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The Virtual Fundraising Gala

Posted by Jessica Geer On March 17th

By Scott Robertson

Thanks to Sara Rose Bytnar and I being in a close network with some of the top fundraising auctioneers in the country, I’ve been able to spend my waking hours learning all that I can about virtual galas. As we know, information is constantly emerging and flexibility is key in situation such as this.  Here is what I know as of today, March 17, 2020.

These are strange times for our nation.  Many fundraising galas have cancelled or postponed their events as advised by government officials.   If your organization is wondering how you’ll be able to continue funding those you serve with a postponed or even cancelled fundraising event, I encourage you to consider a Virtual Fundraising Gala.

This method may not work for every organization and their supporters, however it’s an innovative way to keep your organizations cause at the forefront of your supporters minds during these unsettling times.

Below are a few tips for conducting a Virtual Fundraising Gala.

Event Details

  • If possible; keep your event date. Your philanthropists have already obligated themselves to the date and changing the date could create additional issues for scheduling.
  • Be decisive – decide on a date, a format, a theme, and stick with it. Just like a traditional gala be expecting suggestions and quick criticism for any and all decisions. Changing your mind to fit committee members whelms based upon what they think may be a good idea will add confusion and in stressful times, no one likes confusion. These are uncharted waters which we are attempting to navigate and everyday/hour we are learning more and more. At Scott Robertson Auctioneers our full focus is formatting plans to help our clients anyway and every way we can, including Virtual Fundraising Galas
  • Prepromotion and email marketing prior to the event is critical, be sure to include specific instructions on how to bid and participate. Social Media is perfect for communicating with your philanthropists.
  • Encourage watch parties to gather friends and supporters in small groups together to watch. This will make it more fun for the viewers as well as help to increase the feeling of comradery to support the cause. If appropriate encourage the watch party participants to come in gala wear and share photos from their gatherings with hashtags created for your event.
  • Remember, even in Florida, people can still get “cabin fever” due to the shutdown of any sort of group gathering. A watch party can be an event people can look forward to attending
  • Delivering party favors, gift bags, or gala beverages etc. a few days ahead of the event will keep the event date foremost in their mind.
  • Stay in contact with your donors. Calling, emailing, or using social media to communicate with your donors, especially a few days before the event, is paramount to success.

Technology 

  • Back of the house video and audio support is critical. Enlisting the help of an experienced team of AV professionals that have the equipment and expertise for live streaming will be worth their weight in gold. Yes, you could do this on your iPhone or android but why take the chance?
  • Broadcast sound, while this is dependent in large part to the users internet strength and speaker grade but the broadcast quality going out will only further enhance or decrease the ability for the viewers to hear. If viewers can’t hear we’re likely going to frustrate and loose them.
  • AV Company can use live shots, recorded videos, power point slides, etc., to promote and discuss live auction items on the live stream and special appeal.
  • Make sure that everyone has a list of phone numbers to call if they are experiencing technical difficulties. Every cell phone in the studio audience should be available for ppl to call in if they’re having challenges.   This is another good reason to have a good AV company in studio.

 

