Many fundraising campaigns hinge on the success of a live event. If your ask or auction fails to bring in the desired amount, you may find yourself in a tough position.
On June 27th, Jay Love and Steve Roseman of WEDO Charity Auctions presented a webinar entitled “How To Optimize Your Live Event For Fundraising Success.” Steve shared best practices based on his experience with fundraising auctions, and Jay tied those strategies to retaining donors over the long term.
In case you missed it, you can watch a replay here:
Steven S.: Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar: “How to Optimize Your
Live Event for Fundraising success. My name is Steven Shattuck. I am the VP
of marketing over at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s
discussion. Today I’m joined by two leaders in the non-profit
technology arena, my new friend Steve Roseman. Good morning,
Steve R.: Good morning.
Steven S.: How are you? Thanks for doing this.
Steve R.: Doing well. How about yourself? Oh, thank you.
Steven S.: Good. For those of you that don’t know, Steve is the founder
and CEO of WEDO Auctions here in Indianapolis. Joining him is my
colleague Jay Love. He is the founder and CEO over here at
Bloomerang. Hey there, Jay.
Jay: Hi, Steve. Long time no see this morning.
Steven S.: Good to have you with us, as always. Some of you may recognize
Jay. He is the original co-founder of eTapestry and he is also,
currently, a senior vice president at Avectra in addition to his
duties here at Bloomerang. It’s great for both of you to be
here. We’ve got a really great discussion planned.
What we’re going to do today is, Steve is going to kick us off.
He’s got a really great presentation about the best practices
for live event fundraising. When he’s done he’s going to toss it
over to Jay. Jay’s going to talk about how to keep those donors
donating to your organization once you’ve gotten them at that
first initial event.
Then what we’ll do at the end of all of our webinars is that
we’ll save some time for a Q&A session. As you’re listening for
the next half hour or so, please feel free to send over any
questions or comments in the chat room. I’ll see those and I’ll
pull out some questions during the Q&A session and we’ll try to
get as many of those answered as possible.
Please know that we will be sending out the slides and a
recording of the presentation later this afternoon. If you
missed anything or if there’s something you wanted to refresh
on, that will be available.
At this time, I’m going to hand it off to Steve and he’s going
to get us started. Steve, tell us about live event fundraising.
Steve R.: Thank you, Steven. I also want to say thank you to Jay and the
Bloomerang organization for bringing me on and allowing me to
share some information on a lot of live events and a lot of the
trends we’ve seen over the last six months. Let’s just jump on
in here and talk about some live event successes that some of
the organizations out there have had and some of the downfalls
that we’re really seeing out there.
The big thing is how do you produce a great event every time?
Really the main area that we need to look at is catering to our
patrons. A lot of organizations might focus on what they like,
but we really want to look at the patrons and what type of an
event that we’re hosting to focus on their needs and what
they’re attracted to.
There are three main live events that we typically see out
there. Obviously, you’ve got your black tie gala. Actually, some
of the trends now is more a casual gala event. There are awards
style events, social cocktail style and some awards and
community events. I just want to touch base on some traits and
some of those areas where we’ve really seen some success.
The first thing is actually prior to the actual event and its
focusing on what you’re really trying to achieve for that
specific event, because there are so many events that we throw
throughout the year, the main thing is who we’re trying to
attract. Are we trying to bring in the current supporters that
we already have with our organization? Attract new supporters?
Are they affluent individuals? Who are these individuals that
we’re trying to bring? A lot of that is going to tell us, if
we’re putting on a silent auction, what kind of items we bring.
If we’re throwing an event that has an admission fee, how much
do we charge for that admission fee to really gain that success
for that event in terms of attendance?
How do we market our event? This is one area that I wanted to
focus on because I’ve seen a lot of organizations do really well
or really struggle in this area. I think that this is a key
factor that a lot of organizations really need to look at.
