Welcome to The Brainstorm

Join me here at The Brainstorm any time you're feeling creative and ready to think about this year's event, OR if you just need a boost!

The Brainstorm is designed to be quick bursts of fundraising or fundraising event best practices or creative NEW ideas.

Jama Smith, Owner
National Benefit Auctions & Events
Brand your event carefully and passionately!

Brand Your Event Carefully & Passionately!

"Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room." ~ Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

Where your next fundraising event is concerned, I would also suggest that your branding is exactly what will make potential guests talk about you when you're not in the room.  Brand carefully!  Do not ignore the importance of branding.

As always, it is a bad idea to just keep throwing together the same old event.  Make every year special.  Let your donors know that they are important enough to deserve your best.  They deserve to be a part of this year's special brand.

The Brand of your yearly fundraiser is the point at which your message, theme, and basic image/visual come together.  With one look, I should know that I want to be a part of this event!

Let's look at all three quickly:

Message - This is the one single sentence that you want all donors and all volunteers to have in their mind at all times.

Theme - This is the creative overview of this year's event.  Some years this may be a party type theme (Gatsby, Hollywood, etc...).  Some years this may simply be an overall visual or color scheme.

Image/Visual - You should have 1-3 images, design parts, or photos that you utilize on all materials for this year's event.  When I see those images...even without words...I think of this year's event.

NOW, and this is where it gets good, put them all together.  When it works and you begin to get excited...you may have found your brand for this year.

Your message and theme need to make sense together.  This is not prom!  This is your very important fundraising event.  You cannot have a Gatsby theme if you cannot find the sentence that connects that notion to my giving spirit.

Once those two are connected, you probably already have a visual in your mind.  Now find a way to create that visual so that it is easily reproduced for marketing materials.

Finally, float this idea by a few people who are complete uninvolved.  Did it make sense to them?  If they got a little excited...you have found your brand and are ready to roll.

Committing to your brand

This brings us back where we started.  For your brand to work...for your brand to make the best impact...all volunteers MUST keep this year's event brand front and center as they each make important decisions for your event.

All marketing materials must stick to the brand and reinforce its meaning.  Absolutely everything your guests experience event night must stick to the brand and reinforce its meaning.  (Your food, your revenue generators, the look of your volunteer team, any thank you gifts, etc...)

It's amazing what creativity can do to our guest and volunteer experiences when we take the extra time and effort to create a BRAND for our event.

Let's get people talking when we're not in the room!

Create Celebration Moments at your event...they will grow your donations!

Celebrate good times....come on!

Oprah Winfrey said, "The more you celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate".  How true is that!?

That notion is so true at your fundraising events as well. 

Imagine you are at a lovely fundraising event.  You're all dressed up.  You have your program in hand and probably a bid or guest number of some kind.  You're enjoying the hors d'oeuvres and talking with friends while perusing the silent auction before dinner.  The food is excellent and it's so very nice to walk around and maybe chat with your spouse after a long work week.  What a perfect quite night this is.  At 7pm, the announcement is made that dinner is ready to be served so you grab another drink and head into the dimly lit dinner space.  What a perfectly lovely evening!

Now, image that you are at another lovely fundraising event.  You're all dressed up.  You have your program and bid/guest number in hand.  You're enjoying the hors d'oeuvres and talking with friends who are on their way to the volunteer concierge with a golden helium balloon so that the concierge can get them a front row seat.  The balloon might contain a $100 bill.  Huh??   You visit the silent auction and the volunteer, who saw you walking your dog last night, shows you a Doggie Vacation package that she knows you'll enjoy and tells you that her goal tonight is to get all silent auction items up to at least the yellow line.  ALSO,  if you bid on the yellow line, you will automatically be entered into a drawing to win two tickets to Hamilton the musical!  So, of course, you bid.  Hamilton tickets are impossible to come by!  (While you're at it, you check out SERIOUSLY all silent auction items, because if you want them at all the yellow line is just "item value".  You want those Hamilton tickets!)  A few minutes later the announcer announces that ALL items have been bid up to the yellow line!  You smile because you helped make that happen.  (You go bid again on the Doggie Vacation...and talk the volunteer out of another drawing ticket because you bid yourself up!  You rock.)  A few minutes later as silent auction is closing, everyone in the room is counting down and cheering.  (Soon, you'll know if you won the Hamilton tickets.)  The announcer now tells everyone that there are only three golden balloons left.  You hurry over and purchase the last one.  At that point, everyone in the room cheers because all the balloons have been sold  You made that happen too!  (You hope you win the $100 bill, but you almost forgot that.  By now, you feel excited and you feel like a very big giver.)  Now, it's time for dinner!  You grab another drink and head in...the emcee immediately tells everyone HOW MUCH money has been raised so far tonight.  Everyone cheers and looks around the room.  You are ALL in this together.