The Broadcast

  • Someone needs to be the director/producer for the broadcast. They make are the decision maker and are charged with keeping the broadcast flowing
  • For live streaming there are several choices, the ones I’m aware of are  Facebook Live, Youtube Live, Vimeo, WebX or other webinar hosting platforms. Additional hosting sites are coming up daily as they retrofit to be useful for virtual galas.
  • You need to have a place to create a studio. It’s likely affective to use pipe and drape in the background. You may already have a “stand and repeat” banner you had planned to use as a backdrop for photos. Your AV company should be able to provide this in additional to other equipment such as lighting, microphones, audio mixing boards, video switching devices, and most important; the knowledge to tie all of this equipment together to make it work.
  • A studio audience is a must. The studio audience should consist of a core group of staff and supporters (team members) i.e. auction chairs, development director, CEO and other known staff that would normally be supporting your gala. This studio audience will be helpful for your emcee and auctioneer  to work in front of.  Late night talk show hosts go into millions of homes but thrive on having a studio audience of 100 or so people so the on-stage talent can have a better feel for timing, laughter, etc.  Here, of course, our studio audience would be 10 or less.
  • The on-air personalities will need confidence monitors to monitor on line bidding, what the live audience is seeing, and what is coming up.
  • Latency – that’s the delay that you have with live streaming. For some providers it’s 10 sec others its 30 seconds. This eliminates the ability for the auctioneer to utilize the live auction chant. This technology is likely to get better but for right now we just have to plan that there is going to be a delay.
  • Encourage the studio audience to engage with the program; applaud, laugh etc.
  • The broadcast should be fun and interesting. This is where your professional fundraising auctioneer will shine.  They know the language, they have no fear of being in front of a camera or large group. They know what to say, and when (and how) to say it.   Other people can be and should be included but be sure to leave the heavy lifting of fundraising predominantly with your fundraising auctioneer.
  • An emcee is needed to keep things flowing, make announcements, and banter with the auctioneer.
  • “Instances” is a live streaming term that essentially means, each viewing element is an instance. The auctioneer, emcee, PowerPoint slides, videos, sponsor slides are all instances. Remember the more instances you have the more opportunity to have something mess up.
  • Good chemistry between emcee and the auctioneer is important for purposeful and humorous banter. The folks watching at home will be quick to pick up if there is tension on the set.
  • Many of the same things you would do at a traditional gala (as far as production goes) will hold true for live streaming. Such as testimonials either live or pre-recorded on video, entertainment, other videos, PowerPoint slides, etc. Just do not make your production too complicated.
  • Remember, when you’re live on air, you’re live. So, practice, practice, practice!  Even with all of our new found technology it is important to practice exactly how the virtual gala will run start to finish.

 

Mobile Bidding

  • Using a mobile bidding platform is a must.
  • Use a platform that has expertise in this area not just the lowest cost option. I’ve communicated with many of the mobile bidding companies and ALL are racing to develop a better platform for virtual galas, but as of today it seems that Greater Giving is leading the way.
  • The mobile bidding platform would be utilized during the silent auction. You should close the silent auction before the live auction so they don’t compete. 
  • The paddle raise/special appeal portion can be done starting at high numbers and working our way down, just as a standard in person gala.
  • Matching gifts are especially helpful at virtual auctions.

As with every fundraising gala, challenges will arise.  However, with the right team, equipment and fundraising auctioneer on your side, a Virtual Gala can provide needed funds to support the organization’s beneficiaries and remind donors why their support is needed now more than ever.

Questions?  Visit our website for more information or contact us, we’re ready to help!

The Day After an Event is No Time to Relax

Posted by Jessica Geer On March 7th

You just hosted a great event the previous evening. You feel really good. The event exceeded expectations for fundraising. Everything went smoothly. You’re feeling very proud of yourself and your team. And you should feel proud. Congratulations. That was a job well done.

However, if you’re thinking; “Now that that’s behind me I can take the day off to get some rest. I’ll deal with all those small details that we need to take care of in the next week or two. I deserve a little break.” Think again!

The day after the event there are two very important things that need to be done.

One is to write down everything that went well and everything that was challenging or needs improvement. This information will be revealed during the debriefing meeting that will be held in the near future and executed during next year’s event.

The second thing, and perhaps even more important, is to get on the phone and call the generous people who donated to your cause – who made the event so successful – and to say thank you.

It doesn’t have to be a long phone call. It doesn’t have to be from the CEO. It can be from volunteers. It can be from board members. It can be from almost anyone. Just call.

Remember, a timely phone call placed the day after the event is not interfering in your attendees’ lives – it’s going to make them feel very grateful for attending and giving. Pre-write the script and keep your thank you short. Have just a few talking points and remind them where the money is going. But most of all, just extend your gratitude.

We all know that everyone is busy and not always at home or in their office. This could mean your call will be forwarded to voicemail. That brings up the question; “Should I leave a message of thanks, or call the donor back at a later time and talk to him or her in person?” Now this answer may surprise you – Leave the Message.

Voicemails work even better to your favor because you’re going to be able to say what you wish to say and extend your gratitude, and it’s going to take less time. Leaving a voicemail is just as good as speaking with the person on the phone. Don’t be afraid to do it.

The important thing to remember is to extend your gratitude to the donors immediately the next day – while they still have the euphoria for giving. Two weeks down the road, your event will be a past memory.

And don’t ask them for their support next year, just stay in the present. Extend your gratitude for this year. If you do that, you and your charity will be viewed as people who truly care and are truly grateful.

