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Indulgent Vacations

April 12, 2017
In day to day life, we hold back. We can’t eat a five-course meal for lunch, because we’d fall asleep at our desk in the afternoon. We can’t finish that bottle of wine at dinner, because we have to be productive the next day. We can’t spend the day shopping or relaxing at the spa, because we’ve got real-world responsibilities.

On vacation, though, we are different people. And we are ready to indulge.

Some are coming off of a Lenten season of self-denial, while others may just want a chance to take a break from a diet or other restriction. But all of your donors want to let loose when they hit the road. With our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages, they can do just that. And while any vacation is bound to have the chance to indulge in one way or another, there are some destinations that are come to mind immediately when thinking about treating yourself.

It’s not a coincidence that Mardi Gras, the festival of indulgence that precedes the self-denial of Lent in the Catholic (and other Christian) faith, has found its spiritual home in New Orleans, From the city signatures like beignets and Sazerac to the all-night jazz jams in the bars of the French Quarter, New Orleans is built for the binge. But the Big Easy is more than the drunken revelry of the Mardi Gras parade; it’s a city where people serious about their crafts, whether bartenders making Hurricanes or bakers making those powdered-sugar breakfast confections. And for those for whom indulgence comes aurally, there may be no city in the world more in love with music than New Orleans. Walk into any random bar on Frenchmen Street and you’ll be blown away by the jazz combo playing in the back corner.

One of the most indulgent ways to spend a day is immersed in “shopping therapy,” going through racks and racks to find that perfect wardrobe piece. For those looking to splurge, Beverly Hills may be the destination; with shops for many of the high couture world’s most-loved brands, it’s no wonder that people from around the world plan vacations to visit. And for those who want to make sure there are no surprises when the credit card bill comes in, our “Beverly Hills Sensational Shopping Spree” packages even comes with a $1,000 gift card for Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue or Barneys.

But as cliché as it may be to say, Las Vegas likely still leads the league in indulgence. It’s in the Nevada desert that travelers can eat their body weights in gourmet food at all-you-can-eat buffets, discover their next favorite cocktail at one of the city’s many forward-thinking, mixologist-led bars, or relax the day away at a spa with world-class treatments. The impulse to overdo is built into the city’s DNA. And while it was once best-known for its seedier escapades, Las Vegas now offers something for fanatics looking to sate any hunger: Golfers, theater lovers and music fans also can spend days in Sin City consumed by their respective passion.


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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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Peak Vegas

March 22, 2017
There are a number of ways to enjoy a Las Vegas vacation at any time of year. The city’s restaurant portfolio has exploded in the last decade, with celebrity chefs cooking everything from haute cuisine to pizza. There’s a surprising amount of art on display in the city, be it the whimsical signs of yesteryear of the Neon Boneyard or the touring exhibits stopping by the Gallery of Fine Art at the Bellagio.

But to get the full Vegas experience, it may be whom you see it with that is more important than what you see; it’s beneficial to see the city in a crowd. Las Vegas comes alive when people from around the world descend on Sin City. Our non-profit auction travel packages can take your donors to Las Vegas at nearly any time of year, but here are a few times on the calendar that give the city its reputation as “America’s Playground.”

The only state in the U.S. that has fully adopted sports gaming is Nevada, which makes Las Vegas a very popular place to be during sporting events. Sunday afternoons during NFL season are almost as popular as Saturday nights. But the most interesting time to be in town may be during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, or “March Madness” as it’s colloquially known. It’s the perfect intersection of big crowds and good weather; March tends to be when high temperatures start their upward trajectory and the big pools begin to open up after the windy desert winter. And if the sports don’t interest you, that just means you can get better poolside seats by going early in the day.

Some of the biggest draws to the city combines work and play in a very specific way. Almost six million delegates visit Las Vegas for more than 20,000 conventions each year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Some of the biggest, including January’s International Consumer Electronics Show and April’s National Association of Broadcasters show, brings tens of thousands of people to town, each of whom are splitting time between the button-up corporate world and the more relaxed nightlife of the city. The energy when surrounded by people letting loose after work and set free into the neon nights can be infectious.

But not every crowd in Las Vegas needs a specific occasion. For those who want to see the city in its most natural state, just pick a three-day weekend. With a built-in chance for recovery, a vacation to Las Vegas can go from the hurried pace of a 48-hour turnaround to a more leisurely, stop-and-stare-at-the-neon affair. If Monday is the extra day off, the vibe in Vegas on that Sunday night can be hard to beat; the over-the-top revelry is out of everyone’s system, and the city’s fine restaurants and cocktail lounges often become the focus.


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Alternative Sun

March 08, 2017
For every vision of a beachside paradise, there’s someone who imagines trying to get the sand out of a bathing suit. For every cold drink, there’s a sunburn. And for every relaxing waterside read, there’s the specter of corralling the kids for the drive to the shore.

One of the reasons that Mitch-Stuart offers such a wide range of non-profit fundraising auction travel packages is because one size – or one destination – does not fit all. While many are drawn to our selection of beachside escapes, with trips to the Caribbean, Southern California and Hawaii, there are some who still want to get some sun without having to deal with the beach’s drawbacks. For those sand-averse donors and potential bidders, here are some alternative pathways to Vitamin D.

Why would one go into the ocean when one can float above it? Cruises combine the sun and relaxation of a beachside vacation with the creature comforts not always accessible along the surf.  Whether it’s sailing between islands in the Caribbean or navigating the Mediterranean Sea, riding a modern ship gives donors access to the best sunbathing, while also allowing for gourmet meals. And if a small taste of beach time is desired, there’s always a chance to get some sand in one’s shoes when disembarking at one of the ports of call.

Neon isn’t the only light that can be found in Las Vegas, and visitors get to soak up that Vitamin D in multiple ways. The resorts of the city have a tremendous network of pools, each catering to a different taste; some of them are non-stop party scenes (“daylife” as it’s called in Sin City), while others are more relaxing and meditative. But what doesn’t get as much attention is the number of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts within a small drive of the Strip. Hiking through Red Rock Canyon is a favorite pastime of the sporty Vegas resident, and Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon are each comfortable day trips. The best part: After a day outside, your donors can soak their feet and get a massage at one of the city’s many spas.

Finally, if there’s anything more relaxing than sitting by the pool, taking in the sun, it’s receiving a massage at the same time. Many luxury resorts offer poolside spa services, allowing visitors to get outside and find their bliss simultaneously; the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, for instance, has an adults-only pool and group exercise activities in the natural light of the resort’s atrium, along with a spa-only menu of healthy cuisine served poolside. Combining Vitamin D therapy with wellness programs gives guests a stress-free glow – maybe the best souvenir to bring back to the real world.


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Eye-Catching Hotels

March 01, 2017
It can be easy, when thinking about beaches in far-flung places and tickets to glitzy events, to remember that the first question any of your donors will be asked about their fundraising auction travel package will be, “where are you staying?” Even in the most attraction-filled destination, travelers spend a plurality of their time in the hotel – much of it asleep, sure, but it’s also the respite from the craziness that travel can bring. And sometimes, that home-away-from-home carries as big a name as the nicest restaurant or most exotic location.

Whether it’s the tickets to the big game or the transfer to or from the airport, Mitch-Stuart gives attention to every detail of its non-profit fundraising auction travel packages. That’s especially true of where your supporters will be staying at the destination, and it’s why we deal with some of the highest-rated hotels in the world. But there are three names in particular from our catalog that stand out even to the less-experienced traveler, iconic hotels that have the type of reputations you can use to help drive up bids.

It’s hard to visit Los Angeles and not set foot somewhere that’s been used as a location for a film, of course, but the Beverly Wilshire is iconic for its place in silver screen lore. “Pretty Woman,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and even the television show “Entourage” have called the hotel home, and after the cameras have stopped, stars like Elvis Presley and Warren Beatty have lived in between its walls for extended periods. And along with its stature, the hotel is home to a top-of-the-line spa (a recent recipient of the Forbes Five Star award, in fact) and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, along with being a short walk from the shops of Rodeo Drive.

In London, the first-ever luxury hotel still may be the best. The Savoy Hotel opened in 1889, with of-the-time extravagances like electricity and hot and cold water in each room. Needless to say, the industry standard has upped a bit, but The Savoy has more than kept up; a renovation estimated at more than $300 million took place between 2007 and 2010. The result, according to most who have been, is old world elegance and service, but with the amenities the modern traveler requires. Of special notice: Afternoon tea in the hotel’s Thames Foyer is a must-do (and included in our “Stay at the Most Iconic London Hotel – The Savoy” package).

But ask anyone on the street for the name of a famous luxury hotel, and the first response is most likely to be The Plaza. The New York landmark has 110 years of history, including being namedropped in iconic literature like “The Great Gatsby” and appearing in “Annie Hall.” It also may be one of the most accidentally-photographed hotels in the world; its address makes it a dramatic backdrop for the beauty of neighboring Central Park. It even became the name of a major international treaty: the Plaza Accord, which dealt with currency rates, was signed there in 1985.


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Beyond the Beach

February 15, 2017
If you live in the Great Lakes region, early-to-middle February tends to be the coldest time of year. According to a report from the Guardian in 2012, we are in the middle of the coldest week in England of the year. February 13, 14, 17, 18 and 20 are five of the ten coldest days, on average, in the U.K. And for almost everyone else, the snow on the ground and the tiny “high” temperatures each day act as constant reminders that we’re in the depths of the winter.

It is at times like these that travel thoughts often drift toward sandy beaches, tropical drinks, and all of the sun one can soak up on an island vacation. But while we love sending your donors on adventures with our fundraising auction travel packages, we also love it when your supporters get to fully explore a destination, not just the space directly around a beach chair. Our island-based trips include some destinations that are both about the beach and the culture or activities found inland.

There certainly are beaches on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, but the sand that most immediately associate with the resorts there sits in fairway-adjacent bunkers. The island is the home of 24 different golf courses (there are 40 in the area overall), and it’s become one of the most popular destinations in the country for both the weekend duffer and the scratch (that means even par, or very good) player. It’s also the home of 300 tennis courts, a major arts center and a tremendous local dining scene. It’s possible, in fact, to spend an entire vacation on Hilton Head without ever touching the sand – as long as you keep the ball in the fairway.

Golf isn’t necessarily high on the amenity list on Mount Desert Island in Maine, despite its name; being that far north usually makes courses unplayable for much of the year. But what it may lack in putting surfaces, it makes up for in natural beauty. The island is the home of Acadia National Park, the first park east of the Mississippi River, established in 1919. The park’s roads make for perfect hiking and biking trails. Bar Harbor, one of the island’s biggest towns (only topping out at a little more than 5,000 people), is a well-known tourist destination, and its downtown sector is a particular draw during the summer months.

Whether it’s the height of summer or the dead of winter, the isle of Ireland is better known for its green grass than its beige sand. That’s not to say there aren’t places to break out the beach chairs, of course, but a trip to Ireland is a trip focused much more on culture than suntans. And despite being an island, Ireland has its fair share of geographic variety, too; the coastal mountains don’t reach the heights of the Rockies or the Alps, but they do provide for both recreation and dramatic backdrops for photographs. Its rolling green hills, meanwhile, draw visitors at nearly every time of year.


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The Rise of Bleisure

January 25, 2017
Type “bleisure travel” into Google, and the search engine may try to correct your spelling. It is not a graceful portmanteau, and in a way it represents the exact opposite of its meaning: Business travel that is either expanded for or planned to include leisure travel elements (in the combined word, it looks like it’s the business that’s tacked on).

