fundraising auction

How to Pick a "Need" For your Fundraising Appeal

How to pick a need for your Fundraising Appeal at your fundraising gala | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

Today we are going to cover How to Pick a "Need" for your fundraising appeal

This is often why we call it a "Fund-A-Need" at events. 

First, let me do a super brief history of the fund-a-need: 

Once upon a time, people had fancy pants galas and they brought in an auctioneer with a cowboy hat and bow tie who looked sharp as hell who sold 10-12 auction items. This meant 10-12 people got to be donors for the evening, and the other 478 people were chumps who just got to eat a chicken dinner and enjoy the open bar. Then one day, the auctioneers said, "hey, we're missing out on some money here, because the losing bidders still have some cash in their pockets." So after their auction, they would say something like, "hey, if you didn't win anything, you can still give money." And the fund-a-need was born. Fast forward 10-15ish years, the fund-a-need is the bread and butter of every event.  

Now, you should also know MY personal fundraising philosophy.

I believe that every single person wants to feel impactful. They want to know that at the end of their life, their existence made a lasting difference in our world. I believe it is our job as fundraisers to give them that opportunity. The opportunity to make a meaningful difference. When we begin to look at fundraising through this lense, it becomes just as important as the work you do directly through your organization, because it allows us not only to serve the people (or animals, or environment, or whatever it is you serve), but it also allows us to serve your donors, but giving them a genuine opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

With that in mind, why should you pick a "need" in the first place? Why can't you just raise "as much money as you can" towards your general fund? 

This is a great question that I get all of the time. So let me address it.  

Your guests are more likely to give if they can tangibly understand who or what they are helping. You may do great and amazing world-changing work, but if your guests do not understand what they are funding, they will not give. It's that simple.  

Let's simplify it for them so they don't have to think about it. All they have to do is raise their hand. 

Select a "need" that is inspirational.

If you can make them cry, that's perfect. Inspirational may seem obvious, but it is a key characteristic to conducting a successful fund-a-need. If your need, isn't that "sexy" try looking at it from a different angle. I had a client two years ago, who had to build a bathroom facility in a Haitian Village they serve. Toilets are definitely not sexy, but rather than focusing on all of that crap, we focused on human dignity. We focused on the jobs it would create to build these bathrooms. They shared stories of what it was like to go to the bathroom in that village. Using a toilet in private is something we all take for granted here in the US, but they showed their audience that they could provide a sense of dignity to the people of Haiti. Because of this inspirational take on the least sexy subject ever, they were able to build the bathrooms. And when the hurricane hit the following fall, it was the only facility left standing, which was a testament to the heart and quality they put in to this project, which made it even easier the following year when we had to rebuild the dormitories for this community.

Fund-A-Need Basics: How to pick a "need" for your fundraising appeal at your charity auction. Connect better with donors by finding a need that meets this criteria

Give them a "need" that is financially transparent.

They should understand where their money is going and that it is going to directly impact lives or make this world the kind of place they want to live in. The majority of your guests have a limited amount of resources. If this is not you, you are #blessed. But for most nonprofits, you know that charitable giving is competitive, and you have to prove to your guests that you are going to use their funds wisely.  I'll use the potty example again. This organization is 100% volunteer run out of someone's home, so they were able to share that. The donors knew that all of their money would be an act of love as they provided a sense of dignity to this Haitian Community. You are probably not a volunteer-run organization and that's okay, because you are able to commit more time and energy to the work you do. I encourage you to find a project or a need that will use 100% of their gift towards affecting change or solving a problem. Then reassure them that their money will be going directly to this project. It doesn't take much here other than something like, "100% of the money you give tonight will go directly to fund scholarships for young women in the Congo." And then follow up with them with updates about the young women they impacted. This is their reminder that they did well and that their contribution made a difference.

Your "Need" should be achievable.

