Fundraising for Small Groups Newsletter

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December 14, 2018

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The Economy and Your Fundraising Auction

by Maureen and John Winter

We know that many of you are considering scaling back on your fundraising auctions in these difficult times. But if our recent experience is any measure, we have seen large audiences, better gifts and more robust bidding that in the past years for all five of the fundraising auction events we have managed in the last five weeks.

Our advice - Make your message and people will come and give!

Here is a list of general fundraising auction guidelines that are tested by time but often have been ignored due to your success in the past. They need to be followed.

Start Planning Early

Charity auctions involve a lot of organization, so it’s best to give yourself as much lead time as possible, and to line up your auction items immediately.

Most big companies have a certain amount of money reserved for charity. Often they have designated these funds by the end of January of the beginning of their fiscal year. Early asks give you time to follow-up before the event.”

You’ll also want to send out “save the date” cards to the organization’s volunteers and supporters at least six months in advance of the big day..

Gift Gathering Party

Having trouble getting items? What if you could get a host for a fantastic party with plenty of food, wine, and music that also happened to raise thousands of dollars in donations for a worthwhile cause? Now invite your guests and specify that the price of admission is an auction item worth at least $xxx.xx. Make sure that your set a target that is obtainable and yet does not allow the donation of just a cheap bottle of wine.

Register OnLine for Donations

Go to large chain stores like Target, Macy’s, Crate & Barrel, and Pottery Barn to name a few and set up a Donation Registry and list the items you want to get. For an example, go to and click on Gift Registry, then on “Give a Gift” and enter the following:

First name: 21st Pro Bono Eve
Last name: LASPBC

Click on “21st Pro Bono Eve LASPBC” to see a sample registry. Guest visit the sites, order their donation and it is sent directly to the organization.

No Cold Calling

The personal touch is also important when it comes to soliciting donations from businesses. Establish relationships with business well in advance of the event. Asking people you know personally is always more successful than the cold call. Your solicitation committee should make a list of all of their relatives, friends and retailers they frequent and see what they can ask for without making a single cold call.

Get unique and desirable items

No one’s going to go crazy bidding on something they could easily buy at a local department store - so the key to starting the bidding wars is to give people something great to bid on.

“If you can, get celebrities, both local and mainstream, to offer ‘a day in the life of’ packages or ‘dinner with a star,.’ These gifts are always more profitable than the items obtained from retailers.

More Bidders than Items

And make sure your items will be in demand by limiting the supply. The ideal goal is one item for every three or four attendees. If your event is going to have 200 guests, strive for a limit of 50 auction items. The bidding will be livelier and the guests work harder (meaning they spend more money for an auction item) to get what they want. And that means the items sell for a higher price.

Discourage duplicates of items as that only reduces the value of the one that you have. If you must, then hold the second or third in reserve and display only one and award the others to the next highest bidder. [Please be aware that this rule does not apply to the Live Auction were second and third helpings are often the difference between a good fundraiser and a great one.]

Create a Yahoo Group

Take the advice of this organization where the Committee Members, Volunteers, Sponsors can post donations received, ask questions, contribute ideas and share with one another our successes. This is a good way for all to openly communicate and ask for help or support with logistics, ticket sales, vendors and donated items for the silent/live auction and raffles.

Make it fun

A great charity event doesn’t have to be stuffy and formal. Come up with a fun theme and give your guests the chance to let loose.

If you live in a city which is filled with black tie galas, perhaps try a more casual event, or if your area is overly casual, design a formal gala with all the trimmings. An event where your guests don blue jeans can be just the key, and the older and younger guests will love this change from the norm. Or come up with a creative costume party: Fellows has recently hosted Western and 1920s-themed auctions. Guests love to get into costume and it puts them in a festive and hopefully generous mood before they even arrive.

Be sure to provide plenty of food - and don’t skimp on the alcohol, either.

Give Your Personal Message

People will be more inclined to give if it means something to them, so make sure your guests are aware of what they’re supporting.

Have someone speak halfway through the auction about their experience with the organization or what the organization supports. All too often we have managed events were most of the guests are totally unaware of the purpose of the charity.

Make the “Great Ask”

Now that you have given your message, ask for cash contributions. Remember, if you don’t ask, you will never get. Ask and you will usually be surprised by the generously of your guests. Just remember to plan this feature ahead of time so that the auctioneer is ready and you have the mechanics on hand to execute the plan.

Hand out goodie bags

Whether or not a guest purchases an item from your auction, you want to make sure your guest had a great time - so why not send him home with a special treat?

Add a note thanking your attendee for coming and reminding them about the great time that he had the night before. Your guests will feel so appreciated. A goodie bag can also be a great opportunity to keep the fundraising going: Another envelope for donation should be included should they wish give again.

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About the Author:

Written by Maureen & John Winter of Target Funding Group who manage more than 30 charity fundraising auctions a year for organization large and small, have authored two books on charity auctions and designed a very user friendly software to accomplish all the tasks for a successful charity fundraising auction.

For more information, or to subscribe to their free monthly email newsletter, please visit their site at:

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