One of my projects in my last year of working at GE was planning the annual senior management meeting. That’s when all of the senior team convened in an upscale hotel and spent 3 or 4-days in executive-level strategy and training sessions.
Although we had internal speakers, we also hired outside facilitators and motivational speakers.
The vetting process was aggressive. I spent hours selecting contractors, watching their promo videos, reading articles, studying websites, and calling referrals.
Why did I bother with such intense vetting of a contractor who would be working with us for just a few hours?
Because I was giving him a microphone and putting him on GE’s stage.
That’s a big deal.
There was no way I was going to put a buffoon on stage – with a microphone – and let him talk to our VIPs. I and my superiors wanted to know what this guy was going to say and how he was going to say it.
I was handing him a microphone, which subtly meant that GE endorsed him.
A contractor who was inappropriate or not the professional we’d hoped could have cost me my job … or at the least would have resulted in a performance discussion to help me understand priorities.
- My Manager: “Sherry, I want to talk about your thought process in selecting Contractor X for the recent management meeting.”
- Me: “Right. Well, I was trying to save the company some money so I would have budget for these gifts for the attendees.”
- My Manager: “So in your mind, it was more important for everyone to go home with a gift than to have them hear from an expert in leadership?”
- Me: Um, I realize it sounds silly in hindsight, but I’d been told we needed to get gifts. And everyone I asked thought those leather attaches were cool. But getting those produced was pricey, plus the hotel charged $3.50 to deliver each one to the room, so …”
Ugh. Not a good conversation.
Management meetings were motivational and strategic affairs. It wasn’t a time to experiment with the cheapest option when it came to delivering the message.
Frankly, I don’t think there’s much difference between my annual management meeting and YOUR annual fundraising auction.
Let’s look at the similarities:
We were concerned about getting it right … not, “Who’s the cheapest facilitator we can hire?” Our contractors had to meet GE standards. If they said something off-topic or off-color, it could have started a chain of events I shudder to consider.
So it stuns me that many nonprofits fail to see how critical their benefit auctioneer is.
Is your largest annual fundraiser a good time to experiment?!?
You’ve spent thousands of hours planning the gala.
You’ve poured big money into it.
You’ve got your biggest donors sitting there, listening.
Is this a good time to turn over the MOST IMPORTANT part of the evening to THE CHEAPEST vendor you can find?
Here’s the crux of the matter.
Your benefit auctioneer is the most critical hiring decision you’ll make for your gala. Not your caterer. Not your production company. Not your florist. Not the band. Not the printer. (I’ve written about budgeting before.)
Whatever you do, get the auctioneer right.