Sep 4, 2019

Paddle Raises: How To Nail Your Live Appeal

mobile bidding auction rules

On August 14, 2019, we hosted a webinar, Paddles Up: Nailing the Live Appeal, with our partners Bobby and Erin from Inspire Hearts Fundraising. We had a stellar turnout, live-tweeted (see #GiveSmartPowerUP), and received valuable questions through the Q+A. We got to as many as we could, but below are the answers to the rest!

Catch the full webinar, on-demand, here. 

The following questions are answered by various members of GiveSmart’s Event Operations Team unless otherwise noted. 

When would we explain the organization/our mission to the new attendees’ guests – usually we do that before the appeal so they know more about the organization before donating – but if appeal is the first thing during salad?
As we mentioned timeline must be personalized to each gala, unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all. Here are some guidelines: 

Every moment is an opportunity to share a mission. Signage at check-in, images of clients or impact, quotes, information about org and programs. Almost all galas have a form of cocktail hour (connection hour) during this time your board should be walking around talking to new faces and sharing a fact about your organization. Signage again in this space is impactful (especially near the bar).  As you enter the main ballroom to a pre-plated salad the welcome can begin. After welcome can be a brief impact message and then the mission speaker/ survivor speaker or video plays. Directly after that impactful moment is the ask/appeal. After that is dinner than honorees and any other speakers or thanks you need to include.  

First is impact, then ask, then food.  
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Do you run into issues where you process the credit card too fast, especially at the last paddle standing and then guests are upset they were wrongly charged?
It’s best to capture the donation amount and donor name (or paddle number) in the moment, record as a pledge, and process the payment after the appeal is over. This way you have the chance to confirm with donors the amount they’d like to donate. If you do want to swipe a credit card on the spot, show the donor what you’re charging, confirm vocally that they’d like to give that amount and charge. 

Our Director is adamant that we need 25-30 live auction items, and we usually do the appeal right in the middle. Personally I feel like the live portion just drags on and half the room has gotten up to go check out by the end of it, if they’re not interested in the items. What’s your professional recommendation, generally speaking, for a Midwestern nonprofit in terms of number of live auction items?
Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to the live auction. Our recommendation, and what we see most commonly in the industry is no more than 10 live auction items. 5-7 items are typically the sweet spot. With a smaller number, you can really focus on the details, highlighting why each item is such a great package/experience. It will certainly help to keep the attention in the room as well! 

How many live auction packages do you recommend at max?
10 packages max keeps the energy high in the room and allows for time to focus on the important highlights of each one. 

If you had round trip airfare donated would that be something good to use as the item to give away to the last paddle standing during the appeal?
Definitely! However, you want to consider the amount that you’re asking donors to give in order to participate and how that fits with the prize at hand. If there are enough people in the room who will buy-in, go for it, otherwise airfare often performs well in silent auctions. 

We have a great speaker and a great video. Is both too much before the paddle raise?
No! As long as the content is engaging and the guests’ attention is captivated, a speaker and a video can work well together. 

Erin & Bobby D; wherein the levels of giving do you introduce ‘matching donations?’
There are many factors to this placement: 

  1. How big is the match? 
  2. What levels do you have the capacity for, but previous years have not reached? 
  3. What type of donor is in your room, and how will you incentivize? 
  4. Are you looking for more major gift donors, or more guests to evolve into donors? 
  5. Are you using a professional math person aka auctioneer (fundraising conductor)?  You may need someone quick on their feet with numbers if no technology to help.

The simplest answer is to use the match where it will be the most impactful to your audience.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Do you get the same emotional draw when using an electronic platform vs “raising the paddle?”
Yes! By using a visual display along with a text message donation appeal, organizations can see the donations coming in in real-time on the big screen. The auctioneer can introduce the donation moment and speak about the cause just like a traditional paddle raise. Instead of spending all the airtime calling out paddle numbers, the auctioneer can thank donors whose names appear on the screen and speak in more detail about the mission. Electronic appeal moments have the same emotional draw as a traditional paddle raise, with the added benefits of efficiency and automation!