For donors who might not feel they have time to take a “full,” week-long vacation, offering them a chance for a weekend stay in a city in which they may already be working combines convenience with relaxation, and makes them active participants in any non-profit fundraising auction. If, instead of planning work around a weekend away, your supporters can simply skip the return flight and have some unencumbered fun in a new city, it may inspire more of your gala attendees to consider bidding on a travel package (and more bidders often means a higher closing price).

Want to offer some of your donors a chance to extend those business trips? Here are some thoughts on how to capitalize on the trend.

A Weekend Away:
Bleisure travelers are different than the regular business travelers, who are often ready to come home immediately after finishing their work (if not sooner). But even if the business traveler does want some extra time to explore a city, they’ll have already been away from home for a few days. A weekend trip makes perfect sense: Work for a couple of days, then spend a couple more days having fun.

Cities to Consider: If you’ve got some donors who may be interested in bleisure travel, then picking the right destination is important. While we adore destinations like Bali and the French countryside, your donors may not be taking too many meetings during poolside yoga sessions or winery tours. Places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, of course, are common destinations for business travel, while Las Vegas may be the convention capital of the world.

Evergreen Events: Some of our travel packages are notable for taking donors to our Destinations of Excellence™. Others find their biggest value in tickets for specific events, like the Super Bowl or an awards show. But if you want to attract bleisure donors, make sure your trip has access to a tremendous attraction that happens year-round. Think, for instance, about a trip with a food or beverage tour (like the pizza tour that comes with the “Leave a Pizza Your Heart in Chicago”), or maybe one with a round of golf or two included. A trip that works for business travelers is one that they can use no matter when work calls.


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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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What’s Hot for 2017?

December 28, 2016
We love every trip in our catalog of more than 300 non-profit fundraising auction travel packages, but each year we get asked the same question: What’s hot? What’s motivating donors right now? What’s drawing the biggest bids?

There are, of course, evergreen answers to that question. Trips with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities attached – Super Bowl or award show tickets, for example – will always be popular. Certain destinations, like New York or Napa Valley, will likewise always draw eyeballs.

But as we get our tuxes and dresses ready for New Year’s Eve, we wanted to take a look at some other ideas for 2017. Based on trend-spotters across the travel industry, here are some of the areas to consider if you want to ride the wave of a current surge in interest to a bigger fundraising haul.

Return of the Snow-Seeker:
People “pinning” snowbound travel adventures on Pinterest have increased by more than 300 percent, according to the site’s “Pinterest 100” trend report for 2017. Destinations like Vancouver, Colorado and Jackson Hole may see an uptick in interest for those looking to get a blast of winter cool while snowshoeing or skiing.

Bali is Big: One of Booking.com’s picks for trendy locales in 2017, Bali is seen by many as a great choice for a relaxing “sanctustay,” coupling sightseeing with spa visits and wellness activities like yoga. Giving donors the chance for a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the Pacific may prove to be even more popular in the coming year.

Go National: The National Park System celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, and the increased attention to jewels like Yosemite and Yellowstone seems to have whetted the appetite of travelers. Parks and park-related activities have been seen an increase in “pinning” on Pinterest of 66 percent, again according to “Pinterest 100.”

Baby Boomers Looking at International Travel: According to AARP, Mexico, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom are the three leading destinations for Boomers looking to use their passports. And while 51 percent of those surveyed are looking to stay in the U.S. (Florida and California being the two leading domestic vacation spots), 43 percent are planning to take at least one trip beyond our borders.

Cajun Hospitality: According to the trend-spotters at JWT Intelligence, New Orleans looks to be a major player in 2017 tourism. With cultural events like Jazz Fest and the Essence Festival growing larger each year and conferences like the tech-centric Collision moving to the city, there may not be a better time to offer your supporters a chance to see the Crescent City.


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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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Comfort Food for the Traveler

November 22, 2016

As the temperature drops, what we eat and drink changes. Lemonade is swapped out for hot chocolate. Apple juice becomes apple cider (and, in some cases, apple cider spiked with rum or bourbon). And those summer salads and watermelon become the rib-sticking, carb-heavy cuisine known to many as “comfort food.”

There may be no true dictionary-style definition of this genre of dish; just like Mitch-Stuart’s fundraising auction travel packages, comfort food comes in many varieties. And during this season of big meals and tryptophan comas, selling a trip by appealing to donors’ stomachs may not be a bad idea. Here are a few of our favorite destinations from our catalog for filling, comforting cuisine.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Lone Star State, the home of chili con carne and the league leader in brisket, excels at comfort food. But while Austin and San Antonio get the lion’s share of plaudits for their cuisines, Dallas has its own food culture, with richer dishes playing a major role. Rudy’s Chicken, with a line of cars around the block, is a local institution thanks to its fried chicken, while hungry diners have filled Norma’s Café for sixty years to try its chicken-fried steak. Ask any local, and you’ll get a long list of eateries serving up heavy meals.

Of course, if the idea of “comfort food” has a spiritual home in this country, it would have to be in the Southeast. One of our favorite destinations in the region is Savannah, with its southern charm, cobblestone streets and historic squares. From the Boursin Chicken of 17Hundred90 Inn & Restaurant to the hole-in-the-wall charm of Walls’ BBQ, this is a city with a comforting, filling meal around every corner. Bonus: The food walking tour included in our Savannah travel package will allow your donors to walk off the calories, too!

There are a few staples of the comfort food world – chili, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, lots of other fried things – and then there’s the Cajun cuisine of New Orleans. We posit, however, that those two things don’t need to be considered separately. Cajun gumbo will keep the hungriest diner full and warm, while beignets round out any starch-friendly meal. Restaurants like Mr. B’s Bistro (with its Gumbo Ya Ya) and Commander’s Palace (with its famous, rich Turtle Soup) may not serve up chicken-fried anything, but there’s still plenty here to satisfy that comfort food craving.




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Staycations: Pro or Con?

November 09, 2016
In an ideal world, we’d all have time. We’d be able to take a leisurely vacation that sends us to a remote part of the world, zipping through flight security, angelic family in tow. The clock on our trip wouldn’t start until we arrived, of course, and we’d get the full amount of pleasure out of our destination without jet lag. And then, refreshed, we’d come back home with a new outlook on life.

This, sadly, is not that world. We’re big proponents of once-in-a-lifetime travel, yes, but we also understand that a multi-flight trip to a land with fewer creature comforts may not fit into everyone’s plans.

And we’re not alone: The “staycation” became a part of the travel lexicon a few years back, when families were looking to take vacations without some of the hassles and costs of major travel. Now, only 35 percent of Americans were planning on traveling more than 50 miles from their homes in 2016, according to AAA.

If you’re organization is based in one of our Destinations of Excellence® locations, could you benefit from offering a “staycation” at one of our partner luxury resorts and hotels? Let’s look at the benefits and the drawbacks.

PROS

Less Travel Means Less Stress: A family with small children may not be interested in anything involving a long flight. An elderly donor may not be able to physically manage a plane ride. A couple may enjoy a quick romantic getaway. And no one, even someone with a passport full of stamps, likes dealing with the airport. Giving your supporters a chance for a luxurious, relaxing experience in their own hometown means getting to avoid long security lines and packing for every possible whim of a fussy toddler.

Get to the Good Stuff: It can feel sometimes like a weeklong vacation is really only five days, with the first and final being lost to planes, trains and automobiles. But if the travel only involves driving across town, those “travel days” end up being “days by the pool,” “days on the beach” or “days on the wine tour.”

Know Your Home: In some of our larger destinations, it can be hard for residents to really know everything. New York is different on seemingly every other block, for instance, and Dorothy Parker supposedly once called Los Angeles “72 suburbs in search of a city.” People return from our travel package destinations with new favorite restaurants, music or activities; when your supporters haven’t left town, they can keep going back to and indulging in those new discoveries – after all, those finds are just a short car ride away.

The Fanciest “Spare Bedroom”: If your donors have family that comes into town over the holidays, then you can help them with their seasonal preparations. Your supporters can give that “staycation” to their kin. It’s a win-win: The travelers get to bask in luxury, while the hosts (your supporters) don’t have to clean out the guestroom.

CONS

The “WOW” Factor: Your auctioneer will have to put some extra elbow grease into convincing your donors of the unique nature of staying in their own town. This is easy to do if the trip package includes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (getting a Los Angelino to bid on a package featuring tickets to the ESPYs or the American Music Awards, for instance), but could be more difficult with a simple hotel stay.

Smaller Bids: With no transportation needed as a part of the package, many of these trips could start from a lower first-bid price, which could translate to a lower winning bid. Again, this is where a professional auctioneer is important; he or she is likely a master in setting a mood and vibe in the room conducive to big money pledges.

Raffle Resistance: To get a donor to buy a raffle ticket is to ask them to gamble, essentially, and if the prize isn’t seen as exceptional, it may be a more difficult ask. The risk-and-reward balance may be different for a staycation than a more traditional, eye-widening choice.

Staycations for Fundraising Auctions: What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook page or on Twitter @MitchStuartInc.


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Mitch-Stuart Endorses…

November 02, 2016
What feels like the longest election season in history is finally (mercifully?) almost over. Less than a week from now, voters will go to the polls to choose the president, senators, representatives and ballot propositions. During the run-up to any vote, newspapers and other media organizations put forward their choices of the candidates, dating at least back to the New York Times throwing its weight behind, a tall, skinny guy from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln.

At Mitch-Stuart, we’re in the business of fundraising and travel, not politics. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to get in on the fun of backing some of our favorite aspects of travelling. Note that this is not an all-inclusive list, of course; to list all of the great qualities of travel would take us through the next presidential race.

So, for 2016, Mitch-Stuart endorses…

Wine Tastings: We heartily endorse wine tastings for several reasons, but the best one may actually come after your donors return from their trip. For the rest of their life, when they see a certain varietal at the store or on a menu, they’ll recall that magical time they had in Napa, or France, or Italy – and they’ll remember the organization that sent them, too. (As a bonus: We also wholly endorse Designated Drivers, which is why many of our wine tours also include private drivers.)

Wallet-Free Vacations:
Whether it’s a cruise to Alaska or relaxation on a Caribbean beach, all-inclusive vacations allow your supporters to enjoy time without worrying about trading currency or calling credit card companies to confirm purchases. There’s a variety of choices for these kinds of trips, from basics included to anything goes, and we endorse all of them.

Award Shows: Want to really “wow” your gala attendees? Offer them access they can’t get from a travel agent. The American Music Awards, the ESPYs, the People’s Choice Awards … by giving your donors a chance to rub shoulders with their favorite athletes or stars, you’re giving them a chance at a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and that will always get our endorsement.

Getting Outside: No matter the time of year, breaking out of the office and hitting the great outdoors is en vogue. That’s why we endorse fly fishing in Canada with every bit as much gusto as skiing in Colorado or horseback riding in Costa Rica. Some prefer the cold, some prefer the heat, but everybody prefers the sun to those fluorescent lights in the office.

Travel: This will not come as a shock, of course. We believe in travel both as a fundraising tool for non-profit organizations and as an important part of life, as a chance to expand ones horizons, and as an opportunity to take time away from work and relax. We believe that the stats are true: People who travel are healthier, more productive and happier. And we believe that by pairing travel with your organization, you can make positive connections that will last a donor’s lifetime.

Voting:
It’s game day for democracy. So, get out there and vote on November 8.


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You Must Be This Tall to Scare

October 26, 2016
The Halloween season has returned, bringing with it ghouls, ghosts and zombies. Houses in the neighborhood are decorated, pumpkins are carved and faces are painted. But the holiday is not often considered a chance for travel; kids usually have school activities tied to Halloween and anyone older might not remember the magic of the day fondly enough to set aside time for a road trip.

However, Halloween is one of our favorite holidays at Americas theme parks. With an entire cast of characters in the spirit of the day, and plenty of resources available to transform spaces into truly frightening playpens of the macabre, there may be no better place to take in the atmosphere of the season than one of these amusement parks each one a part of a fundraising auction travel package available through Mitch-Stuart.

