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Don’t 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, it’s 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 it’s 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, there’s 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 we’re also always here to help incorporate new ideas into your fundraising auctions and galas, whether it’s 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 doesn’t 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 – there’s 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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Don’t 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 organization’s 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 you’re 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? Don’t 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 city’s 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? We’ve talked before about making gala planning earlier by repeating a party’s 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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Support Your Smaller Charities!

July 16, 2013
When it comes to charities, the “big names” usually get most of the attention, while the smaller charities have to hustle to get their fair share. Small charities are often amongst the neediest and also often performing some of the most important work on the smallest budgets. Contributing to their success helps a great number of people. Mitch-Stuart, Inc. happily supports smaller charities and the results have been amazing!

Mary Dekle is the Resource Developer at Legal Services of North Florida, Inc., a private non-profit corporation dedicated to providing free legal representation to low income people with civil legal problems. She has worked with Mitch-Stuart for several years. Dekle’s cause is an example of how smaller charities benefit from Mitch-Stuart travel packages. “We realized auctioning off enticing vacation packages was a great way to excite donors,” said Dekle. “Trips such as auction items have been so successful; we now have expanded to include a special auction of trips at other times of the year, not just our annual fundraiser.” According to Dekle, the vacation auction items have been so successful that they have often been “purchased by individuals who were not regular contributors and, after taking the trips, they've become regular donors!”

Mitch-Stuart offers fantastic vacation options as auction items which help support smaller charities. Here are other ways companies and individuals can help support small charities:
  • Via Sales. You can choose to have a percentage of profits from sales of a particular product or services, or sales on a particular day, go to that organization.
  • Via Volunteers. If your employees are looking to support a charity, the opportunity to volunteer will be greatly appreciated and much needed by a smaller organization.
  • Via donors to similar causes. Let customers and donors know about the charity with whom you are working and how their activities may align or support those of a more familiar “brand name cause.
  • Via social media. Promote these needy yet deserving entities on your website, social media and in other marketing materials to “turn up the volume”.
The impact of the trips Mitch-Stuart provided to Mary Dekle’s organization warranted great results. “The trips are an equalizer for small and midsize non-profits,” said Dekle. “It gives our auction, and our organization a higher profile -like something you'd expect from a huge non-profit.”

In what ways have you supported smaller or lesser-known charities?


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True Blue American Causes

July 02, 2013
The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is regarded and celebrated as the birth of American independence. Typical festivities range from fireworks, parades and concerts to barbecues. However, we must remember that America’s independence didn’t come easy. Americans had to fight battles and wars, as well as endure hardships in order to obtain the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we all have today.

American Flag
Statue of Liberty Fireworks
U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
One way Mitch-Stuart, Inc. has showed its appreciation for our nation’s independence has been to partner up with charities such as The Sentinels of Freedom, USO Cares and Wounded Warriors.

Sentinels of Freedom provides life-changing opportunities for men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have suffered severe injuries and need the support of grateful communities to realize their dreams.

The organization offers up to four year "life scholarships" to help vets become self- sufficient. Mitch-Stuart, which is known for offering unique, auction-worthy items, provided the auction travel packages for this organization. The Sentinels of Freedom were able to choose luxurious trips and fundraising packages and sell some of them multiple times.

Mitch-Stuart created the USO Cares with American Airlines program. They have created a program in which care packages are sent to service members all over the world. For $25, a package was sent to a person in the military anywhere in the world. In return for the donation, the person who sent the package received 150 AAdvantage miles.

Check out these patriotic getaways from Mitch Stuart, Inc. this Independence Day:
  • Ellis Island. Stay at The Ritz-Carlton New York, located in Battery Park. This package offers an exceptional cosmopolitan experience. Hop on a three-hour Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise, which gets you up close to Lady Liberty! Marvel at the famous Statue of Liberty and remember the millions of immigrants that found their own independence once reaching Ellis Island.
  • Washington, D.C. Experience our nation’s capital like never before. View some of our nation’s most famous monuments on the Gray Line sightseeing tour or the Old Town Trolley Tour. The Gray Line tour will take you past famous landmarks including the new World War II Memorial, the FBI Building, Federal Triangle, Ellipse, Tidal Basin, National Archives, Washington Monument, House and Senate Office Buildings, U.S. Botanical Gardens, National Gallery of Art, U.S. Navy Memorial and the Grant Memorial. The Old Town Trolley Tour will guide you to landmarks such as the Capitol Building, Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and the Museum of Natural History.
  • Philadelphia. Nothing says red, white and blue like Philadelphia. Home to the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia is filled with so much historical significance that it will leave you wanting to explore even more. Your trolley tour will take you past some of the most popular and historic attractions. The National Constitution Center is America’s most interactive museum, and is solely devoted to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Gettysburg. Mitch-Stuart is currently creating a once in a lifetime experience for Civil War buffs to visit Gettysburg beginning this fall. Stay tuned!

