At a recent nonprofit fundraising event, the nonprofit decided they didn’t want to push the raffle.
If a guest approached a volunteer to buy a $50 raffle ticket — fine. But they didn’t want volunteers to walk up to groups of people and ask guests to buy a raffle ticket.
“In a few minutes, we’re going to be asking these people to donate anywhere from $100 to $5000. It makes no sense to nickel and dime them for a $50 raffle ticket,” was their rationale.
This cocktail-styled event had no silent auction or live auction. Just two fundraising components were part of the evening — the aforementioned $50 raffle and a short program during which guests could contribute to a Fund a Need / paddle raise.
Even with so few fundraising outlets, the nonprofit was hesitant to “push” the raffle.
Let’s now think about your fundraising event.
Are your activities that streamlined?
Your answer might depend on where you work. Many school auctions take a different approach.
There isn’t just one add-on activity like a raffle — there are four, or seven, or 10+ add-on activities.
From my observation, it seems that sometimes the events manager or development director at a school is more hesitant to tell volunteers, “No, we’re not doing that.”
Yet to avoid burnout, event-night confusion, and the feeling of “fundraising by 1000 cuts,” I encourage you to say, “Not this year.“
Here’s a fun story from an independent school auction.
One of the gala co-chairs kicked off the program. She looked stunning, dressed to the nines in a couture dress, kick-ass heels, and a headdress I can’t even begin to describe. It was one of the most exquisite outfits I’ve seen in person.
A woman who wears something that fetching can’t be a wall flower, and this gal’s confidence was on full display as she took the microphone to make her remarks.
She acknowledged the school’s events director — a woman perhaps 20 years younger than she — by sharing a story.
“Let me tell you about Jodi,” she began.
“I am a woman who is not accustomed to being told ‘no.’ As Gala Chair I went to Jodi to describe a concept I envisioned for our floral centerpieces. With our theme, we just had to have fresh flowers on the table, right? How could we not. And what did Jodi say? She checked me! She checked me and said, “No, we aren’t doing floral centerpieces. You can pay for them if you want them.”
The Gala Chair relived the conversation by exaggerating her eyes and dropping her chin in astonishment at being told the big word: “No.”
The school gala managed to raise money even without the added panache of fresh floral centerpieces. (Surprising, I know.)
Here’s the teaching moment: Many of the best-run school auctions are those whereby the development director or special events manager says “no” and limits options, thereby focusing the volunteer committee and keeping the overall event in scope.
When the development director says, “Yes” to all ideas, the fundraising strategy feels like death by 1000 cuts.
Guests spend $10 here and $20 there, encouraged to buy into this raffle, this game, and this activity.
Activities that are typically easier to organize — such as the live auction and fund a need — don’t perform to their potential because guests have been asked to spend money in so many other areas instead.
More activities rarely means more money raised. Usually every activity “does OK,” but the overall gala numbers don’t change.
Each new activity was “fun” and “raised money,” but it was just more work for the same money.
The fundraising needle didn’t move. Instead, fundraising shifted. Donations move out of the Fund a Need, live auction, or silent auction and into the low-cost activities.
If you are a Gala Chair / Auction Chair — or the primarily liaison at the school managing the auction — don’t be afraid to put your foot down and tell the committee, “Not this year.” Keeping the focus on a few select well-run activities is typically much easier to manage and more profitable than adding multiple activities onsite.
Even your headstrong committee members can respect your opinion when the reasons are explained to them.
Less can be more.