Registration Now Open for Sacramento Workshop

Auction 2.0: Advanced Fundraising Workshop May 10, 2017 Sacramento/Rancho Cordova

Ready to take your fundraising auction to the next level? Whether your event is in two weeks or twenty, this highly interactive workshop will provide you with proven strategies that will help you maximize the philanthropic potential of your crowd. Learn how to fine-tune your fund-a-need for maximum effect, enhance your existing auction lots, streamline your registration process and more.

Click here to register now!

Presented by Stellar Fundraising Auctions and Beth Sandefur Events, session topics will include:

  • Strategies to refresh your silent auction
  • Brainstorming ways to enhance your auction lots
  • Streamlining Check-in and Check-out
  • Seven Keys to a successful fund-a-need
  • Revenue enhancers, beyond the raffle
  • Online & Mobile Bidding

Many organizations are looking for information about the most buzzed about trend in events: online & mobile bidding. This workshop session will include an overview of Greater Giving’s Online Bidding platform with all new features. We’ll discuss how online & mobile bidding impacts your event and discuss best practices for implementation.

The workshop ends with a 1-hour, small group session with each member of our expert panel. We will break into groups by organization type, and spend an hour drilling down on the topics that matter to you most. Ask questions and get answers that are relevant to the needs of your specific event with experts in the field of fundraising auction planning, implementation and performance.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 – Holiday Inn Sacramento Rancho Cordova
9:00am – 3:30pm
Check-in begins at 8:30am
Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.

To register, click here.

The Keys to Going Out on a Limb in Fund-A-Need

For years, one of our recommended strategies for a successful fund-a-need has been to begin asking for pledges at the highest level with a lead donor lined-up in advance. In other words, start asking for money at a level you know will be immediately successful.

Even the most impromptu moments are the result of tons of planning, and your fund-a-need is no different. 

Even the most impromptu moments are the result of tons of planning, and your fund-a-need is no different. 

We had a lot of rationalizations for this: It forces events to have important conversations with donors pre-event; it pre-determines whether or not key supporters believe in what you’re asking them to help fund; and the night-of the event, it ensures that the fund-a-need starts off with immediate momentum.

In the past few years, however, we’ve had some phenomenal successes starting the fund-a-need “out on a limb,” at a higher level than our lead donor commitment. At one event we had a $10,000 donor identified in advance, but we went out on a limb and another donor offered to pledge $100,000. He was followed by two more donors at $100,000, including a woman who was completely new to the organization.

We’ve also had some abysmal failures, which are difficult to recover from. At a recent event, I was sent out on a limb at $50,000 and told to ask for $25,000 next. We received zero pledges at those two levels, killing most of the momentum the testimonial had generated. 

We have, therefore, identified four keys that will determine whether going out on a limb in the fund-a-need is appropriate for your event.

1)  Can you justify starting higher? It seems like a silly question to ask, but do you need more money? If so, you need to be able to tell that story the night of your event in a way that empowers people to support you at a higher level. If you are going to send your auctioneer out on a limb, make sure you have tied that limb to the change you are asking people to fund.

Example: You normally start your fund-a-need at $5,000 but this year you’d like to ask for $10,000. Prepare some examples of what $10,000 will help you do and utilize them as a reason for asking for more money.

2) Determine if your existing lead donor(s) will be upset by you asking for more than they agreed to pledge. Sometimes ego comes into play with high-dollar donors. I’ve seen instances where lead donors felt slighted because they thought they were going to be the top dog in the fund-a-need, and then we asked for more.

3) If you go out on a limb at a specific amount, make sure you have a *guaranteed* donor committed at the next level down. A fund-a-need that starts off with no pledges at one level can recover quickly if there is an immediate pledge at the next level down. Two levels of zero pledges can have a significantly negative impact on the momentum of your appeal and the amount you raise.

4) Do you have donors in the room who have the capacity to support you at a higher level? The $100,000 example above was set into motion the previous year, when a donor came to us after the event and assured us we had started the fund-a-need too low. He was right, as he was one of the donors who stepped up at $100,000.

You may not know all of the donors in your room and may not know the individual capacity of all of them, but you should have a good sense of the potential capacity – or at least know someone who does. When in doubt, ask your supporters – your table captains or board members – for a reality check. You may have untapped potential in your crowd, and you’ll never know if you never ask.

Let a previous winner sell the lot for you!

 One of the ways to generate excitement for a recurring auction lot at your event is to have a live testimonial from someone who won it previously as a part of the lot description. 

 Last year I was reminded of how powerful a well-placed testimonial can be.  The organization for whom I was working was auctioning off an African Safari that promised to be a challenging lot for several reasons.  First, it was a high-dollar trip that did not include any of the travel between the U.S. and the wilderness reserve in Africa.  Second, it was a consignment, meaning that while it could be doubled, it had a substantial reserve price.  If it sold for just over than the reserve, the organization would make very little money.  And third, it was through a company that, while highly rated, did only consignments for benefit and fundraising auctions, meaning that the winning bidder’s fellow guests on the safari all paid wildly differing prices for the exact same trip. 

Challenges notwithstanding, we decided to try to sell it in the live auction.

During the reception that preceded the live program, the auction chair told me she wanted me to meet somebody.  He was a guest at the gala who had won the same trip at an auction for a different organization the previous year and had already gone on the safari with his spouse.  We chatted about his experience, and his review was glowing and heartfelt -- so much so that I asked him if he would say a few words about the trip before we sold that lot.  He agreed.

