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A Tale of Two Timelines

Posted by Scott On March 12th

When hired as the professional auctioneer for an event there is one thing I create to assure the fundraiser is as successful as possible – a timeline. I cannot overstate its importance.  From the minute the doors open every major program within the event must start and end on time.  That includes the silent auction, the brief speeches, the dinner service and the live auction.

You may be asking, “So what if one event has to be delayed for a few minutes!”  Well, experience tells me any swaying from the agreed upon timeline can have a major impact on the bottom line.  Let me explain why.

Scott Robertson

I recently did two events.  One was very successful and the other moderately successful. Both in the same town, with many of the same attendees, and only three days apart. The difference, I believe, was following the timeline vs. not following it.

For the record, both events had timelines. I looked at them, tweaked them, and then the event chairs and I agreed they were good timelines and we’d stick to them as the nights progressed.

Well, one did stick to the timeline and one did not.  Let’s start with the one that didn’t.

This event started on time – as did the silent auction. However, prior to the silent auction’s scheduled closing a committee member runs up to me and states that we’d have to postpone the closing due to the fact some people had not yet arrived at the event due to an accident on the road. The committee member felt those who had not yet arrived should be able to bid on the silent auction items and suggested the closing of the silent auction be extended by 30 minutes.

I suggested we stick to the timeline, but was overruled by the committee.  So, 30 minutes was added to the silent auction.

Here’s the problem.  By postponing the closing of the silent auction by 30 minutes you are postponing the rest of the evening by 30 minutes.  And a 30 minute delay can be devastating in several ways.  Here’s a few examples.

  • Guests already there drink another 30 minutes
  • You’re penalizing those guests who arrived on time
  • The timing of the food service is crucial since the Chef prepared the food to be delivered to the tables on a specific timeline. Any delay in that service reflects on the quality of the food and most professionally trained Chefs will take the delay personally
  • You’re major money maker – the Live Auction – will suffer because your guests will begin to lose focus from being tired.
  • You’re high-priced band could lose their “raring to go” attitude and will most likely be playing for fewer guests and have fewer couples on the dance floor since many will head home early due to the 30 minute delay at the start of the event.

Let me go into a little detail regarding two of the above mentioned.  I’ll start with the expanded drinking time.

Live auctions are more successful when you catch your guests – most of whom have consumed alcohol – on their way up. The worst case scenario is if you catch them on the plateau. But you certainly do not want to catch them on the downward slide.

You’d be amazed as to the difference that 30 minute delay makes. It’s that tight a window. Tired guests don’t stay focused. They become less concerned about helping the cause and more concerned about what time they’ll be heading home. This greatly affects the fundraising effort as more and more bidders go quiet and winning bids stay low.

Now let’s talk about the food service.  Your attendees paid for their tickets and are expecting a delicious, First Class meal.  The Chef probably worked for days preparing the meal and has timed the delivery of the food to the tables – down to the minute – to assure it’s served fresh and hot. Again, the 30 minute delay was more harmful than helpful.

The bottom line for that event – which was delayed by 30 minutes – is that it was just moderately successful. Now it’s time for the other Timeline Tale.

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It was the same scenario.  The event started on time – as did the silent auction.  But as the silent auction was about to close the event committee wanted me to extend the silent auction as a way to increase the bidding on the items.

I informed them you encourage your guests to bid on the silent auction items – not by extending the time of the silent auction – but by giving them a deadline. The committee thought it over and went with my recommendation.

I immediately started announcing the silent auction will shut down in 15 minutes and WHAM – the race was on. People suddenly stopped what they were doing and focused on the silent auction. And to the committee’s surprise – the winning bids for the silent auction items were much higher than they had been in the past.

The bidding frenzy continued into the Live Auction. By the end of the night a record amount of money was raised and it was all due to sticking to the timeline.

By the way, at this event the food was served on time – fresh and hot – and the band took the stage on time – and guests filled the dance floor. One couple even came up to me and said, “Wow, that’s the most fun we ever had at this particular event.”

Sticking to the timeline deserves all the credit. So be sure to stick to yours.  And that includes the time you allotted for a speaker or a video presentation.

It’s easy to lose time at a fundraiser. It’s very difficult – if not impossible – to make it up.  Timing is everything.  And Time is Money.

Learn From Others – But Don’t Copy

Posted by Scott On March 5th

As a Professional Benefit Auctioneer for 20-plus years I have the privilege of hosting fundraising auctions all across the country. Besides the Southwest Florida area where I reside, I’ve also been the auctioneer this year for events in Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Monterey, Sonoma and even Juneau, Alaska, to name just a few.

