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Underwriters for big budget trips

May 17, 2017
One of the worries that many organizations have when they first talk with us is that their donors won’t be able to garner bids on fundraising auction travel packages due to cost. We’ve discussed before why non-profits should generally have more faith in their supporters when it comes to generosity during gala auctions, but we’ve got tools beyond positive thinking to help get once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities into the hands of donors.

If an organization is worried about the price of one of our trips, finding an underwriter for the item is often a possibility. In this scenario, an outside company essentially “advertises” with the item, paying money for the chance to be mentioned alongside the trip in question (along with, of course, the chance to support a worthy cause). Think of public radio, for instance, where commercials are eschewed for underwriters: Businesses mentioned briefly in between stories, often with nods to their relationship with the station identified by phrases like “Funding provided by…” or “Brought to you by…” By getting a trip is sponsored or underwritten by an outside company, an auction organizer can be guaranteed of making money off of a trip, even if its sale price doesn’t bring in big bucks.

Why should non-profits consider underwriters for auction items?

Adding an underwriter for a major auction item, like a trip, gives you another chance to make inroads or strengthen ties to a local business community. For businesses who may not have the employee interest to buy a table or an easy-to-donate good or service, underwriting a trip gives them a chance to be in front of your donors and support a good cause. And it’s another chance for your auction staff to reach out and make contact with companies that could pay off either now or in the future. It also can provide another chance for a charity to reach out to a major donor – many underwriters come from the already-established ranks of supporters, looking for another way to help their favorite cause.

Also, while consignment selling (the model we use at Mitch-Stuart) is by nature “risk free,” having an underwriter in place to add to the bottom line can put some at ease. Instead of worrying about how much the bids are exceeding the cost of the trip, you can relax, knowing that the underwriter has taken care of the base price. In a way, having an underwriter is like having a trip donated; it turns the winning bid into pure profit.

Have questions about the underwriting process? Call or write to one of our Travel Experts today!


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Thank You, Auctioneers!

April 05, 2017
Did you know that March 18 was National Corn Dog Day? Or that, in July, you’ll be able to celebrate both National Ice Cream Day (July 16) and National Milk Chocolate Day (July 28)? There seems to be a special day set aside for every interest throughout the year. But we prefer to celebrate for a little longer – and this week is our chance.
 
April 3-8 is National Auctioneers Week, and we’re thrilled to take a minute to celebrate those people who do so much to help our friends in the non-profit world raise funds for so many worthy causes. So consider this our love letter to our gavel-wielding, (sometimes) fast-talking associates.
 
Thank you, auctioneers, for…
 
Organizing gala events to maximize funds raised. Your encyclopedic knowledge of how a well-run event should flow helps take the guesswork out of setting an evening’s agenda for organizers everywhere.
 
Being a wealth of knowledge for non-profits running their first fundraising events. Everyone is a rookie at one point – but with your help, even those putting together their first event can be successful right out of the gate. This helps young, fledgling organizations survive those lean early years.
 
Helping to spread the message of the charities with which you work. The work of the non-profits with which you work comes alive when described from the stage. Putting the charity’s story into your hands guarantees that it will be told in a way that draws supporters in and makes them even more ready to lend their support.
 
Making sure our partner non-profits raise the most money possible with our fundraising auction travel packages. Your ability to read the room and get everyone involved helps keep the atmosphere loose and fun, which encourages those with the ability to give a little more to do so.
 
Helping insure that all of the event attendees leave with a smile on their face. You bring a spark and a joy to your job that can’t help but light up the room. From the winning bidders to those who just watched, you make sure that everyone goes home having enjoyed the auction and the event surrounding it – and in doing so, you leave everyone with a pleasant feeling about the organizing non-profit, too!
 

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Preparing the Auctioneer

January 11, 2017
Auctioneers sell items, right? That seems to be the job description: Stand on stage, maybe talk fast, and sell sell sell, getting the biggest bids possible for your non-profit fundraising auction lots. But to look at a professional auctioneer as someone who only handles running the bidding process of an auction is to miss so many other ways in which this broker can be beneficial.
 
