Planning and executing a benefit event for your organization takes a lot of time, energy, and goodwill from your staff, board, volunteers, and donors. In fact, it’s one of the most time intensive ways to raise money. That’s why you want to make sure every resource you put into your event has the greatest return on investment. If you’re looking to maximize success and generate more revenue to put towards your mission and programs then be sure to follow the 3 P’s of event success
First, you need a clear purpose for the event. Events come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. There really isn’t a one size fits all answer to what is the best type of event. There are however best practices depending on what the main goal of the event is. Is the purpose of the event to raise as much money as possible? Is the emphasis on having a good party and celebration of your work? Having time to honor special guests through awards? To cultivate new donors, or deepen relationships with existing donors? Each of these priorities will represent a different approach and event night timeline and structure.
No matter what type of event it is, you'll want to have a clear financial goal of what you want to raise so you can ensure you build the right activities into the event to help you reach this goal. This is where pre-event consultation comes in with your auctioneer and benefit event planning professionals. We can help you design and think through your event activities, timeline, and tone to meet your goals and ensure all the important elements are there while maximizing revenue opportunities.
Once you have clarity of why you are having the event and what your goals are you’ll want to make sure you invite the right people and cultivate them before, during, and after the event. What does this mean? First, it means don’t fall into the trap of the “if we build it they will come” mentality. It just doesn’t happen that way.
Many groups spend most of their time thinking about decorations, design, procurement, and what the theme should be. All of those issues are fun and certainly important. However, if you don’t have people in the room who care about your work and mission, have the means to make a donation, and who want to make a donation to you that night, then all your planning won’t pay off in the way you need it to.
You’ll want to create a culture of giving surrounding the event in which every attendee is committed to giving to support your mission. And that starts with how you think about the event and also how you communicate about the event to others. While it may be social, celebratory, and fun, it first and foremost is a fundraiser. So be sure to message that and not say things like our “celebration” or “our annual award ceremony” if the event is really a fundraiser first.
Carefully think through your ticket price and event items to match who is actually attending the event (or to build the audience you want). Work closely with your table hosts, and key donors to support them in inviting guests who will have the ability and desire to donate at the event and bid on your items (if you’re having an auction component to the event). A good way to ensure you have the right items for your guests is to spend time in the event planning phases checking in with your donors to see what items they would love to bid on this year, or what they think their guests might like to bid on. Reach out to donors once you have items and let them know you have items you think they will like and encourage them to bid on them, or bring people who could bid on them.
Most importantly, develop a comprehensive communications plan to build excitement for attendees before the event. For many live auction items, people need to plan in advance for the trips and if they know the details beforehand they can decide in advance if they want to purchase the items.
And be sure to also spend plenty of time beforehand communicating your impact and mission. You’ll want to make it clear to your donors exactly what type of work they are supporting. This also means making sure that your event is filled with as many heartwarming and engaging mission moments to inspire giving on the night of. Be sure to communicate throughout the event that the work you do is only possible because of donor support and weave your mission into the event throughout the night.
Last but not least, make sure you have an after event follow up plan to express gratitude to your donors and to keep them engaged and excited about your work all year long (and to get them ready for next year).
You have a good purpose and you have great people coming. Now you need to focus your money in the right areas. You may be tempted to try and save money on sound, lighting, and using volunteers for the auctioneer and emcee roles. Don’t. Save yourself from having to learn the hard way and hire professionals to do what they do best.
The top areas that will impact your bottom line more than anything else are having a professional sound and lighting crew, a professional benefit auctioneer, and spending significant time on guest/donor cultivation (see above). Many times these areas are overlooked. Sound and AV gets handed to the cheapest vendor who may or may not have experience with fundraising events. Some groups might purchase equipment on their own and have volunteers run the sound and lights without having previous experience or AV tech staff present to troubleshoot on the night of the event (and trust me, things almost always go wrong with PowerPoints, sound, lights, and videos).
If your guests can’t hear what’s going on they won’t be paying attention, donating, or bidding. You’ll not only lose their attention, you’ll lose their donation. I’ve seen it happen where guests tune out, or in some cases, just walk out to another room, to the bar, or simply leave the event because the sound is either muffled, not loud enough, or not evenly distributed throughout the room. Using a sound and light company that is used to supporting benefit events is the best way to go and will ensure you have the highest probability of success. When your guests can hear you, and follow along, you’ll have a more robust bidding and generous crowd. You’ll want to make sure you have sound that surrounds the live auction area (and also the silent auction if you have one). And you want to be sure you have the right lighting to set the right tone throughout the evening (as well as proper lighting for the space so that guests can see silent auction items, and that the auctioneer can see bid bidders).
When groups think they are saving money by using a volunteer auctioneer (who is usually not trained) they are actually losing money. A professional benefit auctioneer has the training and experience to not only execute a fun and lively benefit auction, they also attend and work auctions every week during auction season, receive continuing education, and attend industry events annually to learn current best practices. They know what works and what doesn’t work at events and bring invaluable knowledge to the table in their pre-event consultations with you. Generally speaking, a benefit auctioneer will work with a group 6-9 months in advance consulting on all aspects of the event--including the most important piece of your event--the special appeal. Hiring a professional here will add value to your event and will increase your revenue.
While not always a common practice, using a professional emcee can add value to your event as well. You want someone who will take the role seriously and prepare thoughtfully for the event as well as follow the script prepared by the staff and the auctioneer. You also want someone who can play well with the auctioneer and work in sync with them to maximize event revenue.
Auctions have a specific cadence to them that follow a crescendo to a peak fundraising moment and you want a co-pilot on stage with your auctioneer who gets this process and stays on message throughout the event. Check with your auctioneer for recommendations of emcees who have a record of performing well on stage and who work well with their style.
Remember - everyone on stage is your ambassador for the evening. Make sure they take their roles seriously and represent your values well.
Events can be a lot of work, but if done well, can pay off with big rewards for your nonprofit organization. If you need help planning your next auction, or want to take your event to the next level, reach out and I’d love to support your organization’s event and raise as much money as we can to fund your mission.
Contact me today to discuss your next event
Michael Faith Benefit Auctioneer and fundraising professional