In Southern California, Disneyland is putting costumes on costumes for the month of October, with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, among others, wandering the park in their own Halloween outfits. Pumpkin King Jack Skellington and Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas also wander the premises. But the big attraction of 2016 is actually a closing, rather than an opening: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is on its way out, giving way to a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride next summer. This is the last year to ride the elevator drop while listening to the spookily-soothing voice of Rod Serling.

On the other side of the country, meanwhile Disney World Orlando has a different take on the holiday, with some of the traditional villains of Halloween recast. Zombies find their voices with the Cadaver Dans, a barbershop quartet of the undead. The Sanderson sisters of Disneys Hocus Pocus mix potions, shadows and some of their evil friends to create the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular show. And the fireworks show, a traditional favorite of a visit to Disney World, gets a makeover during the season, becoming HalloWishes and incorporating more of Disneys catalog of antagonists.

But no amusement park may make a bigger commitment to All Hallows Eve than Knotts Berry Farm. The Anaheim-adjacent theme park transforms each year into Knotts Scary Farm, with mazes and monsters at every turn. Scare zones act as themed immersive atmospheres; this years include Carnevil and The Hollow. Mazes and rides also take on a creepy feel, and even dining gets a Halloween theme, with a boo-fet available each night before Knotts opens (the scares are the roaming monsters, not any mystery meats). The park has even put together a less-intense experience, Knotts Spooky Farm, for families with younger kids; its open during the daytime on weekends.

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Thankful for Canada

October 05, 2016
In America, were getting ready for Halloween at the end of this month, but our Canadian friends are skipping right past that and heading straight for Thanksgiving. Canadas version of the holiday occurs on the second Monday of October each year (meaning October 10 in 2016). Starting from a desire to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, todays version is about gratitude for all things good people, events or circumstances.

Canada is one of our favorite destinations for our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages, and so this seems like as good a time as any to tip our cap in appreciation of our friends to the north.

So, why are we thankful for Canada? Here are three of many! reasons:

Hockey! The clich is true: If youve never seen hockey live, you havent experienced the sport at its finest. And though the Canadian teams of the NHL have struggled a bit in the recent past (no teams from our northern neighbor made the playoffs in the 2015-16, the first time thats happened since 1970), places like the Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens are epicenters of the sport still. With our Go to Any NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS Game or PGA Tournament travel package, your donors can celebrate the countrys national sport with a trip to any of the seven Canadian cities with teams. (For the record, that package also works with basketball, a sport invented in Massachusetts, but by a Canadian its a sort of athletic dual citizen).

Gorgeous winter wonderlands! The Pacific Northwest is beautiful at all times of year, but the winter months are when it really shines. Vancouver practically sparkles through the season, and neighboring Whistler is one the worlds great snowy playgrounds. Trips like Perfect Winter Wonderland and Vancouvers Gateway to the Pacific can transport donors to this stunning region for a seasonal getaway. Whether its exploring the charms of Vancouver itself (like the ice skating rinks that remain from the 2010 Winter Olympics) or barreling down a ski run in Whistler, the seasons charms come alive north of the border.

Fun fishing expeditions! Outdoor activities in Canada arent limited to ice and snow, though. During the summer, there are plenty of opportunities to get outside and become an outdoorsperson (even if its only for a vacation). One of our favorites: the guided freshwater fly fishing experience that comes with the Freshwater Fishing in Gorgeous Canada package. Escape to either Alberta or British Columbia and spend a day with a guide and enough equipment to catch that evenings dinner. Theres little more relaxing than taking in that summery lake view from a boat on the water.






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Chasing the Summer to the South

September 28, 2016
The early days of the fall are so charming, with the leaves changing colors and the air possessing that small bite. And the early days of the winter are cute too that first light snowfall, maybe, or the first night gathered around a roaring fire. But once the first blushes have passed, winter can be a slog. And weve all had that feeling, maybe sometime in January or February, of desperation, waiting for the sun to return.

Of course, when the northern hemisphere is at its coldest, our neighbors to the south are basking in the summer sun. And there are plenty of non-profit fundraising auction travel packages in the Mitch-Stuart Destinations of Excellence catalog that can send one of your supporters south of the equator to chase that summer feeling, even when the weather at home is stuck in a deep freeze.

A few of our favorites:

Winter in Australia is more myth than fact, as it is, especially in the North Queensland area. The coldest month of the year features average high temperatures in the high 70s, so your supporter can go on our Experience Two World Heritage Sites trip at any time of year and be guaranteed some rays. But for the most tropical experience, December and January is the time to get on the plane, with temps in the 90s. Of course, your donors will have the chance to cool off, while snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef or relaxing in their villas private plunge pool.

Of course, much of the southern hemisphere has that same year-round summer feel. A good example: The Summer Olympics this year were technically held in the winter August in Rio de Janeiro should, by the calendar, be the equivalent of February here. Of course, Rios February looks much different than ours; by average, its the hottest month of the year, averaging 81 degrees for its daily high perfect weather to explore the beaches of the Barra de Tijuca neighborhood on our Sunsets, Samba and Soul trip.

The closer one comes to the equator, though, the less seasons tend to matter. And Bali is the closest of our destinations to the middle of the earth, meaning that theres never a bad time to visit. The average high and low temperatures barely fluctuate throughout the year; our winter and their summer is mostly designated by rainfall rather than degrees. And while it does rain more in Bali over the winter months, this is a lot different than the driving, bracing rain one may find in colder weather. For those not afraid of the occasional cloud cover during a vacation, finding the warmer temperatures of Bali during our winter months can still make for a great break from the doldrums of the season.
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NYC at Its Best the Fall!

September 21, 2016
New York City doesnt need much help in the way of tourism marketing, but someone in City Hall should likely tip a cap in the direction of Matthew Broderick around this time each year. For a generation of moviegoers, its Ferris Buellers lip-synced version of Danke Schoen that forever tied the countrys most famous urban park to the autumn: I recall/Central Park in fall But theres plenty of reason to seek out New York in the fall beyond the central Manhattan attraction.

Mitch-Stuart produces non-profit fundraising auction travel packages to be used at any time of year, and supporters often use them to head to the beach in the summer or to the ski slopes in the winter. But unlike the heat and humidity of a Big Apple summer or the wet, biting cold of the city in the winter, the fall is the perfect season to explore a city best seen while walking its avenues.

Need more reasons to head to NYC for a fall vacation? How about:

Outdoor Museums: The Museum of Metropolitan Art is a year-round concern, of course; air conditioners and heaters work wonders. But the fall brings interesting exhibits outdoors, like at the day-trip-worthy Storm King Art Center, with more than 100 works of sculpture dotting 500 acres of beautiful fields and hills. Closer to home, the Queens County Farm Museum features a three-acre corn maze, pumpkin patch and haunted house.

Broadway: The fall also brings with it a host of new Broadway shows. Star-studded revivals are on tap, led by The Front Page with Nathan Lane and John Slattery, along with world premieres and musical adaptations of Hollywood films (watch for Holiday Inn, the stage version of the Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire classic, to draw big crowds). After a slow summer season, Broadway is often heating up just as the temperature is starting to drop.

Festivals: Oktoberfest is a favorite celebration everywhere where there are people who imbibe, and New York does it up right with its biggest celebrations taking place in Central Park and on the East River. 2016s biggest dates have already passed (American Oktoberfest is mostly celebrated in September, due to weather concerns), but beer fans can start planning for next year. Or, if theyd like a boozy celebration sooner, theres also Cider Week, observed this year from October 21-31.
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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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Healthy Habits as Travel Souvenirs

July 13, 2016
Whether it is postcards, that perfect sea shell or even a snow globe for a collector at home, trinkets from vacation always fill any leftover space in luggage when a traveler returns from a voyage. But not all souvenirs are physical; some globe-hoppers may come back with fascinating stories, others with a new affinity for a specific wine varietal. Some may even have figured out how to finally hit that untrustworthy pitching wedge (just kidding, of course no one knows how to do that). But maybe best of all is when someone returns from time away with something healthy to add to their life a new habit, perhaps, or a positive change in outlook.

At Mitch-Stuart, Inc., we believe that travel is inherently positive, whether its as healthy as a beachside yoga retreat or as gluttonous as a weekend in Sin City. But there are some habits that your donors can pick up on the road that can translate to a healthier lifestyle at home, and a vacation away from the stresses of the day-to-day life may be the perfect time to acquire those patterns.

One healthy habit that can be picked up while on the road is also our first form of transportation walking! Exploring a new destination on foot can be one of the most insightful ways of seeing what makes a city tick, along with being a way for travelers to find their own hidden gems those corner cafs or small parks that dont make the guidebooks. Spend a week walking around a dense, urban center like New York or London, and one may want to come home and spend more time discovering the lesser-known neighborhoods their own city has to offer.

Of course, not all by-foot exploration needs to be urban. Some of our favorite trips give donors a chance to go hiking in some of the worlds most beautiful destinations. Getting out and seeing the sights of the Rocky Mountains in Aspen, or the wilderness of Jackson Hole, may be the catalyst a donor needs to conquer that hike closer to home, and get a good workout in at the same time.

American take-out food consumption has risen dramatically over the past few decades, as has obesity rates. Correlation doesnt prove causation, of course, but the added ingredients in a lot of the fast food we consume certainly dont make us healthier. If you want to start a new habit of eating better food, you can go on the road to a few different cities for inspiration. One trip to take may be to San Francisco, where chef and food activist Alice Waters opened her first restaurant, Chez Panisse, in 1971. In doing so, she sought out organic foods to serve, long before farm-to-table was a buzzword, and her restaurant continues in that tradition to this day. For those who want to have control over a meals ingredients by learning how to cook it themselves, several of our trips to Italy, France and even New Orleans feature cooking lessons, as well.

Weve spent some time recently extolling the virtues of stress relief while on the road, but its important enough to mention again: Traveling doesnt have to be a tension-accumulator. Thankfully, many of our trips include treatments at resort spas, like those at the all-inclusive Palace Resorts in Mexico, several trips to Florida and even some adventures in Californias wine country (combine a massage with a glass of wine for full relaxation).

London


New York


New Orleans Cooking School


Massage at Bali Villa


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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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The Summer of Cool

June 15, 2016
The stereotypical images of summer vacation involve beaches. Whether its lounging on the shore, playing in the sand or swimming in an ocean or lake, the images that spring to mind when people talk about the summer months are those of surf, sandcastles and sunscreen. But just because snow is far from the average mind not to mention the weather report doesnt mean that mountains and colder regions should be considered off limits.

Mitch-Stuart, Inc., puts together non-profit fundraising travel packages to destinations all over the world, and many times winning bidders want to see the sights during peak seasons. But as summer gets ready to make its entrance, its nice to remember that the best places to vacation during these months arent always the sandy beaches. In fact, heading to a location best known for its winter escapades can be the best way to spend a summer break.

Its strange to see a destination with Lake in its name and think of wintertime fun, but Lake Tahoe is probably best known for its world-class skiing, both downhill and cross country. During the summer, though, Tahoe still shines, thanks to its diversity of entertainment options. Water-based activities are a must in the resort town, of course, with stand-up paddle boarding and jet skiing possibly the most popular. But the surrounding mountains are great during the warmer months, as well; rent a mountain bike and head downhill, or grab your gear and go hiking through some gorgeous wilderness. Theres even some fine art, for those who want to take it a little easier, in the form of summers Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, which takes place in the stunning Sand Harbor State Park.

