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Your destination for insight into the world of charitable fundraising, benefit auctions and no-risk auction items.

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The Biggest Secret to Hosting a Successful Charity Auction

Posted by Ian Lauth


It's six months before the big nonprofit fundraising event. You have a great theme, awesome location and hope to raise record-breaking amounts by hosting an auction packed with exciting items. The procurement team has plenty of time to gather auction donations, so you're not worried, right?

…Then a month goes by and there is still just the possibility of those concert tickets and backstage passes. Another month goes by and there's radio silence from the board member’s sister who was going to donate her timeshare condo in Hawaii. Three months later and nothing has solidified except a few restaurant and spa vouchers. Panic sets in.

This is a common scenario that keeps development directors and event coordinators awake at night. How will your nonprofit ever raise big numbers when your big-auction items fall through?

To avoid the mad scramble before the event, try securing a few no-risk auction items earlier on in the process. The biggest secret to hosting a successful nonprofit auction is offering intriguing items and getting them early enough to connect with donors and build excitement through marketing and outreach strategies.

  1. Find out what donors want to bid on: You can be proactive about contacting big donors and asking them which packages they are most interested in. A simple conversation could go as follows: "We're thinking of three travel packages for this event; which would you be most interested in, and how much would you be willing to bid?" Getting valuable insight like this early on might mean you can sell the item - or at least get a commitment - before the event even begins.
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Topics: donor-relations

Lessons From the Biz World: Running Your Nonprofit More Like a For-Profit Business

Posted by Ian Lauth


Running a nonprofit organization (NPO) is all about making a positive impact, which is why many people exit the for-profit sector and dedicate themselves to a career that prioritizes social impact over the bottom line. Not surprisingly, some of the most successful nonprofits use the same strategies that big businesses use to not only stay in the black but also grow exponentially. With more money and resources comes the opportunity to make a bigger difference.

Have you considered ways you can run your nonprofit more like a business? We asked two prominent figures in the southern California nonprofit sector for help answering this question:


Melissa Beck
Chief Executive Officer
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County

Carlos Leija

Carlos Leija
Chief Development Officer
Orangewood Children's Foundation

There are many fundamental differences between nonprofits and businesses, not least of which is that nonprofits' objective is to make a difference, not make money. That said, there are some valuable lessons that can be applied to nonprofit management that can translate into a more efficient, stable and successful organization which can have a greater impact. 

At their core, nonprofits operate with two bottom lines: social impact and fiscal success. Impact may trump the bottom line, but when the two work hand in hand, it’s easier to make wider strides toward social good.

Some nonprofits who run their organizations like a business have stopped using the term “nonprofit” altogether. “We have started using ‘social impact organization’ in its place,” explains Melissa Beck, ‎CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County. “I am incredibly conscious of my ‘profitability’ and hold us to being financially sustainable just as I would a business.”

Others are subjected to the kind of heavy scrutiny that accompanies many nonprofit operations. "The accountability for nonprofits increases every single year," says Carlos Leija, the Chief Development Officer for Orangewood Children's Foundation. "You might hear about nonprofits in national news stories that aren’t operated well or where there might be wasteful spending. We are really truly heavily scrutinized and we should be."

Over the next several months we will explore the following lessons from the business world and look at how they can be applied to nonprofits, regardless of size, shape or scope of the mission: 

Lessons from the Biz World

Lesson 1: Manage capital wisely 

Lesson 2: Invest in good people

Lesson 3: Track and measure successes (and failures)

Lesson 4: Utilize branding strategies 

Lesson 5: Manage your donor base like customers

Lesson 6: Overhead is not negative

Lesson 7: Embrace resistance

Lesson 1: Manage capital wisely to ensure profitability

A focus on impact over earnings is typically the main reason professionals choose to work at a nonprofit. In reality, financial resources are a big part of being able to fulfill a nonprofit’s mission, so it’s wise to take queues from for-profit businesses in regards to managing capital appropriately and ensuring steady revenue. In short, it takes money to raise the money you need to make a difference.

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Topics: nonprofits

The Power of Storytelling in Nonprofit Fundraising

Posted by Ian Lauth


Humans have always been storytellers. We connect better with stories because they evoke emotions like joy, anger and sadness. Many times stories inspire and motivate us to take action, which is why storytelling is such a powerful tool every Nonprofit can and should utilize in their fundraising efforts.

A heartfelt story at your fundraising event can do great things for your audience:

  • Tug at the heartstrings: Storytelling puts a face to your mission and establishes a deeper connection between donors and your organization. Getting your audience emotionally invested will almost always result in greater spending at your event.
  • Support the facts: Statistics can be useful when you are showing the progress of your mission or illustrating a point, but without a story to tie it all together the facts and figures may be far less impactful. Include personal anecdotes to supplement your statistics and make the story come to life.
  • Strengthen long-term involvement: Donors are more likely to give money to organizations they feel a connection to, and that part of what storytelling accomplishes. A well-told story might be exactly what your donors need to make a contribution and continue supporting your mission.  


Nonprofit Storytelling Example

The John Crosland School in California reinvented their fundraising gala by shifting the focus of the event from being about the school to being all about the kids. A school for children with learning differences like ADHD and Asperger’s, they included anecdotes about the kids, their struggles and their accomplishments in the event program. During the event they started talking about how school’s mission would improve the chidrens' future. During the gala and throughout the dinner, they had pictures of the students rolling on a slideshow. 

“We also had the students and some artists from the local community do some artwork,” explains Jennifer Nichols, the Director of Institutional Advancement at John Crosland, “Then we mixed them all up so that guests couldn’t tell whether a student or a local artist had created the piece of art so when people were buying they had no idea whether they were buying something from one of our kids or a local artist. It was a real hit.”