At Mitch-Stuart, we love it when our charities and non-profits get the most money out of our fundraising auction travel packages. It’s why we recommend working with a professional auctioneer; what an organization has to spend to hire someone from the outside, it usually more than makes back. Auctioneers are trained in the art of raising bids and can maximize the value of your items.
 
But it’s not all about high bids for a professional auctioneer. If, along with the gavel, you give your hired pro a few important items before getting started, he or she can focus on what you’re really selling that night: Your mission.
 
First, make sure your auctioneer is fully up-to-speed on the goals of your non-profit. A mission statement can be helpful here, but go a bit beyond, too – answer the who and the what, sure, but also the why. What has made this assemblage of people, this entity, so passionate about its work? Passion is contagious: If your auctioneer shows passion for your mission, it will help persuade donors to support it.
 
Also, donors want to hear where their money is going. Giving your auctioneer some background on the impact of your organization’s work will allow some of those tidbits to come out just as your supporters are thinking about supporting your non-profit with a bigger bid. And while the inclination here may be to write down all of those facts and figures, make sure you also include the context into which those numbers fit. Numbers are great, but the full picture of how those numbers work together to impact the community you serve can help your donors understand why this auction is so important.
 
Finally, give your auctioneer good stories. It’s important to get the facts and figures in there, sure, but it can be just as important to be able to tell the story of someone you’ve helped: A family in need, a first-generation college attendee, a struggling veteran on a holiday made better by a hot meal. Catching the attention of the audience by putting it in the shoes of someone your non-profit is helping can add an emotional side to your “ask,” to go with impact statistical details.
 

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Let Your Donors Surprise You!

December 14, 2016
If asking for donations is tough, asking for big donations can be terrifying. But if you’re not asking for more money, you won’t get it.

One of the most common worries we hear from auction planners is that they’re not sure that their donors can afford one of our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages. But as our Senior Vice President Michael Upp and auctioneer Kathy Kingston recently detailed on their “Mythbusters” teleseminar, that line of thinking may leave your organization with a smaller haul from a gala event.

It may be true, for instance, that some of your donors will not be able to afford a big-ticket auction item. Whether it’s a younger supporter or one who gives more to your organization by volunteering, not everyone will have the same resources at their disposal. But to focus on your average donor when planning an auction can severely limit the amount of money you raise. After all, it doesn’t take a room full of bidders to win a trip – just a couple of them with generous, open wallets. If only one person will win the item in question, then focusing on the biggest donors makes sense.

In addition, spending is not always done with the logical side of the brain. There’s a cliché in the sales world, “people buy on emotion and justify with logic,” and that may be even truer when it comes to giving to a cause for which they are passionate. According to Harvard Business School’s Gerald Zaltman, an astounding 95 percent of purchase decisions are made unconsciously. So even if your donors may not think that they’re looking to spend a lot of money at your gala, they may *feel* like it’s a good idea – and that can be a big motivator.

Finally, to worry about your donors not having the money to bid on big-ticket items is to worry about something unknowable. It could be, for instance, that a supporter who rarely gives more than a few dollars at a time has been saving up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Or maybe a bidder just got a big raise at work and is looking to use it on a major vacation. In order for your donors to surprise you with their generosity, you have to give them the opportunity.

According to a 2012 fundraising study, 44 percent of donors say they could have afforded a bigger contribution to their favorite causes. By offering more expensive auction items, you give those supporters a chance to help more.


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The Gift of Travel

November 30, 2016
Making a list, checking it twice: For many, the most stressful aspect of the holiday season is gift-giving. Just finding the right gift for each recipient is hard enough; throw in negotiating mall parking lots and waiting for deliveries, and there’s a lot to add to the season’s already-full plate.

We like to help non-profits make their fundraising auctions easy, by offering travel packages on a consignment basis to take some of the guesswork out of galas. But while we’re helping you plan your fundraiser, you can help your supporters by giving them the chance to cross off one name from their shopping lists. Our travel packages make great gifts, and you can make shopping easy on your donors in one of these ways.

