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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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“Recycle” Your Gala

April 29, 2015
At Mitch-Stuart, Inc., we like making non-profit fundraising auctions easier. Whether it’s offering great charity auction travel packages to organizations on a consignment basis or setting up a group with our partners to help with everything from running the auction to collecting bids, we want to help make event planners’ lives simpler.

One of the best ways to make the year-over-year process of pulling off fantastic non-profit fundraising events less stressful is to avoid reinventing the wheel. Each year, there are several major decisions that an organization has to make in terms of promotion, of theme and even of location. But why go through all the effort to do that each year, when you can make the same decision work for years to come? Here are three ways in which a recycled idea can make the yearly work of planning that gala a little easier.

A Visual Brand:
Yes, you can certainly use your organization’s logo on promotional materials for your gala event. But developing – and then reusing – a special image for posters and flyers about the fundraiser not only pops off of advertising, it also lets donors and supporters know that something special is about to occur. It separates this one event, this one moment, from all the other marketing collateral you might send over the course of a year.

Go All-In on a Theme:
Developing a “brand” for your event can save a lot of effort each year. If your home city knows that, each spring, you’ll be throwing a beach party by a local pool, or that ugly sweater parties around Christmas are your thing, then crowds will be on the lookout for the yearly invite. And don’t worry about being repetitive: There are countless variations on a theme that can differentiate this year’s event from prior editions. For example, if you’re throwing a “casino night,” gambling in Las Vegas is very different from the gaming of, say, the French Riviera. Both, however, will utilize the same basic equipment (roulette wheels, poker tables, etc.) and fall under the umbrella of what you’ve established your event “brand” to be.

Lock Up the Location:
In some cases, the venue for a charity event is as iconic as any theme and as dazzling as any auction item. If your non-profit has found a home for its gala fundraiser in a historic, grand or just special location, there’s no need to shop around every year. Make your event into THE event at the historic opera house, mansion or even park picnic area. Giving predictability to a gala’s location can help brand your fundraiser in the public’s mind, and make people from the outside want to find out about that “great night out” that happens in that gorgeous venue each year.


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Choosing a Theme for Your Gala

September 24, 2014
It’s 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. It’s 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 it’s 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), it’s time to get them mingling. Introducing donors to each other (and to your non-profit’s enthusiastic volunteers) helps them forge new connections, share experiences related to your charity’s 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, wouldn’t 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 you’ve 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, you’re 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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Cruising for Unique Fundraiser Venues?

February 05, 2013
By guest bloggers Jay and Corinne Fiske Northwest Benefit Auctions

How many times have you ripped open an invitation to a fundraiser only to see that the venue is [yawn] another hotel? Hotels are great, but if you really want to woo and wow your crowd, think outside the ballroom and get creative with some of these location options.

Cruise Ship
  • It’s already a party atmosphere
  • The demographics of the attendees should be excellent
  • No one can leave early!
  • Lots of lovely onboard “real estate” for live and silent auction locations
  • Duration of a cruise means many previews of the silent auction items
  • Lots of ways to co-promote: Your mailing list, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets
  • Cruise lines love the ability to market directly to potential “cruisers” through the internal network of the organizations. It is a win/win for everyone, and an experience which will be long remembered.
Museum
  • Spaces often provide large, varied and unusual settings
  • Knowledgeable, experienced on-hand staff a helpful asset
  • “Behind-the-scenes,” insider tours are powerful lures
  • Museums and other cultural institutions often cash-strapped and make very willing partners
  • Ability to leverage museum member mailing list/social media platforms a plus
Stadiums
  • Informal, less-stuffy atmosphere perfect for the right fundraiser
  • Fun catering options on-site
  • Ability to procure team memorabilia/ticket packages to add to silent and live auctions
  • Offer of VIP tours to guests as part of event
  • Marketing via non-traditional “sports” platforms (social media too!)
What is important to remember when working with these and other out-of-the-ordinary locations is, although providing a non-typical venue is great for your cause, these spaces do bring along their own "unique logistics challenges" but the benefits will win out.

Savvy planners will sell the space on the inherent “win-win” of hosting a fundraising event there. Here is an approach we have found successful.

When proposing your fundraiser idea to the facility manager, agree to market the specific event to your mailing list, post on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, and become part of their viral marketing efforts. Some good examples of organizations that have the depth of contacts to make this “quid pro quo” relationship work are:
  • National trade associations
  • Alumni associations
  • Major health and research organizations
  • Nationally associated church groups
  • Class reunions
  • Corporate organizations wanting to give back to good causes while combining a little work
  • Fraternal and service organizations
You get the idea. Smart, forward-thinking venues have the ability to market directly to their target audience through the internal network of the organizations. It is a win/win for everyone, and ideally provides an experience which will be long remembered.


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