We do not do a sit-down dinner, but a buffet.  Any suggestions for the timing of the appeals?
We still push to fundraise first. Heavy hors d’oeuvre, then sit in the room, do welcome talk about the mission (client speaker or impactful video) and fundraise/appeal then let people get up to get food.  If you are having an auction you can sell the rights for the 1st table to get food as a cute change up.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Would love to have recommendations for managing the audience talking/chaos during the auction timeframe…
Each event and guest is different, so different methods work.  A giant issue is sound quality. Having a great system will make sure everyone can hear therefore guests in the back don’t get bored and guests in front don’t shout talk over speakers.  Surround sound is best. Your lead person on stage must be engaging. Often a wireless microphone with a trained fundraising conductor will walk around and get everyone involved. DO NOT shush audience it is incredibly rude and will offend bigger donors however if someone in power wants to get up and get attention then remind everyone why they are there it helps.  It also helps to dim the lights, which draws attention to the stage. 

Last tip is Short and Sweet! Time is money.  The longer the program the less guests care. The later the night and the more drinks, the more they will be chatty and forget manners.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

What do you recommend when you don’t have a “thing” for donors to buy…the bane of my existence is that almost all our expenses are payroll – our clinical staff provides services directly to kids…can’t buy it at WalMart!
That is 100% okay. You need to tell your story, tell your impact, tell of the lives that are changed. You do not need a specific item. We often raise money for programs and even to keep the lights on. As long are you are clear about your needs and about what the result of the donation is you will have success.   

Sell your mission. Sell the story.  
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Putting the appeal in front of the event feels off. How do you build the golden goosebumps in the first 10 minutes?
Keep in mind that walking in the door is the first moment for guests at events. That means you can start to build a goosebumps moment from the first greeting. The program may only be 10 minutes in, but you are building up to this.  What is at the front door, who is doing check-in, what imaging is in hallway, what impact is on your centerpieces. We have one organization that invites kids to line the red carpet as guests arrive from their cars. They get high fives and see the faces of the impact. As guests go into ballroom the images on the screens, the music, the lighting, the focus on mission in all areas lines up to this moment.  
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

You mentioned that people can input their donation themselves on their phone? Does this mean you give the donors the option of raising their paddle? How do you explain that and when?
This moment depends on how you want to do things; if you’re having a paddle raise, guests will raise paddles like they always do. If you’re also incorporating text-to-donate it’s important that the tech company and person conducting the live ask are on the same page. Be sure to make it clear to donors that they can raise their paddle to give OR they can donate over text message. If text is an option, be clear about the instructions on how to do so. Giving donors the option to donate with a paddle or over text makes the moment of giving more inclusive because text donations allow guests to give any amount of their choice and to give anonymously.  

How do you handle the paddle distribution? At registration?  What if you are hosting a VIP Meet and Greet and a Silent Auction and you are forcing the attendee to carry a paddle around? Possibly losing it?
It’s best to assign paddles at registration so that you can attach guests’ bidder numbers to their profile (phone, email, credit card) for the evening. When distributing these paddles, let guests know that the number is attached to their credit card, so it’s best not to misplace it. If getting them lost in the shuffle is still a concern, have the team at check-in write names on the paddles.  

Do you recommend using actual paddles/numbers as opposed to having people raise their hands?
This is up to you, based on how you’ve done things in the past. If donors like the tradition of paddles, go for it! If donors find them cumbersome to carry around, then perhaps you go for the hand raise. If you’re doing a hand raise at your appeal make sure that you have a team big enough to cover the room so that they can approach all donors with raised hands without missing any donations. 

I’ve heard conflicting viewpoints on using the thermometer vs not. What are your thoughts?
I say, the more information the better! Having the visibility of the thermometer during an appeal moment can replace the momentum that a traditional paddle raise can bring but having less manual entry! It lets the crowd truly become a fundamental part of the fundraising efforts and see a real-time update of the money being raised. You can always choose not to show your ultimate fundraising goal, so they have the visual of the thermometer, but don’t walk away saying “oh, they only raised 15k out of 30k” They can instead walk away saying they hit 50% of their goal, let’s help them to hit 100%!” 

How do you best protect yourself from guests hiding behind their phones/technology during the appeal (and not giving) rather than generating that powerful and momentum building ask with calling out paddle numbers?
Show their names! You can give a shout-out on the thermometer/donations display by having the donors’ names scroll across the screen. The MC during this time can choose to verbally shout out people as well. I have also seen that when someone donates, a balloon (or anything else attention-grabbing) would be placed on the back of their chair, so the goal is, by the end of that moment to have the room filled with balloons! Plus, it’s a fun and encouraging way to get others at the table to give. 