So, write that short script. Then burn up the phone lines. If they’re not home, leave a message. It will pay off in dividends for years to come. And, hey, it’s the right thing to do.

 

Keeping in Touch with Donors

Posted by Jessica Geer On June 19th

Ahh summertime – the four months out of the year when people relax and recharge their batteries.  Families head out on vacation. Picnics are held in local parks. Florida folks tend to head to cooler climates. And charities reconnect with their donors.

Oh, did that last one throw you off?  Well, let me explain.

Summertime is the best time to reach out to those donors and supporters who gave so generously at your last fundraiser or auction. That’s because your event was probably held between October and May so you’re in that ‘tween stage. The last event is a distant memory but the next event is heading for the spotlight.

It’s always important to remind your donors and supporters that the money they gave last time is being utilized successfully and frugally. Saying thank you – whether it be by spoken word or written note – is important and much appreciated by those who gave.

But it’s even more important that your donors and supporters understand the money they gave previously is being invested wisely and really changing the lives of those for whom the donation was intended.

This summertime reconnection with donors and supporters should be packaged in a three-level message. Here’s an example.

Let’s say a portion of the money raised at your last event was going toward funding reading or math tutoring sessions for students. The message you send to donors and supporters should include the following:

1)   A Message From A Student.  Nothing is more powerful than a grateful quote from a student who is being helped by the tutoring program because the donation is shaping his or her life for the better.

2)   A Message From The Tutor.  This person is not only the engineer guiding the train of knowledge, but is an eye witness to the progress of the life-enhancing, one-student classroom.

3)   A Message From The Director or CEO.  Yes, this is from whom donors and supporters would typically expect to receive a message. This person is important since he or she can give an overall picture of the program, explain how many students the program helped and how it made a difference in their lives. This is also a good note to

include a simple sentence of “save the date” to reconfirm the date of your upcoming event.

Of course, this technique can be tailor made to reflect the charity you represent. So, even if it’s the dog days of summer, be sure to reconnect with your donors and supporters.  This is the ideal time of the year to let them know their previous donation is being put to good use.

This will accomplish two things. It will make them feel good about the money they gave and just might open their wallets a little wider or make their checks a little heavier the next time they attend your event.

Have a great summer!

 

 

2016; Another Record Breaking Year

Posted by Jessica Geer On February 24th

Well, another year has come and gone. And I’m happy to report 2016 was another record-breaking year for Scott Robertson Auctioneers.

We hosted 68 fundraising auctions during those 52 weeks.  And as New Years’ Eve turned into New Years’ Day, the combined total of those auctions reached $35,319,700. Our previous record, which was set in 2015, was just under $29,438,000.

When 2012 started, Sara Rose Bytnar and I had set a personal goal to raise $50 million for charities and organizations within four years. In March of last year, we crossed the $100 million mark. That doubled our original goal in just four years and three months. Here are the actual annual totals for the past five years.

2012 – $14,853,100

2013 – $21,757,360

2014 – $28,152,250

2015 – $29,437,980

2016 – $35,319,70

Total:  $129,520,390

 

Although we are proud of every auction we host, we are especially delighted in six auctions. They include:

  1. *$4,600,000 raised at the Sonoma Wine Weekend Auction, in Sonoma CA.
  2. *$3,205,500 raised at the Philbrook Museum of Art Wine Experience in Tulsa.
  3. *$2,800,000 raised during the Southwest Florida Wine and Food Fest in Fort Myers.
  4.  *$2,300,00 raised at the Immokalee Charity Classic in Naples.
  5.  *$2,057,000 raised at the FARA Energy Ball in Tampa.
  6.  *$1,200,000 raised at Magic Under the Mangroves for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples.

In addition to raising record-setting dollars, 2016 held some other highlights for Sara and I.

To start with, Sara competed in the International Auctioneer Championship, and was named First Runner-Up. In the world of auctioneering this is a huge honor.

I was selected to be on the Education Committee for the National Auctioneers Associations’ Conference & Show which will be held in Columbus, Ohio in July. I’m currently lining up presenters on my favorite subject – and passion – “How to Make the Most of Your Benefit Auction.”