While the first scenario sounds like a perfectly lovely dining experience, that's NOT what you've been charged to create.  

Plan reasons to celebrate with your crowd and create that sense of "doing" as you plan your revenue generators.  Your celebrations should match your event theme and should compliment the personality of your crowd.  Celebrations should make guests feel special as well as draw attention to the revenue generator being celebrated.  Celebrations remind us why we're there and create urgency in our giving.  Think of it as super awesome peer pressure.  

Plan celebrations and you WILL have more to celebrate!

Update your planning process!


The definition of insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.  So, then, what is it called in the fundraising world when you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting the SAME results?

Boring. Less productive.  Stale. 

Even when you have the right recipe for a fantastic event that really makes money, you cannot keep cranking that event out in the same way each year.  You will lose money, interest, and volunteers.

Things I hear from groups that have had their event for longer than three years:

" It's so easy.  Everyone just knows what they're doing and does it."

"We just usually do it this way and it works out fine."

"We've been doing this a long time.  Everything just somehow comes together at the end and it all works out."

Things I hear from those same groups:

"People don't seem to care as much as they used to."

"We're thinking about not having our event every year because fewer and fewer people come."

Things I do NOT hear from those same groups:

"Our team is so excited this year, we're trying something  new..."

"We raised more last year then ever before because we..."

"We've had several new people ask to join the committee!"

Folks, I'm going to hurt your feelings a little bit and suggest that if interest is dwindling, everything feels less exciting...and you're making less money...it might be your fault.

But don't feel too badly!  (Or get too mad at me.)  We all get comfortable and start to do things the same old way.  We start asking fewer people to help because it's just easier not to deal with it.  When we do get new committee members, we don't empower them to try new things and make a difference because 'something like that didn't quite work five years ago'.  And then, of course, we lose their energy and eventually their help altogether.

You must update!

1.  If your committee framework has not been updated in the past three years, you are probably NOT functioning in a way that is up-to-date and meaningful.  Seriously, we do NOT communicate, pay bills, order things, shop, choose social settings, invite people to events or ANYTHING like we did three years ago.  How your committee is aligned and how you report  to one another must change!

2.  How you invite guests, treat guests, theme your event, thank guests must be updated every year!  Keep the winning recipe, but add some wonderful new twists.

3.  If you are lucky enough to have committee members for several years...you STILL must add new committee members and allow for their unique take on the subject.

4.  Be brave.  Ask those who don't attend your event WHY they don't choose to attend.  You can't make everyone happy, but are there some repeating thoughts that make good sense when you stop and think about it?  (Ask some of THEM to be on the committee this year!)

You are all amazing individuals!  Your team is made up of volunteers uniquely qualified to put together the best event ever this year!  That's true.

Take the path less traveled this year and update your committee structure AND your event!  Make new and informed choices.  Listen to ideas.  Plan carefully.  Get excited again!  And, see where it takes you.


Call me if you'd like a little help updating your committee structure or planning process.  I'm here to help with time, ideas, and our interactive committee workbook to keep you moving in the right direction!

Four Steps to Getting Exactly What you Want From Donors

Four Steps to Getting Exactly What you Want From Donors

Would you go send a letter to the coffee shop aking them for whatever kind of coffee they'd like to sell you and then wait for them to show up with the coffee some time in the future?

If you did, would you then tell everyone how much that coffee shop doesn't really seem to care because they didn't bring you a coffee...or brought you the wrong coffee??