There are few presents for which the gift-giver does not know the cost. There aren’t auctions in department store aisles, after all. But your donors can know exactly how much that special travel package will cost if your organization offers them at a “buy-it-now” price. Setting one price for a trip allows your supporters to make their own shopping list for your gala event, while also allowing you to sell more than one package. It adds an element of certainty, allowing your buyers to make sure that they’re not busting their holiday item on one gift.

When some of your donors wake up on Christmas morning, there may be a lottery ticket or two stuffed into a stocking, hanging on the mantle. A tradition in some families, the fun of receiving a “scratcher” for the holiday is the anticipation, the possibility, even the daydreaming of winning the big prize. If your supporters are used to adding a little gambling to their holiday season, why not set up a raffle? Instead of waking up with an infinitesimal chance at winning a big prize, your donors can wake to a much better chance of heading out on a once-in-a-lifetime trip – a chance that has directly helped your non-profit.

Finally, if you want to attract the gift-giving supporter to your fundraising auction, think about auctioning off a travel package that includes a special event. Whether it’s a pair of tickets to the Super Bowl for your sports fans or a night at a star-studded awards show for the celebrity-obsessed, “traveling with a ticket” makes for a great gift, appealing both to a personal interest and the desire to travel. Best of all, several of these “tickets,” like the awards shows, aren’t available to the general public, guaranteeing that your auction-winning supporter’s gift will get the biggest reaction.


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Little Extras, Big Benefits!

October 12, 2016
It can be easy, in the rush of putting together a fundraising gala, to treat the set-up as a checklist and skim over some of the items therein. Music? Check. Photographer? Check. There are plenty of decisions to make, and not all might create money right now, at this moment. But theres a lot of goodwill to be mined from what might seem like smaller considerations for a planning committee. And that goodwill can help donors remember your organization, both for future events and for other fundraising drives throughout the year.

We love it when non-profits add a Mitch-Stuart, Inc. fundraising auction travel package to its gala event. Theyre designed to grab attention, to make donors sit up in their chairs and start dreaming about vacations to far-away places and as they do that, they leave an impression on the attendees about the organization hosting the soiree. In addition to your auction lot list, however, there are other ways to try and add that extra-special shine to what could be an overlooked element of your night.

The DJ: There is a skill to disc jockeying that sometimes goes underappreciated; its often a good idea to hire one, rather than depending on a computer playlist or, worse, the radio to provide tunes. But if you really want to get people talking, reach out in your community to find a DJ who spins real records. Not only will you know youve got someone committed to the craft, but youll also add an extra visual element: Records just look better than laptops. Best of all: Many DJs who spin from records do so because they have certain specialties, and so it may be easier to find a disc jockey with expertise in, say, 50s and 60s soul (or the music era of your choice) to fit your theme.

The Photos: We love professional photographers for their skill, their flexibility and, from a business standpoint, their ability to deliver photos that your organization can use as promotional materials in the future. But your attendees will also appreciate the chance to capture their own memories from the evening. And while many have cameras on their cell phone, few will have the ability to make animated GIFs, for example, or paper flip books. Consider hiring an outside vendor to provide a photo booth experience, such as an automated GIF maker (stitching together several photos in quick succession to create a herky-jerky animation) or a flip book printer, to help donors and guests make memories on their own.

The Drinks: A couple of good choices of wine, a local brew or two or maybe a sponsor? Its very easy to overlook any sort of alcohol choices, because its pretty hard to go wrong with offering adults free drinks. But its also a great place for a little extra inspiration. Were in the middle of a craft cocktail renaissance right now, and there are numerous bartenders in your city that are creating fascinating new drinks. Find a local expert and create your own, themed specialty drink list! It doesnt have to be long maybe one for guests who like lighter mixtures, and one a little boozier but its the type of added extra that will get guests talking. And if the drinks are big hits, they might even be reaching out later to get the recipe!


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Three Ways to Supercharge Your Fundraising Auction

September 14, 2016
If your organization has been running fundraising auctions at gala events, you might have, by now, fallen into a pattern. You know when the decorations go up, you know who to contact for food, and you even know which emcee or professional auctioneer to call.