This means that you need to fund it in completion that evening. Assuming the number of attendees you plan to have stays the same year over year, shoot for a project that is approximately 10-20% more than you raised last year. I will circle back to the bathroom example. They decided to fund it by breaking down the costs of the facility. I don't always recommend it, but with building projects it makes the giving super tangible. The frame and roof will cost $10,000, the labor will cost $5000, the sheetrock will cost $2500, the tile costs $1,000, a toilet costs $100, etc. For this group, since they did not have a "momentum donor" which I will talk more about in detail next week, I would try to find 10 people to fund the frame and roof at $1000 a piece and go from there. It works for this group. What I would generally recommend is being clear about the cost of the project as a whole and starting higher at $5,000 and go all the way down to $25 explaining that $25 will fund a day of work for one person, so that those $25 donors know how impactful their donation is.

I bet you didn't think I'd use a bathroom project as a good "need" to select. I'd love to hear what you have funded in the past! Let me know in the comments. Also, if you are working on framing your fundraising appeal right now and are trying to decide which way to go, share that and we can work as a community to give you feedback and ideas! It's all about how to inspire your donors this year! 

The 5 Items You Need on Your Live Auction

5 items you need on the live auction at your fundraising gala | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

It's important that your Live Auction has variety

If your live auction is all trips, they will not sell well. If you have 6 trips, it is unlikely there are 7-12 people in that audience who want them enough to bid them up. It's basic supply and demand. Not to mention it gets super boring for everyone involved

Here are the 5 items you should include in your live auction (in order of importance) 

1. Unique Experience

This is something they can't get anywhere else. This is super important for any crowd, but especially if you are hosting an auction for millennials because research shows (and in my experience), they are more likely to bid on an experience than on a physical item. The great part of this is that most of the experiences you can offer, require creativity and not money to produce. A couple examples that I have sold are: 

Sleepover/Lock-in at the Children's Museum. Opportunity to conduct the professional Orchestra. Unlimited access to 30+ collector cars for an entire summer. A tour of Jay Leno's private garage. Tour of a Private Wildcat Sanctuary. The opportunity to fund a refugee business. Beekeeper for a day.

2. Dining Experience

These sell so so well! People love great dining experiences. Usually the actual retail value of these are under a thousand, but they usually sell for several thousand dollars. 

You can approach this several ways. 

A Chef dinner in-restaurant experience. This is really amazing if you have a new and hot restaurant that has been getting rave reviews and reservations are hard to come by. A Chef dinner for 8-12 with wine pairings. This should a special menu created for this experience, interactions with the chef and be a very special experience. I have sold several where the guests would be in the kitchen or the wine cellar for the meal. This is a several thousand dollar item

Dinner in a prominent person's home. This experience would be if your founder or a public figure wanted to host a dinner party in their home. They could cook themselves or bring in a chef of some sort to their home. Guests love getting quality time with people who are usually quite hard to get an audience with.  

Dinner Party in the winner's home with a personal chef. This is where a chef (professional or a passionate amateur) would come to the winners home with all the food and prepare a meal for 8-12, including adult beverages, and then they would clean up. I have seen this go for thousands of dollars at small events where a teacher or board member is the chef for the night. It doesn't need to be a professional. It just needs to be a likable personality who can cook a good meal.

5 items you need on the live auction at your fundraising gala. You MUST read this before securing live auction items for your fundraiser! | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

3. Trip

This could be a local trip or a fabulous dream destination. Either way, people love a get-a-way. Truth be told, local trips have been selling much better over the past couple of years. I'm based in Minneapolis and it is not uncommon for a cabin on the North Shore for a weekend to sell for more than a week long trip at a luxury villa in Mexico. 

Donated airfare is hard to come by these days, so don't let that hold you back from putting up a great trip. In my experience, the airfare doesn't bring much more revenue to an item, so go ahead and sell the trip without airfare.

My only rules for selling trips:

Must have open availability or at least flexible availability. Meaning, it is available for more than just one week out of the year. 

No Time Shares.  This falls in the same spirit as the first rule, but also they are just a pain in the neck to coordinate. No one wants to buy your timeshare. It's not a good donation. Just don't do it.