No!  I don't think you would.  (Furthermore, if you would do that, you need more help than I am prepared to give you with my simple blog.)

That is not how you get coffee and that is most certainly not how successful event teams get amazing donations.

Do this instead:

1.  Visit in person with your potential donors long before your event.  Bring materials with a professional look and feel with you that explain your event, your organization, and the various ways they can help make this event more successful.  Not too wordy, full color materials work best.  Materials branded to your event show that you are serious and that the money they give you will be used professionally and properly.

2.  Be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about every aspect of your upcoming event.  Be descriptive and make certain they realize how this event will feel, what target market will be in the room, and hopefully what has been accomplished in the past because of this event.

3.  Be specific about what you want them to do and what you plan to do for them.  (Don't forget about that last part.  If you plan to put them on a list to thank them...think again.)  Seriously, nobody really wants to be a gold or platinum sponsor.   They don't.  They want a return on their investment.  Tell them what you want and tell them what you want to do for them.

4.  Let your potential donor know WHY you've chosen them in particular.  Do your homework!  Are you actually filling that room with their own target market?  Is this year's silent auction centered around food and dinner dates, and even though they've never been a part of this event in the past you KNOW they wouldn't want to be left out of this section (because they're the new hot tapas spot)?  Very often, if you can prove that you really do think their participation is a good fit, they'll sign up!

This may be a little more work then simply sending out letters to last year's data base, but wow!  What a difference you can make!

Plan to succeed, make your ask, and then work to succeed.

Engage your donors in "The Jump"!

Engage your donors in "The Jump"

What is "The Jump"?

This is where our past donors acknowledge what they've given in the past and decide
to "jump" this year's donation a bit.  Wow.  Why would they do this?...because you
ask them to.

"The Jump" requires a leap of faith from you as well.  Look at last year's numbers
(event, campaign, whatever you're working on).  Consider your organization's needs
for this year.  Put together a few talking points.  Now, check in with those who
 have already proven that your organization is important to them.

Create a time to talk with these important people.  Thank them for all they've done
in the past.  Explain how they've helped created success within your organization.
 Explain what is now needed. Ask them, very specifically, if they would consider
 donating $____ this year.  Be specific.

This may apply to:  event sponsorship, special plea, capital campaign, and more.
You'd be surprised how much success you can have with this approach.  They won't
all say yes...but many will.

Budget for Event $UCCE$$

Budget for Event $UCCE$$

I can't tell you how many times I ask a new client, "How much would you like to make at this event?" and they reply with "As much as possible!"

My brain immediately shouts, "Well then you won't!"  Luckily, my much more reasonable self smiles and begins to explain how extremely important budgeting is to the success of this upcoming event.  In no time, my belief in this truth and the partnership we've already established, has my team excited about actually putting some numbers to our plan so that everyone is ready to do their part and make those numbers a reality!

The truth is this.  When we assign numbers that make sense to the various aspects of our event, we have bench marks and goals that everyone can monitor and help reach!  This is essential to allowing everyone on our team to do their best to impact this year's success.

When all goals are shared, our team can truly see exactly how their efforts fit into the big picture.  The whole process becomes much less "magical", and we all feel more accountable.

There are two levels of Budget Planning for your event.

Level One - Budgeting for the Entire Event
This is most often done between the chair person and a staff member or board member.  This involves every aspect of the event as well as a comparison to last year's numbers.  At this level, we don't want to forget  venue price, food, sound equipment, special yearly donations that certain families will make, etc..  Plan for everything.

Level Two -  Revenue Specific
While everyone on the event planning team should see and have an understanding of the overall budget, this Level Two is where most of our team will focus.  Exactly how much is our Silent Auction chair responsible for creating during the event?  How much do we expect to bring in during Special Plea, and how will we make that number happen?  What is our Sponsorship Team accountable for?  This level is all about the event income.  This is where goals are set....and hopefully, surpassed!