How will you show your patriotism this Fourth of July?


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3 simple marketing tips to boost the sale of trips at your charity auction

May 15, 2013
By Sherry Truhlar

Your committee is thrilled. You've got a FAB-U-LOUS trip for your charity auction – the kind everyone wants. It's a great destination for your crowd.

This could be the highest selling item in your charity auction ... if you don't screw up the marketing.

Auctions are complex ecosystems, with one auction element linking to countless others. Case in point, item acquisition is one (big) process. Operations – which includes marketing – is a different (big) process. To complicate matters, different volunteers on your committee probably oversee each one. Ugh!

Just because you've got a desirable trip from your acquisitions chair sell doesn't necessarily mean your marketing volunteer will do it justice. And on the flip side, sometimes you'll see rather unattractive trips sell for big money.

Knowing HOW to present that trip – i.e. marketing – makes the difference.

When I teach marketing to my clients, we look at it in terms of timing: before the auction, onsite at the event, and after the gala.

In this post, let's narrow the scope to three simple ways to market your trip onsite.

1. Visually attractive displays

Humans are stimulated by images. More than any other sense, we rely on sight. So if you've got a trip, you need photos to showcase it. Lots of photos.

Here are some ideas from recent auctions I've worked.
  • A 3-ring binder stuffed with full-page color photos showed a Northern Australian home and surrounding activities. It pushed the sale of this one-week vacation to a record $6000.
  • Area guide books and state maps (the kind collected at a visitors bureau or AAA) helped support the sale of a remote cabin in Maine to $2100.
  • At a school auction, a Kiawah, SC home sold at $8000 – twice its value – with help from a 36" posterboard in the silent auction. On it was plastered 8.5" X 11"color photos of the home and water views.
  • A traditional coffee table book filled with fabulous photos of France helped sell a remote villa in Burgundy. There were only three pages in that entire book showing photos of the countryside near the villa, but that was enough to inspire dreams of a French vacation! It sold for $4500.
2. Accurate descriptions

As part of your display, include a detailed description. Most committees remember to include basics like the number of bedrooms and baths, but ignore other important information, such as…
  • Getting there: Does the property owner recommend flying into a specific airport? Renting a car? Using a car transport service?
  • Extra fees: Any extra costs should be mentioned, whether it's for activities, food, or housekeeping.
  • Date restrictions: Properties available over holidays or spring breaks are especially desirable. Mention that.
  • Activities: Is a sought-after golf course nearby? What about kids attractions or "must experience" events?
3. Urgent announcements

Your auctioneer or emcee should promote the trip verbally onsite during the reception. Whether you plan on selling the excursion in the silent or live auction, announcements garner guests' attention, either getting them to bid on it right then or (in the case of a live auction) getting them to start thinking about bidding.

In short, don't shortchange your charity auction by procuring great items, and then failing to market them. Acquisitions are merely the first step in the process. Great marketing supports the sale.

Sherry Truhlar, CMP, BAS, CAI
Red Apple Auctions
Mobile: 703-577-7807 | Sherry@RedAppleAuctions.com | www.RedAppleAuctions.com


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10 Deadly Sins of Benefit Auctions

January 08, 2013
Part II
How To Wreck Your Charity Auction Fundraiser
By Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS

Welcome to the second half of Kathy Kingston’s expert advice for your next auction fundraiser.

6. End with Your Live Auction
This costly mistake will kill your bottom line. Do NOT wait until after dinner or after entertainment to raise money. Why? It’s too late and by that time many of your guests are tired, inattentive or worst yet — gone. You cannot raise money when your supporters are driving home in their car! It is imperative to strategically schedule your Live Auction and Fund a Need Appeal EARLY in the event when your guests are attentive, awake and ready to bid. You will maximize fundraising when you position your Live Auction and Fund a Need Appeal before or during dinner. Save awards and entertainment for your grand finale.