We arranged for a wireless mic to be ready at his table when the description of that lot started.  I introduced him as a previous winner of the trip; and he stood up and gave the crowd the same positive review he had given me, full of humor and personal details.  He even described the situation of his fellow travelers all having won the trip at auction in the most wonderful, unexpected way.  He said it was a great positive, being on safari exclusively with fellow fundraising/benefit auction winners, because it meant traveling with ‘people who shared our values.’

As he spoke I could see the crowd becoming more animated and excited.  The bidding action was strong right out of the gate, and we ended up selling it for over twice the reserve and doubled the lot as well.  And the credit for the success of that lot goes to the gentleman who shared his actual experience, making the trip much more attractive and accessible to the audience.  That lot benefitted greatly from his testimonial – a real, human moment and a great reminder of why an organization has a live event in the first place.  

A testimonial can also be as simple as the auctioneer giving a previous winner a shout out and/or telling some of their story for them.  “Mr. and Mrs. X, who are here tonight, took this trip last year and loved it.” 

Not everyone is amenable to, or necessarily good at, talking about their experience in front of a crowd.  But if there is a previous winner of a lot at your event, and they have a positive story to tell about it, it’s a resource worth exploring.

Auction lot idea: “The Wine Spectator Top 100”

Wine is consistently one of the top-selling categories of auction lots in fundraising auctions, and the vast majority of charity auctions we conduct feature at least one or two “wine lots.” People like their wine and are often more than willing to overpay for it in support of a good cause.

But not every committee is comprised of wine lovers with expansive wine cellars, and sometimes coming up with a good wine lot is a daunting challenge. Committee members often don’t have the wines and don’t know which wines they should purchase to donate.

We’ve worked with a number of committees to come up with ideas for lots that can be achieved without necessitating a deep and expensive cellar. Lots that can be assembled at minimal expense to your individual committee members, but for which the collective perceptual value is very high. One lot that is the easy to replicate and consistently yields solid results is “The Wine Spectator Top 100.”

Every year Wine Spectator releases its list of the top 100 wines of the year. It isn’t simply a list of the 100 highest scoring wines from the previous year; the editors of Wine Spectator base their list on “quality, value, availability and excitement.” All important criteria when assembling an auction lot!

Wine is perennially popular, especially wine with provenance. 

Wine is perennially popular, especially wine with provenance. 

What this means is the wines on the Wine Spectator Top 100 are readily available and relatively affordable. Thirteen of the top twenty wines on the list have a retail value of $50 or less. Only eight of the entire list cost $100 or more.

I recommend creating a lot of at least ten bottles. “Ten of the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines” has a nice ring to it and is an achievable goal for most committees. Avoid duplication by agreeing as a group which wines you’ll be targeting individually. This ensures people have a clear direction and clearly defines the goals of the lot.

Here’s a dirty little secret: although it is nice to target the top ten wines on the Wine Spectator list, you really don’t have to have all wines from the top of the list. Wines from anywhere in the top 100 will work – as long as a few of them sniff the rarified air of the top of the list.

From a bidder’s perspective, the fact that someone else has pre-assembled a group of highly qualified wines makes this lot appealing. If the retail value is relatively low it, great! That gives people the opportunity to earn a higher tax deduction if they pay over value. And the many times I’ve sold variations of this lot, the final sale price has outperformed retail value.

Have a favorite go-to wine lot for your fundraising auction? Let us know in the comments below!

The multiplier effect of good sponsorship

Event sponsorship can have many potentially positive and negative impacts on an event, but the natural tendency is to focus solely on the positive. Planning committees tend to look at the amount sponsorship raised pre-event or the number of tables pre-sold. People seldom focus on, let alone proactively work to mitigate, the potentially negative impacts sponsors can have.

Good sponsors do more than "just" buy tables, good sponsors bring qualified guests who are prepared to engage with your event.

Good sponsors do more than "just" buy tables, good sponsors bring qualified guests who are prepared to engage with your event.

Obviously, sponsorships help generate income pre-event and can guarantee profitability before the doors open. Table sponsorships are an integral part of every large gala I work with and account for a significant percentage of the seats sold at many events. Raising money before the doors open is a good thing, but it is meant to be a means, not an end.

Challenges arise when sponsors make their pre-event contribution and then count their job as done. We see it frequently: the sponsor who uses their table as a chance to reward employees, clients, or some friends with a “fun party.” Or the worst-case scenario: the sponsor who doesn’t even bother to fill their table and lets it sit there, empty.

The opposite of this is when sponsors see their contribution as an opportunity and leverage their donation to help generate more donations. We need sponsors to commit to utilizing their position of influence to help create more supporters for your organization by bringing people of potential to the table.

The way they do this is by strategically seeding their table with individuals who have capacity and making sure that those individuals understand their role at the event. It doesn’t have to be as brash as, “I’m expecting you to come spend money and support this cause.” But sponsors believe in your cause for a reason, and if they share their passion for your work with potential supporters in their network, it will yield short-term and long-term benefits.

When sponsors take this approach, they apply a multiplier to their initial donation that can be felt the night-of your event. In this way, a $10,000 table sponsorship can yield $25,000 in contributions – if the right bidders join the sponsor at their table.

This approach also helps fill your donor development pipeline with potential long-term donors. Once a potential donor is “in the room,” it is up to you to meaningfully engage them, motivate them to contribute, and cultivate them for future support. But it only works if they are qualified individuals who come open to being engaged.

These sponsor conversations are not always easy to have – no sponsor wants to hear that their cash gift isn’t enough. It is important that the right person discusses it with your sponsors and that the message is couched in utilizing their generosity to help create even more success for your organization.

Sponsors support you because they believe in your work and they want to help you change the world. Engage them on a deeper level, it will be more rewarding for all involved.