An example that makes sense:

If I am the chairperson of the silent auction table centered around early childhood development and I know that I'm expected to have no more than 8 items on my table and it's expected that my table raise $2000.  Then I know that I need to average 250.00 per item/package.  I can now plan exactly what I would like to see on my table regardless of what was in silent auction last year.  If I plan carefully, it's very possible that I can make just 8-10 phone calls to the right companies who would want to be seen on my table and be done with my procurement (within 7-10 days).  I am now ready to move on to how I want my table to look, etc... My section can look exciting and well planned.  My companies will be well represented during this year's silent auction.  I will plan to let each company know how important their contribution was and how much money they raised.

If I am the chairperson of the silent auction table centered around early childhood development, but I have no other parameters, I am very likely to go to the exact same companies as last year and ask for "Whatever they are willing to donate".  I'm probably going to make lots of phone calls and check back lots of times.  Those companies that I contact know they're just one of many.  They expect to get lost in the piles of stuff in baskets on my table.  I will probably end up with lots of gift certificates and sale items a few days before the event.  I will spend the remainder of my time building baskets and getting them on my table.  The chances that my table will look overstuffed or confusing are right at 99%.  And, worse than anything else, after all that hard work, my guests will say that "silent auction was full of the same old stuff."

You know this makes sense because you've watched it happen too many times.  Commit to a better planning process.  If you're an NBA Client commit to making budget planning a priority approximately 7-9 months ahead of your event.  If you're not yet an NBA Client, give me a call to discuss a new and better planning process for your next important fundraising event.  (260) 925-2796.

Two Biggest Changes to Fundraising Events in the Past 36 Months

What are the two biggest changes being made to successful fundraising events in the past 36 months?

What are those people who are creating the most profitable fundraising events obsessing over?  What do they spend the most time focusing on when planning their important event?

Well, before I answer, I'd like you to be honest and write down what you and your committee spent the most time on in preparation for your most recent dinner auction or other fundraising event?  Was it your theme?  Was is your live auction items?  Was it packaging up your silent auction baskets?

For most of you, it will be auction items in one way or another.

Please stop.

I beg you.  Please please stop.

Your guests are not really coming to your event to buy something.  That's what stores and on line shopping are for!  They're coming to your event in hopes that they will have fun...and, if you ask them correctly, they will share their financial gifts with you.  There are so many many ways to ask them to share their gifts.  And, for those of you who are National Benefit Auctions & Events clients, you KNOW that there's not enough room here to talk about them all.

But, let's take a step back.  Today, we are talking about the two biggest changes to fundraising events in the past 36 months.  The two biggest changes that are affecting the financial outcome of events (auctions and otherwise) are:

1.  Updated Sponsorship Programs with an eye toward ROI (Return on Investment), and
2.  Pre-Event Marketing

Updated Sponsorship Program
Take a look at what you are currently doing.  Are you still putting businesses on lists?  (Platinum, Gold, etc...)  How are they responding to that?

While some larger entities may still have the finances to be a Platinum Sponsor and be happy with that, many other businesses simply cannot afford to pay large sums to be added to a list.  

Take a look at your event from beginning to end and ask yourself, "What marketing opportunities exist simply because we are having this event?"  It's easy to understand that your bar can be sponsored and that your silent auction section can be sponsored, so start there.  What might those sponsorships and the opportunity to be seen with that look of success be worth to a normal size business...or a small business?  Now, open your mind up further.  Could your tickets be sponsored...and NO, not for cost!  For well above the printing cost.  What would that connection and that undivided attention be worth to a small to medium sized business?  Do you produce pre event marketing pieces that could easily be sponsored as well for well above the actual cost of production?  Looking at your sponsorship in a new way can open so many doors to businesses you may have previously been ignoring!

We are regularly seeing our clients double and triple their sponsorship dollars when they break that old mold and consider more honestly what businesses need if they are to partner with us!

Pre Event Marketing
I would absolutely LOVE to see more of you obsessing over this!

Along with Audience Development, I think this aspect of your event should be re-evaluated every single year and an actual well thought out plan put in place immediately!  Be creative!  

