Minnesota fundraising auctioneer

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.

Picking the Right Venue for Your Fundraising Auction - Acoustics

Picking the right venue for your fundraising auction | Sarah Knox Benefit Auctions

The venue you select will make a huge difference in giving at your event. I will address lay out and such in future posts, but today I want to address acoustics. Now, don’t get me wrong, you don’t need the Guthrie stage or the St. Paul Cathedral to get maximum bidding, but you do need to pick a room that does not echo. If there is an echo or the sound does not carry, people loose focus or can’t hear altogether. This is so Important because if people can’t hear, they won’t bid. Period. As a general rule venues that work are: Theaters, Concert Venues, Golf Courses and Hotel Ballrooms.

– All of these facilities are designed for events like this or weddings or seminars or musical shows. I’ve done a lot of work with the Yellow Tree Theatre in Anoka – great venue for audiences of up to 250 and organizations in the northwest suburbs. For more central locations, any golf club or hotel ballroom works great because they are usually carpeted and have the capacity for a good sound system.

Venues that don’t work: Gyms (or anything covered in tile) and outside

. Many people pick a gym because they are free/inexpensive at their school, local church or community center. A good venue is worth your money. I guarantee you will loose more money using a gym than it would have cost you to rent a hotel ballroom for the night of your event.

If you have concerns or questions about your venue, feel free to contact me and I can help make suggestions for your event.

Videos at your Fundraising Auction

Using Videos to tell a story to raise more money at your Fundraising Auction | Sarah Knox Benefit Auctions

Does your organization have a video to play at your fundraising auction? If so, think about it, is it filmed and edited by a professional. Besides hiring the right auctioneer, this is one of the most valuable things you can spend money on. A well edited video will open the hearts, and correspondingly their wallets, in 5 minutes or less – really 2-3 minutes is ideal.

Professional editing is HUGE! Just think of any chick flick you’ve watched recently and how the soundtrack alone controlled how you responded to the scene. It’s important to have a video that will move the audience to feel emotionally invested in your organization because if they are emotionally invested they are more likely to become financially invested. They want to know their money is going towards a good cause.

I have a couple really awesome videographers all at different price points, so reach out if you need suggestions.

Below is a video used by one of my clients that were used just before the fund-a-need to help tug at the audience's heart strings.

Selling Vacations at a Fundraising Auction – Success!

 I’ve talked about things to avoid when selling vacations at your fundraising auction, but there are things you can do to enhance the item:

  • Advertise –This goes for most items actually. If you have anything awesome that you plan to sell, put it in your email blasts, save-the-dates, website, twitter, facebook, and even your formal invite if you wish. This will allow people to anticipate some of the "hot" items and be prepared to bid on them night of. With Vacations, you will have several people looking for a reason to go to Hawaii, and they are looking forward to winning it at the auction. This will getting them bidding against each other, pushing the price up. I am able to get people to bid higher than they initially set out to, but it helps when they had an interest in the item to start.
  • Get airfare –This is IDEAL, but not necessary. It used to be expected when you bought a vacation at a fundraiser that airfare was included. Now, with the airlines tightening their budgets in every corner, it is nearly impossible to get a donation from them. Nearly impossible, not actually impossible. There are also other ways of getting airfare that just require creativity and asking the right people. Frequent Flyer Miles, finding a sponsor to donate them, Credit Card Rewards points, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask people!
  • Local Trips –With the infrequency in airfare donations, local vacations have been increasing in value. Trips to people’s cabins or northern resorts (during peak season) often go for just as much as a trip to Florida or Colorado. It’s more manageable for people, especially families, to wrap their minds around in the speed of an auction.
  • Double up - When a donor gives a vacation to their vacation home, always ask, "If this item starts to bring in a lot of money, would you be willing to donate 2?" In the middle of the benefit auction, it looks like it’s a last minute thing where we double it and bring in twice as much money (applause please), but it’s important to ask because you never want to put someone on the spot - trust me, I’ve know this from experience.


Selling Vacations at a Fundraising Auction – Things to avoid

 Vacations are popular items to sell at fundraising auctions! They can be very successful, but if done wrong they could be a complete disaster. Here are things to avoid:

  • Vacations with one specific week availability– remember, we want live auction items to have a broad appeal, and if the vacation is only available one week of the year (say November 3rd-10th), chances are you aren’t going to get much from it. There has to be more than 1 person available to go on this vacation. If someone donates a vacation with a one week availability, put it in the silent auction.
  • Surprising the crowd with a vacation– A vacation is quite a commitment. I have seen this work before, but more often than not, people are taken off guard and don’t have enough time to talk about this decision with their spouse and hesitate to bid when they would have probably purchased it if they knew about it in advance. If there is a truly last minute donation for two weeks to Italy including airfare – put it in the live auction. I’ll make it work, but if you know about any type of vacation in advance – advertise it! People will get excited about it and keep the bidding going up!
  • Lodging with only weeknight availability – this can just seem cheap on the donors part. I’ve seen donations from B&Bs that are only redeemable Monday through Thursday. Unless you can get a weekend, say "Thank you, but no." Trips to Disney and the like are okay, but for the most part, if people are going on vacation, they generally want to tag their weekend into it or only go over the weekend. Like many things this is case by case, but reach out to me if you are unsure. I’ll walk you through it.