fundraising 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.


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.

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.

The dangers of the biennial event

Producing a successful fundraising auction is no small challenge. A successful auction requires hundreds of hours of planning, solicitation, and marketing. It requires leaning on your closest supporters to bring their friends and contacts to support you. It requires a lot of work.

It is therefore understandable that many organizations would perceive holding their auction every other year as the solution – especially if they can raise enough in one night to cover two years of need. What we’ve found, however, is that holding an auction every other year is actually more challenging in the long run. 

Your Date is Your Date

When you hold an event every year, it becomes established within your support base. People have busy schedules, and getting something on their calendar is a challenge. Keeping it on their calendar is your responsibility. Do you hold your event in one of the two busiest times of year, spring or fall? Odds are, if you take a year off of your event, a good portion of your crowd is going to get invited to another event – and it’ll be up to you to win them back. Every. Other. Year.

Donor Cultivation Suffers in a 730-Day Cycle

Fundraising auctions are an established pipeline for attracting new potential donors. Auction events are a known commodity, and donors understand what is being asked of them when they are invited to a new event. Once a potential donor is “in the room” at your event, it is up to you to engage them and convert them to becoming a long-term donor. Inviting them back to your next gala is one of the more simple means of cultivation. Inviting them back to your next gala – two years from now – lacks imperative.

Institutional Knowledge Retention

One of an auction committee’s many responsibilities is to pass along the institutional knowledge of an event from year to year. Unless you have an incredibly well-documented event, much of the information on how to get it done lives in the heads of your staff and volunteers.  Staff and volunteers that may turn over.

An entire planning committee recently had to start from scratch on an every other year event because I was the only person left who had worked on their last auction, two years ago. All of the institutional knowledge was gone. Caterer? Auction lots? Recording of the previous auction?

The Message of We Make Enough

Every organization holds a fundraising auction out of need. What does it say about your need if you only need to do your auction every other year? There is a good chance that your large donors understand your needs well enough to keep you on their list of planned donations. But smaller, newer donors? The same donors you should be trying to cultivate in the long term? They are more likely to misinterpret your lack of annual event as a lack of annual need.

Auction Solicitation Challenges

Much like cash donors, the people and businesses who donate auction lots often have a finite number of donations they can make in a year. If you let them off the hook one year, you run the risk of losing them long-term. I’ve seen this happen in the most innocuous of ways. A donor who put their Italian vacation home in an every-other-year auction donated it to another event in an off year. And it did so well at that other event that they doubled it on the spot, taking away her ability to donate to the every other year event.

Maintaining Your Venue/Vendors

The competition for venues is extreme, and if you walk away from your venue one year, you better have a plan in place for getting it back the next. Same goes with your vendors. As a company we give our clients the first right of refusal on “their” date on a year-by-year basis. If an event chooses not to hire us one year, we’re going to do our best to fill that date the next year, even if they say they are coming back in two years. Our budget doesn’t allow for a two-year cycle of income.

If you are currently holding a successful event on an every other year basis, my goal isn’t to convince you to change your model. But if your event has become more challenging to produce every other year, or your biennial results are no longer meeting your needs, take a hard look at your goals and why they aren’t being met. More often than not, the challenges of producing an annual event are outweighed by the benefits.

Creative & memorable save the date card idea

The sheer number of fundraising auctions makes it difficult to stand out from crowd. Every event sends a save the date card, and most of them that come through my mailbox get a cursory once-over before they wind up in the recycling bin.

But this save the date card from the John Muir Health Foundation popped out from the first moment I saw it. Maybe it's a lifelong fascination with holograms, or maybe it is the fact that the card is vibrant and interactive. Either way, this save the date card is unique and eye-catching. 

What is the most creative save the date card you've seen or done?

The most creative save the date card we've seen in a long time, thanks to holograms!

Philanthropic potential is fleeting

The lights are low and the buzz is high. Silverware is clinking, people are happily chatting over some light background music while wait staff deftly move throughout the room. The energy is slowly building, and everyone at your event is having a great time.

You can see the energy in this room as people start to network other tables. Time to start the auction!
You can see the energy in this room as people start to network other tables. Time to start the auction!

That buzz permeating your event is philanthropic potential. It is the result of months of planning and preparation, an ephemeral “vibe” that you and your committee work so hard to create. It is fleeting, it is delicate, and if you wait too long, it will dissipate into the ether, unused. Wasted.

It is up to you to capitalize on the philanthropic potential of your event, and make the most of your potential while it is at its peak. This often means cutting your guests’ “social time” short, and asking them to focus on the needs you have asked them to help you meet.

Efficiently utilizing your attendees’ time and attention to help you achieve your mission is your right. If you have properly communicated the message of your event beforehand, your guests will be ready to help your fundraising efforts succeed. Instead of putting your fundraising auction off until the very end of the evening, conduct your auction and fund-a-need while your potential is at its peak.

In many cases, this means conducting your auction and fund-a-need during dinner, not after it. Dessert is the turning point, when people start to get up and leave. If you haven’t done the most important element of your fundraising (for most of our events, this is the fund-a-need) before dessert is served, you’re losing money.

Efficient time management will help you raise more money and will ensure your event ends on time. It will also help attendees form an emotionally-charged long-term memory that they associate with your event. Long-term memories are formed when an experience is paired with an emotion.

No offense to your caterer, but few people will remember the food at your event, unless it is ridiculously good or bad. Everyone, however, will remember the way they felt when your event transcended a mere “gala” and became a life-changing experience. 

This only happens if you capitalize on the potential you’ve worked so hard to create while it is at its max. Because the philanthropic potential of your event is ephemeral, once it is gone it is gone. If you don’t take advantage of it while you can, you’ll never get it back.