Your pre event marketing should have the goal of connecting you mission to your guests to the various ways to give at your event.  This is extremely important!  Again, your guests are not coming to your event or auction to "buy stuff".  If your entire plan is to talk about auction items, you are failing to connect the mission to your guests...and likely failing to connect your guests to all the ways they can give.   Think this through carefully!  Allow your guests to understand your mission before event night!

Open your mind to new and improved pre event marketing.  Make a list of what you did last year...and then make a list of new ideas. Consider social media, planned word of mouth, guest "welcome packets", improved website communication, and more.  Obviously, many pre-event marketing opportunities cross right over into our new sponsorship plan.  

My best advice for 2016 is to obsess on these two key issues!  Carefully plan these two areas of your next event simultaneously before talking to any potential sponsors.  Spend much more time planning and then executing these two very important revenue generators then you do looking for auction items!  Force yourself and your committee to see things differently and you will see financial gain!

...and sure, we can talk about trending auction items in our next Brainstorm issue.

HUGE Mistakes that Everybody Makes!

HUGE Mistakes that Everybody Makes!

I know.  I know.  No one likes to find out that they've been doing it wrong.  But, seriously, doesn't it feel great when you finally do it right? It's worth the slight embarrassment to finally try it differently and get amazing results.

Case in point...how many times have you grabbed a glass of water after eating sauce that was too hot?  It makes perfect sense...until someone tells you that milk is actually what you should grab.  So, one day you try it...and wow!  What a difference!  

There's no shame in not knowing the perfect way to handle something.  The shame is in learning the best way and then continuing to do it in a way that just doesn't produce perfect results.

So, here are 4 HUGE Mistakes that everyone makes as they put their yearly fundraising event together:

1.  Do everything just like it's been done before.  Not only is this a bad idea because it's a boring plan.  But, it is a very bad idea because how we receive information, how we give, how we celebrate, and how we have fun is constantly changing.  You know that!  Even if your yearly event has a basic plan that you want to remain constant (and I agree with that plan), you should always take a step back and look at your event with fresh eyes.  

What new thought or plan would update your event in a meaningful way that guests will love...and will encourage more passionate giving?  Ask a few people who attended last year for the first time.  Ask a few people who have chosen NOT to come in the past.  Do a little research with an open mind.  (Special warning:  Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!  Gather new information to update your event...but don't throw out your successes.  You do not have to do everything that is suggested.  Choose wisely.)

2.  Do everything yourself.  You know you shouldn't do this.  You don't WANT to do this.  But as things get busy, you just start doing everything yourself.  Let's be honest.  You will say it's because "no one else is doing what they're supposed to".  But, more than likely, it's because right that second it's easier to do it yourself than to be patient and work properly with other volunteers.  (You know me.  I say it like it is.  And, yes, I've personally been guilty of this.)  But, in the long run things can't get done as well as they should if you do everything yourself.  If I've struck a cord here, make a note, and when you're through with this article go straight to "Building a Better Volunteer".  Great info on exactly this subject!

3.  Forget it's a fundraiser and focus on the beautiful party.  Ladies and Gentlemen, that's what weddings and birthday parties are for.  That's NOT what you're supposed to be planning.  Fundraising should be your number one objective.  Not centerpieces or costumed waiters...but also not just money.  

Wait. What?  Nope.  Not just money, but rather where those dollars are coming from.  Our guests emotional connection to our cause.  Our communication throughout the event should touch the heart and contribute to the spirit of giving.  This is how you will raise more money than ever before, and the gifts will spill over into the rest of your year.  (Never forget, I'd love to help your team with this.  This is my specialty!)

4.  Throw an auction on top of whatever fundraising event you were planning...why not?!  Auctions can be really fun and create exciting giving...but only when they're planned carefully.  

Throwing an auction in at the last minute is a very good way to really turn your guests off.  Plan every minute of your fundraising event carefully and make sure that your guests know ahead of time how they will be able to contribute that evening.  Allow them the opportunity to get excited about your event and what you've created for them.  And, allow them the opportunity to plan financially how they will contribute.  When you throw a surprise auction in you run the risk that guests will not be prepared to give appropriately for whatever you've thrown in the auction...and that the gift donor will be disappointed with how you've utilized their gift.  (Oh yes, this can absolutely translate to next year's gift giving!)

