At Winspire News, we field questions from fundraising professionals and volunteers daily.
Along with auction best practices (how many items to include in the live auction, bestselling silent auction items, how to set minimum bids and so forth), we've also gotten these:
- How do we address those who say, "I don't go to the auction and never will."?
- Are auctions really worth the time and cost?
- How do I refresh my 14-year event? Is it time to give it up and move on to another type of event?
You might relate. Ever-increasing revenue goals, event chair turnover and philanthropic competition make it all too common for organizations to see revenue stagnate and decline.
We have seen time and again that events still work to raise support and awareness for causes. The key to maintaining a successful annual event? Follow the 3 E's: Entertain, Engage and Extract.
To revive the annual fall gala, charity auction, golf tournament and more, you'll need strategies to make the night both entertaining and focused on fundraising. Read on for 13 practical ways to do just that. (Hint: These tips apply to first-time events, too!)
3 Ideas to Make Giving Fun and Engaging
1. Play a game
To amp up the entertainment factor in an auction, try incorporating a new game.
One of the most popular auction games is called "Heads or Tails." We were recently asked how to conduct one of these special raffles, so here's a quick overview of how it's done.
What is a 'Heads or Tails' raffle?
This popular fundraising game is often played during charity galas using a semi-valuable prize (like a flat-screen TV or case of wine). Before and during your event, donors purchase tickets to participate. Then, during the game, all participants are instructed to stand, choose "heads" or "tails", and place a designated marker (like their bid card) on their choice. The auctioneer then flips a coin. Those who chose correctly stay standing; everyone else sits down. The process is repeated until one winner is left.
More tips to get the most out of this fun game:
- Pick a prize that will appeal to as many of your donors as possible. Donated electronics like a flat-screen TV or smartwatch work great, as do catered dinners, cases of wine and the like.
- Before the event and as guests walk through the doors, sell special Heads or Tails raffle tickets. These can range from $10 to $50 or more, depending on your audience. According to Greater Giving, some 25% of all guests will end up purchasing a ticket - easy extra revenue for the event!
- Give players a fun item or party favor to indicate their participation. This step is easy if your event has a theme: masks for a masquerade, leis for a luau, or golden tickets for a black tie affair. See:
- Party hats, fans, noisemakers, foam fingers and more also make great photo opps. They serve as "participation tickets" and are used to display people's choice of heads or tails.
- When just a handful of guests remain, have the final participants come up on stage. Keep going until you've crowned one winner.
Try gathering your auction and procurement committees and coming up with your own auction game ideas. A little imagination and brainstorming goes a long way. The goal is simply to get guests laughing and enjoying a little good-natured competition in support of your cause.
2. Enlist the help of pros
The easiest way to make giving fun, is to work with a professional fundraising auctioneer. They have special training to maximize revenue from every live auction item, specific tricks proven to keep the crowd engaged, and the skills to spot perfect opportunities to make direct asks or "fund-a-need" cash appeals.
3. Get 23 game ideas in the free Raffles & Games Handbook
Check out our latest resource: a free printable, shareable PDF with 23 ideas for raffles and games. From entertaining games to creative icebreakers to wine trees (yes, wine trees!) and more, which will you add to your event?
4 Ideas to Sell More Tickets
"Sell more tickets" is also easier said than done. Ticket sales by themselves are not the only goal of event promotion - getting engaged attendees is even more important - but they are still key to covering expenses. Here's just a ideas you can easily try to refresh ticket sales.
4. Bundle tickets
If your auction is to be considered a fun night on the town and luxurious shopping spree, chances are people want to bring at least a plus-one. Why not capitalize on this by try restricting ticket sales to pairs? That way, supporters are highly encouraged to bring at least one friend, potentially doubling your attendance.
You can offer also discounts with greater bundles like a "double date" 4-pack or group purchases (like an entire table), multiplying both your ticket sale and auction revenue.
5. Provide early bird discounts
Winspire surveys show the majority of winning bidders attend 4 or more fundraising events each year. That's a lot of competition! As fall fundraising season gets underway, you want people to be marking their calendars and committing to your event as soon as possible.
Try offering ticket discounts to the first 100 people who sign up, the first 10 registered tables, free raffle tickets to the first 50 registrants and so forth.
6. Write press releases and media spots
Press releases promote the upcoming event to a wider audience, plus serve as useful copy for next year's marketing materials. Highlight the most fun aspects of the night, the exclusive auction items and how the funds raised last year were used.
Perhaps one of your board members would be willing to write up the press release, submit a newspaper article about the event or even chat on local radio to discuss your organization. Provide them with a list of key details and statistics to mention, but encourage them to write or speak from their own perspective.