2014 Somonma Wine Weekend  (3)If there is one thing I’ve learned from the nearly 60 events I’ve hosted so far just this year is – each one is different – yet they do have some commonalities.

This is especially true when you travel from state to state. The different regions of our nation have different fundraising traditions, different likes and dislikes, and different donors with different expectations.

I learn a great deal from my travels. That’s because every event is like a classroom. I get to discover long running regional traditions as well as absorb new ideas. I’m like the proverbial “kid in the candy store.”

Throughout the course of the year I hear from a number of Event Chairs looking for fresh themes, fresh ideas for their upcoming fundraiser.

I also hear that these Event Chairs and members of their committee learn what other charities are doing across this great land and then incorporate those ideas into their own events.

Although this would seem like an innocent enough strategy – as for the practice – I do have a caution.

I highly recommend that charities learn from others but don’t chase, implement or copy another charity’s idea.

There are a number of reasons for this.

Continue reading “Learn From Others – But Don’t Copy” »

Your Major Donors Are More than Dollar Signs

Posted by Scott On February 26th

As a Professional Benefit Auctioneer I often run into real life situations that scream out, “WRITE A BLOG ABOUT ME!” This just so happens to be one of those real life situations.

Scott RobertsonA short while back I was talking with a wonderful philanthropist that supports so many charities. He and his wife are very giving people – very caring. This couple has a real compassion to help those families that need help in their community.

During our conversation with this gentleman I happened to mention that I missed seeing them at a particular auction which had taken place months prior.

His response was somewhat startling. He said, “I love the event. It’s always a lot of fun. But, I got to tell you, I feel the charity likes our money more than they like us.”

Boy or boy does that speak volumes! Donors should never, ever feel as if they are just dollar signs.

Just as wealthy people consider money a tool – money which they put to good use – the charity also has tools which they could put to good use – especially on their wealthy donors. And the best news of all these tools would cost the charity very little – if anything.

 

So, what tools does a charity have that it could share with a major donor so they feel appreciated – and not feel as if they are simply dollar signs? Here are just a few examples.

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  • Hand written notes. This simple gesture goes a long way in telling your donors they are appreciated.
  • Send a great photograph to your donor which shows them contributing at the last event. And make sure it’s in a nice frame.
  • Take that great photograph of your donor – duplicate it – and put it in a visible area within the charity’s offices. Nothing would say we appreciate you more.
  • Take donors on a personalized tour of your facility so they can see firsthand where and how their donations are being utilized. Better yet, give them a personalized tour of a facility, connected with the charity, that’s usually off limits to the public. (An example of this could be a shelter for abused women.)

It’s the charity’s responsibility to make their donors feel as if they are a part of the charity. These donors are gracious with their money. The charity needs to be gracious and give something back and not just be there with a hand held out.

Now here’s something charities don’t often adhere to: Audience development is a year-round program.

 

Charities should not just suddenly appear before a donor every time they want someone to write them a check. Charities are not being very grateful or gracious if that’s what they do.

Charities need to love and appreciate their donors 12 months a year. In return, donors will love the charity come the night of their next auction.

In conclusion, make the donors feel they are valued, show them their gifts are used in a meaningful way and appreciate them for the people they are – and not just dollar signs.

 

 

 

In an earlier Blog I talked about the need for some charitable organizations to spend some of their money to hire and retain competent and quality employees. I realize donors want to see – and prefer – 100 percent of their donations going to the “cause” and not into “operation costs” which includes the hiring of a staff.

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However, as long as the money is spent wisely, the hiring of a competent staff – and that includes everyone from the Top Brass to the receptionist – more than pays for itself in the long run.

Simply stated, “Employee turn-over can easily turn into fundraising turmoil.” There is a price to pay for consistency. But considering all the benefits – it’s a small price to pay.

Staff turn-over is a constant problem in the fundraising universe and perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the Not-For-Profit world. The departure of Development Directors and CEO’s is fairly common place.

The reasons for their departure vary widely.

But, one of the main reasons is – they are forced out. This usually happens when new members of the Board of Directors are brought in with “change” on their agenda.  No Development Director or CEO of a charitable organization wants to continue working feverishly for a Board that questions their methods, their role – or even worse – simply doesn’t unanimously want them there.

Another main reason for their departure is a new job opportunity. When a better position opens up at another organization – and if a Development Director or CEO doesn’t feel he or she has the full backing of the Board of Directors – they can’t pack their boxes and depart their old office fast enough.

