fundraising gala

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!

4 Reasons You Have a Chatty Audience at Your Fundraising Gala

How do I deal with a chatty crowd?

This is one of the number one questions I get. The truth is that some crowds are just chatty, but in my consulting I help organizations do everything they can to prevent the distracting noise and work with them so that their program is engaging and captivating so we can prevent the chattiness in the first place. There are a couple reasons why an organization may have a chatty crowd at your fundraiser.

1. The sound in the venue is awful.

This is a real problem. In fact, I won't work with an organization that is unwilling to ensure that the sound in the room is good. If your crowd can't hear the program properly, they will not be engaged and therefore they will talk and then they won't give their money.

2. You are waiting too late to engage them.

Cocktail hours are very common and have a bit of necessity as far as logistics are concerned. Allowing people to mingle with a drink and maybe some hors d'oeuvres while everyone arrives and gets checked in and has a chance to look at the silent auction. Then you welcome them in to have the dining room and wait until every single person has eaten dinner to start the program. That is too late. You have lost your audience. They are full, drunk and ready to leave to just totally distracted.

3. They aren't your target audience.

Repeat after me: Quality over Quantity. Now, when I say "quality" guests I don't mean every donor has to be a $1,000+ donor. I mean that you should not try to fill seats for the sake of filling seats. You want everyone in the room to have some sort of connection with your organization. I recently sat in a meeting with a client and they said "...and that's why we don't give away tickets or our gala on the radio anymore." No Kidding! Your event can be a place to raise awareness for your organization, but you do not want guest who are just there for your open bar. You may not be giving tickets away to strangers on the radio, but maybe you are giving tickets away to corporate sponsors who then send their administrative staff to your event as their "appreciation" token. So, now, your front reserved table that you held for executives that you assumed had more than enough money to go around, is now full of interns and customer service representatives who just are excited to tweet a picture in font of your photo wall.

4. You are an elementary school.

This is not a problem. I actually love this. Elementary school parents tend to be very chatty. They are using their very valuable babysitter to come out an support the school where they are twice a day already to drop off and pick up their kids. They get to have adult conversations with people they are friends with and since the event is likely near their neighborhood, they plan to walk or take an Uber home. I actually use this energy and sense of community and play off it to engage the whole crowd. Yes, they may be chatty, but for the most part the crowd all knows each other and want to be in on the party. I still would work with you in advance to make sure we can engage them at the best time and ensure that your sound is loud and clear in your venue, but frankly, elementary school parents are talkers, so at that point we just need to lean into it.

Your organization's mission is so important which is why you work tirelessly to support it. I want to welcome your guests and attendees to partner with you in your mission. The first step is to get them to listen so we can engage them in your mission. If this sounds like your crowd, I would love to help you make an impactful difference towards your mission. To schedule a call to talk about how to better engage your audience, go ahead and fill out the contact form on the side bar today.

What To Do With Great Items That Don't Make The Cut for Live Auction

Last week I talked about how cutting your number of live auction items in half will actually bring in more revenue. Even though you are only going to have 5-6 live auction items, chances are that you will bring in more than 6 great donations in the process.

What to do with the other amazing items. 

Items that don't "make the cut" for the live auction, will naturally go in the silent auction, right? Wrong. There are a couple of things You can do with these big ticket items. 

1. Use it as a prize in Heads & Tails or for a raffle. Back before everyone had an iPad, organizations were getting these as donations and the auction committee always wanted the iPad on the live auction. Here's the deal though. The iPad only would sell for retail value or a couple hundred dollars over. I guess it was exiting to get $700 for a $500 item, but know what is more exciting? Getting $2000 for a $500 item. By using an item with a broad appeal as a raffle or Heads & Tails prize, it was easy to engage donors to participate. Not everyone would drop $700 for an item valued at $500, but it is easy to sell 200 raffle tickets or Heads & Tails beads at $10 a piece. 

2. Have a SUPER SILENT Auction. Whoa! This one is exciting. A Super Silent Auction is run by the auctioneer (cough*Sarah Knox*cough) during the silent auction. Rather than bidders writing their number on bid cards or bidding electronically, they would call out their bidder number and bid amount to the facilitator to write on a white board. It gains quite a bit of attention in the last 5 minutes of the bidding. This is set up in the same room as the silent auction. It is a lot of fun. 

3. Set up a display for "Almost Live" or "Premier Auction" Items in the center of the silent auction area, or right near check in so it's the first thing guests see. This is good because it honors the generous donors of the items ensuring they get a lot of recognition for the items. If using electronic bidding, have this as it's own category so bidders can easily find these items. 

How to determine which items make the cut for Live Auction or not.

For this, I will refer you to my blog series I did last fall on the 5 types of items you should include to create a dynamic live auction.  Just because an item has the highest value, doesn't mean it should automatically be in the live auction. A live auction lineup needs to be curated with careful thought and strategy in order to bring in the most revenue.

If you have want to engage bidders during your live auction and throughout the rest of your event, contact me via the form in my sidebar --> 

Biggest Fundraising Auction Trend of 2016

What is the biggest trend?

The biggest trend I've encouraged this year has been (drumroll please)...

Fewer live auction items.

What's happening?

For years I've been consulting my clients that that the sweet spot for number of items in a live auction has been 6-12. Usually organizations have fallen closer to 10-12 items, but this year I've changed my tune. While up to 12 live auction items may have been beneficial for raising money in the past, now the donor climate is changing.  

Over the past several years, we've seen a rise in the success of conducting a Fund-A-Need at each event. The Fund-A-Need is a sort of live crowdfunding where everyone in the room gets the opportunity to make a difference by giving what they can. Usually (not always) the Fund-A-Need happens after the Live Auction. While Live Auctions can be fun, if they run too long, they get old and you lose donors' attention. The handful of bidders interested in the items will stay engaged, but the other 95% of the potential donors in the room will be distracted and become mentally "over it." 

While you are gaining a couple thousand extra dollars by adding additional live auction items, you are sacrificing potentially tens of thousands of dollars in the fund-a-need.  This is one of those cases where time is money, almost literally.

In a time where crowdfunding is wildly popular and effective, especially with the ever growing millennial donors, it is important to do everything in our power to engage the majority of donors when conducting the Fund-A-Need.

What is the right number of items? 

This year I have been encouraging my clients to stick with 4-6 items in their live auction. This is the perfect amount to get the audience's attention and raise some big bucks with out it going too long and loosing the attention of donors who aren't bidding but could be potential Fund-A-Need donors.

My clients have seen tremendous success with cutting their number of live auction items in half. Even with only half of the live auction items, this spring has been full of record-breaking events. Fewer items means they become more competitive so the items that ARE in the live auction tend to bring in more revenue than they would have otherwise. Plus donors are still fully mentally engaged during the Fund-A-Need which means more people participate. More participating donors means more revenue for your organization. 

If you'd like to learn how to make more money at your next fundraising event, contact me via the form in my sidebar ->