I’ve been meeting with a number of school auction committees recently and thought I’d provide some quick inspiration on a topic that seems to throw many groups into a tizzy: ticket price.
It doesn’t matter if the school’s tuition is $3500 or $30,000, I hear the same points.
- “We want to be inclusive.”
- “We need to keep the gala affordable.”
- “We don’t want the auction to become a snooty event.”
- “We have all financial levels represented at this school.”
I’ve observed enormous debates rage over a suggested hike in ticket price. Even a suggested $5 increase will launch strong opinions.
So consider this story where they increased the ticket price by ~750%.
The Catholic Schools Foundation in Boston hosted their 20th anniversary last spring. Traditionally it was a free dinner celebration billed as a “stewardship” gala.
For their 20th anniversary last year, they decided to charge a ticket price.
They opted for $750 per person and made $2.6 million.
Wow! Let’s re-read that.
The dinner was previously FREE and billed as a “friend-raiser.” They changed that and charged $750. As a result, they made $2.6 million in ticket and sponsorship sales to help kids in inner city Catholic schools.
Why did they change?
Peer pressure. (And we’ll assume to raise money.) The article quote is:
“All of the other non-profits in the area have this format, where they have an annual fund-raiser.”
Here are my two take-aways:
- Re-evaluate your ticket price. Look at what you’re offering compared to what’s in your neighborhood. What does a meal cost in your town? And beyond the food, what is the value of the “experience” you’re providing?
- Expand your scope of sponsorship (even if you’re a school) to companies you might not have originally thought of approaching
Schools often seem to feel “limited” in their ability to secure sponsorships. “Only the parents care,” is a prevailing thought.
Another is, “Only the parents who have a business will be a sponsor.”
This group went to a high-powered person (Patriots owner Bob Kraft) to chair the event, and honored another mogul (Fidelity’s Peter Lynch). Those people reached out to their peers to secure sponsorships.
Maybe I’m wrong — I haven’t researched it — but I’d bet that not every CEO of every donating company is Catholic. (And if they were, it means they did their homework. Good for them.)
In conclusion, let’s work on nixing those self-limiting beliefs about whether your gala is worth the price and who will or won’t donate to your school auction.
P.S. For other school auctions ideas and topics, subscribe to Benefit Auction Ideas. Twice a month, you’ll get new ideas and intellectual ammo on how to manage tough topics like this one.
PTSA Parent says
Folks, seriously? We’ve all heard stories about items that fly off the shelves as soon as you double their price. But we’re talking about school auctions, here. My kid goes to a public school with a very low free lunch ratio, just 9%. That average for American elementary schools has hovered around 50% for over 10 years. Maybe keep focused on the goal of your school auction as you set prices – is it to provide a cushy night out for wealthy people that would honestly have a better time and meal elsewhere? Is it to create a sense of community? Is it purely to raise cash? Each of these goals has a very different price point.
We raised so much money at a school-wide carnival event (not intended to be a benefit event) that we were able to hold back our bi-annual auction for another year.
And how do you deal with parents like me? I hate “special” “glamorous” benefit events and would much rather just write out a check. I am a room parent that volunteered before I realized it was finally auction year – ugh! Too much work! I’ll never be room parent in an auction year ever again. Lesson learned.
Sherry Truhlar says
Laurie, I think your comment goes to prove that there are many different personalities in a school and understanding their giving habits is the ultimate goal.
Reaching donors for a public school is no different than Macy’s trying to speak to its customers. Macy’s will run social media ads, have billboards, mail flyers to the house, email customers, offer in-store promotions … each of us respond to different forms of media and the store is trying to figure out what appeals to each of us.
The same is true with school donors. Some, like you, prefer to write a check privately. Others prefer to socialize in a party atmosphere and publicly donate together. (The event doesn’t need to be “glamorous;” many are jeans-based.) Others will argue that “someone” should find a rich donor and just convince him to write a check for $100k instead of bringing together 200 people to raise the same amount in an auction.
I think the best approach lies a bit in all styles. It’s a matter of finding the ones in which to concentrate. For many schools, the auction is the single biggest fundraiser, usually only eclipsed by an annual fund, if a school runs one. So for those schools, doing the auction correctly (i.e. less effort for more money) is critical. It can mean the difference of $1000s and change the attitude of many parents.
Fred Goldfarb says
Regarding losing people due to increasing cost: Keeping a running graph of cost versus donor contributions, along with a plot of the number of donors will help show where the “cut-off” point (or decrease in ROI or perceived value by donors)is. Often and increase in price/cost (say for event tickets) is offset by the increased revenue.
Without such metrics (or similar) it’s hard to know where that “too much for most donors” point is.
Fred Goldfarb says
That story reminds me of a similar thing. Years back an engineer told me Autodesk tried selling it’s Autocad software to Germans at the going price – then $3,700 a copy. They couldn’t sell much it seemed. Then someone told them cost was equated with value by Germans, and the price of Autocad was raised $20,000 per copy. Autodesk found it couldn’t sell the Germans enough!
You’ve got to find where the cost/value point is for your constituents and donors, and don’t be afraid to experiment to find the best ratio.
Sherry Truhlar says
Great story, Fred! Thanks for the contribution.
I have been involved with many galas and attended many more. The key word I picked up on was “the experience”. My thought is if you are going to raise the price you better have a well known recognizable chair, or honor a well known recognizable person and you better provide a great experience. Offering the same old same old will not make people who paid more to attend this year return next year.
Sherry Truhlar says
I’m a big believer in keeping it fresh, Pat. I think that’s key. And an honoree will help draw in the audience, though I don’t think that alone justifies a higher price. Each case is unique of course, but a number of the schools I work with do not have an honoree, but could still support a higher ticket price.
Thanks for visiting and weighing in!
Amy Eisenstein says
My school auction event currently charges the exact amount to cover the cost of food and the venue. They make all their money on auction items. It’s hard to convince people that they can charge more for fear of losing people. Great points and a great example here. Thanks.
Sherry Truhlar says
Yes … Well, I suppose on the plus side, Amy, at least it’s covering big expenses. I do know some groups that charge less.
Bunnie Riedel says
Nice, I like the idea of getting high powered folks to lead the way.
Betsy Baker says
Wow, Sherry, that’s so inspiring! Don’t limit yourself to what YOU think you can or cannot do – let the people decide. Thanks for sharing.