When it comes to fundraising events, the live auction is almost always the "meat and potatoes" of the night, hauling in an estimated two-thirds of your total revenue.
In addition to the fundraising main course, many events both large and small benefit from employing a variety of revenue enhancers. These are the "appetizers, sides, drinks and dessert" that can translate to tens of thousands of additional dollars for your cause - or at the very least, more fun and participation for all your guests.
In today's post, we've compiled 12 of the best event fundraising add-on ideas out there. From entertaining raffles to creative icebreakers to wine trees (yep, wine trees!) and more, which will you add to your event?
The 3 E's of Event Fundraising
Before we jump into the 12 ideas, check out this diagram, provided by benefit auctioneer Danny Hooper, with just a few ideas for additional income streams...
We won't go into all of these in today's post, but this gives you an idea of just how many ideas have already been thought of - and how many you and your committee can create on your own. The options might be overwhelming.
How do you know what activities to include, and which to leave out?
When considering adding or removing a certain additional revenue stream, run the idea through "the 3 E" test.
- Is this revenue enhancer Entertaining?
- Will it Engage our audience?
- Will it Extract money for our cause - without leaving guests feeling nickel-and-dimed?
We've tried to limit the post to ideas that meet this criteria, but every audience is different. If an idea does pass the 3 E test for your event, why not give it a try?
12 Revenue Enhancers to Try at Your Next Fundraiser
Without further ado, here is the list, provided by benefit auctioneer Stephen Kilbreath and supplemented with input from benefit auctioneers Danny Hooper and Scott Robertson, and auction chair Heather Dean-Presnall.
If you like what you see, considering forwarding to your auction committee to discuss at the next planning meeting.
1. Ticket Upgrades
"For our 600+ person annual event, one extra money-maker is to sell different ticket packages," shared Dean-Presnall in a recent episode of our podcast, Events with Benefits. "Guests can buy a basic ticket, a ticket with overnight stay at the hotel venue, VIP tickets to get you into the party early, tickets with closer seats to the stage and entertainment, and more. If they want fancy wine, we can make it happen and charge them for it.
"It's all about knowing your audience and what they're willing to pay more for."
Examine past sales history, ask donors what event perks they'd splurge on, then capitalize.
2. 50/50 Raffle
This idea is super easy to try out because you don't need to offer that incredible trip to Jamaica that typically generates ticket sales - the big incentive is cash.
In a nutshell, you sell raffle tickets at the event. 50 percent of the pot goes to the winner, and 50 percent goes to your organization. It's that easy!
Try coming up with a goal for the prize pot and letting people know how much they could win. For example, "We're aiming to sell 100 tickets tonight at $10 a ticket, which means you could win $500! And the more we sell, the more you could win."
"A good auctioneer will get that 50% back from the winner in the live auction," notes Kilbreath. "They've won what feels like free money and are willing to amp up the bidding on a great item. This turns the 50/50 into a 100 percent raffle for your cause!"
A word of caution: "I've seen events where the ticket salesmen were very persistent, to the point where I believe the 50/50 raffle ended up costing the organization money and goodwill later," noted benefit auctioneer Scott Robertson in a recent webinar. So work with your volunteers to plan a non-intrusive way to sell raffle tickets, such as a sign at the registration tables and pre-event promotion via email and social media.
3. Gift Card Frenzy
Procure 7 to 12 donated gift cards, then sell them one by one in the live auction at face value. The first card in the air - or the first the auctioneer sees - gets the item! This is a surefire way to get everyone's attention, generate excitement, and help guests become familiar with how to bid.
4. Wine Tree (or Wheelbarrow, Cork Pull, Bingo etc.)
It's well known that wine is a top seller at charity auctions. Wine is a prized gift, a complete tasting experience, and highly subjective in value. Time and again we have seen people pay top dollar for wine, sometimes 3 times or more above retail value for just a few bottles!
Utilizing wine in a revenue enhancer is probably the safest bet on this list.
Whether you auction or raffle off bottles of wine, play wine bingo, host a cork pull or just throw a bunch of bottles into a wheelbarrow – there are so many ways to sell donated bottles of wine.
One idea we like that you might not have heard of: wine trees. Check it out:
The wooden wine tree is made out of plywood and typically features 3 or 4 tiers. This tree bears extremely valuable "fruit" - anywhere from 50 to 100 bottles of wine! (The wine tree pictured above holds 100 bottles.)
Your auctioneer can sell a wine tree in its entirety during the live auction. You can also sell each tier individually, with more valuable wines and champagnes higher up on the tree.
Danny Hooper has hit home runs with this idea: "I’ve sold entire wine trees for anywhere from $1,500 on up to $27,000."