The hottest average high temperature in Bar Harbor, Maine, is just 75 degrees (coming at the end of July). Thats just one of the reason that the town has become a prime escape for northeastern city-dwellers. Exploring Acadia National Park is a treat as the climate becomes more temperate, and with so many New Yorkers and Bostonians coming to town, there are plenty of concerts, pop-up art spaces and interesting dining experiences here, as well. Make sure to stop in at some of the historical monuments and collections, as well; the Abbe Museum is a repository of Native American artifacts and stories, while younger kids tend to love the Dorr Museum of Natural History.

The cities of Vancouver and Victoria are thought of by many as great skiing outposts. In fact, the towns are so synonymous with winter that the former was awarded the Winter Olympics in 2010. But in the summer, the largest city and the capital city, respectively, of the province of British Columbia are just as beautiful and have just as much to do. Scheduling a trip around Victorias Summer Splash is a good way to go; the local symphony performs a program from a barge in the Inner Harbour, while locals either picnic on land or float around in kayaks. Outdoor activities about in both the two cities and the surrounding area, with hiking and mountain biking being favorites. And, for those who absolutely must have a beach trip, Vancouver landmark Kitsilano Beach fits the bill nicely.

Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino


Bar Harbor Maine


Acadia National Park


Vancouver


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Picnicking In Paradise!

June 01, 2016
Spring is turning into summer right before our eyes, which means its time to dig the beach-and-pool gear out of the closet and stock up on sunscreen. June, July and August are ingrained in the minds of many as a time for leisure, going all the way back to the summer vacations of childhood. Longer days mean staying out later into the evening, and even the heat itself manufactures a certain unhurried pace.

One of the best ways of soaking up that sun during the summer months is getting a group of friends, the extended family or even just your significant other outside for some al fresco dining. The picnic is practically a summer must: Go to any public park in a temperate climate on a Sunday afternoon and youll see blankets spread out everywhere, homemade food, mini-speakers playing music and the occasional football or Frisbee being tossed around.

Our non-profit fundraising travel packages often put your donors in the middle of cities with incredible restaurant scenes, making it tempting to spend the trip dining in. But it would be a shame to not get some food to go in one of these destinations and spend a leisurely afternoon outside, admiring one of the worlds great vistas.

When Travel + Leisure put together its list of the top cities in America for picnics, two of the top three choices were in Southern California. It makes sense: The Southland has year-round picnic-acceptable weather and plenty of beachfront land upon which to lay out a blanket. But both San Diego (which finished second) and Los Angeles (third) also have fantastic options for picnic-ready carryout meals (important for those traveling with little access to a kitchen) and a variety of landscapes; spend a day in LAs Griffith Park or an afternoon in Balboa Park in San Diego and youll see these two gorgeous cities from a different angle.

To go to Paris and not enjoy a baguette al fresco would be a crime of some sort, surely. The good news: Possibly the best view of the Eiffel Tower comes in the citys 7th Arrondissement (or district), on a grassy strip of land, called Champ de Mars, leading up to the base of the monument. In fact, many of the most well-known sites in Paris have green areas nearby to admire the view while dining on that glorious French food; outside the Sacre-Coeur, alongside the River Seine and in the Luxembourg Gardens are all lovely spots. Eating outdoors is a popular enough pastime in the city that several services will deliver a picnic lunch to tourists true blanketside service!

Of course, when it comes to parks that are perfect for picnics, there may be no better example in America than Central Park in New York. The crown jewel of the citys open space, Central Park has been attracting visitors with blankets and baskets for more than 150 years. Its not the only great vista in the Big Apple to take in while dining, though; the High Line has plenty of space to dine while overlooking Chelsea, and for those heading to other boroughs, Prospect Park is a perennial favorite. Even better: Your donors can pick up their meal at one of New Yorks great delis with one of the gift cards that comes with our Nosh Your Way Through Three New York Delis package.

Santa Barbara Beach


Eiffel Tower


Central Park


Central Park


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Travel-Worthy Tributes

May 25, 2016
In pop culture, Memorial Day means the beginning of summer, cookouts, spontaneous beach trips and, for younger people, finals and the end of the school year. And with the exception of those year-end tests, were in favor of all of those ideas, too. But its also important on Memorial Day to take time and reflect on the reason for the holiday: Honoring those who gave their lives, what Abraham Lincoln once called the last full measure of devotion, to protecting and serving this country.

At Mitch-Stuart, Inc., we have hundreds of non-profit fundraising travel packages that donors bid on in order to go on relaxing, energizing, or just plain fun vacations. But our trips work for any occasion, including paying solemn respects this weekend at one of these monuments to our fallen Armed Forces members.

Many travelers make their way to Indianapolis, Indiana on Memorial Day weekend for the Indy 500, one of Americas great car races and one that has been scheduled on or near the end of May since 1911. But the city is also home to one of the most iconic memorials in America, the Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument. At just 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty, the obelisk was built as an ode to Indiana residents who fought in the Civil War, but has over time expanded to honoring soldiers in the Revolutionary and Spanish-American Wars as well. It also now houses the Eli Lilly Civil War Museum. When it was established in 1902, it was thought to be the only monument at that time to be dedicated to the everyday soldiers, the rank-and-file, rather than a general or a commander.

The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is made up of nine different locations in three different states, but the majority of the locations are in Honolulu, at the site of the Pearl Harbor attack. The USS Arizona Memorial is a tremendously-designed monument; the structure straddles the sunken battleship, without ever touching it, allowing for unique visual perspective of the wreckage. There are also monuments to the USS Utah and Oklahoma there, while the USS Missouri, not technically a part of the monument, is also docked in the harbor, having been turned into a museum.  Taken in whole, its a powerful reminder of those who gave their lives in the Pacific.

The largest concentration of memorials, however, is in the area of our nations capital. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial may be the most famous, its wall of names receiving more than three million visitors each year, but the DC War Memorial, the U.S. Navy Memorial and the World War II Memorial all also fall not just within the city limits, but within a short distance of each other. With Arlington National Cemetery and the Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Imo Jima memorial) located a short subway ride away in Northern Virginia, not to mention all of the presidential monuments and other historic landmarks in the metro area, there are many opportunities for patriotic visitor to pay their respects.

Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Pearl Harbor

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial


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Bid and Stretch Trips for Yogis

May 18, 2016
For many, the goal of a vacation is to relax. Its a chance to leave the worries of day-to-day life behind, get on the road and unwind, even if its just for a few days. For those who cant get out of town in between, say, the end of work today and the beginning of work tomorrow, though, theres the stress-relieving properties of yoga.

Between 2008 and 2013, the number of Americans who participated in a yoga class at least once in the year increased from 17 to 24 million. Thats nearly as many yogis (of varying levels) as there are golfers, according to USA Today. Chances are, there are supporters of your organization that have a favorite class or teacher in your hometown and theres also a good chance that some of their identities may surprise you.

At Mitch-Stuart, we have fundraising auction travel packages that take donors all over the world, to hot sports for golf, foodie culture, music and high culture. Yoga has such centers, too, and for those who want to get some downward-facing dog time while on vacation, these destinations may attract extra bids.

A favorite of Worlds Best Yoga Spots lists, Bali is the home of the yearly Bali Spirit Festival, a confluence of dance, music and, of course, yoga. But the island is a favorite of yogis all year, with places to practice on the beach, in the jungle and everywhere in between. And despite having a reputation for attracting regular practitioners, many of the classes in Bali are considered more restorative and relaxing, meaning that theyre appropriate for all experience levels.

Costa Rica is a favorite nation for yoga retreats, with places like the Blue Spirit Retreat Center and the Luna Lodge hosting traveling groups from around the world for weeklong sessions in the wild and on the beach. But your donors dont have to commit to a full seven days worth of downward-facing dog to get in a stretch or two. The Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort features multiple classes a day in beautiful Nosara, for instance, and Montezuma Yoga hosts morning and evening sessions in Playa Montezuma. Even some of our partner resorts offer their own classes, like those at the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa.

None of this is to say that your donors need to leave the country for a yoga-cation. Major metropolitan areas in the country like New York and San Francisco have so many options for classes that to list them would take days. But if you want to find Americas great yoga secret, head to Asheville, North Carolina. No, really: The city was named one of the top ten cities in America for yoga by Yoga Journal, thanks in part to its close-knit community and surprising variety of styles.

Bali Villa

Bali Beachfront Villa

Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort

Port Douglas


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Oh The Places They Will Go!

May 11, 2016
May brings Mothers Day, the Kentucky Derby and, of course, flowers (according to the Theory of April Showers). But its also the time of year when students get together, listen to one final lecture, and walk across a stage to be handed a piece of paper. It is graduation season in America, and this can be a fun time, celebrating the academic achievements of friends and relatives of friends. But it can also occasionally be confusing: What present does one get for a recent graduate?

Mitch-Stuart, Inc.s fundraising auction travel packages are often used as gifts, whether its for birthdays or anniversaries. But there are plenty of trips in our catalog that make a lot of sense to give to a college graduate as a celebration of their maturation into the real world, while also raising money for a good cause.

As anyone who has joined the working world knows, there may be no freer period of ones life than the one that comes between graduation and a first job. Whether its just a couple of weeks after final exams or a job search that stretches throughout the summer, there often are few worries as post-grads start to dive into the real world. This means that there may be no better time in the near future for a traveler to take that major trip, the week-long one to a part of the world that falls way outside of weekend getaway status. Several of our Destinations of Excellence fall into that category, but the hottest one right now might be Bali, the Indonesian island that has been popping up in travel magazines for the last several years. Its the type of once-in-a-lifetime trip that is meant to be savored, and not rushed perfect for the recent graduate with a little bit of flexibility on his or her hands.

The backpacking trip across Europe has been a staple of post-graduate travel for generations. The romance of the open road, sleeping in train cabins, and seeing the entire continent is a major draw to the young and adventurous. It also can be stress-inducing for the parents of those doing the traveling, however. Help your donors split the difference with the Hit the Road, Jacques! travel package, which sends a donor or a donors gift recipient to both Paris and Rome, with stays in nice hotels (no sleeper cars here!) and tours of the city on a vintage motorcycle and a Vespa, respectively. The trip couples the thrill of roadtripping with the knowledge of where a traveler will be sleeping and showering, allowing worried parents to sleep better.

Of course, for some, getting out of school is a stressful enough proposition that a recent graduate may just want to sit on a beach chair, sipping a frozen drink that has a cocktail umbrella in it. For those ex-students who need some time to decompress, there may be few better places to do so than at Montego Bay in Jamaica, at an all-inclusive resort like the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall. Its the best of both worlds for a young traveler: A diversion-filled property where the food and drinks are complementary, on an island known for its world-class culture, lively arts scene and fascinating cuisine.

Bali Villa

Arc De Triomphe, Paris, France

Vespa in Rome

Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall


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Spring Updating: The New Catalog!

April 27, 2016
Spring is the time to declutter, the time to go through closets and get rid of that which you dont need anymore. We do it to create space for ourselves, both metaphorically (dont you feel more relaxed when surrounded by less stuff?) and physically. But best of all: All that new space means youve got room to store new purchases.

Weve got the same impulses at Mitch-Stuart, Inc., but in our case its more of a freshening up. Thats why our new catalog of fundraising auction travel packages features some brand-new trips to the worlds greatest destinations.