But just because a certain idea or decision has become automatic doesnt mean that its the best one for your organization. Its good to reexamine those automatic choices that you may be making for your fundraising auction from time to time, just to make sure that youre earning every dollar possible for your cause.

Need some new ideas? Here are three small ways to maximize fundraising auctions earning potential.

Shake It Up: Its tempting to arrange the items of a gala auction in the same way one would arrange an award show: Opening with the smaller items, and then building to the big money-earners. And it makes sense on an emotional level, to crescendo throughout the event to its climactic end. However, from a pure money-raising standpoint, leaving the biggest items until the end may mean keeping some of your biggest supporters on the sidelines. After all, if a donor has set a budget for their bidding and really wants, say, that gorgeous trip to Bali, he or she could sit out earlier items of interest to save up. And then if that supporter doesnt win the trip, the budget goes home, rather than into a different purchase. Mixing up the order of items a couple of smaller ones, then one of the big-money lots, then back to a couple of smaller ones makes it more likely that your biggest monetary supporters will walk away with something.

Dream BIG: If you want to raise big funds from an auction, you have to ask for big funds. Sure, youll have a certain number of donors willing to overpay for a basket of goods from local artisans (and putting that basket together will help strengthen ties to your community, as well), but you cant get what you dont request. So, upgrade that trip: Offer the weeklong European sojourn alongside the weekend in Las Vegas (with our consignment travel packages, you dont have to pay for them unless they sell, anyway). Give your donors the chance to step up to the plate; you may be surprised by what happens.

Something for Everyone: On the other end of the spectrum, though, there will be some donors who cant pay for the luxury travel, the expensive memorabilia, or even the local artist gift basket. Maybe they just believe in your cause so much, they wanted to support it in person, on its biggest night. Not only do you want to make sure that they have a great time, but you also want to give them the chance to participate in the gala fundraising. Thats where a good raffle can come into play. Giving people the option of trying to win a big prize via a small donation and a drawing keeps smaller donors engaged throughout the evening as a participant, not just an observer. Its one easy way to make sure everyone in the room is excited while still generating revenue for your non-profit.


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Raising Funds Under the Stars

June 22, 2016
Take a look around everyone is outside. Coworkers are taking their lunch breaks at that park across the street. Evenings are spent at baseball games. Vacations involve beaches, camping or long hikes. This is the season for al fresco everything.

So why keep your gala indoors?

Mitch-Stuart, Inc. loves helping non-profits raise money with our fundraising auction travel packages theyre the perfect addition of wow! to any gala program. But we *really* love it when we get to help charities pair the perfect auction destination with an amazing outdoor event. And while pulling off a successful outdoor fundraising gala is not easy, a bit of foresight and planning can create memories for your supporters that will make sure they always think of you and your cause fondly.

Where does your event committee need to focus its energy when planning an outdoor event? Start with these three areas:

Theme: If youre going to go through the trouble of moving an event outside, make it count! Whether centered around a menu item (barbecues, crawfish boils, etc.) or a larger, atmosphere-based idea (with a title like Enchanted Forest or Beach Bonfire), this is the chance to create a night to remember by piggybacking on the beauty of nature. Have fun with it, and dont be afraid to push a little past your normal boundaries; its likely that your supporters will be a little more forgiving about small problems if youre trying something daring and fun.

Logistics: Everything from picking the right location to having enough flat surfaces and tables becomes magnified at an outdoor gala. As an example when inside, you can just look for an extra power outlet, but if you havent run adequate juice to run both the DJ equipment and the temporary lighting, for instance, theres little that can be done on the fly. It might be a good idea to run something approximating a dry run of the event a week prior with as much of the equipment as possible (no need to add rental days for anything gear coming from outside of the organization, however). And before locking into a space for the event, make sure you visit it during the time of day which youll be holding the gala, to check for things like bug population.

Food: The cuisine you serve outdoors is often a function of the seating you have available. If youve got formal tables set up, it may still be easy to present delicate meals requiring all utensils. But if your outdoor space is a little less formal standing pub tables, for instance finger food might be the way to go. Just stock up on wat napkins, in order to avoid long lines at whatever running water is available. Its also important in an outdoor space to think about the distance from the kitchen to the gathering. Is food going to be prepared off site? Will it stay warm as its being brought to the party? And whos going to bring it all? The meal is the most tangible item for which a guest is paying with their ticket get it right, and few are going home unhappy.

