4 Easy Ways to Keep Fundraising Events Fresh

Jeff Gordy

With December well underway, year-end holiday giving is likely at the top of your priority list. But if you host fundraising events, it’s also time to look ahead to spring.

“But we just put up the tree and hung the lights. Do we really need to think about spring already?!”

Fact is, a typical fundraising event timeline requires anywhere from 6 months to 1 year of preparation. The more time you give yourself to prepare for that spring dinner gala, charity auction, golf tournament, or donor brunch…the greater your chance of success.

With that in mind, today we will look at 4 easy ways to keep annual events fresh.

As leaders in charity auction fundraising, we work with thousands of nonprofits across North America. One common question we get: “How do I refresh my 14-year auction? Is it time to give it up and move on to another type of event?”

It’s all too common for organizations to host an event that’s a huge hit one year…only to have results fall flat the next. Maybe there was turnover in the event chair position. Maybe the auction lost its spark. Or maybe you’re facing too much competition from other nonprofits.

Meanwhile, fundraising goals keep rising.

Whatever the reason for a stagnating event, there are simple ways to revive it. In today’s post, learn how to:

  1. Boost attendance with ticket packs.
  2. Revitalize the auction with new, exciting items.
  3. Try a “heads and tails” raffle game.
  4. Leverage event sponsorships.

Best of all, these tips also work great to get a first-time event off to a roaring start! Read on for the practical strategies to incorporate into your spring event planning.

1. Boost ticket sales with double ticket packs.

As you likely know, being able to sell as many tickets as possible is not only important for ticket sale revenue—it affects the overall success of the night.

More attendees means more bidding, higher winning bids, greater participation in the cash appeal, more social media shares…you name it.

So it’s important to maximize your reach.

One easy way to sell more tickets is to bundle them.

A recent survey by the National Auctioneers Association revealed the #1 reason 93% of all event attendees go to events, is to have fun! The most successful fundraising events are considered a fun “night on the town”—a chance for donors to support your cause while having a good time.

Why not take advantage of this by restricting ticket sales to pairs? People will be highly encouraged to bring at least one friend, potentially doubling your attendance.

You can also offer discounts with greater bundles like a 4-pack, group purchase, or table purchase. This is an easy way to multiply attendance, as supporters reach out to other couples, neighbors, and colleagues. Group attendance tends to lend itself well to event sponsorship (more on that later) and, even more importantly, friendly bidding wars.

Bottom line: Events are more fun with company. Encourage more attendance with bundled ticket sales.

2. Revitalize the auction with new, exciting items.

If you’re hosting a silent, live, or online auction, it’s critical to put out the right items for your audience. Benefit auctioneer specialist Danny Hooper compares the process to putting out bait for fish: “Successful auctions are able to mix up the ‘bait’ on different hooks, to entice virtually everyone in the room.”

The best auction items suit your audience, complement your event theme, and have a high potential for significant bids.

So, what’s the right bait for your audience?

Your first step: Look at sales history. What items have sold like hotcakes in the past? Which ones were duds? Focus your procurement efforts on those items with a history of good sales. (Important note: Anything that didn’t get a bid last year, should not be put out again this year.)

Next, consider the all-important “WOW” factor. How buzzworthy is your auction catalog? Too many auctions put out the same items every year, and as we mentioned, your audience wants to be delighted and have fun.

Predictable items take all the “sizzle” out of your auction.

If you’ve noticed auction revenue dipping downward, it’s time to jumpstart your event with some truly exciting big-ticket items.

While every audience is different, there are some tried-and-true categories that get everyone’s attention. Food & wine (private dinners, vintage wines, brewery tours); sports (equipment and tickets); and travel (bucket-list Experiences) top the list.

Remember premium items like travel and experiences work best when offered in addition to traditional auction standbys, like electronics, gift baskets, signed memorabilia, and gift certificates. That way, people of all giving capacities can participate and donate to the cause.

As for items to avoid, services, home & garden knick-knacks, and consignment jewelry tend to be tougher sells.

Bottom line: Incredible auction items sell more tickets, get higher bids, and ensure the live auction is the highlight of the night. Plus you’ll identify potential major donors from the night’s biggest bidders.

3. Try a raffle game.

There are many different revenue generators besides an auction that you can employ throughout your event program. One possibility is to play a raffle game.

Games keep energy up, generate revenue and, depending on the night’s schedule, can serve as an easy icebreaker or give volunteers time to get organized for the next part of your program.

Here’s how to play a common raffle game called “heads and tails.”

  • Pick a prize that will appeal to as many of your donors as possible: think a flat-screen TV, latest smartphone, catered dinners, cases of wine and so forth.
  • Sell special Heads or Tails raffle tickets. These can range from $10 to $50 or more, depending on your audience. Auction software provider GreaterGiving reports some 25% of all guests end up purchasing a ticket!
  • During the auction, your auctioneer announces the start of the raffle. All participants stand, then choose heads or tails. (You might provide party hats, fans, noisemakers and more to indicate their choice.)
  • The auctioneer flips a coin and declares if it landed heads or tails. People who guessed incorrectly take a seat, while those who guessed correctly stay standing.
  • Repeat until just a handful of guests remain. Have the final participants come up on stage, and keep going until you’ve crowned one winner.

You can give this game a try, or gather your auction committee to come up with your own ideas for good-natured competition.

Bottom line: Games and raffles keep the audience engaged, extract more for your cause, and give your program some cushion time.

4. Leverage event sponsorships.

One final strategy we’ll look at today is leveraging your event to secure more sponsorships.

Event sponsorships are a true win-win. Sponsors provide in-kind or cash donations (for example, they might underwrite the cost of the band or an incredible Napa Valley wine excursion to be offered in the live auction).

Sponsors can also promote your event in their own channels, which is key to multiplying your reach and boosting attendance.

In return, local businesses and individuals receive positive publicity, media impressions and onstage recognition for their support.

To make the most of event sponsorships, be sure to:

  • Prioritize repeat sponsors. These small businesses, companies and individuals have already expressed support for your cause. They should receive the most coverage on your marketing materials and event signage.
  • Find new sponsors. This is easier said than done, but new sponsors could be the key to reviving a stale event. See if new businesses or franchises have opened in the area that may be looking for a cause to support. Ask past sponsors if they have connections that might be interested in your charitable work.
  • Get free templates. Use templates for professional sponsorship request letters and tracking forms.

Bottom line: Leverage your spring fundraiser to secure new and returning event sponsorships.

As your spring fundraising event approaches, employ some of these strategies and watch results soar.

This post was created in collaboration with Summy Lau, Fundraising Editor at Winspire.

This post was created in collaboration with Summy Lau of Winspire. Winspire provides incredible travel packages and luxury hotel stays for charities to use in fundraising auctions and raffles, with no upfront cost. As Fundraising Editor, Summy brings extensive experience in nonprofit development, event fundraising and publishing to Winspire’s weekly blog, Winspire News.

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