(Note: Please check with your local jurisdiction to confirm it's legal to sell wine in your auction.)
Want to make your own wine tree? Download construction plans for a wine tree (and hundreds more resources) with a $99 yearlong subscription of our online auction organizing software, Checklist Builder. Click here or below to find it out more.
(You can find the Wine Tree PDF in "Silent & Live Auction Committee," under the task "Hold a brainstorming session" - then print and hand off to a carpenter.)
5. Purse Prize Raffle
Procure 10 or so handbags - more if you can get them - and put a secret prize in one of them. This could be cash, a gift certificate, a smart watch, or any other attractive item. Let the audience know one of these already-desirable bags has an additional prize inside, then auction off the bags.
Have everyone open the bags at the same time until one person is left cheering with their lucky prize.
6. Golden Ticket
This is a raffle where one lucky person gets to choose one item in the live, silent or super silent auctions.
You can sell these before your event, at your event, or even hand them out as early bird door prizes.
We advise disclosing any exceptions ahead of time. This ensures you avoid giving away your most expensive items or the highlights of the live auction. (If you're still in the process of procurement, include at least a disclaimer like "eligible items are up to the discretion of the nonprofit.")
7. Blue Line Raffle
This is a fun way to supercharge silent auction bidding.
To do: Put a blue line on the bid sheets of items likely to generate competitive bidding - typically at 75 or 80 percent of value. (You'll need to set minimum bid increments or pre-set bid amounts on the bid sheets to ensure no one is increasing their bids dollar by dollar to get to the line.) Then, everyone who bids on that line is entered into a raffle for a prize.
Click below to download our FREE customizable, sleek bid sheet templates designed to generate more bidding in your silent auction.
8. Silent Auction Raffle
This is another silent auction raffle that doesn't have anything to do with bids.
This time you sell tickets, then set up a table with raffle items and bowls or baskets in front of each item. Guests examine the items, then put tickets into the container in front of the item they want to win.
If you can, use clear containers so people can see which items are more or less popular. Items with fewer tickets may generate more sales, once people see their chances to win are pretty good.
9. Run Around
This game can encourage higher pledges during the Fund-a-Need or bid card raise. Simply offer an incentive prize for the last person that bids at a certain level.
The Fund-a-Need is already an exciting, emotionally charged point of the event - adding a Run Around prize can encourage lower spending capacities to bump up their pledges in hopes of winning the prize.
To really make a big splash, we've seen events offer premium prizes - like a ski getaway for 2 to Whistler for the last donor at the $500 level - to generate tens of thousands of dollars in minutes.
10. Bid Card Sponsorships
Event sponsorships are key to offsetting costs and growing an event - plus present a win-win opportunity for sponsors to receive significant publicity and media coverage.
If you've gotten the right buns in the seats at your event, chances are some of those buns belong to local business owners and philanthropists. These people are clearly interested in your cause but may not have been directly solicited for sponsorships.
Bid Card Sponsorships are an easy way to utilize both sides of something every guest will have in their hands at some point in the night: their bid card!
The simple how-to: Sell future sponsorships on one side of the bid card, detailing the benefits of partnering with your cause, and have the normal bid card number on the other side.
For more on acquiring event sponsorships, including FREE proposal letter and form templates, see:
Try kicking off the live auction by auctioning off a great prize for a song.
"Use whatever you can get - a nice bottle of wine, champagne, a flat-screen TV. Use something with a high perceived value and wide appeal, that you can blow off for a ridiculously low price just to get people’s attention," suggests Danny Hooper.
"I admit, I had this strategy 'backfire' on me one night. We had a nice box of chocolates that the town mayor had donated. I was ready to sell it for 2 or $3. And we ended up getting $350 for the box! But, it was still a success, because it was entertainment and caught everyone's attention."
12. Wild Card Auction
In a nutshell, you procure donations from guests, then sell them on the spot- and all you need is a few note cards.
For more detailed instructions, plus a video and free templates for Wild Card notecards, check out...
Keep the Focus on the Big Bucks
We hope these ideas have given you some inspiration for extra revenue enhancers to spice up your next event.
Big thanks to Stephen Kilbreath, Danny Hooper and Heather Dean-Presnall for contributing some of their creative, proven ideas to this list.
We'd like to leave you with a final word of advice: "Don't let the tail wag the dog," advised Robertson in a recent webinar. "These are great ideas to come up with more cash. Just be careful not to let all the little minutiae like raffles and even silent auctions overshadow the biggest revenue generator of the night."
Your turn - What ideas have you tried at your event? How did they affect the final revenue total of the night?