Got any other suggestions for pulling off an outdoor gala? Let us know on social media: Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more tips and travel inspiration.


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Do You REALLY Make Money from the Highest Bidder?

March 07, 2016
(NOTE: On occasion, we love reaching out to our friends and partners in the non-profit fundraising world to find out what theyre thinking about when it comes to helping charities raise the most money possible. This week, auctioneer and SocialSmarts founder Corinne Gregory tells us how activity, not deep pockets, drives auction fundraising. Enjoy!)

If youve ever been to an auction and Im assuming since you are reading this, you are already a veteran of at least one event -- you are aware that the high bidder is the one the auctioneer sells the item to when the bidding has concluded.  So, its natural to believe that the high bidder is the one who is making the money for the charity during a Live or Silent Auction.

Well, folks, let me be the one to break it to you: It isnt true! Yet so many charities covet the high bidders because they truly believe that these individuals are going to make more for the cause. Even most auctioneers will work particularly hard on getting to the high bidder because they feel this is where their energies should be focused. And that may be costing you money and not making you more as you would expect.

First of all, there is a common misconception that, in order to make more money at your event, you need to invite more people with high net-worth. While it would seem to make sense that people with more money will be prime targets to spend more and be your high bidders, frequently the opposite is true. When people have ample discretionary income, they tend to buy things that they want as it comes along. They arent going to wait around and save up just to buy at your auction. Thats not to say that these individuals arent generous or wont contribute to your auctions bottom line, but they arent going to be the ones generating the most bid activity.

So then, if the people at the top of your buying pyramid arent going to be the ones generating the most bids, who is going to help you make more money? The answer is simple, really: everyone else.  Activity is where the money is.

Why is activity so important? Well, although we do collect money from the high bidder, each time someone puts their bid number down on a Silent Auction form or raises their Bid Card during the Live Auction they are raising more money for the charity. The second, third and fourth high bidders are helping raise the price of that item. Ultimately, the high bidder is the one who is determined to hang in there and out-bid the competition. So, as I like to say to my auction audience, Its the job of the second, third and fourth high bidders to make sure that the winner pays appropriately!

So, if we are making money from any and all bidders that participate, its crucial to have audience engagement. We want them all to bid -- more bid cards in the air means the revenue to the charity increases. That means, as an auctioneer, I need to be courting the second and third high bidders, giving them permission to stay in the game, and not just focusing on one or two potential high bidders. In fact, I coach my audience, letting them know they can play along all they want -- be my second and third high bidders all night long. But, if they dont actually want the item, they should pull their cards down before I say Sold!

So, remember, while we do ultimately collect the money from the high bidder, we make money from every guest that places a higher bid on a Silent Auction form or raises their bid card during the Live Auction. Its important to keep your entire audience engaged and interacting because, even if they dont win, their participation ensures that the charity does.

(Big thanks to Corinne Gregory for sharing her insights with us this week! For more information about her, go to auctionhelp.com and corinnegregory.com.)
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Fundraising Auction Resolutions

January 12, 2016
Were almost two weeks into 2016. How are those resolutions doing?

According to a Harris Interactive poll from two years ago, one in three people who make a New Years resolution has ditched it by the end of January. Whether its shedding a few extra pounds, staying within a budget or even stopping smoking, changes made based on the calendar seem to carry less weight for individuals than those made out of true need. However, for your organization, the New Year may be just the time to supercharge a fundraising auction.

We love helping non-profit organizations raise funds with our gala auction travel packages, but we also want to make sure that each trip offered fetches the maximum bid possible, while also being easy for both the supporters and the staff. What are some changes you can make to guarantee that 2016 is your most successful fundraising year?