7. Ignore Inviting the Right Guests
This fundraising folly has two dire consequences: failure to optimize giving during the auction and loss of future philanthropic support. First, fill your venue with guests who have the capacity to bid and give generously at your auction beyond just buying a ticket to your gala. Second, position your charity auction as a cultivation and relationship building opportunity so that you can turn bidders into long term donors. With this ideal approach you can follow up with your generous bidders and invite them to become more deeply involved in your organization. Remember the first rule of fundraising: “People give to people — not causes.”

8. Stay in the Dark

This often overlooked blunder can easily be prevented. Dim dinner style lighting will lose thousands of dollars and put your beloved supporters to sleep. Illuminate your silent auction brightly. Turn up house lights up fully during the Live Auction and Fund a Need Appeal; light the stars of your event — your guests. Never spotlight your auctioneer — it’s impossible to see bidders. Brighten up your venue and your fundraising results will shine.

9. Keep It Noisy
Nothing spells fundraising auction disaster more than an audience that does not pay attention and where no one can hear the auctioneer or your success stories. Benefit Auctions require a unique sound system that is different from any other event. Never use the built-in house sound and avoid the band’s sound system because neither is adequate for your auctioneer to raise more money. Invest in a professional sound company and use powered speakers on stands that surround your audience. A professional sound system will pay for itself many times over and improve your guest’s experience so you can maximize your fundraising!

10. Don’t Have Any Fun
People spend more money when they are enjoying themselves. Did you know that the #1 reason people attend an auction is to have fun? (MORPACE 2008) Infuse your benefit auction with interactive income activities that rain money such as Heads and Tails, Premium Dessert Frenzy, Sign Up Party Boards, Super Silent Auctions, Centerpiece Auctions, Gift Card Sweep, Auction Chicken, Wild Card Auctions, Pot of Gold and much more! Propel your profit and add fun ideas to get those bid cards waving!

© Kathy Kingston 2013  All rights reserved.
www.kingstonauction.com  603-926-1919
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10 Deadly Sins of Benefit Auctions

January 03, 2013
(Part I)
How To Wreck Your Charity Auction Fundraiser

By Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS

This week guest blogger and auctioneer extraordinaire Kathy Kingston brings us Part I of a two-part post featuring must–DON’Ts for successful auction fundraisers. Read on and stay tuned for Part II next week.

1. Leave Money in the Room
THE most expensive mistake you can make is using a volunteer amateur auctioneer. Why risk it? Retaining an experienced professional fundraising auctioneer can increase your net auction profits from 20% to over 300% immediately. Uniquely experienced and dedicated to maximizing fundraising, a professional benefit auctioneer does not cost — it pays!

2. Don’t Ask for Funds
It’s financial suicide is avoid a Fund a Need Special Appeal. Let’s face it, not everyone wants or needs a live or silent auction item. Create this opportunity for everyone to contribute to your great cause at a level that is meaningful to them. Ignite generosity with a well conducted, inspiring Fund A Need that that can literally double your live auction profits in just 10 minutes!

3. Offer Too Many Auction Items That No One Wants
This catastrophic calamity will insure that you lose thousands of dollars. First, be sure to match your auction items to the unique profile of what your auction guests really want. Second, less is more. Reduce the number of auction items and focus on fewer unique items that produce bigger results. Make sure your organization procures hot auction items that keep driving excitement and interest — items that fulfill fantasies and dream vacations and experiences that are unique to your supporters. And remember to consider adding consignment items to complement your donated items to add excitement and dollars.

4. Plan a Party and Forget Fundraising
An epic error is to plan your auction fundraiser like it’s your social soiree, business function or even worst a wedding. Focus first on fundraising — not your centerpieces, entertainment nor the color of tablecloths — all which raise zero dollars. Remember, your charity auction is often one of your biggest fundraisers of the year. You simply cannot afford to lose precious dollars or support in this new economy. Strategically design your benefit auction to emphasize your unique mission and how your donors can make a difference. Proudly promote your cause and emphasize that the reason “Why We Are Here” is to raise funds so that your guests can change lives and improve your community.

5. Bore Your Audience
The quickest way to lose money and momentum at your benefit auction is to sedate your guests with a string of talking-head long speeches. Just say No BS. (No Boring Speeches!) Insist on a few well placed brief inspiring remarks that emphasize first person testimonials and your success stories. Capture the hearts and wallets of your guests and showcase your cause and your transformational results.

© Kathy Kingston 2013  All rights reserved.
www.kingstonauction.com  603-926-1919

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