Whats new in the Mitch-Stuart catalog? Check out:

  • New continents! Weve brought back an adventure to Australia that is perfect for your outdoorsy supporters; it includes a stay in a three-bedroom villa and chances to see the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. And we also return to South America with a trip to Rio de Janeiro, with a weeklong stay in the prestigious Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, which will host a large number of venues for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
  • Stays in gorgeous villas! Give your donors the chance to take a whole family or crew on vacation to places like the island of St. John in the Caribbean and the Rich Coast of Costa Rica (both with four-bedroom accommodations). Catch your dinner in Costa Rica and bring it to a private chef to prepare, or visit Caneel Bay, also known as the Rockefeller Estate, in St. John
  • More options in Bali! Stay in a five-bedroom beachfront mansion on one outing, or get in touch with your spiritual side with a trek to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. And weve also added a trip to nearby Thailand, with a stay in a villa located just minutes from the countrys stunning West Coast beaches.
  • More golf courses! Play a round at Pete Dye's Valley Course, the sibling to the world-famous Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, while staying in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Or take a shorter break in Scottsdale, Arizona while still getting in games at the Troon North Golf Club, named one of the Top 100 Golf Courses You Can Play by Golf Magazine.
  • More beachside fun! New options in Belize, St. Thomas and Cabo San Lucas combine sandy fun with luxury and adventure.

If youd like to hear more about any of these new ways to send your donors on the vacation of a lifetime (while making money for your organization), reach out to a Mitch-Stuart travel expert today.
Port Douglas Australia Villa

Rio de Janeiro

Bali Beachfront Villa

World Golf Village Florida


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Happy Centennial, NPS!

April 20, 2016
Happy Earth Day!

In 2016, the National Park Service turns 100 years young. Formed in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson, the agency has had the mission, as the president said at the time, to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. Thats a big task, but for a century the NPS has done exactly that, preserving some of Americas most scenic lands and making sure that people can enjoy them without harming the surrounding environment.

At Mitch-Stuart, were appreciative of everything the National Park Service has done for travel and travelers in America every day, but especially so during National Park Week, which in 2016 stretches from April 16-23. During this time, entrance to the parks is free, and there are different programs throughout the country, both educational and fun. If youve got a national park near you, youve got a couple more days to go for free, and if youve got donors who love the outdoors, youve got a big selection of trips in the Mitch-Stuart catalog that can pique their interest.

The serene setting and outdoor beauty is a major reason that Jackson Hole has been an in-demand destination for decades. Part of that beauty comes from the surrounding national parks: Grand Teton is the closest, with its mountaineering and fishing opportunities, in the shadow of the mountain range of the same name, and Yellowstone, the wilderness that many consider to be the cornerstone of the national park system. Photo opportunities about here, of course, be it Old Faithful Geyser, Snake River or any of the hundreds of species of animals that can be spotted by a patient (and quiet) observer. Our Premier Retreat in the Great American West package can take your donors to two of the jewels of this countrys outdoors.

Not all national parks are far off in the wilderness, though. The National Parks of New York Harbor is the group name to 22 different monuments and ten parks in New York City and the surrounding area.  The most famous of these sights is the Statue of Liberty, but the list also includes the Federal Hall National Memorial (home to the first Congress and Supreme Court), Governors Island National Monument and the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt. And when the concrete jungle gets to be overwhelming, the Gateway National Recreation Area offers beaches, lighthouses and even archery ranges.

One of the most underrated getaways in the national park circuit, however, comes in the countrys northeastern corner. Acadia National Park goes from mountains to beaches, all within a short distance from Bar Harbor. Visitors can check out the only fjord on the east coast of the U.S., go biking or hiking on a myriad of trails, and even take a horse out on 45 miles of carriage roads. Our East Coast Escape to Mount Desert Island travel package can set your donors up with all the outdoor adventure and gorgeous vistas they could want.
Grand Teton National Park

Statue of Liberty

Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor


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Traveling the Earth, On Its Day

April 13, 2016
Happy Earth Day!

April 22 is not the Earths birthday, of course. But it is the day weve set aside to celebrate the rounded pebble on which we float through space, the home that provides water to drink, food to eat and gravity to keep us stuck to the ground. Its also a day to think about the planets challenges, the areas that need the most help and support in offsetting human influence, be it deforestation, pollution or other ruination of natural resources.

Mitch-Stuart has non-profit fundraising auction travel packages to some of the most beautiful corners of the world, of course, but some of those Destinations of Excellence are also the most fragile areas. On this Earth Day, we spotlight some of those places where preservationists are hard at work and places that could use tourism dollars to aid in conservation efforts.

While the Brazilian rainforests may be the most well-known, there are plenty of other stunning examples a little closer to home. In Costa Rica, for instance, Corcovado National Park has gorgeous views of the last remaining tropical lowland rainforests in the country, while the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve contains more than 2,500 plant species, many of which are visible from one of the reserves hiking trails or ziplines. Belize is another Central American country where rainforests remain; one of the largest remaining populations of the jaguar can be found there along with the howler monkey. And the Reef Bay Trail on the tiny Caribbean island of St. John is one of the most popular attractions there, incorporating both the beauty of the bio-diversity and the history of the island in the form of abandoned sugar estates and the remains of the last plantation.

One doesnt have to leave America to find a bio-diverse environment, of course. In fact, one of the worlds habitats with the most varied collection of native species is the Florida Everglades. Stretching from just south of the Orlando area all the way to outside of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, the marshland is home to more than 350 types of birds, including endangered species such as the wood stork and the Cape Sable seaside sparrow. Plant life thrives in the humid conditions, as well, and its also home of the Florida panther, of which only an estimated 80 remain, according to the National Wildlife Federation. With all of the parks throughout the wetlands, including Everglades National Park, there are plenty of ways to interact with the area while being respectful of the preservation efforts in place.

If youve got donors interested in a once-in-a-lifetime outdoor experience, though, send them to the coral reefs off the coast of Bali. The island is a part of the Coral Triangle, which has been called the Amazon of the Ocean because of its biodiversity; 76 percent of all coral species in the world are within the triangle, along with 37 percent of the worlds reef fish species. Its been the subject of a high-level conservation effort for almost a decade now, called the Coral Triangle Initiative, and that work is partially supported by the $12 billion nature-tourism industry there. Exploring the region from the sea, whether its on boat or scuba diving in the ocean itself, is a must-do for the nature-obsessed.
Costa Rica Rainforest

Rainforest Howler Monkey

Bali Villa

Florida Panthers


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Rock and Travel?

April 06, 2016
In a few days, the attention of the music world will focus on tiny Indio, California. The desert community just outside of Palm Springs will host one of the countrys biggest gatherings of rock, indie, hip-hop and youth culture. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (named after the valley that is home to Indio, Palm Springs and other neighboring cities) draws nearly 200,000 people to inland California over the course of two weekends, all to watch some of the largest names in music. Festivalgoers travel from around the world to camp outside of the Empire Polo Grounds, the host of the concert, or book hotel rooms across the valley.

Like a food festival, a particular sporting event or even a season change (like fall in New England or spring among the cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C.) music can be a great motivator for a traveler. Thankfully, Mitch-Stuarts catalog of fundraising auction travel packages can absolutely be used to send a music aficionado on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure involving some of the great names and places in music history.

For music fans, there are few cities more accommodating than New Orleans. Beyond every caf and bar in the French Quarter with a jazz combo playing in the back corner, the city is home to some of the countrys best music festivals. The New Orleans Jazz Festival brings in some of the worlds brightest lights in its titular genre, along with soul, R&B and even rock acts (Pearl Jam and Stevie Wonder are headlining in 2016). The Essence Festival, traditionally held during the summer, may be Americas biggest celebration of African-American culture, including music headliners, guest speakers and others. And Voodoo Music and Arts Experience combines great tunes with interactive art in a way that draws fans of both.

For those who prefer music of a different era, a trip to visit one of the countrys museums dedicated to the art may be a great bidding motivator. Whether its the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or even a smaller tribute (the Stax Museum in Memphis, for instance, dedicated to the classic soul label), a trip with a built-in musical attraction like one of these destinations can turn heads at a fundraising auction. These excursions can be bonus features to an already-existing package (a country fan bidding on our CMA Awards, Country Music's Biggest Night! item, for instance) or reasons to utilize one of Mitch-Stuarts Choose Your Own Adventure packages, making them versatile selling points.

And if your supporters want to combine the energy of music with the star power of awards shows, weve got trips to two different nights filled with statuettes, live performances and surprises galore. As mentioned before, the CMA Awards, Country Musics Biggest Night! takes donors to Nashville this November to watch the 50th annual Country Music Awards. And while the show itself is the centerpiece, fans will find plenty to do during the rest of the time; theres a reason Nashville earned the nickname Music City, after all. And no city does glitz and glamor quite like Los Angeles, meaning that the 2016 American Music Awards, also held in November, attracts a whos-who of the pop charts. The 2015 edition featured Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, One Direction and Coldplay and the 2016 show could feature your supporters (in the audience, at least) with the Rock On at the American Music Awards! package.
Louis Armstrong Statue

New Orleans Jazz Band

Taylor Swift

Coldplay Concert


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April Foolish Travel

March 30, 2016
April Fools Day is Friday. Do not believe anything.

There may be no holiday more custom-built for the Internet than April Fools Day. Between joke articles on websites, the yearly Google product announcement video and the constant silliness of social media, the web goes all out for April Fools Day like Boston does for St. Patricks Day.

If youve got donors who go all-in on April 1, who push for your charity to send out fake fundraising letters or posts faux sonograms on their social media feeds, they may also be the type of person who would love to travel to one of comedys meccas, one of the cities responsible for the development and production of humor. There are several Mitch-Stuart fundraising auction travel packages that can put your supporters within a stones throw of comedy history.

Despite its reputation for being teeming with tear-jerking dramas, Broadway has shown its ability to be fall-down funny over the past 15 years in particular. Shows like The Book of Mormon, Spamalot and Avenue Q combine stage theatrics with big laughs, whether its social satire or pure silliness. Mormon is still on Broadway to this day, while Avenue Q has moved to an off-Broadway house. Of course, the rest of the city has deep roots in comedy, as well; Carolines on Broadway and Gotham Comedy Club are two of the most famous stand-up stages in the country, and incubators like The Pit NYC and Upright Citizens Brigade feature the next generation of funny people first.

For those interested in the recent history of comedy, Chicago is an interesting choice for a vacation. It was here that Second City, the improv troupe and school that gave the world everyone from Alan Arkin and Fred Willard to Tina Fey and Chris Farley. Stretching back to the 1950s, when the comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May were seen on stage at a Second City predecessor, the city of Chicago gave talented funny people room to create comic personas without the glare of Hollywood or New Yorks bright lights. Its also the home city of two classic comedies of the 1980s, The Blues Brothers and Ferris Buellers Day Off.

For the best in comedy today, though, Los Angeles may be the destination. Improv theaters like The Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade have been the primary farm systems for Saturday Night Live cast members for decades now, and everywhere from the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard to the Whole Foods in Pasadena (no, really!) now hosts stand-ups. One of our favorites is the Largo at the Coronet, a 280-seat theater near the Beverly Center shopping mall that hosts the best in alternative comics stars like Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman are regulars there in an artist-friendly environment (no cell phones and no talking in the theater). Bonus: Its next door to one of the best cocktail lounges in the city, the Roger Room, making for a quintessentially L.A. one-two punch.
Monty Python's Spamalot NY

Chicago

Los Angeles


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Break for Spring

March 23, 2016
Maybe schools have it right, after all.

After a winter of tough weather, indoor activities and heavy coats, people are ready to get outside and run around at the first sight of the sun. Schools have long accepted this fact, giving kids a week off to go and burn off that pent-up energy. Starting with the Colgate swimming team heading south to Florida in 1935, the modern Spring Break is often wrapped up in parties, alcohol and an ever-increasing amount of corporate sponsorship (see: Most Florida beaches throughout the month of March).

