How to solicit wineries for auction donations

Wine and wine-related experiences are consistently some of the best-selling items in a fundraising auction. Almost every auction committee we work with is attempting to add more wine to their auction, and the question we get asked most is, “How do I get wineries to participate in our auction?”

  Tony Lombardi of Lombardi Wines has helped hundreds of causes over the years.

Tony Lombardi of Lombardi Wines has helped hundreds of causes over the years.

My good friend Tony Lombardi, founder of Lombardi Wines and former brand manager at Kosta Browne Winery, offered to share some of his insights on this process. In his years at Kosta Browne, he fielded as many as 35 requests a week for donations to fundraising auctions. And while his new venture, Lombardi Wines, may not have the global recognition of KB yet, he still gets lots of solicitations for donations.

And where he can help make a difference in the world, Lombardi loves to do so. “I love working in an industry that is so giving,” Lombardi says, “One that helps raise funds and awareness for so many worthwhile causes, through the donation of wine.” The challenge with so many organizations who do great work seeking donations is narrowing down the list to the few they can support every year. Here are some of Lombardi’s biggest tips for soliciting wineries.

People Support People

First and foremost, don’t go in cold. “The key thing,” Lombardi says, “is relationships. I’d look through the many requests we got every day to see if there were any names I knew, charitable organizations within our local community or causes that were near and dear. If there was no direct connection, it was a little easier to deny the request.”

If you know someone at the winery, make some effort to reach out in a personal (and personable) way. Give them a call, or better yet stop by the winery in person. If you don’t live in the Bay Area and can’t afford a trip to visit wineries in person, write a letter and include a hand-written note. Whatever you do, don’t just send a fax.

Popular wineries get five to twelve fax requests a day, and they all wind up in a big pile. Unless your fax is addressed specifically to someone you know at the winery, odds are it is going to wind up in the recycling.

Know Your Cause

This is a good guideline for anyone doing solicitation, but especially anyone soliciting wineries. You need to know what you are raising money for, where the money goes, and the change you are asking people to help make in the world. If you aren’t clearly communicating key information, it will make a bad impression. And you don’t get many chances to make an impression.

Communicate the emotionally engaging elements of your cause, let the winery know who you are trying to help, and how. Your description should be a solid elevator pitch, not a keynote speech. And if your organization isn’t one of the stereotypically emotionally engaging ones, you need to work even harder to communicate why it needs support (a common theme for arts organizations everywhere).

Everyone who works at a winery – from the proprietor to the winemaker to the marketing manager and so on – has personal causes they believe in. Ask them if there are specific causes they support, and then honor that choice.

Know Your Stats

Wineries make donations to fundraising events because they want to do good in the world, but they also donate to fundraising events because it is a proven method of marketing. A crowd of people willing to spend thousands of dollars on a trip to wine country will yield more guaranteed lifetime customers than any advertisement.

You need to know the statistics of your event, says Lombardi: “How many people attend, what the ticket price is, what the most expensive auction lot sells for, how many wine lots there are,” is all data that will help guide a potential donor.  “We’re looking for customers that share the same ideals and a loyal relationship we can nurture over a long period of time.” Wineries are looking for a target market, and yours might just be it.

Build Long-Term Relationships

How you approach people and how you build relationships has everything to do with the support base you build. If a winery doesn’t support you the first year you ask, accept it graciously and move on. Get on their mailing list or find someone in your organization who can get on their mailing list. Send the winery a thank you note for their time, and stay in touch. 

If they do make a donation, be sure to let them know how it helped. Get photos of the winning bidders and email them to the winery with a thank you after the event. Make them feel like part of your event. Better yet, make them part of your event next year by inviting them.

However you go about it, the most important thing to realize is that you are dealing with people. And people always react better and give greater support to people they know. So get out there and build relationships in the name of your event – it’s the best excuse to go wine tasting you’ll ever have.