4. Sports Experience

This could be a wide variety of things. Great seats to a highly anticipated game. Meet and greet with players. If you received a ton of random sports tickets, you could package them all together in a "Year of Minnesota Sports" package. If you have signed items, make sure they are from athletes people care about. Michael Phelps signed photo = Great! A B-String Athlete who no one has ever heard of = Bad.

5. Alcohol Experience

This usually hits a broad appeal. This can also tie in with the meal experience. Brewing or winemaking experiences are fun. I've also sold many "Walls of Wine" where the board members and liquor stores all come together and donate a bottle of wine and you can sell it as a collection to the winning bidder. It offers a broad appeal which makes this a good item to start or end the Live Auction with.

DISCLAIMER: If your organization has any affiliation with addiction or you are a religious organization that does not condone alcohol consumption, this item is NOT for your group. There are so many more amazing items you can add to your live auction to ensure it is varied and engaging without including an alcohol-related item.

What do you think?

How does your current Live Auction line up compare? 

I hope this gets your juices flowing so that you can be ready for brainstorming some great ideas for your event!

Must Have Live Auction Item #4: Alcohol

I will start by saying this item is not for all organizations. Any organization affiliated with addiction and recovery or even domestic violance as well as some religious affiliations may want to steer clear of this type of item out of respect for the attendees. 

With that being said, items including an experience related to alcohol usually has a broad appeal. 

Examples of Alcohol Related Live Auction Items

Wall of Wine.  This is where all of the board members or auction committee members donate a bottle of wine (some bottles will be higher quality than others) until you have a collection of anywhere from 10-50 bottles of wine, and you sell it as a package. You will want to print any higher end bottles in your program, and ideally would print all of the bottles in the program so people can see what they are bidding. It is unrealistic and much less effective to verbally list all the bottles when introducing the item.

Wine Tasting. A private and exclusive wine tasting in someone's home with a professional Sommelier. 

Private Brewery Party. Local microbreweries are popping up all over the place (especially here in Minneapolis), but a tour is not enough because really anyone can go tour a brewery. A private tasting party at the brewery for 10+ people with catering by a local food truck (or two) would be an item worth selling on live auction and would provide an exclusive appeal. 

Wheel barrel of Booze. This item is always a hit. It is similar to the Wall of Wine, except it is an actual wheel barrel filled with alcohol. Arrange the alcohol so the higher end items are showing. You could also include glasses and garnishes (olives, cherries, frilly toothpicks, etc) in with the alcohol to fully stock the bar. This is an easy item to fill because auction committee members or board members would all go together to in contributing to this item. The winning bidder gets to take home their new wheel barrel and all of its contents. 

If you have a question about any of these items or want to know if it would be appropriate for you to add one of these items to your organization's live auction, please reach out and I will give honest feedback on your live auction lineup. 

Must Have Live Auction Item #3: Unique Experience

A unique experience is the hardest item to come up with because you often need to think outside of the box and pull your personal connections in for this. There is really no real criteria here other than provide an experience or an item that people cannot access on their own. So, for this post, I will just be listing examples of things I have sold to get your creative juices flowing.

Examples of Unique Experiences

  • Character created about winning bidder in a well known author's next book
  • Trip to visit and tour Jay Leno's garage (with Jay Leno if the timing was right) 
  • Principal for a Day
  • Trip with a professional sport's team to an out of state game which included accommodations and riding with the team on their plane to and from the game as well as an after party post game.
  • Lock in sleepover at a museum with a roof top movie
  • Premier parking space for school pickup and drop off
  • Batboy (bat-kid) for local professional Baseball team
  • Box at a professional sports game hosted by a (well-known) retired player
  • Timed shopping spree at a local department store

The possibilities are endless for these types of items. What I would encourage you and your team to do is to plan an entire meeting that is set aside for brainstorming this type of item. Throw out ideas with the freedom of "no idea is a bad idea" and just go with it. Some of the best auction items sound "stupid" in your head before you say it outloud and realize that it could actually happen with the connections in the room. Eventually what will happen is one member will throw out an idea, another member will know someone with the right connections and you will find yourself with a very exclusive an unique idea. 

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.