Now, here are the three primary motivators for people leaving a Not-For-Profit organization.

  • Not feeling fulfilled by their work
  • Require more money to sustain their family
  • Perception of lack of teamwork by other staff members or volunteers

So now the question arises, “What can be done to retain these top staffers?

Scott Robertson

Well, it all begins with hiring the “right fit” in the first place. CEOs and Development Directors are a bit like fundraising auctioneers. If you hire the best fit for the organization they’ll pay for themselves many times over.

From my experience, the “least expensive” hiring option, which many organizations do as a way to save money, is often the most expensive in the long run due to a lack of talent and the inability of that person to bring in the necessary “donor dollars.”

There are two other things the organization must do to retain the right person in this leading role.

First, the Board needs to exhibit confidence in its CEO or Development Director and the direction he or she is taking the organization.  Secondly, the Board needs to show appreciation for the job being done. Nothing creates “happy feelings” like a good pat on the back.

The lack of confidence and the lack of appreciation are two leading causes of employee loss.  And each time a CEO or Development Director moves on to another position, most of the momentum they generated is lost. That’s because the new CEO or DD comes in with a different attitude, a different set of skills – and all of these require time to overcome.

I realize Not-For-Profits are businesses and should be run as such. But they also need to hire the best they can afford, support those they hire and do what is needed to keep them engaged, productive and happy.  It’s a winning formula for both parties.

Audience Management

Posted by Scott On February 12th

I’d like to take you back in time to your classroom years. Can you hear the school bell ringing signaling the start of a new school day?  Can you smell the food being prepared in the cafeteria kitchen?  Can you hear someone running down the hallway trying to get to class before the teacher closes the door to begin his or her lesson?

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Now, I’d like for you to think of your favorite teacher.  You know the one.  It was the class you looked forward to attending every day because the teacher had a passion for what they were teaching.  And their passion became the student’s passion.

What you might not have thought about back then is that the teacher, because of his or her passion for and knowledge of the subject they were teaching and his or her preparation prior to starting the lesson, had total control of the classroom.  It was a control fashioned through positivity – not negativity.

In many ways a benefit auctioneer is exactly like your favorite teacher.

If a professional fundraising auctioneer is doing his job correctly, he or she has great control over the audience. They don’t gain control by being in the guest’s faces, slamming books on a desk or having someone stand in the corner. They do it through their presence, their experience, their knowledge of the charity and their passion for raising money for a great cause. If the auctioneer is good, this should all appear effortless.

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Personally speaking, I won’t work with a group if I don’t believe in their cause. I also won’t conduct an auction until I’ve done my homework and have a total understanding of the charity and its motive and purpose for needing the funds.

Hopefully, during the auction, the auctioneer communicates his passion through body language, facial expressions and gestures, and of course through the words he speaks while on stage or on the event floor.

An auctioneer, like a teacher, should never demand control of the room. It should always be earned without the audience ever being aware of it.  And the best way to earn control is through Presence, Preparation and Passion.

By demonstrating these 3 P’s, you can add to more to your event when it concludes – Perfection and Profitable.

 

Over-Serving Guests Leads To Under-Serving Cause

Posted by Scott On February 5th

There’s no doubt some of you have spent a little time in a casino or know someone who has. At the very least you’ve heard stories about slot and table players receiving free drinks as an enticement for them to continue their play – and because of the alcohol – spend a little more money than they had originally planned.

Serving free drinks is a great marketing tool for casinos. And they do it for a specific reason – to make more money. However, when it comes to charitable fundraising events I highly discourage the practice for a number of reasons.

 

Drinks-delicious-recipes-23444788-1024-768What I’m about to describe is an actual event which occurred recently. I think it will serve as a prime example of how over- serving the guests at your event will actual hurt your bottom line – not increase it.

During the cocktail hour and silent auction the charity had a raffle for a cooler of alcohol. The contents of the “Cooler of Cheer” were all donated bottles of various liquors. Guests were invited to buy raffle tickets with the winning ticket taking home the entire cooler.

It sounds like a great idea – except for one twist. When a guest purchased a raffle ticket they were also given a shot.  If the guest bought 3 raffle tickets he or she was given 2 shots.

No one likes to drink alone. So those who bought 3 tickets and had 2 shots in front of them usually invited a friend over to join in on the festivities. The friend who just came over now decides to reciprocate and purchases 3 tickets too. Now he’s given 2 more shots which of course he shares with his friend.

By the time the raffle is over the room has a good number of people with 3 to 4 shots in them – and that’s not counting what they consumed before this all began.