7. Get social.
If your target audience contains millenials, or your event lends itself to bright imagery (like a 5K, awareness walk or art show), consider investing time in newer photo-heavy platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.
That said, Facebook is still the most popular across every age group, and the social networking giant offers several ways to advertise based on demographics and geographic location. Most popular is creating a free Facebook Event page.
You can also boost a post about the fundraiser, or purchase a sidebar ad. Be sure to keep the ad simple. A great image from last year's event paired with an eye-catching headline is all you need to get the right people to your event website.
3 Ideas to Leverage Event Sponsorships
In addition to any in-kind, cash or underwriting donation provided, sponsors can provide a huge boost in marketing and promotion. Here are a few tips and resources to connect with like-minded sponsors.
8. Prioritize repeat sponsors
If you've secured event sponsorships from the same small businesses, for-profit companies and individuals year after year, they should be your biggest priority. Repeat sponsors have expressed faith in the impact of your event. In turn, they deserve a primo spot on marketing materials such as the event site, auction catalog, signage and flyers.
9. Find new sponsors
That said, each new year brings a golden opportunity to look for new sponsorships. Partnering with new sponsors is a win-win scenario that can revive a stale event, and here's how: They provide new marketing opportunities—and better marketing means more ticket sales, more "buzz" around the event and revenue generated.
Perhaps there are new businesses or franchise locations in the area looking for a local cause to support. Or maybe past sponsors have connections that would also consider partnering with your event.
The more you can increase your sponsorship network, the more first-time, brand-new exposure your event will get.
10. Utilize the free Sponsorship Kit.
Request a free Sponsorship Kit for time-saving form and letter templates, plus a mini-eBook and examples for more efficient sponsorship acquisition and retention.
Once you've acquired sponsors, ask them to help advertise your event at their place of business, post on their social media pages and/or include in an email newsletter. They will most likely be happy to advertise your event - especially if the marketing materials are sleek, professional and prominently feature their own logo!
2 Ideas to Tell Your Story in a New Way
Events are the perfect time to spark a new passion in long-time donors, plus introduce your cause to people for whom the event is your first point of contact.
11. Create a video
There are many ways to tell your story in creative and dramatic ways. One we'll touch upon today is video. We can't stress enough the importance of having a go-to, powerful, professional summary video.
In fact, marketing software Hubspot reports a third of all online activity is spent watching videos, and 80 percent of people remember a video ad they've viewed in the past month.
The data is clear: Videos make a lasting impression!
To do: Keep your video between 30 seconds and 3 minutes—any longer and you'll lose your audience. Feature testimonies from those you serve, staff and volunteers; animation of important statistics; some images and video clips of your events or communities; plus music that matches the tone of the video. Then embed the video right into your event and organization websites, Facebook event page and more.
Hiring a video production company will set you back anywhere from $750 to $3,000, but if a video helps you sell tickets, attract new subscribers and set up the emotional trigger of a cash appeal, it's a worthwhile investment. Plus, some video production companies may have a discount for nonprofits.
An added bonus: Videos help you stick to the event schedule and respect your guests' time (unlike speeches, which tend to run long).
12. Amp up the email campaign
Email is the most important aspect of a fundraising event's promotional campaign. For a very low cost, email marketing gives your organization the chance to showcase the highlights of the event.
Email is also the most popular medium to tell the story of your organization using compelling testimonials, statistics, images and that new awesome video you just made!
Get the most out of your marketing efforts with our FREE eBook on email event promotion! You'll also get a customizable weekly content calendar template to make organizing emails a breeze.
1 Idea to Supercharge Bidding
13. Secure auction items with sizzle
When it comes to charity auctions, big-ticket items like travel add that “wow” factor that helps you stand out in everything from pre-promotional materials to event day excitement.
And while we all love our gift baskets, a great question to ask is, “Would I rather take the donor who bid $300 on a gift basket out to lunch next week, or the donor who spent $3,000 on a travel package?”
It’s safe to say most of us would choose the latter.
These items not only attract high net-worth individuals, they breathe new life into an annual auction losing steam. If you've offered the same home goods, signed memorabilia and gift certificates in your live auction each year, imagine the kind of reception, say, a weeklong stay at a private villa in Fiji would drum up!
Big-ticket, exciting Experiences are the antidote to "been there, done that" auctions. For more exciting trips, check out our full catalog here.
So there you have it: 13 practical ways your nonprofit can revitalize its event fundraising strategies, garner higher bids at auction and cultivate major donors for years to come.
Your turn: Have you had a similar experience with stagnating revenue? Were you able to turn it around, and if so, what worked? Let us know in the comments below.