We wanted to know: where is the donor divide? Where are expectations misaligned between event planners and donors when it comes to fundraising events?

We conducted a research study (read it here) and hosted a webinar (watch it here) to break down the facts. #GiveSmartPowerUP

Below are the answers to your questions from our Q+A:

Do you recommend a live appeal without asking for a specific amount (paddle raise)?
When asking for a donation (monetary, in-kind, sponsorship, etc.) it’s always good to be specific in whatever you are asking for. This lets donors know what you need and eliminates them needing to make any decision. If you’re not sure where to begin, look at past donations to see if you can determine a starting point. We also recommend having seeded donations (episode 11) for larger donations so that the room doesn’t fall silent. If you want the live appeal to be an inclusive opportunity for everyone to give, make it clear that guests can give any amount that they’d like (through text, on a pledge card, with the organization’s volunteers, etc.). Additionally, this post covers various tips on how to nail your live appeal.

What have you added to the traditional yearly event that has been a hit with attracting millennial donors?
According to our study, millennials are into events with live music, dancing, games, raffles, and compelling speakers.

Did you ask donors about if they enjoyed using technology for giving/registering at events (mobile devices being used to make bids vs paper bidding or raising hands and recording)?
In this specific study we did not, but last year we did in our Donor Experience Study.

Did you look at the differences between luncheon events and evening gala events?
We did not specifically compare luncheons this time, but we did compare golf/sports tournaments, runs/races, workshops, and others.

Where are the donors/planners that you surveyed located and do you think there are geographic/socioeconomic differences in event preferences?
The group that we surveyed was across all of the United States. While this survey is an overview, there may likely be socioeconomic and geographic preferences within your area. We suggest looking at what other nonprofits are doing in the area, what’s worked in the past for you, or even survey your own donors if you’re not sure about what they’re interested in.

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How do you make the live appeal less awkward? Can you give us some examples of what you just covered?
Making the live appeal less awkward starts with making the live appeal engaging and fun. You want donors to feel excited about giving. Now, what one group loves, another may not. Some groups love competition, so seeing a thermometer display with all the donors’ names appear as donations come in, is a great way to build excitement. Others prefer to be more discrete, so a text-to-donate campaign works best for them. Others like the traditional paddle raise. No matter which route you take, it’s important to make it inclusive so that donors don’t check out and think “well I can’t give $5,000, so I won’t participate,” so offer giving levels both high and low.

mobile bidding auction rules

We just had our 27th gala and did a live ask for the first time and it bombed. We do a silent auction and raffle. Other staff felt like we asked too much of our attendees. Is there such a thing as doing too much at an event?
We’re sorry to hear your live ask didn’t go well, but this is good information for next year! Perhaps it means that you’ve asked your donors for too much at one event. Doing too much at an event can be a thing! Did you reach out to event attendees and ask them their thoughts following the event? It’s always beneficial to follow up with guests to see what they thought so that you can improve the event the following year.

Has any research been done on a number of silent auction items? We worry about “deep bidding” vs giving things away for the minimum bid due to way too many items.
We recommend one silent auction item for every five guests. More questions on that here, and a webinar on winning the silent auction here.

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Where would you put a fundraising breakfast or lunch? It’s not a party or concert or workshop.
On page 9 we would categorize this under “other”.

How do we reconcile that donors like silent auctions, but don’t want a tangible giveaway like a gift or auction item?
This could be a good opportunity to think about what you’ve had in auctions previously and perhaps what you’ll have in them coming up. Instead of a tangible basket full of golf supplies, perhaps the auction package is a day out on the course. Are your donors looking for more experiences? If you think that your donors aren’t interested in any sort of gift or item you can give them the opportunity to donate funds at the event towards a specific project (for example a new library, fighting the fight against animal testing, summer camp programming, etc.). Another idea is a raffle where the winner who’s chosen can then make a donation of that winning amount in their name, fund a specific cause, or something of the like.

For the live appeal, was this interpreted as a ‘raise the paddle’ type of appeal where your giving level is recognized and visible to all? Or does this also include the call-to-action, fill out a card style? We use the latter and it is a crucial part of our night and totally expected by our donor base.
A live appeal can include pledge cards. “Live appeal” is a general term that covers any sort of donation moment, cash call, fund-a-need, ask, or call-to-action during an event. “Paddle raise” is what you’re likely envisioning with numbered paddles and an auctioneer.

In regards to live appeals, what typically works better: bid paddles or having guests fill out donation cards? 
This depends on your donors. Some like the excitement of the paddle raise, others like the discreetness about donation cards. One is not necessarily more successful than the other.

We had a completely unexpected response to this year’s gala. We hoped for 240 attendees and had to close down the event at 300 guests; 500 printed invites went out AFTER the event was sold out and we have angry parents/community members. What is the best way to handle this?
First, it’s great that you have an enthusiastic community that’s willing to support your cause! Depending on what steps you’ve taken thus far, we recommend first letting those angry members know that you’re terribly sorry that the event sold out before they were able to get tickets. Let them know you appreciate their concern and support and that you’re working to get a larger space for next year. If they’d like to support your organization you can provide them with other opportunities to do so before your next gala (think: volunteer opportunities, donation drives, etc.). Then, if it’s possible to secure a larger venue for next year, jump on it! Tell those members that you’ve secured [venue] for next year so that everyone can attend. Perhaps you decide to offer those guests the opportunity to purchase tickets first? Or, make sure that all invitations go out at the same time so that you can fill seats at the event based on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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Kelsey Woodworth

Kelsey Woodworth is the Content Marketing Manager for GiveSmart and an Auburn University Graduate. Her finger is on the pulse daily for innovations in fundraising, community building, donor relations, and event trends. Kelsey lives in New York City.
Kelsey Woodworth

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