We’ve done the raise the paddle part of the event near the end of the live auction, so that if there are donors who didn’t get the live items they were hoping for, will use the rest of their budget for the raise the paddle. Is this a good practice?
Yes. Typically, donors come to events with a set amount in mind they’d like to spend. If you typically have a high participation rate for your live auction, it’s likely a good idea to do the ask after the auction so that those who missed out can give a direct donation. 

Can you share more details about how to integrate paddle raises with electronic giving? We tried to do both at our gala, and it really confused our donors (they were unsure of how to give).
It’s important to be very clear with donors about how this is going to work. Talk to your electronic giving provider and ask if they have suggested verbiage (they should). Then, whoever is conducting the live appeal should read these instructions verbatim so that donors know they can give with a paddle or via text message. 

I live in New York and we heard it’s required to have a licensed auctioneer for a live auction. Is that common/true?
We are from New York as well and travel around the world.  Each state has its own regulations –– in fact each city and even town has different regulations.  In New York City the auctioneer, as well as the auction house/company, must be licensed. In the state of New York, you do not need to be licensed.  Make sure your auctioneer is licensed if they need to be. Some areas require them to be bonded and insured (some venues require this as well of the auctioneers you bring in). 

Another thing to check is to see if your auctioneer has a Benefit Auction Specialist (BAS) certification. It’s not a requirement but shows a great deal of time, care, study, and professionalism has gone into their career.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

If you must use a celebrity emcee that doesn’t have experience facilitating a paddle raise, what pointers would you give them?
The real question is just because they can, should they? What are the risks and rewards? Yes, they might have star power and recognizability, but they usually require scripts, and the organic nature of the paddle raise doesn’t lend to any hesitation and awkwardness. If we are to offer a tip, less is more and to keep the conversation focused on mission and impact. Clean comedy has a place, but the entire process needs to be fundraising focused and donor-centric.  

Honestly, celebrities are trained in the art of entertaining…not fundraising. Many are best when they read from a script, however, a Live Appeal is a very impromptu artform. They need to know the stories and statistics and when to move on through the levels.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Can you explain a little more what Champagne and Bar Cart auctions are?
These are audience warm-up activities. Many auctioneers will use these to get the crowd excited and numbers in the air. A round of chilled champagne for the table or a cart with bottle service can sell well to the right audience. So can a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward
bar cart auction
Regarding goal – what happens if you don’t reach your goal? How do you keep the energy high for the rest of the night?
If a fundraising goal is not reached during a donation appeal moment, it is important guests know that the opportunity to give will remain open. Concluding a donation appeal announcement with instructions on how to give throughout the night is a good first step, but it will need to be followed up with action. 

If there is still a program following a live ask, the evening’s MC should plan to give periodic updates throughout the evening with how the crowd is doing toward reaching that goal. This reinforces the importance of what the organization is trying to raise, and gives the guests encouragement to make those donations during these key moments. As long as the organization is within a reasonable reach of that goal, a visual display with a progress bar towards that goal should be brought back up on the visual display during these updates. 

If the program has concluded with a live ask, your staff and volunteers at checkout can facilitate continued excitement for reaching the organization’s goal. Using a laptop or tablet to display a progress bar at checkout will remind guests just how close they are. A few simple ways to help inch closer to that goal are:

  • Asking guests if they would like to round up their purchase to the nearest $50 or $100 mark with an additional donation. 
  • Offering unsold auction items or items for sale at a discounted price. 

How do you find a professional auctioneer?  (I couldn’t find anyone through the National Auctioneers Association that is within my state.)
This jam session will help you get started. 

How best to balance between the professional Fundraising Conductor and the member of the organization when doing an ask? Recommendations on those transitions into giving.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Both parties need to know the flow of the Live Appeal and what will be said when. It is best to use a short transition into the Live Appeal from the Mission Story then make the ask. As the team moves through the levels, use a combination of stories and statistics. You need to make sure to read the room. Sometimes nothing needs to be said, but the call for support. Sometimes your audience needs to be educated, sometimes they need to be inspired. A professional Fundraising Conductor can read the room and steer the conversation in the needed direction.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Can you share the study referring to 2 drinks being optimal for fundraising?
It’s a common myth that the more donors drink, the more they give…but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Here are 2 studies that show the positive v negative effects of alcohol: 

Should we have our live auctioneer be the Emcee for the entire evening’s program, or should she just do the Live Auction packages and paddle raiser? I’m torn.
Honestly, it depends on the auctioneer/fundraising conductor. Some are FANTASTIC emcees. We have been hired to just emcee and love it.  Yet some people do not do well with that. You really want to make sure someone isn’t going to be reading 100% from their script. Make sure you have read through and rehearsals with whomever you use and let them know where and when they can have creative license.  Most will charge extra for this service so make sure you’re getting someone that keeps the night moving and is a great personality.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Do you collect credit card info beforehand or when they make the gift?
It’s best to capture credit card information at check-in so that donors can easily make a gift during your event and be charged after, minimizing time and effort tracking down donors to get payment information.  

