Vendors Are an Important Part of Your Fundraising Team, Too

vendor-networkTo create a culture of philanthropy, you’ll want to take a fresh strategic look at expanding the concept of your fundraising team. Engage all the key players including honorary chairs, auction co-chairs, staff, board members, volunteers, sponsors, and honorees. What’s more, be sure to intentionally engage your event planners, venue managers and owners, caterers and their staffs, bartenders, production teams, audio-visual professionals…and of course your professional benefit auctioneer. Often overlooked, your vendors are extraordinarily valuable, give them a seat at the table for these knowledgeable and hard working fundraising team members. Invite them in!

Why? Even though event planners, caterers, and audio-visual professionals have outstanding expertise in planning and serving events, their skills and experience may not include those considerations that are unique to fundraising auctions and benefits. You’re moving away from the old transactional method, focused primarily on party planning, to a new model of fundraising and donor engagement. You’ll want to intentionally involve all the key players, making sure they understand that your auction fundraiser needs to be designed quite differently than a party or wedding. Naturally, you want to focus on a high quality guest experience with food, beverages, and atmosphere; however, some event planners and caterers can unknowingly hinder your ability to raise money.

Here are a few costly mistakes that could have been avoided if the vendors were on the fundraising team.

I’ve seen molten lava cake served right in the middle of an inspiring, emotional fund-a-need story—causing the entire audience to dive into liquid chocolate and stop giving. I’ve seen a caterer feature a glistening ice carving of a group’s logo in the center of a silent auction room, surrounded by tables filled with mounds of delectable appetizers, where almost all of the guests gathered. The new wine pull raffle was relegated to the corner by the venue manager, where it drew scant attention and lost untold funds. I’ve seen a hotel place the bar right inside the door to an event, causing a log-jam before guests even caught a glimpse of the silent auction items. I’ve seen audio-visual teams set up two giant speakers at the front of the venue and, in order for guests in the back to hear, crank the volume so high that the VIPs, honoree, and sponsors plugged their ears and left early—without bidding in the live auction or giving to the fund-a-need.

That’s why you need a new strategic fundraising team approach!

team-teamwork-business-1525444Event planners and venue/hotel managers bring expertise in creating themes, designing and tracking event details, creating event budgets and timelines, coordinating logistics, navigating and negotiating with vendors and suppliers, planning meals and themes, and managing food, beverages, entertainment, and safety.

Caterers provide professional expertise in food and beverage planning, creating unique and distinctive menus and presentations. They think of every minute detail, from glasses and dishes to the proper ratio of food and beverages to the number of guests. Caterers provide professional wait staff and bartenders, and, of course, they set up before and clean up after your event.

Audio-visual professionals provide expertise, equipment, and technical ability for events and production, including sound, light- ing, video, staging, and special effects. They can also design and manage the event production.

A professional fundraising auctioneer can consult with your organization, using specialized expertise to help you focus on things that make you money and engage donors. Be sure to retain and involve your auctioneer first. An auctioneer who specializes in fundraising will give you expert advice on how to design your timeline, lay out the venue, and handle sound and lighting design. This valuable strategic consultation can return from thousands to millions more dollars for your organization. Use your auctioneer’s event-planning perspective and insights to help you avoid costly pitfalls and maximize your fundraising from the start.

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Sound – Lights – Auction Fundraising!

Youll raise significantly more money with fundraising
auction-quality sound and lights. ~ Kathy Kingston

sound-equipment-2Often, benefit auction gala committees skimp, forget, or just avoid using professional sound and lighting, but they are critical. Here’s a basic truth: if your audience cannot hear you, they will not bid. When guests do not bid, you fail to engage and inspire you guests leaving untold money in the room.

“Fundraising auction quality” sound and lighting serves in your best interest to maximize revenue and adds to the quality of your guests’ experience.  A benefit charity auction has a very specific sound design, and there are two components that matter. First, insist that professional audio and visual specialists take care of the sound and lights. Never, ever use the speakers in the ceiling of a venue—they are designed to make one announcement or maybe play a little background music during dinner. They are inadequate for charity benefit auctions, and if you use them, you will have miserable fundraising results.

