Wait a minute… I thought we DIDN’T love special events…

Last week we sponsored a workshop by Kathy Kingston, author of

A Higher Bid: How to Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Benefit Auctions,

and Bobby D. Ehlert, Champion auctioneer and owner of Call to Auction.

I’ll bet many of you were thinking, what the heck? I thought you didn’t love special events as a fundraising strategy?

It’s true, Jenny and I are often critical of special events in our workshops, but that doesn’t mean we think you shouldn’t ever do them or that they can’t be successful. It just means that we get exhausted, like many special event volunteers, with several aspects of special events, namely:

1)    Special events are a lot of work, and oftentimes the return on investment just isn’t there.

2)    They are highly transactional, and rarely fit the donor-centered, mission-centered philosophy we teach.

3)    Events can be a distraction from more effective strategies, like face-to-face solicitation or planned giving.

Kathy and Bobby did a fabulous job of helping us see that special events can have more heart, and that, in fact, the more heart they have, the more successful they can be. My takeaways from this fantastic workshop are:

• Tell an Inspirational Story: During the workshop, Kathy selected on student to tell his inspirational story and allowed us to observe her coaching of him. The idea is that this student would stand up at his organization’s event and tell his story just prior to the big ask, so the story has to be personal, authentic, and moving. She helped him pull out all the best elements of his story, tell them in an inspiring way, use his body language to good effect, and use the microphone. It drove home for me the importance of working with these storytellers to help them do their very best, because a great story makes the difference in how moved people will be to give.

• Create an Audience Development Team for your special event. According to Kathy, this is more important than any other activity your committee can undertake. The Audience Development Team’s job is to hand-select table hosts who will strategically select each guest for their interest in the mission and their ability to give. The table host will adopt a host mentality – lots of gratitude! – and give guests a lot of personal attention before, during and after the event.  The host will also choose guests who they can groom to be table hosts the following year. Bonus: You can use table hosts to quiet the room at strategic moments, like right before the big ask or pricey auction item.

• Use the Magic Question: To increase your event’s relationship-building factor, encourage your board members to approach three people at the event they don’t already know, and ask this magic question: “So, how are you connected?” The keys to making this work are for board members not to alter the words of the question at all, and to be silent and listen afterwards. You should also ask them to memorize people’s answers for sharing later. Debrief at a board meeting later and have people share what they learned.

There was a lot more to be gained from this amazing workshop, but these were a few of my highlights. If you want to learn more, buy Kathy’s book, A Higher Bid: How to Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Benefit Auctions.

If you are interested in an auctioneer who really gets it and can help you create this kind of event, email Bobby D. at bobby@calltoauction.com or call him at 855-GO-GAVEL.