What if the event is in an area with poor internet speed or cellular connectivity?
You’ll have to talk to a representative from the tech company to run a connectivity assessment to determine if the cell reception and internet is strong enough for an event. If you’re still unsure, talk to an IT person at the venue who will have more insight on the internet’s bandwidth.  

Advice: Ask cards or bidder paddles? Should we have both? We only have 3-4 live auction packages so we don’t typically use bid paddles.
If you haven’t used paddles in the past, and you’re able to manage with a hand raise then stick with what works. 

What kind of advice or tips would you have for a board member tasked with leading the live appeal?
When leading a donation appeal moment, it’s important to connect to both the audience and the cause. When introducing yourself, tell your story about your history with the organization, and what made you want to get involved. As donations start to come in, a personal thank you to the people in the crowd goes a long way! Stick with the plan your event planners have provided you, as you want to make it as easy as possible on the staff and volunteers helping to collect and record donations, so no money is left in the room. 

How would you handle a gala that is not a sit-down dinner but is a cocktail hour and then a theater presentation in terms of live Ask timing?
When the live ask is being tied in with performances, the best timing is to schedule the ask in between performances rather than at the very beginning or very end of the program. Your audience is looking forward to being entertained as part of their evening, so you want to make sure they get that first once they move into the theatre. Once the audience has been captivated, it is nice to break up the evening with a thank you from the organization, then move right into the fundraising portion. Make sure you save the most exciting performances for last after the fundraising has concluded, so miss out on guests who sneak out early. 

You mention having a third party giving the ask, what would you say about someone on the staff telling the story and doing the ask?
Again, it goes back to experience. There are some organizations who have someone who can tell a great story, tie in the mission and engage an entire room. They might also be great at making an ask and following through with the fundraising. The risk that can happen, especially with schools, is if the “Asker” is seen every day by the parents/donors, there may be awkwardness or resentment. Other times if the “Asker” has a relationship with the audience and knows the financial/social status of the donors, this is hard to not guilt that donor into giving. One example would be, “Bill, I know you’re a millionaire and you can afford it.” Meanwhile, Bill may have had a terrible day in the market, or a lawsuit just happened, etc. A third-party fundraiser can be separate these reactions and instead utilize these relationships for inspiration, motivation, and experience to engage with the audience. 
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Have a question about timing. How much “story” or context needs to be provided before making the ask? When you say make the ask, then celebrate…is the rest of the celebration more speaking program, honorees etc. or do you mean dinner/drinks?
Keep the story and context short, sweet, and impactful. Less is more. Your audience needs to have a clear understanding of what they are giving to and what impact will result of successful fundraising. You only need to speak about one program, service or need to tie the story into your mission, without going into too much detail. After a successful Live Appeal, your audience will be buzzing with excitement and inspiration. Then, you can celebrate your honoree’s, your sponsor’s and continue to share successes! 

And of course, the 3 D’s…

  • Dinner
  • Drinks
  • Dessert
    – Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

What are your favorite games/ activities to engage the crowd at the beginning of the auction or appeal?
You need to get everyone focused and ready to give. With your Fundraising Conductor, they can capture the attention with many different tactics. A call and response, a “Family Photo” of everyone holding their paddles in the air, light up the room with cell phone flashlights to get everyone to have their giving tool in their hand. Lights, music, and video are a great way to capture attention. Think Broadway performance…what can you do to raise the energy level in the room?
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

How many giving levels do you recommend for the paddle raise?
A typical Live Appeal has seven giving levels. Where you’re starting your giving depends on the capacity in the room and your fundraising history. Keep the levels simple and easy to understand. 
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

A big problem we have is people losing their paddles and picking up others’. Any tips on remedying this? What kind of verbiage can we use when handing out paddles at registration?
Have a Sharpie on hand at check-in and write the guests’ last names on their paddles. If you’re using a mobile bidding provider you can let them know their bidder number is attached to their profile, which they can view right on their phones. It’s also a good idea to remind donors that these paddles are tied to their personal contact and payment information, so best not to lose it! 