Now, the meal comes and a little later the live auction is about to begin. The guests who consumed the straight alcohol are now “three shots to the wind.” Not only do they feel over-served, they are tired, sometimes disruptive during the live auction and pay less attention to what’s going on. As a result of being some guests being over-served – the fundraising effort of the live auction suffers.

In an earlier Blog I talked about non-alcohol events. My conclusion was they are not the way to go – not even if the charity deals directly with the social issues that come from drinking.

 

You want your guests to have fun. Non-alcohol events tend to be quiet and dull and a real challenge to build emotion in the room. And fundraising is all about emotion.

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On the other hand an event should never be set up where guests could be over-served.  Remember, your goal is to make sure your guests have fun, remain happy and healthy throughout the course of the evening and perhaps most importantly, make good decisions at your event.

A little bit of alcohol is wonderful.  Too much alcohol has the real potential of backfiring on your fundraising efforts.

Remember, too many “bottoms-up” leads to “bottom line down.”

 

 

Making Sense of Percentages

Posted by Scott On January 29th

If you’re a television viewer, during the course of any day you’ll find yourself watching a commercial for some national or international charity asking for a donation.

percentages

Many times they only ask for a small, very affordable amount to be pledged on a monthly basis. You know the ones. Save these sad looking dogs in cages. Help feed these starving children in a third world country.

It’s not unusual that during the commercial the voice-over artist announces that 85 percent of all donations go directly to the charity to fight their worthy cause.

The reason for them doing this is quite simple.  The charity believes the higher the percentage they receive from the total donations coming in – the more the public will be willing to give – and be confident about it.

I know this may come as a surprise to some, but I really take issue with the “percentage” marketing technique. It’s not always about the percentage the charity uses for the cause versus administration or operation costs. To me it’s simply about the total dollars raised.

Let me explain.

Continue reading “Making Sense of Percentages” »

A Fun Event Begins With the Auctioneer

Posted by Scott On January 22nd

In countless number of Blogs I’ve mentioned the word “Fun!” To be more specific, I used that word to describe what a fundraising auction should be.

It’s the responsibility of the Event Chair and his or her committee to make sure their event is entertaining and fresh. Your guests for the event, who are giving of their time and money, are expecting nothing less.

Scott Robertson

I forgot to mention one additional individual whose job it is to make sure the attendees of the fundraiser have a great time – and that’s the auctioneer.

In the course of my 20-plus years as a Professional Benefit Auctioneer I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from past Event Chairs regarding the auctioneer they hired or the volunteer auctioneer they decided to go with as a means to save a few dollars.

Their overall complaint?  The lack of energy in the room!

I often think of this scenario as a comic on stage. Every joke he or she tries to tell the quieter the room becomes. Nobody likes to bomb. That’s because bombing means the comedian as well as the audience had no fun.

I’m not suggesting that joke telling at a fundraising event is the answer. What I am suggesting is that the auctioneer for your event – whether hired or a volunteer – must radiate enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is contagious.  The more fervor your auctioneer has for the cause the more the attendees pay attention and the more they get involved in the auction itself. And the more they are entertained the more fun they’ll have.

I’ve been very fortunate. Not an auction goes by, at which I’m the auctioneer, that I don’t hear the words, “You looked like you were having so much fun.  We were having fun right along with you.”

Those are great words to hear.  I have a deep passion for what I do – those charities that call on my services – and the families they’re aiming to help.

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To me, it’s all about passion – all about enthusiasm. If your auctioneer is not passionate or enthusiastic how can you expect your audience to be passionate or enthusiastic?  You want your guests to have both and the conduit to having an enjoyable, fun event is your auctioneer.

Remember, there’s a good reason why the word “fundraiser” begins with the letters F-U-N!

 

May I Have Your Attention Please

Posted by Scott On January 16th

In Part 1 of this Blog I talked about the 6 words you should never say during a fundraising event. For those who didn’t see the first Blog, just take a look at the title above. I also gave a recommendation on what should be said, which I’ll repeat a little later.

In this Blog I want to get more specific regarding 3 questions I’m often asked about announcements during the course of a fundraising event.  Those questions include:

  • How many announcements should be made?
  • What kind of announcements should be made?
  • When should announcements be made during the duration of the social hour/silent auction?

Before I answer those questions I highly recommend that from the very start of an event you have a schedule in place for the entire program and stick with the schedule. This includes when the doors open, the opening and closing of the silent auction, the start of the program, the start of the dinner service and the start of the live auction. The attendees should be aware of these timeframes.

