While nonprofit donor development is a year-round effort, summer often brings a well-deserved slowdown to the usual tempo. Sun, sand and a slew of holidays make it all the more tempting to save the tough planning for the next arrival of peak event season (fall and spring).
That said, the summer months are actually the best time to prepare for your event. You have time now to recruit and train the best volunteers, choose a theme and curate a better auction catalog than ever.
We often compare charity auctions to retailers that are only open for one night a year. With such a limited time frame to raise critical funds, you want to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
Whether your next event is in a few days or a few months, read on for 4 practical tips you can do right now to generate more revenue later.
1. Consider an event theme.
If you've hosted the same gala for years, choosing a festive and unique theme can be a game-changer for your revenue. Themes keep events from growing stale by drawing in more donors, increasing ticket sales and ultimately creating anticipation for the big night.
Surveys show 93 percent of all attendees prioritize having fun at charity events. A unique theme is a great way to have fun while keeping the focus on fundraising.
From masquerades to black-tie formals to Moulin Rouge balls, Under the Sea galas, casino nights and more, there's a fit for virtually every organization. Even better, themes lend themselves easily to vibrant color combinations, graphics and decorations. This makes marketing, food, entertainment and décor decisions down the line a lot easier!
2. Procure auction items early.
The golden rule of procurement: It's never too early to start procuring items.
To get the ball rolling (and enjoy the warm temps!), have someone on the procurement committee host an auction planning cookout or pool party. Gather all committee members to brainstorm auction item ideas, create a procurement "Wish List" and delegate who will seek which items.
The earlier you start, the more time you'll have to follow up with potential donors and figure out what popular auction categories need more items. You'll feel considerably less stress as the busy season approaches. Plus, your team will be re-energized and encouraged in their mission once you successfully have a few items procured.
Travel is consistently a top seller at charity auctions; after all, who doesn't love a vacation? Studies show low fuel prices have been encouraging Americans to travel by car, plane and train in record numbers, and you might be surprised at how much your donors have set aside for travel each year. Take advantage of the trend by procuring donated hotel nights along with restaurant gift cards and theater tickets for a romantic or family weekend getaway.
Keep in mind that packages complete with exclusive Experiences, airfare and deluxe accomodations are the trips that garner the highest bids. (As benefit auctioneer Danny Hooper puts it, "The biggest hooks get the biggest fish!")
Because trips of these caliber—think a night at the CMA's, the Kentucky Derby, and a meet-and-greet with the cast of Broadway's Hamilton—are extremely difficult to get donated, many nonprofits have found that partnering with a reputable consignment travel provider like Winspire is the perfect solution to limited time and resources.
Imagine being able to offer an incredible vacation that costs you nothing if the item doesn't sell for the minimum profit you set. If you suspect even some of audience is taking trips each year, why not give them the chance to spend some of their annual travel budget at your event? Check out our catalog of over 200 unique, no-risk Experiences.
While browsing, look for trips that gel with the event theme. A masquerade party, for example, is perfectly paired with New Orleans Jazz & Dining (a bonafide bestseller!). A wine tasting event can be accompanied by a trip to wine country in California, like Cult Winemakers' VIP Access in Napa Valley.
With minimal blackout dates and white-glove service from Winspire booking agents, your winning bidders will have a terrific time, all the while thanking your nonprofit for making priceless memories possible.
Volunteers make events go 'round, and summer is an ideal time to recruit more helping hands. Our surveys of winning bidders reveal the majority attend 4 or more fundraising events each year. Your supporters' fall schedules are likely the emptiest now that they'll be all year, without obligations from school, church, work, family and other nonprofits filling those precious weekend slots.
Along with making it easier to find enough manpower for all your committees, early preparation gives you the freedom to allocate people according to their strengths and interests.
First, determine your event's committees and volunteer duties. Some must-haves include manning the registration table, handling money, floating around the silent auction tables, checking out items, setting up and tearing down equipment, recording bids in the live auction, and more.
For more important volunteer roles, check out...
Once you've got your committees and roles set, the best place to find volunteers is within your current support base.
First, look to past volunteers; this special group of people has already shown a vested interest in the nonprofit, sacrificing time and resources to assist. Plus they have invaluable experience, insights and training with the duties of your event. Let them know they are prioritized and appreciated, then invite them to return for this year's event.
In addition, cull your database for volunteers by sending out an "all hands on deck" email newsletter. Include pictures or video of smiling, energetic volunteers having a blast at a past event. (Pictured right: volunteers at an annual fundraiser for Ohio nonprofit LifeAct.) Even better, feature a testimonial or two from satisfied volunteers sharing how they helped, what they learned or gained from the experience, and a snippet that they can't wait to return.
Another great place to look for volunteers is social media. Supporters of all ages and backgrounds use Facebook and Twitter regularly, and people in the local area can see the posts easily shared by their friends. Keep posts light-hearted, short and image-driven, and be sure to include an easy link to sign up.
Simple incentives like free admission, free shirts and an appreciation party are great to mention, but most of the time volunteers are motivated by the chance to tangibly support your cause.
4. Get creative with invitations.
"Save the date" invitations are another aspect of auction planning that tend to fall under the "never too early" category. If you haven't sent these out, now's the time! As mentioned, your donors are busy philanthropists. The earlier you can get them to mark their calendars, buy tickets and commit to attending your event, the better.
Email invitations with a registration and event website links are a must. However, summer is also the perfect time to experiment with new modes of communication you might not use otherwise. Consider printing invitations or reminders for your event on colorful, crafty collateral. For example, since people are receiving postcards from friends on vacation, try sending save the date postcards along with an emailed invitation.
You can print invitations in bulk on magnets, calendars, polaroids, sunglasses, coasters...anything you can think of that's related to summer and/or your event theme will do the trick! In today's digital era, not only do physical invitations put a fun spin on your event, they help your event date stick in your donors' minds.
Bottom line: Don't hesitate to show off the personality that makes your nonprofit different. Take advantage of the summer "slowdown" by preparing now for an event ahead, and watch your work pay dividends in the weeks and months to come.