Get Quick Event Feedback with a 4 Question Survey

Get Quick Event Feedback with a 4 Question Survey

Download our FREE 4 Question Post Event Survey template.

How do you get post event feedback? Join this discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear your tip!

For more special event tips, check out our Free Resource Library, or join us for our next events webinar, “How to Create Unique Fundraising Events that Excite Your Donors.”

Why Charities Should Only Stage 2 Big Special Events Per Year

Why Charities Should Only Stage 2 Big Special Events Per Year

Ahhhh … special events.  The bane of every development director’s existence and every nonprofit board’s solution to raising more money.  It’s no wonder that turnover is high among development staff and charities can’t seem to grow their giving.  It’s easy to burn out and really hard to make progress when you’re stuck in perpetual event mode.

When I begin working with a charity, I typically find that they have three to five fundraising events on the calendar each year.  Some are big money makers and some are things that they “have to do.”  This post is not going to be a discussion on whether or not it makes sense to conduct an event.  Anybody can run the numbers and make that call on their own.  Instead, I’m proposing a limit that every charity should adopt for their special events.  It’s plain and simple:  no more than two events per year, period.

Why?  The issue isn’t so much the events themselves, it’s the staff time commitment involved with putting them on and what is lost during that time.  Even the most modest of fundraising events will require a pretty intense staff focus for the 10 weeks leading up to the event and the 2 weeks following it.  That’s 12 weeks or basically three months.  If you do two events per year, that’s six months in “event mode” … three events per year is nine months, and if you conduct four (or more) events per year then you’re always in event mode!

Being in event mode all the time is fine if your title is Special Events Coordinator, but I’m guessing that it’s not.  You have other responsibilities, the primary one being that you are supposed to be out building relationships with donors.  Guess what the most common thing to slip is when you’re planning an event? You got it, donor visits.  If you’re stuck in the office finalizing table assignments or running around town picking up silent auction items, you’re not spending quality time with donors.

It’s really an opportunity cost issue.  It’s not so much that you’re spending your time on events, it’s that you’re not spending your time meeting with your donors.  That’s why I set a two event maximum for the vast majority of my small shop fundraising clients.  This allows them to have two big attention-getting events per year (ideally targeting different audiences), but only has them in event mode for half of the year.  This allows them to focus their efforts on donor visits and major gifts for the other half of the year.

So, how many events do you currently run?  How much of the year do you spend in event mode?  And how does your donor visit count fare during those months?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

For more special event tips, check out our Free Resource Library, or join us for our next events webinar, “How to Create Unique Fundraising Events that Excite Your Donors.”

2 Quick Tips to Raise More Dollars During Your Live Auction


Folks that know me well know that I am not an events guy.  I spend far more time coaching my clients to get rid of some of their special events than I do coaching them on how to form new ones.  But if you have a successful special event, I’m all about maximizing it and pulling in as much revenue as possible.

Galas are one of the most common types of charitable events.  They typically include an auction component.  While I am no fan of silent auctions (tons of labor for minimal return), live auctions can generate significant revenue for a modest amount of prep work (assuming you have the connections to get awesome, exclusive stuff).

I have two quick tips to consider implementing if you run a live auction as part of your gala or other fundraising event.  Before I share them I’d like to give a shout out to Tim Keller of Keller Auctioneers in Lancaster, PA who originally suggested them to me.  Tim is a great auctioneer and he and is team really bring great energy to live auctions (and therefore lots of dollars as well).

Here’s a Tim in action at my most recent gala auction for the Cultural Enrichment Fund in Harrisburg, PA on 2.27.16.

Now on with the tips …

1) Auction Something of No Value

To get the auction started, auction something of no value. This item is not printed in the auction listing, but it is sold before the first lot.  The introduction goes something like this … “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here tonight to support a good cause.  We’re going to bid generously at this auction.  We’re not looking for bargains.  We’re supporting a cause that we love and would support even if there wasn’t an awesome item that we were trying to win.  Therefore, I’d like to start tonight’s auction off by selling this glass of water.  All the proceeds will go straight to the cause.  Who will give me $500 …”

The glass of water was the item originally suggested to me, but I put a different spin on it and like to make the item mission related.  I recently ran an auction that benefited the arts so I sold a blank unframed canvas (which I purchased for $15 and sold for $850, pretty good ROI).  Get creative and find something (of no or minimal value) that ties into your mission.

2) Offer a Prize for the Last Fund A Cause Donation

Hopefully you hold a Fund A Cause at the conclusion of your live auction.  If you don’t know, a Fund A Cause is the part of the auction where the board chair or executive director comes to the stage, tells a brief story about the impact of the charity’s work and asks for direct donations by folks simply raising their bidder numbers.  The auctioneer will then start high (perhaps $2,500) and work his way down to usually $100.  You get more and more folks raising their numbers as the amount goes down (I recommend having a few plants for the larger numbers to get things rolling).  Well, here’s one tip to get LOTS of donations at the last level:  offer a prize for the last $100 donation.

It works like this:  after taking a few donations at this level the auctioneer announces “Ladies and Gentlemen, as we wrap up tonight’s auction we have a special surprise for you.  The very last $100 donation made this evening will receive this great prize.”  The auctioneer then calls up a staff member to show the prize and as he takes donations (via raised paddles) he send the staff member over to award the prize, only to divert them to the next person.  It becomes a lot of fun and really gets the crowd going (and is exhausting for the staff member, I can attest to that).  You actually end up getting multiple $100 donations from some people because they simply want the prize.  The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate … something in the $200-$300 range is perfect.  My favorite item … one of those large format bottles of wine (they have great names depending on the size, like Jeroboam and Balthazar).  This is a great way to stretch the ten to fifteen $100 donations you’d receive into forty or more (like I did last year).

These are just two easy ways to maximize your live auction — there are many more.  If you’re going to the trouble of doing a gala and an auction, please make sure you’re getting everything out of it that you can.

2 Simple Rules to Boost Networking Effectiveness


There are two quick networking rules that will make business mixers and other events easier for you:

1) Hold your drink in your left hand;

2) Wear your name tag on your right side.

The reason is simple … what do you do a ton of at these events?  That’s right, you shake hands.

This alignment sets you up perfectly to do just that.  When you greet someone your right hand will be free to extend.  You won’t have to fumble around switching your drink to your other hand and trying to dry it off.  Also, when you wear your name tag on your right side it will point toward the individual that you are greeting as you extend that side of your body toward them.  This will let them see your name as well as hear it, thus reinforcing it in their memory (which is why we go to these events in the first place).  My apologies to my left handed readers, but you’ve probably already figured out that this is one area where you just have to be a righty — shaking left hands just doesn’t work.

These two simple little rules, when followed consistently, can make networking easier and more effective.