By sticking to the schedule your attendees will be anticipating the start of the various elements within your program.

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Now, Question 1: How many announcements should be made during the social hour and silent auction?

If you’re waiting for a magical number the truth is – I don’t know. Every audience is different.  The key is to keep them to as few as possible and to be strategic about when they are said. Remember, your guests do not like to be interrupted when they’re having fun and conversing with fellow attendees. They will give their attention a finite number of times – so use announcements sparingly.

Question 2: What kind of announcements should be made?

Only interrupt your guests when something meaningful needs to be said. Feel free to welcome guests a few times as they arrive at the venue. If a silent auction item isn’t receiving its fair share of bids due to its location in the room it’s perfectly acceptable to make the attendees aware of it.

Now, here’s an example of an announcement that should never be made, “May I have your attention please!  Bill Smith please go to the registration table your friends are here.”

Simply put, you do not ask everyone for their attention when you’re trying to find a single individual. Instead of making a public announcement you send out your volunteers to canvas the venue, locate him, and give him the message – privately.

Talking in to Mic

Question 3:  When should announcements be made during the duration of the social hour/silent auction?

Again, every fundraiser is different, but here are my suggestions. Deliver a few welcome announcements at the beginning of the event.  During the course of the silent auction limit announcements to those silent auction items that are not receiving much attention. As the silent auction is getting ready to close, inform attendees that the deadline for the silent auction is near. And finally, get the attendees to take their seats for the start of the program, not by saying – “May I Have Your Attention Please” – but with softer, less intrusive announcement such as, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s so wonderful to have you here tonight. This evening is off to a great start and we so much appreciate your participation in this most worthy cause.”

When it comes to announcements the bottom line is this:  Have a strategy, a timeline going into the event and stick to it. Be sure if you’re asking for someone’s attention it’s for a meaningful message that’s been strategically placed within the timeline – but don’t overdo it.

And at all cost never say, “May I Have Your Attention Please!” Leave the Carnival Barker for the sideshow. Treat your guests with respect. Let them have uninterrupted fun.

Remember, just because a microphone is present doesn’t mean it should be used. The fewer words spoken – the better!

 

May I Have Your Attention Please

Posted by Scott On January 8th

Have you ever been drawn into a sideshow at the circus thanks in part to that colorfully attired and somewhat boisterous guy standing on a raised platform just outside the sideshow tent entrance?

 

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That barker plays a key role in the financial success of the circus. His main goal is to attract attention to the sideshow, describe what the people are going to see or experience, and then getting them to pony up the fee and get them through the gate. The barker’s whole performance is quite entertaining to say the least.

A benefit auctioneer is somewhat of a carnival barker – albeit one with a much more noble cause.

During the course of a fundraising event, our goal is to welcome guests, inform them about what will or is taking place within the venue and to get the guests to participate in things such as the silent auction – to pay the fee if you will.

Here’s where the benefit auctioneer must walk the tight rope. How many times does the auctioneer make announcements during the course of the evening and especially the silent auction?  Well in short – as few as possible.

There are 6 words I absolutely do not want to hear and will never say as a Professional Benefit Auctioneer – and those words are, “May I Have Your Attention Please!” The other 4 words I do not want to hear are, “Everybody please be quiet!”

Not only do I refuse to say these phrases, I dread when I hear someone else ask for the attention of the audience at a fundraising auction.  This is especially true during the social hour, the time when the silent auction and raffles are usually taking place. Guests are having fun – they’re having conversations with other attendees.  Nothing shuts down the fun and the conversations more than a “May I Have Your Attention” interruption.

So what do you say and when do you say it to get your guests to head to their tables for instance? Well, first of all, you do it on schedule. Since the attendees are aware of the schedule they are anticipating when the different programs within an event will start.

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As for the words to grab their attention, I recommend the soft, pat-them-on-the-back approach such as, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is so wonderful to have you here tonight. This evening is off to a great start and we so much appreciate your participation in this most worthy cause.”

 

By using this kind of language the guests become quiet and attentive on their own. And the best part is they don’t feel like they’ve been interrupted.

You must remember, auctions are all about emotions. And if you set the wrong tone at the beginning by consistently interrupting people they will start to take offense. That quickly changes the positive energy in the room into negative energy – and that’s the last thing you want to do.

I have a great deal more to say about this topic but it will have to wait until Part 2 of this blog.

Some of the questions I’ll be answering are: How many announcements should be made, what kind of announcements should be made and when should they be made during the duration of the social hour/silent auction?

My answers just might surprise you.

 

 

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