fundraising galas

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. 

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 #5: Sports

This the post in my blog series on Must Have Auction Items for a Varied Live Auction. If you haven't caught the other posts, or aren't sure why it is so imporant to have a varied live auction, you can find all of those posts HERE or archived on my blog. Stay awhile and look around. I provide all of this information to help my clients or anyone else trying to plan their fundraiser. My goal is to help organizations be as successful as possible!  

The last type of item you should be looking for as you solicit items for your live auction is a Sports related item. 

Criteria for a successful Sports Item:

Exclusivity. Like with any live auction item, you will have more success if the item is not a dime a dozen. Signed swag is good if it is by a well-known, well-loved player who does not hand out their autograph liberally. 

Appeal. This should seem obvious, but for some people it is not. If you are receiving sports tickets, make sure it is to a GOOD game with GOOD seats. Example for all of my Minnesota friends: 50 yard line to the Vikings/Packers game.  

Open Availability. If someone in your association has great season tickets to some local professional team, ask them if they would be willing to donate tickets that the bidder can select the date. A few black-out dates are acceptable, but still not ideal. This takes a lot of sacrifice on the donors part, but it's worth asking.

Best way to get sports tickets: 

Ask your company to donate. So many companies have season tickets that they give out to clients or employees as incentives. It does not hurt them one bit to give a set to your organization to sell. If they are less than amazing tickets, sell them on the silent auction, but still ask and take those babies off their hands.

If you have questions about your sports related item or any of the other sports categories I've listed in this series, please contact me and I'd love to dialogue with you about your live auction line up. 

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 #1: Trip

In previous posts, I have offered the importance of including a variety of types of items in your live auction and listed 5 that should be included to create a well rounded live auction. Now, I am going to go through each category in more detail with the goal of inspiring you and your auction committee as you solicit items for your live auction.

The first item we will focus on in detail is Trips.

When looking for a trip to include in your live auction, you can include a local destination (something in your home state or a close state that bidders could access by driving), a non local destination (someplace to which they would need to fly), or both. For the most part, I would not include more than one of each in the same auction line up.

Things Good Trips Have: 

Open availability. Meaning the winning bidder can plan their trips selecting from a wide variety of dates throughout the next year.  It's okay to have 3 or 4 weeks through out the year blocked off, but other than that they dates should be relatively open.

WOW Factor. People aren't going to pay top dollar (or likely even bid) on something that doesn't have a special appeal to it. Some WOW factor examples:

  • Home owned by a celebrity  
  • Home on Ocean with gourmet outdoor kitchen
  • Home in Central America which included full staff of maids, personal chef and butler for the week
  • Unique home such as a treehouse
  • Resort which is frequented by known celebrities

Experience is included. The trip includes more than just a place to stay. Examples I've sold:

  • Napa trip which includes wine tastings at several vineyards
  • Trip to New York with the opportunity to see a late night show and have a meet & greet with the host. 
  • Travel to an out of state professional sports game on the team's airplane with the team.

Things Bad Trips Have: 

Limited availability. Want to make sure no one bids on your trip? Offer it for one week out of the entire year. Just because an item has a high "value" does not merit it to be on the live auction. We are looking for items with a broad appeal, one week out of the year is not a broad appeal. I would allow certain exceptions like if somehow you got a box with Madona AND Prince at the Kentucky Derby and it is obviously only available the week of the Derby. Otherwise, I would recommend taking your week in Florida through aunt Cindy's timeshare off the live auction. It doesn't belong there.

Off Season Availability. You will find many donors who are willing to give you donations for their off season. Win for them because it's a tax write off for the time a year they won't be filling their spaces anyway. No one wants a ski trip between April and August.  

What about airfare?

You may notice that I didn't mention anything about airfare in either section. I'll follow up with another post in the future about this topic in more detail, but the short: including airfare does not bring you it's value in revenue nor does it hurt an item's popularity if you don't include airfare in the package. Look back later for deets on this or just email me your specific question regarding this and I'll be happy to give you more insight.