But just because one leaves academia behind doesnt mean that a Spring Break becomes unnecessary. After a full winter of going from home to car to office building and then back, getting into the outdoors for a few days can do wonders for the spirit. At Mitch-Stuart, we offer fundraising auction travel packages for all times of year, but many of our trips can help melt away the winter doldrums and serve as a spring break for the post-graduation set. Want some ideas for adventures to offer for auction at a spring-flavored gala? How about

On the Links: Months off due to weather can leave a golf swing pretty rusty. And one way to get that Vitamin D infusion is by walking 18 pristine holes somewhere in the southern half of the country. Resort towns like Hilton Head, South Carolina and Scottsdale, Arizona feature numerous course options for the semi-pro player all the way down to the weekend hacker. Meanwhile, desert towns like Palm Springs and Indian Wells are still temperate enough in the spring to play all day; those triple-digit mid-day temps dont start showing up consistently until June.

Hit the Beach: Yes, plenty of college kids will be heading to cities in Florida, Texas or Southern California to celebrate the season (and we can send your donors to those places as well, if they want to join the revelry). But for those who prefer their beverages in containers other than red Solo cups, the Caribbean makes for a great getaway. Whether its five days in Aruba, Bermuda or Jamaica, theres no place to get reacquainted with sunshine than on a beach chair, listening to the waves roll in. And for those with a limited vacation window, the Caribbean is a closer journey than you might think; take off from Manhattan in the morning, and youll be in Aruba in time for happy hour, for instance.

Head to the Islands: For students, hopping a flight to Hawaii usually is out of the question; between the travel time and the expense, the 50th state does not attract the kind of collegiate crowd one would expect based on its stunning beaches and warm climate. But for those who are just looking to miss that last cold snap at home and defrost under the springtime sun, there may be no more scenic place in America to do it than Hawaii. And with ten different trips to the islands, encompassing stays on four different islands, all the views of the state are available.


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Celebrating Americas Diversity

March 16, 2016
This Thursday, people around the country will fill Irish bars, drink a pint of Guinness and toast St. Patrick, the patron saint of the Emerald Isle. But while, for many, intoxicants and green clothing will make up the bulk of the revelry, theres a great amount of cultural significance to the day in this country; its a celebration of the Irish people who meant so much to Americas development when they began coming to the United States en masse in the 19th century.

These types of celebrations, these recognitions of cultures that have contributed so much to the American fabric, can be great reasons to travel to some of Americas favorite cities. For your donors who win a fundraising auction travel package from Mitch-Stuart, here are some great holidays worthy of a trip.

According to numbers from the Migration Policy Institute, there are more people from Mexico in Los Angeles County than there are in any individual city in Mexico itself, save the capital. With such a large population, its no wonder that L.A. is a national leader in Cinco de Mayo celebrations. But while every Mexican food restaurants from Tinseltown to the border will offer some sort of special menu, and some revelers will be much more interested in the libations of the country than the culture, those with an interest in the heritage of our southern neighbors will head to Olvera Street, in downtown Los Angeles. Theres food and drink, of course, but theres also music, exhibitors, and traditional dancing. Even bigger: The streets Dia de los Muertos celebration each year stretches for almost a week, and includes nightly processions and stunningly-decorated alters.

Long considered the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, San Franciscos version of the neighborhood throws one of the biggest Chinese New Year parties in the country. The area around Telegraph Hill in the City by the Bay plays host to a parade, a run, and a gorgeous street fair with great food, merchants and artisans teaching traditional Chinese cultural arts like lantern- and kite-making. About a half-million attendees walk the streets each year during the celebrations, making it a popular choice for travelers looking to see San Francisco through the prism of one of its oldest neighborhoods.

Spotlighting New York City for its celebrations of international culture feels like a cheat; in the Big Apple, nearly every nation in the world has a sizeable population (and, in many cases, a pride parade). One of our favorites, since we love to travel for foodie adventures, is the Feast of San Gennaro, held in the citys Little Italy neighborhood. Theres a procession here, as well, but theres also musical entertainment, remembrances and ceremonies, and most importantly all sorts of Italian food. Restaurants and cafes open their doors and offer special menus, those with bigger stomachs participate in a cannoli-eating competition and chefs demonstrate how to add that touch of Tuscany (or other provincial cuisines) to any home-cooked meal. The 2016 edition is expected to draw more than a million visitors to lower Manhattan from September 15-25.
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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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Las Vegas: Spring Wonderland

February 17, 2016
The summers in Las Vegas can be brutal. Average high temperatures in Sin City during the summer months stay in the triple digits, with a peak of 106 degrees on average in July. The winters head to the other end of the spectrum; while average highs in December and January are just under 60 degrees, the lows get down to nearly freezing, and the desert winds can run right through a snowbirds bones.

Thankfully, theres the spring. While Las Vegas doesnt have as many of the blooms that other cities might have (theres nothing in the area that could compare to, say, the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.), the more moderate temperatures of March, April and May can draw visitors out of the air-conditioned casinos and into the fresh desert air.

At Mitch-Stuart, our non-profit auction travel packages are designed to be used at almost any time throughout the year, but there are definitely seasons that, depending on a travelers hobbies and activities, are more pleasant than others. And if youve got supporters who love poolside libations, golfing, or just outdoor sightseeing, springtime in Las Vegas is hard to beat.

One of the favorite pastimes of spring Vegas visitors is camping out poolside for an afternoon, with a drink (alcoholic or otherwise) in one hand and a good book in the other. The pools at the major casinos start opening for business in mid-March, and with temperatures being warm (especially for those coming from colder, snowbound homes) but not scorching, there are plenty of chances for working on that tan while relaxing in a lounge chair. Hotels like The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Caesars Palace have raucous poolside atmospheres, while Paris Las Vegas Soleil Pool is a calming oasis in the shadow of the resorts replica Eiffel Tower.

Playing golf in the tremendous heat of a Vegas summer can feel more like a death march than a game. Going in March or April rather than July or August, however, keeps the heat on simmer rather than broil. And the city is an underrated stop for golfers, too, with a major variety of courses in the area; the TPC Las Vegas is a stunner appropriate for strong players, while Angel Parks Cloud Nine is a shorter, executive course designed for hackers of all levels. Players dont even have to leave the Strip, with the Wynn Golf Club providing an 18-hole layout in the shadow of the resort.

Even sightseeing can take on a labored pace in 100+ degree heat, meaning that natural wonders like the Grand Canyon may be better appreciated in the spring, rather than the summer. For all the manmade, neon diversions of Sin City, its most beautiful vistas can be found in the surrounding desert. Red Rock Canyon offers tremendous hiking and rock climbing, and Hoover Dam is a unique architectural marvel. And though it sits in the neighboring state of Arizona, the Grand Canyon hosts visitors from Vegas every day, thanks to a plethora of tour operators flying helicopters to and from the natural wonder.
Las Vegas

Maverick Helicopters Las Vegas

The Wynn

Grand Canyon


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The Romantics Valentines Day Gift

February 10, 2016
Chocolate? Meh. Flowers? Theyll be dead in a week. Jewelry? Sure, but do people really need more stuff? We may be biased, but there may be no more romantic gift than the gift of travel.

Mitch-Stuart can set up your donors with fundraising auction travel packages for any time of the year and for any occasion, of course, but theres something special about sending two lovebirds out into the world together, to explore and make wonderful memories. Whether youve got supporters looking for a honeymoon excursion, a babymoon last hurrah, or just an adventure with the love of his or her life, setting them up with a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a Destination of Excellence will plant you in their mind every time they reflect on that romantic getaway.

What makes travel so romantic? Some ideas:

Two people enter a relationship with lifetimes worth of experiences in their past. That extends to cities visited, which means that if one-half of a couple is a regular in, say, Las Vegas, the other half may feel more like a tourist following a guide than an equal partner. But when two people explore a new destination together, it can be a bonding experience. Want to give your donors the chance to make a destination feel like a shared romantic getaway? Offer one of our packages to a far-flung locale, perhaps like Bali, where your supporters can relax on beaches, get couples massages and explore an island while making it theirs.

Going on an adventure together can also push you and your partner out of your comfort zone. Whether you feel stuck in a rut or just would like to infuse your romance with a little spice, the adrenaline triggered by trying something new can be a great way to jump start emotions, as well. This could mean, for instance, heading for Africa with our Explore Kenyas Breathtaking Landscape & Wildlife package, which includes a gift card that can be used for game drives, bush walks and other safari experiences.

Finally, while the act of traveling is romantic on its own, the destination often has its own enchanting activities. We touched on that idea last year around this time, but it bears repeating: Booking the right itinerary once on the ground can make any place seductive. Exploring New York as a couple may mean a walk through Central Park at sunset or a date night at the Plaza. Any Southern California or Caribbean trip means walks along the beach. Skiing adventures in Aspen means aprs-ski cuddles by the fire. No matter the trip, theres something waiting at the destination for couples.
Massage

Fairmont Kenya Safari

Central Park Carriage New York

The Buccaneer St. Croix


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Mardi Gras Around the World

February 03, 2016
Its a funny reason for a Christian holiday: The night before the purging season of Lent, Mardi Gras celebrates binging, preparing for the relative austerity of the weeks pre-Easter by over-indulging for one night. For some, that means plenty of adult beverages, while for others its fatty and sugary foods. No matter the gluttony of choice, Mardi Gras is best observed by consuming too much of something that will put the celebrant in confession the next day. Of course, like other holidays, Fat Tuesday (as its known in some parts of the world) is only partially about religion anymore, as it has been adapted as a secular celebration for revelers of all (or no) faiths.

While New Orleans may be considered the holidays epicenter, Mardi Gras parties arent the sole domain of the Crescent City. In fact, with our fundraising auction travel packages, Mitch-Stuart can send one of your supporters to a celebration in any one of the great travel destinations around the world. Want to enjoy the day without a trip down Bourbon Street? You and your donors have options.

While New Orleans may be the city most associated with the holiday today, its origins are in French Catholic traditions. It should be no surprise, then, that France has nationwide celebrations of Carnival and Mardi Gras to this day. Parades in Nice, Paris and other cities mark the occasion, with large floats, ornate masks and confetti being the coins of the realm. Nice, in particular, is a special celebration; it attracts more than a million visitors to the city.

In Italy, Carnival is tied closely to Mardi Gras, as well; Fat Tuesday is the final day of the celebration that involves fireworks, special dinners and parties, and art. In 2016, the Venice festival is featuring almost 150 separate events, leading up to a best mask of Carnival contest, a closing ceremony and fireworks at the Arsenal of Venice.

Your donors dont have to leave the country to celebrate Mardi Gras, either. Universal Studios in Orlando celebrates the holiday on select dates between February and April, with parades and concerts in a family-friendly environment. Music is a major part of the fun here; 2016 features traditional New Orleans Zydeco bands in the French Quarter Courtyard and big name touring acts like Adam Lambert and Diana Ross on the Music Plaza stage.

And while New Orleans will always be the gold standard of Mardi Gras celebrations in America, most major cities in the country mark the day with some sort of event. In New York, the 2nd Avenue Mardi Gras Stroll enters its 19th year of libation-fueled fun, while the Mardi Gras Ball in Boston is into its third decade of existence. Mid-sized communities get into the act, as well; In North Carolina, Asheville has its own parade on the weekend preceding Fat Tuesday, and Snowmass, just miles outside of Aspen, kicks off the day itself with the Mother of All Ascensions, an uphill snowshoe race.
Carnival in Nice

Carnival in Venice

Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida

Mardi Gras at Snowmass


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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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Dont Skimp!

September 30, 2015
There a lot of pressure placed upon fundraisers, especially event planners, to keep costs down when planning a gala or special evening. After all, the theory goes, the less money spent on the event, the more the organization will get to keep. But what if, by skimping in some areas, you were actually costing your organization money, rather than saving it?

Mitch-Stuart, Inc. loves setting up its non-profit partners with consignment auction travel packages to raise money for worthy causes, and we particularly love it when they sell for the biggest amounts possible. In order to do that, though, its important to spend money in the right places and for the right reasons. Here are three places where a little extra investment at the gala can pay off in bigger bids and more donations.

