any prior thought.  

Get those live auction items out there before the event, so that your guests come to the event ready and excited to bid. 

What Midwestern Fundraisers Can Learn From New York Galas

If you read about me in my About Page, you know that I am Minnesotan through and through. I've been conducting fundraising auctions in the Midwest for 9, going on 10, years now and have loved every single second of it. Over the past couple years, I have expanded to help out national nonprofits. A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with a client in New York City and we added a first time fund-a-need to their event which made the night a smashing success and broke records for the organization. Aside from it being a crazy trip to the city (I was questioned by the secret service and met Kelly Ripa all in the same 48 hours), I made one observation about New Yorkers at this Gala that can and will (I've already tested this with MN clients) help raise more funds at your Midwestern gala. 

New Yorkers cut to the chase.

There is little to no fluff. When people show up to a gala, they know why they are there, and it's not for moral support. They are there to spend money and know it's okay to say it. From the moment the professional AV team turned on the mic, people talked about money. The gorgeous CNN correspondent emcee asked people to be generous, the chairman of the board asked people to be generous, the executive director asked people to be generous, so by the time I hit the stage to conduct their first ever fund-a-need, no one was offended or shocked when I told them that NOW was the time to be generous.  

The Midwest breeds a humble group of people. We don't like to talk about money, because frankly it's uncomfortable. And, I get it. After all, I'm as Midwestern as it gets. It is so hard to ask for money for your own cause because it feels selfish. The good news is that it isn't selfish. Your organization works endlessly towards your mission because it uplifts other people and other people (you know, the people who paid money to come to your event in the first place) want to support your mission too! There are many ways to inspire people to give at your event, which I will outline for you in future posts. One of the most effective ways to inspire people to give at your event is to show that you expect them to give at your event.

Must Have Live Auction Item #2: Meal/Dinner Party

These are one of my favorite things to sell ever and every auction should have one. What I like about this item is that you don't have to be well connected to have this item. You don't even need to know a chef, you just need to have someone who is willing to host a dinner party for 6-10 people and cook food and provide wine. This could be hosted at a popular restaurant or even in someone's home.

Criteria For a Successful Meal/Dinner Party Item:

Hosted by a likable person. Not necessarily a famous person. Just someone that people enjoy being around.  If you have a willing participant, but their personality is just a little choppy or hard to be around, no one will bid. 

Multiple Courses. Hors d'oeuvres, salad, dinner and dessert would be enough, but if your chef can do other courses (soup, cheese, whatever else all those extra forks are for type courses) , that makes the meal stand out more.

Wine. Must I say more? Wine or beer pairings included are a must!

6-10 people. I have found that this is the sweet spot for number of people included in successfully selling an item of this type. 4 people is too few and 12 can be too difficult to coordinate with guests.  

An Expiration Date. This is important so people actually claim their meal with the donor. Usually one year from the date of the event is a good expiration. This is also out of respect for the donor and their time. 

Examples: 

  • Chef's dinner at a highly anticipated new restaurant prior to the restaurant opening. 
  • Meal prepared by a chef featured on the Food Network (seriously, there is probably someone in your area featured on the food network) 
  • Meal prepared in YOUR home by the principal of the school. 
  • Meal in the home of a CEO of a fortune 100 company in your area with the CEO and spouse. Meal prepared by catering company. 
  • Authentic Italian dinner prepared by someone closely associated by the organization who grew up in Italy - secret family recipes. 
  • Dinner prepared by a well known local chef. 

Again, these are all just examples, but the possibilities are endless here. Just start brain storming with your auction committee and pick whatever sounds most fun to you. Contact me if you want to my professional feedback. I will be honest, because I want your even to be as successful as possible.