Have you done some of these?  Probably!  Don't feel bad.  You're not alone.  But now you know.  Try very very hard NOT to repeat these mistakes this year.  Need help?  Let us help!   We love what we do and we are very happy to help.

Why Aren't They Buying Tickets?

Why aren't they buying tickets?  Is it because they don't care?  Is it because you haven't gathered enough items for your auction or raffle?

No!!!  People do care.  They care so much that charitable giving was, once again up in 2015.  They do not care about your auction items.  They care about your organization.

Your team can put together the most amazing event with the best items/experiences ever, but if the right people do not come to the event….everyone’s time will be wasted.   

This cannot be a last minute thought.  And, most importantly, audience development should never be looked at as something you do the same way every year! 

You must continually update your process of inviting.  You must update your means of collecting reservations.  You must update your ability to receive funds.  You must update your invitee list!  You always need new guests.

I simply cannot stress this enough.  If, in your mind, you're thinking, "Well, we always...."...whatever your very next thought is, you should write that down and then commit to NOT doing it that way this year!  

You may incorporate what you've done in the past, but you must add new ways of inviting and securing reservations this year....and then break the mold again next year as well.

Why is this necessary?

It makes perfect sense and you already know the answer.  The way we communicate and the way we receive information and spend money is changing faster than ever before!  

Just look at how you shop for Christmas or get your children registered for school each year.  These are two very different notions, but I'll bet what you're doing this year will be different from what you did last year.  And, what you did last year was very different from what you did in 2013.

If everything we do is changing so much each year, why would we get lazy during the most important event that your organization holds every year and settle in, send invites, and wonder AGAIN why they aren't calling in and making reservations???

How do your potential guests communicate?  What makes them say yes?  I highly suggest that your Audience Development crew have a few good people who know people out there personally (verbally) telling others WHY this organization is important to them.  I know you'll use your most updated form of technology to invite the masses, but take a step back look at some face-to-face options to invite key givers.

Consider who should want to come, who may simply want to come to support you (or specific volunteers), who has benefitted from this organization is the past and may now be in a position to share their gifts...and, are there people in your sphere who will simply be happy to party for a cause?  Don't let yourselves be lazy, ask these questions again and again!  (Year after year!!)

Let's make this part of our event just as exciting, put just as much creativity into it, address the three reasons why people don't attend events...and make it our mission to get the best guests at this year's event.

Top 3 Reason (Survey Says) That People Do Not Attend Events:


  1. They are not personally verbally asked to attend.
  2. They don't think they'll have any fun.
  3. They don't think they'll know anyone.


Ask yourselves, "How will we address these questions before they ask?" Come up with your plan and execute it!  Commit to this year's plan and be excited to do it, and you will see better results.

Even I Will Never Look at our Big Dog in Quite the Same Way!

Even I will Never Look at our Big Dog (Giver) in Quite the Same Way Again!

An updated view of our Big Dog Giver by Jama Smith, National Benefit Auctions & Events.

Not all of my events have an auction, but absolutely all of my events have a Special Plea or Giving Moment where we celebrate with our guests the real reason we are gathered and invite those in attendance to simply give from the heart.  

This is my favorite portion of the evening because it is the most important part of the night!  When done properly, and I'm pretty particular about it, this moment will not only be the largest donation point in the evening, but it will be an incredible energy boost to the crowd and ingnite that feeling that "we are all in this together!"

However, while this is so incredibly important to me (because it is that important to your event) I often have a very difficult time getting my newer clients to understand this.  I find myself so many times having an extremely difficult time getting the team leader to think about their current donors, choose the right person, and simply ask them to kick off their Special Plea with a specific donation.  I get it.  You're all concerned that you'll offend that person...or you're just nervous to have that conversation because it feels uncomfortable.  But it is true 100% of the time that if someone is already a good donor, then you should know that they have a strong desire to help your organization.  This means that if they can help kick off your special plea, they will.  If they cannot afford to at this time, they will have a desire to help find the right person! 

For those of you lost on the title, we call this donor who will kick off your special plea with a specific large gift your "Big Dog".

