The special appeal. The fund-a-need. The funding plea. The "Ask"...
The only hotter topic of debate than what to call the special appeal has to be when, exactly, you should schedule it during your charity auction event. Okay, so maybe special appeal placement isn't exactly a burning debate, but it's certainly a subject of discussion within the fundraising community... and it's not hard to see why.
After all, charity auctions have many moving parts -- the silent auction, the live auction, the presenters, the cocktails, the food -- it can be easy to simply place the appeal wherever it seems convenient within the schedule. But, just as with each element of an event, there needs to be a strategy, and in the case of the special appeal, there's more than one school of thought on which strategy is most effective. Specifically, should the special appeal come before or after the live auction?
We asked two well-known Benefit Auctioneer Specialists, Doug Sorrell and Ben Farrell, to shed some light on the varying strategies for placing the special appeal during a charity auction event.
A quick note: The placement of the special appeal really depends on your audience and the size and scope of your event. As Doug Sorrell puts it: “Both sides of this debate are correct.” We simply wanted to explore the reasoning behind each strategy so you can make an informed decision for your own fundraising event.
Special Appeal After the Live Auction
The prevailing philosophy among many of the more traditional benefit auctioneers is to schedule the fund-a-need last, after the live auction, when people are swept up in the excitement, emotion and energy of bidding on big-ticket items. Placing the appeal before the live auction can also have a detrimental effect on the level of audience participating during the live auction.
"I have found when you hold the funding plea first your live auction items will sell for less," says Benefit Auctioneer Specialist Doug Sorrell (dougsorrell.com), "If you perform the plea too soon, you've taken a considerable amount of money and bidders out of the room. I typically have fewer bidders when the plea is first. I think this happens in part because average attendees will donate in the plea and are then less likely to spend money and bid on items in the live auction."
Those who agree with Sorrell argue that by positioning the appeal as the night's closing event, you provide a way for guests to switch gears without losing momentum. The auctioneer can bring the guests together to help a common cause, switching their focus from the friendly competition that comes from bidding to the heartwarming satisfaction that comes from supporting a worthy mission.
People who find themselves in this camp also emphasize that placing the special appeal last is a good strategy for gathering all the money that's left in the room. Closing down the event with a final plea ensures that the guests who didn't win anything in the silent or live auctions have the chance to contribute. The last thing you want is for an attendee to go home empty handed (or without having had the chance to make a donation.)
Sorrell continues, "Placing a plea at the end still attracts donors who intend to participate in this portion of the event, and mops up the money left in the room from people who were not successful in buying their favored item."
Special Appeal Before the Live Auction
On the other side we have benefit auctioneers who have experimented with placing the special appeal earlier on in the event, often with great success. Proponents of this strategy say guests often have a set contribution amount in mind before they even show up to your event. If you wait until after the live auction, guests may max out their self-imposed budget on auction items, then are reluctant to spend more on the special appeal.
"I’m a huge supporter and proponent of placing the Fund-A-Need first," says Benefit Auctioneer Specialist Ben Farrell (custombenefitauctions.com), "The old philosophy of: ‘If you didn’t win in silent or live then you can give to Fund-a-Need’ to me sounds like the special appeal is reserved for leftovers."
Charity events can sometimes stretch for hours into the evening, and towards the end guests are often weary and many have been drinking. Their attention starts to slide as they begin socializing at their table or checking their phones to make sure the babysitter hasn't called.
Placing the plea at some point before the live auction allows your guests to feel that emotional tug (and reach for their checkbooks) early on in the event, while you have their full attention.
"The Fund-A-Need is the centerpiece of the fundraising," Farrell continues, "It's the source of direct funding to the mission and is the one area where every guest can participate."
In his own experience, Farrell has also found that guests are more alert and attentive early in the evening, making it the perfect time to share your organization's story – who you are, what you do, and why you do it – then jumping straight into the fund-a-need.
"Each time we've moved the Fund-A-Need first, we've raised more money," Farrell points out, "You can think of it like a wedding: Guests feel most connected to the bride and groom during the ceremony, not when the DJ is playing the electric slide at the end of night."
Funding Plea During The Live Auction?
One approach some charity auctioneerstake is holding the special appeal right in the middle of the live auction. It allows the auctioneer to sell the highest valued items (such as travel) early and then transition to the appeal earlier than waiting until the end. After the appeal, the auctioneer can return to the remaining live items.
"The challenge here is momentum," explains Farrell, "It’s two different energies in the room and starting and stopping does not always 'feel' right."
Pro Tip: Promote Your Live Auction Items!
Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, the key to hosting both a successful appeal and a lucrative live auction is simple: Promote the live auction items early and often.
Promote your live auction items both before and during the event so your guests know exactly what's up for grabs. This will get them excited for what they could potentially win before they arrive, attaching themselves to the idea of winning that amazing trip, those hard-to-get concert tickets or that gorgeous painting. They'll budget for those items -- even if the auction comes last.
When live auction items are promoted well, guests tend to budget for them and arrive at your event ready to spend top dollar. Obtaining intriguing items early in the auction planning process and consistently marketing them to donors is the crucial component in event success.
In your own experience, which strategy do you prefer? We'd love to hear your stories about your own past fundraising successes; please share them in the comments section below.