  • Get mobile. Pew Research says that almost two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone as of the spring of 2015, and that number certainly is not going to decrease. Using a mobile bidding system like our partner, GiveSmart, allows your gala attendees to place bids from their table and, maybe more importantly, pay from their phones, helping to lessen that end-of-evening payment crush at the auction table. It also simplifies your post-auction process by collecting fulfillment and payment information in one place, meaning less paperwork.
  • Get wide. Yes, most resolutions involve getting more narrow (especially when it comes to waists and guts), but it might be time for your gala auction event to try and reach out to more people. An eye-popping 87 percent of millennials gave to charity in 2013, but for those who are just starting in their chosen career paths, bidding $5,000 on a trip may be impractical. However, by offering a travel package raffle, those same 20- and 30-somethings who may not be able to shell out the big bucks can support your organization while having a chance at winning a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
  • Get big. On the opposite end of the affordability spectrum, never be afraid of offering the kinds of trips that bring in the biggest bids. Offering at least one affordable option is important to get everyone involved, but your biggest donors are willing to buy more than a couple of raffle tickets. Weeklong adventures to Bali, safaris, tickets to the biggest sporting events and award shows each of these can bring in the type of money that turns a fundraising effort into a major success. Give your supporters a real chance to step up to the plate, and you may be surprised by what theyll do.


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Guest Post: How to Ask Big Donors for Leadership Gifts in Six Steps

December 16, 2015
(NOTE: On occasion, we love reaching out to our friends and partners in the non-profit fundraising world to find out what theyre thinking about when it comes to helping charities raise the most money possible. This week, Keith McLane of KLM Auctions tells us about reaching out to those major gift donors. Enjoy!)

Charity fundraising events pose a tough challenge: You have to mobilize financial resources from donors to meet your aggressive monetary goals. To launch your campaign, you turn to your high-power donors, the heavy hitters who make or break your efforts. Your outreach to them takes first priority.

So how do you address these big donors in a pre-auction fundraising letter and hit all the right notes? Lets take it step-by-step.

  1. Start off with a big thank you for past generosity:

    Dear Stan and Jan,

    Thank you again for the donation of your Tahoe home for the auction; it was incredibly generous and I hope it goes for some really big money this year!

  2. Make your supporters understand how important their contributions are, and how their leadership role will be critical in the new project:

    I'm reaching out to very select families regarding this year's Fund-a-Need. I don't know if you saw my earlier email to the auction RSVP list, but we have an idea we're very excited about: To add artificial turf and a retaining wall to the dirt hill near Annex (beside the ramp between the upper and lower playgrounds). We think it will make a huge difference to the children's experience and really liven up the play space.
  3. Emphasize the immediate challenge ahead, and how the big donor will be a visible trailblazer who sets the tone for the entire community.

    But it doesn't come cheap.

    We've been working with landscape architects and the bids are on the order of $60,000, of which I'd like to raise $50K or more from Fund-a-Need. It's a high goal, but in the past when the (Name of School) community has mobilized we've come in at or above that level and I'm hopeful we can do it again. If we hit the $50K target, we should be able to make up the remainder from the general auction proceeds.

  4. Let your donor know that if they are first in the game, they can be a game-changer in realizing fundraising goals:

    Hence my request. I have no idea if you are planning to contribute to Fund-a-Need or not this year, but our professional auctioneer tells us the most successful technique is to have one or two pre-committed top-tier bids in his pocket. It gets the energy in the room flowing and gets the paddles going up at nice high levels.

    In other words, we don't want to guess what the high bid is going to be, and we don't want to start too low.

  5. Show understanding and flexibility youre not forcing anything on your big donor. At the same time, express your gratitude again and drive it home that they can play a prominent, instrumental role in realizing a community dream.

    I'm asking about a dozen families to try to find someone to start our bidding at $5,000. Yes, I realize that's a large amount and that you've already done a ton for the school and for the auction, for which we are all extremely grateful. And I realize we're coming at families with asks left and right and if this is too much I absolutely, totally get it; no problem whatsoever.

    But looking at past years' bidding patterns, if we can get someone to start at this level I do think we can hit it out of the ballpark.

  6. Establish a basis for quick personal follow-up a call or a meeting. Give another hearty thank you and a reminder to save the date.

    I will give you a call this evening to touch base in person. Thanks in advance for your consideration, and thanks once again for the generous donation of your Tahoe home!