The reason that we prepare this person to give their gift quickly and with authority is that they willl teach everyone else in the room how we're doing this tonight!  This is what makes our Special Plea such a celebration.  Our Special Plea feels great because our Big Dog leads the room in a true celebration of giving.

Now...last weekend is why I will never look at my Big Dogs in quite the same way.  

Last weekend our Big Dog, in a reaonably small Indiana town, took his job very seriously!  When I told him that his gift would cause others to give because of how he did it, he smiled and walked away into the crowd.

By the time that their silent auction, donation drop, etc.. were over and it was time to be seated for dinner and the auction, he came back up to me to tell me that he had talked to "the others".  (Ladies and Gentleman, "the others" are all the other people who could have been asked to be the Big Dog, but our Team Leader chose him.)  He told me that he had nine ready to go at the same level...with the same "...put that number up in the air right away!" speach that I had given him!  

Man, he got it!  This group really got it!  I feel so blessed to have been there in that room with these people that night.

I am new with them this year.  I know that last year their Special Plea was under $10,000.  This year, through lots of hard work and careful communication...and the leadership of an amazing Big Dog...their Special Plea was just over $39,000. 

I learned a few new things that I will definitely use to teach my newer clients.  I want you to learn that it is absolutely OK to ask your good donors to help in this way.  Given a long enough leash, your Big Dog may just run away with the honor!

Why Don't We Still Macarena?!

Remember that?  That electric beat would fire up and everyone would hit the floor, line up smiling, and proceed to repeat the exact same arm movements while taking quarter turns for the next four and a half minutes.  Everyone loved it!  So, why don't people request the Macarena and run screaming for the dance floor anymore?

And, how about that weird guy at the weddings that blazes a trail to the dance floor for the Cha Cha Slide and eye balls everyone while he attempts to dazzle us all with his creative "slide technique".  Why are we no longer excited about his slide technique?

And, don't get me started on the Bunny Hop....what's that?

These dances were so new and fun at one time.  Why are they not as exciting now? Obviously, they are no longer new.  We're not still learning how to do the dance and we're no longer proud of our new dance moves while keeping up with the energy of the dance floor mob.  (Mob?  There's plenty of room on the dance floor during these songs now.)

Be honest with yourself, has your fundraising event become The Macarena?

So often, I find myself combating this with my own clients!  They bring me on board their team and they are so excited.  We shake things up, change everyone's perceptions, create a new feeling within their event and create a brand new success and energy for their annual fundraising night.  Then as year two rolls around, they may or may not read their updated workbook.  They are slightly less open to new ideas.  They start to duplicate what they did last year because it was so great.  By year three, with these groups, they ignore most new thoughts, and I hear things like, "Well, we always do it this way..."   No! No! No!

There will always be a popular party dance.  But, it will not always be The Cupid Shuffle.  There will always be fundraising events for people to attend and share their gifts, but if you do not continually update your plan and create a new sense of excitement, it will not be your event that they choose to attend!

Work with your consultant.  Be open to new thoughts and updated approaches.  Explore new ideas while maintaining a connection to your message.  Don't throw away those things that are working!  But, always step back and consider how to make a good thing better.

Is it time to rethink your sponsorship approach?  Is it time to completely redo your approach to audience development?  Are your revenue generators becoming hum drum? Is your event the Macarena?

Don't make that mistake!  Always begin your year with your team by holding an open minded brainstorming meeting where you revisit past successes and past challenges.  Explore crazy new ideas and consider how to connect these with your message for the best guest experience and best results.  Look for some new twist that everyone can get excited about...and then follow your rules for best practice to create the perfect event...for this year.

Volunteer Recruitment ~ Building a Better Volunteer

I want the best volunteers.

Who doesn't?!  We all want fantastic volunteers who are creative go-getters who just make it all happen with as little management as possible.  We find former execs, high powered thinkers, former or current business owners, all the right people...and still we find ourselves in situations where the jobs just don't get done or we babysit to make sure things are done properly.  How many times have you signed up the best volunteer only to never hear from them again?