If a live auction is a part of the program, make sure that a professional benefit auctioneer is in charge. While the job may look like just speaking fast and taking bids from the outside, an experienced auctioneer can bring in bigger bids and keep audiences engaged in ways that amateurs may not even be able to identify, much less duplicate. Everything from between-item banter to voice inflections when recording bids can help loosen up a room and encourage everyone to get involved, and the people who spend their lives doing this are naturally going to be better than a volunteer.

Yes, you could set up a playlist on a streaming website or through your phone. Or sure, you could get a particularly talented family member to play some piano. But good live entertainment at an event is a critical component to keeping attendees engaged, whether its a comedian doing a short set, a live musical performance or a DJ playing in the background during the dinner. Getting the audience laughing or dancing can be a big step towards getting them bidding, too, and the pros in these areas know how to read a crowd and tell the right joke or play the right song for the moment.

After a gala, theres still opportunities for fundraising, based on follow-up solicitations. Make those next-day and next-week emails look even better by having a professional photographer document your event. Hiring an experienced shutterbug will allow you and your staff to focus on connecting with donors individually, while the pro runs around (usually with camera equipment well beyond the price range of the average picture-taker) and makes sure that the memories created over the course of the evening are captured forever. Having these professional photos will help sell tickets to future events, as well, making it an investment that pays for itself.


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Fall-Infused Galas

September 24, 2015
The seasonal signposts are everywhere: Leaves are changing, days are getting shorter, and evenings are getting cooler. Fall is here, and with it comes a new color palette, a new climate and a new feeling.

Our specialty, of course, is setting non-profits up with once-in-a-lifetime travel packages for fundraising auctions, and we told you about some of the best ones for fall galas a few weeks back. But were also always here to help incorporate new ideas into your fundraising auctions and galas, whether its cuisine pairings or recycling themes and branding. If your organization has an upcoming event, here are a couple of ways to stand out by using the beauty and spirit of the season.

Fall galas have a full color palette with which to play, one that feels out of place at other points in the year. Soft oranges and browns, yellows and even forest greens are all in play, and can give an event a feeling of timeliness. From there, the type of gala will dictate the decorations, of course; a black-tie affair probably doesnt need cutout leaves (or real ones!) throughout the room. But even lining the entryway to a ballroom with lights and colors matching the season can put attendees in the right frame of mind for the evening.

One of the newest fall traditions for many is trips to the local chain coffee shop for "pumpkin spice infused drinks. And while that name is a misnomer 2015 is the first time that Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte will include any actual pumpkin theres no question that spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are essential to fall cooking. There are plenty of places for those fall tastes at your gala, as well. A dessert course is an easy place to start, with a traditional pumpkin pie or pudding. One fun idea: If your event will involve alcohol, there are several cocktails that involve combinations of pumpkin, maple syrup and whiskey or bourbon.

Finally, never overlook location when it comes to fundraising events. While it can be tricky to plan around seasonal weather, getting your donors outside for a fun twist on a gala can create lifelong memories ones that are most closely associated with your cause. How about an event in an actual pumpkin patch? Or maybe a traveling gala, one that rolls on hayrides? Even setting up in a local park, surrounded by the changing colors, even with a cold snap in the air, can brand a gathering in a way that will make supporters want to come back every year.


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Dont Forget the Where

July 15, 2015
There are plenty of decisions to make when planning a non-profit fundraising event: What should the theme be? What should be on the menu? Which Mitch-Stuart fundraising auction travel packages should you offer to the highest bidder (AHEM)? But one of the most important decisions is actually one of the most underrated: Where should all of this go down?

Picking a venue at which to hold a charity gala can be a stressful experience, but going into the decision-making process with a clear set of guidelines can help focus your organizations vision and make the pick an easy one. Here are some questions to ask before placing a deposit on that hotel grand ballroom:

Can my donors get there? If your donor base lives in the suburbs, the most beautiful downtown ballroom might be a bad fit, especially if the event is taking place on a weeknight. If youre throwing an event in New York or San Francisco, however, heading to the suburbs might eliminate supporters who live a car-free lifestyle. Getting to your event should be as easy as possible for the people looking to support your cause.

What facilities are available? Dont let the natural beauty of an open park space, for instance, make you overlook the lack of electricity or indoor plumbing. And that brilliant ballroom in the historic downtown district may not be up to code in terms of wheelchair accessibility not to mention its lack of parking. Attending a charity gala should, in most cases, be much easier to do than attending a summer music festival on a farm or in the desert.

Is it hot? The wow factor extends past auction items and celebrity appearances. Holding a gala at an architectural marvel, or a newly-opened facility, can let donors not only support a cause, but explore a new part of their city. Even smaller events can benefit from novel locations: A citys newest restaurant may be looking for new diners, and your supporters may want to try out the latest in local dining.

Is it on theme? If there are multiple facilities that check each of the boxes above, it might be time to move on to examining the atmosphere one is trying to create. That luau event might not feel right in an art deco masterpiece, and it is hard to hold an upscale casino night in a cavernous warehouse. Practical considerations should likely come first, but theme-based factors make for a great tiebreaker.

Can we stay here long term? Weve talked before about making gala planning earlier by repeating a partys most popular elements. It can be a source of comfort for donors and a sign of stability for an organization to have a yearly event that happens in the same location. If your group is at that point where settling into an annual groove with your gala makes sense, locking down a multi-year contract with a venue can reduce your yearly cost and create a lasting connection in your community.

Have any other tips for gala planners? Talk to us! Tell us on our Facebook page and our Twitter account.


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More Vendors, Less Work

April 22, 2015
There are seemingly a thousand moving parts when it comes to a non-profit fundraising event, from catering to theme selection, from invitations to decorating and from entertainment to auction set-up. Getting a gala off the ground and ready to entertain guests can be a tremendous amount of work.

Mitch-Stuart, Inc. certainly knows how to help provide your charity event with no-risk auction travel packages that can add the wow factor to any gala. But did you know that our network of partners can help make the burden of planning and pulling off a fundraiser easier in several other ways as well? One call to us can get the ball rolling on

Filling out the auction list:
Obviously, we can send your donors on once-in-a-lifetime adventures from Boston to Bali, and to events like the Super Bowl or the Tony Awards. But our partners at Grandstand Sports and Memorabilia can add more lots to your auction, with everything from sports gear to platinum record plaques and rare film items, signed and presented with certificates of authenticity.

Getting the biggest bids:
Yes, you can get a volunteer to act as auctioneer over the course of an evening. Yes, they can get to live out their dream of saying things like, I see $500, I see $500, can I see six? as quickly as possible. But if you do, you will be leaving money on the table. A good auctioneer is like a good emcee or host: You may be able to do without one, but youll notice their absence. For more, check out our blog post with reasons to hire a professional auctioneer.

Organizing the auction:
So youve got a list of items, youve got people who want to bid on those items and youve got someone to sell them. Whos going to be in charge of collecting payments and distributing the items? Dont make a volunteer sit in the back of the room with a credit card reader attached to an iPad, swiping cards and handing out envelopes with certificates. Leave that to a company like GiveSmart, which along with mobile bidding (another item to incorporate into your auction with little effort!), also offers check out services. Allow winners to pay without standing in a long line at the end of the evening, and know immediately who has paid and who hasnt.

Want more great tips on how to get help planning and running your gala auction? Reach out to a Mitch-Stuart, Inc. expert today!


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Trip of the Month: St. Thomas

April 01, 2015
Mitch-Stuart, Inc., is the industry leader in non-profit auction travel packages, with a worlds worth of options from which to choose from Boston to Bali, from Las Vegas to London and from Palm Springs to Paris. With such a massive catalog, choosing a trip to offer to your donors at your gala fundraising auction can seem overwhelming, so each month were going to highlight a top-selling adventure available through Mitch-Stuart, including its accommodations, its draws and ways that we can even sweeten the deal.

The Trip: All-Inclusive Fun Under the Sun Island Style!

The Destination: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

The Reason: After a tough winter across much of the country, anything with a beach view is going to get the attention of a prospective bidder/donor. And there are few places that scream beach view quite like the Caribbean.

The Hotel: The all-inclusive resort Bolongo Bay Beach Resort caters to almost every whim of its guests. A regular fixture on best beachfront hotels lists, Bolongo Bay offers gratis meals and drinks yes, unlimited cocktails to those staying on the property. This means everything from eggs and OJ in the morning to lobster and wine in the evening is pre-paid. There are no pockets for your wallet in those swimming trunks anyway.

The Add-Ons: Lounging on the beach all day while sipping colorful frozen drinks is one way to do a trip to the Caribbean. But another is to get active and this package includes an introductory SCUBA lesson in the Bolongo Bay pool, along with a half-day snorkeling trip for an up-close-and-personal encounter with the local turtle population.

And More!: St. Thomas is known to be the most cosmopolitan of the Virgin Islands, and theres as much to do here as any other part of the Caribbean. The Mahogany Run Golf Course features a three-hole run called the Devils Triangle, which awards a certificate to any player who can simply get through them without taking a penalty stroke. After 18 holes, it might be time to get a massage; there are day spas all over the island for relaxation. And though the resort dining is spectacular, those looking to head off into the island for different fare can look up Old Stone Farmhouse, where diners meet with the chef before the meal to prepare their own, personal menu.

Want to find out more about this trip? Want to get the rundown on the rest of our catalog of once-in-a-lifetime travel packages to offer your donors? Reach out to a Mitch-Stuart Travel Expert today.

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Destination Spotlight: Costa Rica

March 03, 2015
When one thinks about vacations south of the border, Mexico is often the first destination that pops to mind. For others, a cruise around the Caribbean may be in order. But the travel experts, those whose passports are running out of room for new entry stamps, know that Costa Rica, even with its upswing in ecotourism over the past couple of decades, is the hidden jewel of the equatorial Americas.

Mitch-Stuart, Inc. has non-profit fundraising travel packages ready for destinations all over the world. But while cities like London and Paris attract a lot of attention, Costa Rica is sometime overlooked. This is great for the knowledgeable traveler: It means fewer tourists and more space to explore all the country has to offer! In fact, Costa Rica has something for every type of vacationer.

Costa Rica
Pinilla Canapy Tour Costa Rica
Los Sueos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort
JW Guanacaste Resort & Spa
For the beach-comber: With coasts on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the nation has almost 300 beaches, with more than a handful sure to suit the personality of any sun worshipper. The Papapgayo Gulf is a favorite for those visiting the resorts of Guanacaste, while the isolation of Uvita makes it a perfect place to hide out from the world. The youth and culture surrounding Montezuma make it the equivalent of a Southern California coastal community, and its impossible to take a photo of the white sands of Nosara that is less than postcard worthy. With such a diversity of experiences, one could spend a whole week in swim gear.

For the jungle explorer: Around 25 percent of the land in Costa Rica is in either a national park or other protected area, but the best to explore might be Corcovado National Park. Once called the most biologically intense place on Earth by National Geographic, Corcovado contains endangered species like the Bairds tapir, a sort of pig-hippopotamus hybrid, and the Central American squirrel monkey. The stars of the show, though, are the two- and three-toed sloths. Other smaller parks and rainforests are scattered throughout the country, and tour operators take visitors sightseeing using everything from cars to zip lines.

For the luxury lounger: While the outdoors are attention-grabbing, theres plenty of beauty to be found indoors as well. The view of the ocean from the room balconies at the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa is tremendous, and the on-site spa includes saunas, pools and even palapas, or thatched-roof huts, to mix clean air with a massage. In San Jose, the Cala Luna Boutique Hotel and Villas features a poolside dining experience unrivaled, with local flavors and farm-to-table foods. Visiting the city is no excuse to skip finer living, either: The Hotel Grano de Oro in San Jose is a converted Victorian mansion, with a secluded rooftop Jacuzzi terrace that has to be experienced to be believed.