In August, I presented at the Benefit Auctioneers Summit, sponsored by the National Auctioneers Association and held in San Diego, CA. One hundred twenty four of the top fundraising auctioneers in the USA attended this year’s event.  

Speaking of the National Auctioneers Association, at last summer’s Conference & Show, I took a 3-day course on Social Media marketing. The class dealt with Facebook specifically and was very educational. Sara had taken this class previously and convinced me of its importance. We are firm believers that you need to constantly be reinventing yourself by keeping up with the times. And you simply cannot ignore the impact social media has on today’s world. Even the world of Benefit Auctions.

And finally, I was selected to do 3 live webinars on the subject of Time Lines for Benefit Auctions. These webinars are co-hosted and sponsored by Winspire, a company that offers travel and trip experiences for auctions and other charitable events on a consignment basis.

My first webinar was held in December. It dealt with the subject of Silent Auction timelines and more than 650 people, from around the country, registered for it. On Tuesday, January 17, I’ll be discussing the topic of timelines for Live Auctions and on Tuesday, January 31, I’ll be discussing the topic of timelines for Special Appeals aka Fund-a-Need. Each webinar lasts an hour-and-a-half.

For more information regarding the webinars and to register to listen to them once they’re recorded and aired live, go to our website www.thevoe.com.

So, that wraps up 2016. It was a very rewarding and satisfying 365 days. But, a new year is now upon us. We have new challenges to meet. More money to raise. And more children, families, and animals to help.

 

 

FB like button

Social Media has revolutionized how we communicate with friends, family, and brands. For decades, the most coveted form of advertising has been word-of-mouth, and now, social media has created a platform where everyone can take part in the conversation. For example, the “Like” button on Facebook has changed how we share information. Every time we “Like” a comment, post, photo, video, or company/organization page, that information is used and perceived in a few ways. If you’re a non-profit, and you can leverage that information, you will be well on your way to being relevant to the next generation of donors.

Facebook is watching your every move.

When you “Like” anything on Facebook, in essence, you are creating your own buyer profile for marketers to target you. “Like” your favorite restaurant or department store page. You will see similar ads show up in your newsfeed for products related to those pages. Do you ever notice when you visit Nordstrom’s website, eyeing a pair of shoes, they magically show up in your newsfeed? It’s powerful stuff! Now, think how you might be able to leverage these tools to reach potential donors and start creating a brand.

Everyone is a spokesmen when using social media, and it has changed how we make purchases.

Continue reading “Social Media for Non-Profits: Building a Culture of Giving One “Like” at a Time” »

Avoidable Train Wrecks at Fundraising Auctions

Posted by Scott On April 17th

I truly love what I do. 

However sometimes my passion at a fundraising event is misinterpreted causing those who’ve hired me to feel as if I’m personally attacking their organization – or a person within their organization.

Scott Robertson AuctioneerThe reason for these hard feelings?  I can see a train wreck coming and I just told the organizers:

  • What type of train it is
  • How fast it’s approaching
  • And when it will hit.

The approaching train wreck comes in many forms.  It could be a gaffe in the timeline or a problem with the speaker about to address the audience.  It could be a Live Auction item, a display issue or even a potential bottleneck due to the layout of the room.

There are so many variables at an auction.

If those variables are done correctly it will enhance the event and there won’t be a train wreck.  If those variables are implemented incorrectly it will hurt the event and create a potential train wreck situation.

Knowing the difference between the two scenarios is the reason for my dilemma. The question is: Do the event organizers want to know a train wreck is coming or not?

When it comes to approaching train wrecks I work with two different mindsets.

Continue reading “Avoidable Train Wrecks at Fundraising Auctions” »

to helm and back - Scott Robertson AuctioneersI’ve always said a successful fundraising event is a team effort. It takes months of pre-planning and an excellent committee and volunteer staff to pull all the pieces together.  Having each individual member know the exact role they will be playing during the event is crucial to its flawless execution.

The Event Chair and his or her committee and volunteers have an advantage over a Professional Auctioneer, such as myself, who does not live in their particular city. They know the key players and the main donors that will be attending.

Since I am the out-of-towner, some Event Chairs and Board Members may consider it a disadvantage to their fundraising efforts if they hire me as their Professional Auctioneer since, in some cases, I’ve never practiced my craft of auctioneering for them before.  They feel I won’t know their audience.