The secret to building a better volunteer lies with us.  We are the key...or the culprit.  (However you want to look at it.)  It is our responsibility to build the best volunteer.  Let's commit to a few simple steps.  (These steps work!)

Communication.  It's all about communication:

1.  Honestly explain the time commitment.   Don't sell volunteerism in your organization as a piece of cake, unless it truly is a piece of cake.  Be honest about what you are asking potential volunteers to do and be very honest about the time commitment.  Look at it from their point of view and share as much information as possible.  If you're asking them to put together your next silent auction, then help them understand the beginning and ending time periods.  Will they have help?  Will they be primarily busy January through March and then free?  

If you're looking for board members, they need to know not only how many meetings there are per year, but how many events they're expected to attend and how often will they be asked to help in other ways in addition to planned board meetings.

You get the idea.  If you are truly considering the time commitment involved, you will be better prepared to ask the right people to volunteer is positions where you feel their talents and time are best suited.  Success!

2.  Prepare a Job Description.  You're in charge so put some thought into this.  Whether you're asking someone to chair a major event or simply handle the Donation Drop at your next fundraising dinner, verbally explain exactly what they will be doing and put it in writing.  Treat even the smallest volunteer opportunity as an important job, and your volunteers will do the same.  Success!

3.  Give Clear Expectations.  This is so very important to creating the best volunteers.  Let potential volunteers know exactly what is it expected.  Give them goals.  Give them safe guards in case they get stuck on a particular task.  Above all else, make sure they understand that you are counting on them.  Make sure they know that if they don't get this job done, it simply won't get done.  You need them to accomplish this task.  Volunteers have their own jobs, their families, and several other things that they've volunteered to do.  Giving clear expectations makes it much easier for busy people to prioritize.  Success!

4.  Create a Predictable Means of Checking In.  Will you and your team meet once per month?  Will you simply have phone conferences?  You decide, let your volunteers know, and then stick to it.  Decide what your reporting method will be, give each individual the time and respect they need to report...and then stick to this method.  Do not waste time in these meetings!  Make sure volunteers can report, ask questions, ask for help, you give an overall update, a moment of encouragement and then let them get back to their other important life tasks.  With a predictable plan, you are not surprised to find a volunteer has fallen behind and volunteers are much more likely to complete tasks on hand and not skip important meetings.  Success!

Building more success for the future...begin thinking about new and improved leadership opportunities for returning volunteers.  Follow the same steps as above but put some creativity into considering your volunteers and where their heart is.  Create ways for good volunteers to do more and put their stamp on your organization.

How About A Thank You Committe

Here's a thought for your event team...A Thank You Committee.

I know, I know...it's one more thing and you are all so busy.  What's more, after the event, you really just want to wind down and relax.  (And, frankly, right about now you're trying to decide if you even want to be on this committee again next year.    ...Simmer down, you'll feel better in a couple weeks.  And, after a late night session on Pinterest, you'll be full of ideas and raring to go for next year!)

Let's find one or two individuals who are not currently responsible for other areas of the event...or who have limitless ideas and energy...and create your Thank You Committee.

70% of first time donors do not give again.  Let's beat the statistics and turn your event night donors into year-long friends and supporters.

Charge this small committee with immediately thanking your guests through personalized mail.  A second email contact would be fantastic as well.  (In addition to traditional mail.)  

What do you do next to cultivate this new relationship?

Creating an email list and inviting your guests to join would be the perfect next step so that you can share important organizational information with them throughout the year.  (Maybe once/quarter.  Not too much.  Just enough to let them know that you value them as friends and supporters.)

In particular, share information about your successes.  They need to know and feel that their donations at your event created more success.  Their donation made great things happen in your school or community.  Without their support, things wouldn't be the same.

When we, as individuals, feel valued and needed, we want to continue that relationship because we know it matters.  Your guests/donors are needed and you do value them!  Remind them of that a few times throughout the year.  Support your new friendship (or old friendships) with information and affirmation that you appreciate their support.

Make this list the very first to receive next year's invite.  You will find that your Thank You Committee and your organization's 1-4 follow ups throughout the year will impact your Audience Development for next year.