Beach, jungle and luxury Costa Rica has it all! Let your donors bid on a once-in-a-lifetime trip at your next gala auction. Contact a Mitch-Stuart, Inc. Travel Expert today to get started!


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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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Destination Spotlight: Augusta

February 04, 2015
There are a lot of signs of spring beyond longer and warmer days. For some, its the first day of baseball season. For others, its the return of music festivals, or maybe the first barbecue invite. But one of our favorite rites of the season is The Masters, one of golfs oldest and most prestigious tournaments. Each year, the planets best golfers descend upon Augusta, Georgia for four days that could make or break a professional players career.

But while the biggest action may take place at the Augusta National Golf Club, the city and surrounding area has attractions for both golf aficionados and everyday travelers alike. At Mitch-Stuart, Inc., we pride ourselves on creating once-in-a-lifetime travel packages for non-profit fundraising auctions, so our trips to Augusta features day badges to either one or two days of The Masters. But those hours on the golf course arent the only reasons to head to the city.

Thanks in part to Augustas age, there are plenty of fascinating architectural elements to explore. The Lamar Building, in the citys Downtown Historic District, was built a century ago, but its rooftop glass enclosure was designed in the 1970s by famed architect I.M. Pei (he designed the pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris). The entire district, in fact, is on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks in part to its diversity of building styles; everything from Art Deco pieces to Craftsman homes can be found by discerning eyes.

That type of range can also be seen in local cuisine, where southern comfort food can be found steps away from white-cloth, upscale restaurants. High-end eateries like Le Maison are in major demand during The Masters; reservations are often made months in advance and credit cards are used to hold spots. But down-home diners like Ruths Family Restaurant have an appeal all their own, as well, with locals gossiping over biscuits and gravy during the breakfast rush.

But one of the best-kept secrets about the Augusta area is its natural beauty. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors (and maybe work up the appetite for those biscuits and gravy!) at local parks and other sights. Take a stroll along the Augusta Riverwalk, for instance, and stop and smell the flowers at its various gardens, along the Savannah River. Or rent a bike (or, for the more adventurous, a canoe) and explore the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. Keep an eye on the boat tour schedule, too; the canals Music Cruises are popular ways to both experience the scenery and local culture, with bluegrass and beauty in equal measure.

The 2015 Masters start April 9 and weve still got time to help you send a donor there! Contact a Mitch-Stuart, Inc. travel expert today.

The Masters
The Masters Golf
The Masters Golf
The Masters Golf


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Cruising Cuisine

December 17, 2014
For some, going on a cruise represents the chance to smell the ocean air and lounge in the beautiful weather of the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. For others, its the chance to visit either multiple islands at once or see wilderness only described in adventure novels (like the wilds of Alaska). Many enjoy the family bonding available on a cruise; the ships are great places for the entire family, with plenty of diversions for kids.

Still others, though, are there for the food.

At Mitch-Stuart, Inc., we put together charity auction travel packages for every type of traveler. Weve got several great trips to explore the cuisine of big cities like New York City and smaller towns like Asheville, North Carolina. But some of the best food available to a traveler can be found aboard cruise ships, which combine a number of influences to provide a wide range of tastes and dishes to their clientele.

On each ship, the main room dining options are vast and the elegance is astounding especially for an experience whose price is already baked in the price. The main dining rooms on the ships of Royal Caribbean deliver tremendous menus and great wine selection, all in an atmosphere that is upscale without feeling intimidating (as in, bring the kids!). As for the ships of Celebrity Cruises, the dining rooms of the Solstice and the Equinox were recognized by Travel + Leisure in 2009 as the Best Cruise Ship Dining Rooms, thanks to beautiful two-story wine towers and dishes like roasted California quail.

Main dining areas are only a few of the places where a cruise ship traveler can sate his or her hunger. Specialty restaurants serve fun takes on Italian, Mexican and seafood-based cuisine aboard most ships. And despite having to cater to a wide variety of tastes, ship cuisine can have some idiosyncratic fun, as well. At the Lawn Club Grill on Celebrity Cruises Silhouette and Reflection ships, diners get in on the action by grilling their own steaks. Each party gets to pick a Grill Master, who gets a lesson in open-flame cooking by helping one of the boats chef in preparing the main course. The Lawn Club Grill also offers classes on both grilling and pizza-making for those who would rather separate learning from dining.

But the newest highlight of the open water may be upping the bar for dining options. Royal Caribbean Internationals Quantum of the Seas features offerings from superstar chefs like Jamie Oliver and Michael Schwartz amid an 18-restaurant menu. Whether its top-notch bar food, Japanese small plates or even what RCI has taken to billing as the first-ever food truck at sea, the SeaPlex Dog House, every culinary itch can be scratched on board.

Celebrity Cruises
Sushi on a Celebrity Cruise Ship
Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Cruises


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Destination Spotlight: Chicago

December 10, 2014
At Mitch-Stuart, Inc., we love working with non-profits to provide charity auction travel packages as fundraising tools. One of our favorite destinations is the Windy City, the one that gave the world the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Bill Murray and numerous politicians, athletes and influential figures. More than 30 million people visit Chicago as tourists each year, and with our travel packages, some of your donors can stay and play there, too.

Why send a supporter to Chicago?

Spacca Napoli Pizza Parlor in Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Wrigley Field
Chicago has a lively culinary scene, with fascinating new restaurants opening on a weekly basis. But even with the diversity of options available, the city will likely always be known as the home of deep-dish pizza, the pie-like creation of Pizzeria Uno. Stuffed with cheese and overflowing with toppings, the pizza is popular enough with Midwesterners that its comparing it to New York-style pizza is a nationwide debate on the level of Pepsi versus Coke. Tours of area pizzerias (like the one offered with our Leave a Pizza Your Heart in Chicago read it aloud package) take on the feel of a Napa winery expedition, with different varieties of not only the famous deep-dish, but also tavern-style and the more familiar Neapolitan styles.

For those seeking a vibrant downtown center, Chicago provides urban travelers a cityscape filled with cultural monuments. Take an architectural tour of Frank Lloyd Wrights home, for instance, or explore the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art. After taking in works of art all day, indulge in purchasing a work of art for your home (or your body!) on Magnificent Mile, the citys premiere shopping destination with more than 3 million square feet of retail, restaurants and hotels.

But if one asks 100 people on the street to name a Chicago landmark, its quite possible that Wrigley Field may be the top answer. The home of Major League Baseballs Chicago Cubs, Wrigley was built in 1914 and has hosted All-Star Games, World Series (though never a championship for the Cubbies) and other major events. While the Cubs arent much of a threat to bring home a title any time soon, checking out a game either from inside the park or, as one Mitch-Stuart travel package offers, VIP rooftop seats across the street is a wonderful way to pass a summer afternoon.


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Destination Spotlight: Colorado

November 11, 2014
The northeast is known for its foliage during the fall. Southern California and the Florida coast is known for sunny summer days and boardwalks. Washington D.C. is known for its springtime cherry blossoms (and government bustle). But when the snow starts to come down in earnest, Colorado gets its chance to shine.

Mitch-Stuart, Inc.s charity auction travel packages can take donors all around the world, but there are few destinations that group luxury, natural beauty and outdoor activities quite like the Rocky Mountain State. Take a look at the options that are available to the traveler:

Skiing: Almost 20 percent of U.S. ski resort visits happen in the state of Colorado (more than the second- and third-place states combined), at one of the more than 20 resorts that belong to Colorado Ski Country USA, the non-profit organization that represents the states skiing community. It is big business for the state its estimated that skiers and snowboarders contribute nearly $3 billion annually to the local economy so its not a surprise that so many mountain towns are based in large part around resorts. And when it comes to skiing in Colorado, downhill may be king but cross-country skiers have almost as many options, both at resorts and at specialized Nordic centers in places like Aspen and Crested Butte.

Hiking and Mountain Biking: One doesnt have to strap wood to ones feet in order to enjoy those peaks, however. Many of the states 30,000 acres of skiable land, when not covered in snow, are open to hikers and mountain bikers. Beyond that, though, there are a staggering 58 mountain peaks in the state that break the 14,000-foot elevation barrier. There are hikes for the novice and the expert, whether its the short ascent to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs or longer, more challenging climbs, like the 500-mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. There are even mountain biking trails that ride along the Continental Divide (Monarch Crest) and to the top of mountain passes (Kenosha Pass).

Food and Drink Adventures: While the mountain communities have a long way to go before matching, say, Kentuckys Bourbon Trail, the microdistillery scene is alive and well in Colorado, stretching from Stranahans in Denver over to Woody Creek Distillers in the mountains outside of Aspen (the only distillery in America with control over every step of the vodka creation process). Microbreweries also dot the landscape, starting with the famed New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins (with an outlet in Snowmass, outside of Aspen).

Thinking of sending donors to the Mile High State? Reach out to your Mitch-Stuart rep to find out how to offer a consignment, charity auction package sure to add the WOW factor to your gala!
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa
Christmas at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa
Hiking at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa
Crested Butte, Colorado


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Choosing a Theme for Your Gala

September 24, 2014
Its possible that your non-profit or charity is so connected to its donors and to the public that all you have to do is swing open the doors, plate some appetizers, and ask for cash. Its possible but unlikely (not to mention way less fun).

Mitch-Stuart, Inc. has a variety of charity auction travel packages available for non-profits to offer (always risk-free, of course), but its even easier to work with groups that have picked a strong theme for their event. Here are some tips on how to come up with that perfect atmosphere and setting for your soiree, in order to give your donors the fondest memories possible:

Dress to Impress (Or to Not Impress): The day-to-day grind is often about finding comfort: People seek comfortable modes of transportation, comfortable temperatures and, certainly, comfortable clothing. But pushing donors out of their comfort zone can be all it takes to transport them from the daily routine and into a new world. The easiest way to accomplish that? Dress codes. Making a party a black tie affair works, but experiment with other ideas, too: Costume or masquerade balls are popular, as are white parties (everyone dressed in the palest of pales) and even beach attire soirees (sunscreen is optional).

How to Play: Once everyone is dressed to the nines (or roaming around in flip-flops, depending on the theme), its time to get them mingling. Introducing donors to each other (and to your non-profits enthusiastic volunteers) helps them forge new connections, share experiences related to your charitys mission and generally makes for a livelier, lighter atmosphere (the type of feeling that can help boost auction returns). Try putting people together through games; talking with fellow faux-gamblers around a roulette wheel or bean bag tossers can be easier for the shy, and theme-dependent games contribute mightily to the mood of the room.

From the Floor to the Block: Finally, a theme can help focus your auction item procurement efforts. Of all of the different no-cost, no-risk consignment travel package options available, wouldnt it be easier if there was a linking idea, a mood to set or a locale to match? For instance, a theme like Casino Night is begging for a trip to Monte Carlo or Las Vegas. Taking your donors to a faux-beach? How about a trip to the Caribbean or a seaside picnic package? So much of the process of putting together a charity auction becomes easier when the planner can focus on one idea.

Combine a dress code, games and selected auction items, and youve got a theme. Black tie, roulette and craps tables and trips to Monte Carlo add up to Casino Night. All-white dress, horseshoes or croquet and a trip to New York gives you A Hamptons Summertime. Beach gear, beanbag or Frisbee tossing and trips to Florida or Southern California? Welcome to Beach Night. In each situation, youre giving your donors a curated, thought-out party experience that will give them a chance to interact with you and your cause in a fun, light-hearted manner, all while supporting your good works.

Got your own gala theme ideas? Share them with us on Twitter @MitchStuartInc and at our Facebook page.


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