Back in 2009, I penned an article that got quite a bit of traction on both my blog and social media outlets. It was called, “The one thing to never say on stage at a benefit auction.” (You might want to read that, if you haven’t.)
It’s time to revise. I now have TWO things you should never say on stage.
When I wrote that article, I was referring to the recession. Some of my clients were hell-bent on reminding their auction guests that the USA was experiencing an economic downturn. They felt obligated to remind everyone of precarious times. In some twisted way, they thought that reminding guests of life’s instability would somehow inspire everyone to make larger donations.
It doesn’t work that way.
- When people feel insecure, powerless, and pessimistic, they are LESS likely to give.
- When they feel confident, capable, and optimistic, they are MORE likely to give.
So it follows that when we are crafting our gala’s timeline, we want to structure it in a way so that we don’t somehow — even accidentally – make our guests feel insecure, powerless, and pessimistic.
Think you got it? Here’s a 1-question pop quiz to find out:
- If you feel obligated to mention the Boston bombing at your fundraising auction, or have a moment of silence for the people killed in Texas, or hold hands and pray for anyone not directly related to your nonprofit who has been recently hurt, do you think you should schedule that BEFORE you ask for donations …. or AFTER?
The correct answer is AFTER. Extra credit if you wrote in “This wouldn’t be a fit at our gala.”
This can be a touchy subject. When bad things happen, empathetic nonprofit leaders may feel that highlighting the tragedy is the “right thing to do.”
And when it’s highlighted, I’ve noticed that the pregnant pause — that moment of silence — is often scheduled early in the evening, before the fundraising.
But here’s my point.
The goal of your auction is to help you raise money for YOUR programs. If something (like bringing up a tragedy) doesn’t advance your goal – and perhaps even DETRACTS from it – why mention it?
In my mind, the only groups that should consider bringing attention to disasters are those managing disasters.
When I worked for the Humane Society of the United States in New York last year, we talked about Superstorm Sandy damage prior to the Fund a Need. Dramatic video reminded guests of the devastation. Why? Because HSUS was IN the devastation. They sent people IN to help, as part of their mission.
If the Red Cross of Boston’s Gala (or a similar charity) was scheduled this month, highlighting the Marathon bombing might be appropriate. “Other people were running away,” I’d pound the podium, “Red. Cross. Ran. In. HELPING PEOPLE! That’s what we DO. And when YOU need help in a crisis – whether it’s a bomb at a marathon or a fire at your neighborhood – Red Cross will be ready to take care of YOU.”
That’s a mission story. It’s applicable.
But should a social services agency in …. oh, pick a state … Indiana offer a moment of silence for Boston? Should a children’s hospital in Colorado? Or a historic preservation group in Oregon?
Furthermore, how will we select our tragedies?
Should we also mention Texas if we mention Boston, given they happened within days of each other? Didn’t more people lose their lives in the Texas explosion?
But then, if our decision is based on the number of lives affected, maybe we should skip those tragedies and focus on the millions of people still suffering in Darfur. (Or do we only acknowledge American suffering?)
Once we start picking tragedies, how shall we fairly draw the lines? By geography and time?
“We want to remember this past week’s victims of tragedies within a 90-mile radius of us,” you would explain to guests, “that includes the horrible Boston bombing last week … and the two guys randomly killed in that drug deal gone bad over in Camden this past Tuesday. Also remember little 13-month-old Samantha Cole, whose lifeless body was found in a ravine two days ago. Please join me in a 30-second moment of silence to remember these victims.”
Is this what we want our guests to dwell on? Do we want everyone to recall those scary images from the TV? The screaming, the blood, the tears? Do we want them to remember little Samantha Cole’s tiny body wrapped in a towel being carried away by the police officer?
And then – hey! – let’s ask for some donations.
Not. A. Fit.
This is NOT meant to diminish the experiences of those individuals and families who suffered tragic outcomes in Boston, Texas, or anywhere else. My point is about relevancy.
If it’s not relevant to your mission … if it’s not relevant to your goals … if it doesn’t help you raise money … why include it? What’s the justification?
Here’s another real-life observation …
If you’re using a news anchor to emcee your gala, they often enjoy mentioning this stuff. It’s only natural; reporting the “news” is their job and tragedies increase their ratings. They might inadvertently believe they are giving a sense of “being current” or compassionate when they casually mention a tragedy on the stage.
They aren’t. They are bringing the house down … emotionally.
If you don’t script your news anchor, you might want to suggest that they shouldn’t sing the blues onstage, even offhandedly.
Remember, if it doesn’t help you towards your goals, don’t include it.
You’re holding this gala once a year. You’re pouring thousands of dollars and hours into it. Keep everyone’s eyes on YOUR prize and don’t invite diversions into your ballroom.