For the full story, read:
"How John Crosland Revived Donor Development with Their Annual Fundraising Gala"

To make the most out of your storytelling efforts, incorporate these five tips into your marketing strategy. 

1. Share a story during each stage of your fundraising event 

Waiting for the "right" time or moment isn’t necessary, as stories are beneficial and relevant before, during and after your fundraising event. During the pre-event stage, advertise your auction using stories to attract more donors and increase attendance. The night of the event, remind supporters why they are there with reports from the front lines. Hearing a heartfelt message right before the auction begins can influence attendees' bidding decisions and help you raise more money. After the event is over, continue communicating with donors and establish a good relationship by sharing stories of your organization's work and how their donations are being put to use. Donors who know that their money is making a positive impact are more likely to continue supporting your cause.  

2. Take advantage of multimedia

Stories can be told using pictures, video, audio and good old-fashioned copy. Use a combination of these to tell your story and reach your donors by distributing it across multiple mediums. Emails, newsletters, social media, blog posts, Powerpoint, podcasts, webinars, slideshare, etc.  – all of these can be used to share your Nonprofit's story before, during and after your event. These days most people have all the tools they need within arms reach on their smartphone. Of course, every medium is different and how you share a story on Facebook won't be the same as what you do in a newsletter. Tailor each message to fit the rules and norms of that particular media form. 

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Topics: event-production

Do Women Give More Money Than Men?

Posted by Ian Lauth


Traditional gender roles typically meant women were the primary caregiver and men were in charge of “bringing home the bacon”. This dynamic has changed dramatically in the last half century and now it’s common for both parents to contribute financially as well as share responsibility on the home front.

Women today feel freer to make financial decisions and are more likely to donate to charitable organizations.

What does this have to do with Nonprofit fundraising, you ask? A lot, actually. Women today feel freer to make financial decisions and are more likely to donate to charitable organizations.

Nonprofits who excel at fundraising use different strategies to attract millennials than they do baby boomers because each demographic has their own unique set of habits when it comes to donating. The same concept can be applied to gender roles, as recent studies show there are significant differences between the way men and women donate.

Identifying these differences can help you better understand your audience and the reasons why different people donate. Here is some insight into female donors:

  • Women donate a larger percentage of their income than men, according to research conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI).   
  • Women expect a deeper level of communication, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2011 Study of High Net Worth Women’s Philanthropy. They want to know that their money is being used effectively and making an impact.
  • Women are more likely to participate in online auctions. Focus group studies show that women prefer the more comfortable and less competitive environment of their home to a live auction environment.
  • Women are more active on social media, according to research compiled by FinancesOnline. Women visit and interact with sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter more than men.
  • Women don’t just want to donate. They want to be actively involved in your organization. Women often volunteer for an organization and then are motivated to donate.
  • Women are more likely to switch. If they don't feel listened to, appreciated or believe an organization is adequately fulfilling its mission, women are more likely to stop contributing money to that organization in favor for another.

With this information in mind, there are several key strategies your Nonprofit can consider when targeting female donors. To build your female audience, make sure you:

  1. Communicate. If women believe their money is not being used effectively or efficiently, they are likely to seek out a different organization to support. Remember, women are more likely to stop contributing money than men. 
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Topics: fundraising

Bon Appetite! Boost your Fundraising Efforts with Culinary Experiences

Posted by Sharon Ruback


You may not even know it, but chances are, you are a foodie. Are you hooked on the current season of Top Chef? Have you waited in line for the local gourmet food truck to serve up its specialty? Foodies come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the casual enthusiast to gourmet connoisseur.

Anthony-Bourdains-Parts-UnknownWith the steady increase in interest in food channels and travel shows featuring regional cuisine (think Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown), as well as an emphasis on local cuisine and concepts like farm-to-table dining, culinary tourism continues to gain momentum as travelers seek authentic cultural experiences that stimulate all of the senses. Research from the United Nations World Tourism Organization indicates that more than 5 million international tourists said food and wine were their primary reasons for travel, which will generate more than $6 billion in spending.

It’s safe to say that quite a few people who will be attending your upcoming fundraising event have at least a casual interest in food – and some are likely self-declared “diehard foodies”. Food and wine enthusiasts can indulge in the best of both worlds with a culinary tourism experience. Consider offering a selection of culinary travel fundraising packages as part of your silent or live auction.

Spanish Sizzle in Barcelona
Spanish Sizzle in Barcelona

View Experience Details →

Spain, in particular, is a destination that draws millions of people each year on the quest to sample regional delicacies while immersing themselves in rich, historical traditions. In addition to a 5-night stay at the trendy W Barcelona Hotel, Winspire’s Spanish Sizzle in Barcelona auction package includes a choice of culinary experiences: winning bidders can enjoy a special tapas menu with wine pairing or they can step behind the bar for a private mixology cocktail class and dance the night away in the hotel’s Eclipse Nightclub. 

The Tuscany Culinary Escape includes a private cooking class, lunch and a wine cellar and olive oil mill tour in the charming town of Lucca. Gourmets and wine buffs descend on this hidden Tuscan Valley to enjoy local specialties. The Garfagnana Valley

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Topics: travel-experiences



Winston & Winnie

The Winspire Twins

Winston & Winnie love to help Nonprofits raise money for amazing causes. They also love to travel and have a bucket list of amazing Experiences they are determined to complete in their lifetime. Winspire News is the result of this shared passion, offering you fundraising advice, industry news and explorations into each of our incredible travel packages

Auction Item Procurement
Starter Kit

starter kit underline


A free resource with helpful templates to get the auction item procurement process off the ground.

- Donation Form TEMPLATE
- Procurement Letter TEMPLATE
- Procurement Letter Example