    Take care, and looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.
In these six steps and with personal engagement, you can make your fundraising goals a reality.

Let your biggest donors know how grateful you are, and have them imagine what they could achieve next by dreaming big.

Keith McLane of KLM Auctions is one of California and the Nations top charity auctioneers and fundraising strategists. KLM Auctions auctioneers have all earned the distinguished Benefit Auction Specialist (BAS) designation from the National Auctioneers Associationa designation held by fewer than 20 auctioneers in California.


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Guest Post: Fundraising Lessons From Apple Picking

December 02, 2015
(NOTE: On occasion, we love reaching out to our friends and partners in the non-profit fundraising world to find out what theyre thinking about when it comes to helping charities raise the most money possible. This week, were re-posting this wonderful essay by Connie Johnson of the Benefit Auction Institute about the parallels between fundraising and the outside world. Enjoy!)

Eight years ago my husband planted a Honeycrisp apple tree in our front yard. And being Minnesotans we are very biased that all Honeycrisp apples if not the ones from our very own front tree are the best on the planet. Of course, we place a premium on the fruit that the tree produces because there is some amount of work in getting to the point of harvest. Between the watering, the tiny amount of spraying, and the occasional pruning of the branches, there is something very satisfying about getting to the place where we can pick our prized apples.

Here are a few lessons Ive gleaned from our apple tree and some parallels I've found in charity event fundraising:

Some apples are a lost cause. Get rid of them!

Despite our intention to have as near to organic fruits and vegetables in our yard as possible, my husband learned through trial and error that some degree of fruit would be lost without preventive measures like spraying. And even then, some apples still end up taken over by worms, bees or various bugs. We dont try to save those apples. We get them off the tree and into the compost bin so they can feed the soil and serve us in some capacity later.

Relating to fundraising, you should be surveying your practices regularly, analyzing what works best and offloading the practices that have bugs in them. What produces the most donor fruit? Focus there and lose what is ineffective or even harmful.

Some apples are only partially compromised. Save what can be saved.

OK, so heres the thing: At our house we try really hard not to waste what can be saved. And honestly, when you take a good look at bad apples, many apples can be savedat least in part. We pull them off the tree and cut off the bruised or compromised area and eat the part thats OK.
In planning your event, maybe you dont have to dispose of an entire procedure, but merely tweak it for better results. Cut out whats undesirable. Find a way to make whats left work.

Some apples are beautiful on the outside, rosy and colorful, but dont taste good because theyre not ripe enough or theyre overripe. Strike when the fruit is at its peak!

So much of effective harvesting boils down to timing, doesnt it? Strike too soon or too late and the fruit may not taste right. It might be too tart or have little taste at all.

When harvesting donor gifts, you have to consider if the donor is ready for your ask. Have you done the proper work to select the optimum date for your events demographic? Have you informed them of what your nonprofits mission makes possible and what youll be able to do with more resources? Have you reminded them that your event is a key part of your nonprofits giving calendar and how critical each gift is to your cause? Have you let key person-to-person encounters pass by and with them a great opportunity to ask for their support?     
    
When picking apples, your reach matters.

Several weeks ago we got a frost warning. In essence, get those apples off the tree, or lose them! My husband worked so hard to care for the tree and its fruit and I wasnt about to lose those apples to a cold night! I grabbed the step stool from the garage and very carefully pulled down what I was capable of getting to. But heres the thing: I am a petite woman and could not reach all of those apples by myself. I plucked off what I could, but I also knew my limitations and called in reinforcements. My husband is a tall guy and was able to reach higher (the Benefit Auction Institutes tag line) to get those last apples down.

In the world of fundraising galas, you know as well as I, that it takes a solid and strategic team effort to get your best results. Look carefully at your limitations, opportunities and resources, and make sure that the right person is working on the right task to optimize the event that you work so tirelessly on for months.

Enjoy the fruit and share it.