I am putting on our organization’s first-ever fundraising event in four weeks (yikes!)…what is the top advice you would give me for paddle raising strategies since we don’t have last year’s numbers to look to?
Make sure your story is short, sweet and impactful. Whether told through video or in person testimonial, it needs to tug at those heartstrings and share a case for support. The next tip would be to get full buy in from the board.  When your leaders are seen giving, the audience will respond positively. Also make sure you market that you are doing the Live Appeal during the event, set expectations and allow your guest to be prepared to give. Then the most important tip… Say THANK YOU!
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Do you recommend only one or perhaps two people conducting the live appeal?
This really depends on the team and their experience. Some Fundraising Conductors work very well solo, and other teams work great together to engage a full audience. Larger audiences or difficult rooms can benefit by having two fundraising conductors.  We recommend two because there will be many personalities in your audience and having two personalities on stage, you can tap into the left-side and right-side brained thinkers and bring everyone together and tap on the different trigger points to inspire giving.
– Bobby D. & Erin Ward 

Any suggestions on how many silent auction items to have and where to start the bidding?
Silent Auctions are all about quality over quantity. We typically recommend about 1 item for every 4 to 5 bidders. A good rule of thumb is to start bidding at 50% of the Fair Market Value. 

We use mobile bidding for our silent auction and don’t have a live component. Do we need to print out numbers in order to be successful?
Printing out bidder numbers is only necessary if you’d like to have a paddle raise for a live auction or appeal/ask. Some organizations have these components and have donors raise their hands. So printing numbers is a preference, but if you’re using mobile bidding for your silent auction there is no need for you to print numbers. 

How do you receive donations from those without smartphones?
You should always bring a cash box to fundraising events and accept cash and check donations as well. Today, cash and check are less common, but you never want any guests to feel like they’re limited in the ways that they can give! While mobile giving is excellent, money is money, so keep all channels open! 


How do you capture many paddles up at once?
It depends how this moment is orchestrated at your event, but a few ways to capture multiple paddles up at once are: spotters around the room recording the paddle numbers they hear/see, spotters approaching donors and recording donations on the spot (paddles raised until someone approaches), videotape the live appeal/ask and record after the event, collect the paddles that are raised. Not all these options work for every type of ask, but talk to your Customer Success Manager, and they’ll point you in the right direction!  


Curious about the ‘last paddle standing’? This jam session covers it.


November 17, 2021

80+ Virtual Fundraising Ideas: Examples from real-life campaigns 

Virtual fundraising has been a sustainable practice for many nonprofits, and it has recently become…

Read More
October 19, 2021

3 Halloween fundraisers you can setup in minutes

Pumpkins glimmer. Werewolves howl. Ghost says boo.   With fall in full swing, fundraising in this season offers the opportunity to be…

Read More
how to engage donors outside of fundraising events
October 14, 2021

How to engage donors outside of fundraising events

What is recurring giving?  Recurring giving has been around for years, offered by plenty of…

Read More

What our clients say

We needed a platform to make sales online and to track and display ads for our sponsors. GiveSmart was perfect. We ended up making close to $15,000 more than we had hoped for. Definite better ROI than we anticipated. The interface is easy to use and provides plenty of options to get help if needed.

Michelle M.

The Rotary Club of South Whidbey Island

Using GS has created ease in auction bookkeeping, payments, and generating post-event thank you/tax letters. While we were online during COVID, our interactions with our GiveSmart via phone, email, and zoom were seamless. A representative always got back to us within the day. I would recommend GiveSmart to anyone doing a large online event.

Julie G.

MicroFinancing Partners in Africa

GiveSmart is highly flexible - you can use it for [a] simple registration and check-in, to full-scale galas with complex order forms, onsite upsells, live auctions, seating management, and more.

Jamie F.

Hope Chest for Breast Cancer

GiveSmart is easy to use and ideal for virtual events and can be used for in-person events to manage the silent auction, seating charts, and check-in to the event. Being able to use the platform for unlimited events within the contract year is very useful and being able to add other users and volunteers for different levels of access is helpful as well.

Dawn L.

Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County