Auction Planning

Stellar offers new Catalog Copy Writing Service

Stellar Fundraising Auctions has partnered with copy writer Chaia Milstein to launch our new catalog copywriting service. Any fundraising auction team looking for clean, crisp, well-researched catalog descriptions of their live auction items can now get Stellar copy delivered on time and on budget.

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Some solicitation teams love to write the descriptions for all of the auction lots they have worked so hard to acquire, and we totally get it. We say more power to you! But sometimes, the act of getting the lots is enough – you still have to line up potential bidders, let alone plan the rest of the event – and writing each of the catalog descriptions is just one thing too many.

Stellar can provide professional copy for all of your live auction items. We thoroughly research each auction lot, seeking the hidden “sizzle” that will engage potential buyers, and assure your donors you are handling their donation with aplomb.

We thoroughly understand the intricacies of the planning process, and will work with your team to establish a timeline that works with your needs. Bringing in a successful auction is enough work, let us make it sound great for you!

For more information about our Catalog Copy Writing Service, or to request a quote for services, please contact us here. Whether you are an existing Stellar client, or simply looking for help with your catalog, we'd love to chat with you.

Gamblers like to know the odds

Raffles are an important revenue generator for most fundraising events. They provide a low-cost entry point for attendees to participate while simultaneously helping raise significant amounts. We consistently see raffles that raise $5,000 - $10,000 and occasionally see them in the $15,000 - $25,000 range.

Most people think the prize is the most important piece of a raffle and focus all of their attention on finding something they think will have universal appeal. While the prize is important, I argue that the number of tickets you are going to make available is even more crucial. 

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Gamblers like to know the odds before they put down their money. When you limit the number of available tickets for a raffle, you are giving people a clear understanding of their odds. And a perceived “good chance” encourages people to pay a higher price to play.

Unlimited $25 raffle tickets aren’t as appealing – from a gambling standpoint – as 1 of 100 tickets at $50 each. Who knows how many people are going to buy one of those $25 tickets? But the $50 ticket? There are only 100 of those, and odds resonate with gamblers.

By limiting supply you also enable your staff or volunteers to create a sense of urgency: “Do you want a 1 in 100 chance to win this trip to Hawaii? There are only 50 chances left…” Tickets will run out. Buy yours now. For a limited time only.

There are a number of calculations that go into deciding how many tickets you should make available for a particular raffle and how much you should charge per ticket. First and foremost, you need to determine how much you want to raise in your raffle. Our recommendation is that any raffle should raise at least double the value of the donation.

Then you have to calculate how many tickets you think you could sell. If you’ve never done a raffle before and have no data to rely on, just know that you can’t expect 100% of your attendees to buy raffle tickets. Between 15% and 20% of your attendees is a reasonable assumption, if the raffle is compelling.

It is always preferable to have more demand than supply, so people will rush to get their tickets next year. Limit the number of tickets and increase the amount you raise in your raffle. People who participate in raffles are gamblers, and every gambler likes to think they are getting good odds.

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.

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.