Although it’s an initial legitimate concern, the fact is the “not knowing their VIPs” can be easily overcome.  It’s just a matter of four easy steps:

  1. Create an attendee yearbook
  2. Facilitate some warm introductions
  3. Generate a roster of bidders
  4. Produce informative bidding paddles

Let me start with the first…the yearbook.

Continue reading “How to Help Your Auctioneer Learn Your Audience” »

Success street signIt’s the moment Event Chairs look forward to the most – the “turning off the lights” as their latest fundraiser comes to a close. Exhausted, they reflect back. The guests had fun. The event was a success.  Lots of money was raised.  Now it’s time to relax until the planning begins for next year’s event. HOLD ON!  NOT SO FAST. There’s one more step to go.

Just as important as the event’s pre-planning and execution is the debriefing meeting.  Preferably this meeting should take place within 3 days of the event – but never more than 2 weeks.  Remember, the earlier the better. This way everyone’s memories of the event are still vivid and wouldn’t have begun to fade with the passage of time.

Knowing what went right and what went wrong during an event is crucial to building even more successful fundraisers in the future.

So, it’s also very important for those involved in the event to write their thoughts down on paper – both positive and negative – within 24 hours of the event and then to bring those notes to the debriefing meeting.

These thoughts should span the time frame from before the doors opened until the last guest departed. Every element of the program is fair game. That includes the registration process, the cocktail hour, the silent auction, the dinner, the live auction, the entertainment, the checkout and the valet line.

As a guide to help you along your way – and to keep the conversation civil and on topic – I’m happy to present the format your debriefing meeting should take, how it should be conducted and who should be involved.

By the way, the debriefing meeting should be scheduled weeks prior to the actual event.  This way everyone associated with the fundraiser has it on their calendars and know when it’s going to occur.

To reiterate, the debriefing meeting should take place within 3 days of the event.  Under no circumstances should it ever take place more than 2 weeks after an event.

Now, as to who should attend the meeting…

Continue reading “Why Debriefing Meetings are Essential to the Success of Your Future Fundraisers” »

Event Coordinator’s Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by Scott On March 19th

I’ve said it many times – the Event Coordinator is the key to a perfectly planned and executed fundraiser. (Note:  For the purposes of this article, I’m describing the person in charge of the event the Event Coordinator.  This person may be a trained professional, a staff member or a volunteer.)

With that clarification, I’m happy to reveal my list of 4 Do’s & Don’ts for Event Coordinators on the night of the event.

One of the mistakes they make is not getting ready for the event in a timely fashion.

Chances are, on the day of the event, the Event Coordinator has been at the venue since early to mid-morning.  And, the closer time gets to the doors opening, the more the Event Coordinator becomes increasingly nervous.

So, here’s my first helpful suggestion. Sign that says "Help!"

1. DO get ready for the event in a timely fashion.

If the event begins at 6 p.m. the Event Coordinator should have eaten and gotten dressed by 4:30pm and re-arrived at the venue between 60 to 90 minutes ahead of the doors opening.  That should give him or her plenty of time to relax prior to the event and then to deal with any loose ends once (s)he returns to the venue.

Too often the Event Coordinator delays getting themselves ready until the last minute and by the time (s)he arrives, panic sets in because of all the final details which still need to be addressed. This creates too much stress on the Coordinator, as well as the staff and volunteers. You do not want your guests arriving to a panic-filled room.

2. Don’t assign yourself duties the night of the fundraiser.

Most people know the line of thinking, “It’s just easier to do everything myself.” Well, that might be true, but it’s not the best use of the Event Coordinator’s time.

Far in advance of the event, the Event Coordinator should have delegated duties to another committee member or volunteer. Running around looking for a replacement silent auction bid sheet is not good use of the Event Coordinator’s time. Delegate that responsibility. This will give the Event Coordinator time to focus on the bigger issues that may be looming on the horizon.

Here’s a great tip.  The Event Coordinator should be given a designated area within the venue during the final hour or so before the doors open.  This will give the staff and volunteers a specific location to go to in an effort to get their questions answered quickly. When the doors open, the Event Coordinator should remain in this area for the same reasons.

Continue reading “Event Coordinator’s Do’s and Don’ts” »

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.

worth my weight in sold-fundraising auctioneer

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.