Keep your guests fully engaged. Insist on audio-speakers on stands that surround your entire audience. This will help to ensure that your guests can hear every single word of your inspiring stories, mission and auctioneer. Whether you are raising funds at the $50,000 level, $5,000 or at the $50 level, you want to make sure that your guests are inspired to be generous throughout your entire event.

Importantly, be sure to also include your silent auction area to add a fundraising auction-quality sound system because you will want your guests to hear and bid during the noisy silent auction and cocktail party action.

Here are some of my top tips for sound and light that sells both your mission and your auction items.

Hire a professional audio/visual company
Benefit auctions require unique sound and light staging – different from any other event. High-quality sound is one of most overlooked areas for auction success. Guests are encouraged to cheer, applaud and have fun! If your guests cannot hear or understand above all the noise – they will not bid – a significant loss. Do NOT use the in-house sound system. A professional sound company that provides independent auction quality sound will pay for itself many times over.

Illuminate your silent and live auction brightly, not the auctioneer
Turn up the house lights full during the live auction! Good lighting is critical to auction success. Make sure your guests can read the silent auction forms and auction catalog. Dim dinner-style lighting can lose thousands of dollars and put your guests to sleep. Never spotlight your auctioneer; it is impossible to see bidders.

sound-equipmentRehearsal and Sound Check
Stipulate in your contract with the sound company that they set up the complete sound and lighting system and be ready for auctioneer sound check at least two hour prior to the start of the event.

Plan, plan and emergency sound plan
Create a written a communications plan for the event. This way, if during the program, live auction or Fund A Need, sound or lighting levels need to adjusted or if there are any problems, your auctioneer can and will request necessary adjustments immediately on the spot from the stage without interruptions to the program or fundraising portions of the event.

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A Hidden Gem for Generous New Guests

How do you attract the right guests to your fundraiser and auction? Many of your key supporters are already attending your event, and they’re just waiting to be asked for their help. They are eager to give and happy to help you engage other supporters long after your event is over.

However, you’ll need to consider a new approach. Audience development is a strategic and focused effort to ensure that you invite and engage your audience year-round. Stop thinking of your gala or auction as a one-time event; this is the limiting transactional approach. (You can learn more about my philanthropic approach to benefit auctions in Chapter 1 of A Higher Bid.) Instead, be more strategic. Know that your event can be inspiring enough to transform its guests into dedicated donors.

Create a community of champions. Build a powerful guest list of generous people that you can cultivate as donors for your great cause? Here is my favorite hidden gem to increase audience development.

cohesion-imageAre you inviting other professionals with whom your organization shares a strategic alliance? Be sure to include anyone who’s a professional allied with your profession. Consider those to whom you refer clients and those who refer clients to you. What about feeder schools or schools your that your students attend after graduation? Who hires the clients that you train, serve, or treat? Who attends the same professional conferences, hearings, and coalitions? Who is doing research, teaching, providing health care or law in your area? In a philanthropic model of benefit auctions, your goal is to connect people to your cause for long-term engagement and giving.

Allied professionals are often overlooked. They’re already there; just invite them in. This is a quick win, win, win.

Check out Chapter 5 of A Higher Bid to learn in-depth strategies and detailed techniques to get the right people in the room.

Please share you ideas with me at

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Eat a lot of ice cream!

“Eat a lot of ice cream, savor the flavor, but savor and remember those you are sharing the ice cream with even more.”
~ Patricia Massart, National Auctioneers Hall of Fame

Pat Massart was a beloved mentor, colleague and friend to me and countless auctioneers throughout the world. Enjoy her wise advise!

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From The Top: Why a F*REE Auctioneer can cost you thousands

Learn why an amateur volunteer auctioneer is the MOST EXPENSIVE cost of your fundraiser auction where you can lose thousands of dollars at your charity benefit auction. A professional auctioneer does not cost money – her or she will raise more money. Kathy Kingston fundraising auction expert and consultant explains how a professional benefit auctioneer can maximize your fundraising and excitement and have your guests clamoring to return year after year.

A Higher Bid BookA Higher Bid Book Tour
NEW Fundraising Auction Seminar

Thursday, October 6th in Windsor, CT

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Raise more money. Engage new donors.
Break All Records!

Key Differences Between Professional and Volunteer Auctioneers

Take your fundraising charity auction to the next level now.

A gift for you: complimentary fundraising special report
and Kathy’s e-newsletter:

Kathy Kingston 603-926-1919

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