At a family party before the final harvest we let everyone pick an apple off the tree. We had plenty and some gifts are meant to be shared. My soon-to-be three-year old niece heard she got to choose her own apple so I brought her out to the tree and hoisted her up. She looked at her options and then yanked her favorite apple off. Before I could even get her inside to wash the apple, she took a gleeful bite out of ither apple moment, and that sight made my week.

Isnt the point of fundraising to share the bounty? To make sure that the resources that your nonprofit needs are within reach because of the generosity of people who care about your mission and programs? Then share. Share donor resources. Share stories donor, program recipient, volunteer, staff member. And give everyone on your team a chance to have their apple moment. It is the very best part of fundraising.

Happy harvesting!

(Big big thanks to Connie Johnson and the team over at Benefit Auction Institute for sharing their apples with us this week! For more information about the Institute, go to benefitauctioninstitute.com or call 651-318-0115.)



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Guest Post: On Consignment

February 18, 2015
(From Mitch-Stuart, Inc.: Word is spreading about the advantages of auctioning consignment items at charity galas! Our friends at Scott Robertson Auctioneers recently wrote a blog post on the topic, and we love their enthusiasm for getting the best possible travel packages for non-profit fundraising auctions into the hands of bidders. That post appears below, with their permission.)

Seemingly every day I receive a message from a client asking How do we secure great items for our fundraising auction? Does this question sound familiar to you and your committee? You are not alone in this quest to find high profit items that will excite your guests and get them to bid.

Experience has taught me that in order to have a successful fundraising auction you need the following four components in place.
  1. The right people in the seats. These guests must believe in your cause, have the financial resources to support the cause, and the desire to help.
  2. Great items for the attendees to purchase. Everyone is strategic in their bidding and will not bid on items they dont intend to use. Pre-event promotion is always a good idea so attendees arrive ready to bid on items that excite them.
  3. A great ambassador like a fundraising auctioneer. He or she will be the glue that holds the other components together and motivates the audience.
  4. A cause that people can easily support. Those donating their money at a fundraising event want to make sure their donation will make an impact on the lives of others.
If you have three of the four components in place then great, youre almost there. But the component Ive seen left out most often is #2 great items. If the right people are there, the right auctioneer is there and the cause is right, but the items are wrong, a charity will leave so much money on the table because they werent strategic in their item procurement.

I hear from many charities throughout the year. They tell me they would love to have better live auction items but dont have the resources. I totally understand. In fact, getting the right items for a live auction is more challenging than ever for some.

One possible solution for these charities may be and I stress may be consignment companies, great businesses that are totally focused on putting together trips and experiences that make unique and wonderful top-shelf items.

These companies purchase items at volume wholesale prices, mark them up a little, and then provide the item or package to not-for-profit organizations at no initial cost. The charity only pays for the item after it is auctioned and sold at the charitys gala. Rest assured a good fundraising auctioneer never sells an item below the cost of the package.

Another advantage of using consignment is that the packages can be sold multiple to times to several bidders, a donated item typically can only be sold once.

When the auction is over the charity contacts the consignment company, informs them which item was purchased, provides them with the funds and then gives them the contact information of the person who won the item.

The consignment company will act as the concierge and contact the bidder directly and work with them all the way until the bidder utilizes the trip. Typically quality consignment companies can be flexible, if needed, to modify the trip to meet the needs of the buyer (its important the consignment company acts as the concierge so the buyer receives the personal service they deserve and the charity can focus on other matters).

Another great point about these companies is that they often under promise and over deliver and that will make the winning bidder feel even better about the item they purchased. Thats pretty rare in todays world.

I do have one caution. There are a lot of consignment companies out there. Do not go with one you just found on the Internet or the cheapest. You need to use a company that has an outstanding reputation and a great track record for delivering what it promises.

I hope this helps those charities looking for unique items and experiences their guests will truly love to bid on. Sure, there is a cost involved. But even with the cost big dividends await.

(We want to thank our friends at Scott Robertson Auctioneers for the great summary of why non-profits should work with consignment sellers to help give their auctions that wow factor. If youre ready to send a donor on an once-in-a-lifetime adventure, reach out to a Mitch-Stuart, Inc. travel expert today!)

Scott Robertson Auctioneers
srauctioneers@gmail.com
239-246-2139


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