Different events focus their marketing in different areas. The
big thing that I think is lost out there is really looking at
our marketing somewhat like a corporate entity in our country
today. If we have a gala, social event or themed event, I see
some amazing organizations out there that have been able to
promote their cause as well as having create a fun, exciting
As Jay will probably express to you later on in his
presentation, there are some statistics out there that show that
majority of our events out there and the majority of our current
donors are actually new donors, not pre-existing donors that
we’re bringing in, especially for these auctions and these live
One main thing that I’ve seen lately, I was at an event I was
part of actually developing it, is an organization was trying to
bring in attendees that were not yet followers and current
patrons of their organization. Week after week they were
promoting this event, which was a fun event, but all they did
was talk about the cause. There’s nothing wrong with talking
about the cause, but if you’re attracting people that don’t
understand your cause yet, or don’t know much about your
organization, what they’re going to focus on is whether it’s a
fun event. Is it exciting?
A very easy example for me is that there are a lot of mini-
marathons or 5ks that are huge fundraisers. You’d find out if
you knew me that I’m not a big runner. Some of these mud-runs
and these night runs that make it fun and exciting I’ve gone to,
just because it was fun and exciting, not because of the cause.
Once I got there, I really got to know the organization and
that’s where my interest lies. When it comes to a lot of the
marketing of some of these events, we’ve really got to focus on
what we’re looking at.
The awards, this one’s actually pretty easy. If we’re marketing
for an award event, we want to actually focus on the people
receiving the awards and the individuals being honored. As we
all know, everybody loves recognition. That being said, if we
put more attention on them and their award, they’re going to be
more apt to invite more people to the event because they want to
be seen by their peers in that light.
Awareness and community events, this one’s very simple. Keep it
family-oriented, fun, exciting, the cause. Typically that one is
more for awareness and bringing everybody together. That’s
really going to be a lot of the focus. Here are some examples
that I wanted to give you.
This is actually an example from the organization. When I
started three years ago, in honor of my grandfather, we were in
a situation we help individuals with MS. We had zero followers
except for my family. What we had to do was figure out was how
we attract people to our event if they don’t know anything about
We created a flier that was a little more festive and shows more
of the gala feel more than the actual cause. In the beginning,
we focus on the cause and then we transition to exciting and the
cause. In the three years that we’ve put on this event, we’ve
doubled in support every year. We went from 20 to 40 to 60. What
I mean by that is that those are the percentages that were
actually there because they understood our cause and were there
to support the organization. Not just for a fun party, even
though we do have a lot of fun at that event.
Another example, here, is the awards. This image right here is
actually a local newspaper. They published this for this
gentleman to recognize him. They actually put the pictures and
recognized those individuals in the flier that they shot out to
the community. It’s a fantastic way, once again, to recognize
those individuals which will instantly increase your attendance
because they want to come and see that person get that award.
Those are some marketing tips in those few areas. The event
success is not just based on that night. It’s the build-up of
how you get those individuals there.
I do want to also talk about auction items. There are a lot of
live events that put on auctions. That’s something that I’ve
really gotten into over the last couple of years and it’s one of
our biggest fundraisers in our charity event that we host every
The number one thing is to treat our auction like a retail
store. I’m sure there are a lot of organizations on the phone
that have done exactly what I’ve done. We have volunteers
running around the city, we’re potentially doing it ourselves,
and we’re going out and trying to get items. As we all know,
that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do. We reach out into
the community and whatever they’re willing to give us we take.
It’s not a bad thing, but sometimes the value of the items
doesn’t correlate with the patrons who are attending.
We have to remember that people buy for two reasons when they go
shopping. One, they actually like the item that they’re looking
at or they’re looking for a sale. I’m sure a lot of us on the
line have patrons that go in there looking for a deal. You know
they’re not going to pay retail. That’s all they’re looking for.
You have the other donor that’s there because they understand
that they’re supporting a cause. They can purchase something
that they’re interested in and the great thing about that is
that it’s going to a cause and not a retail store. We’ve got to
keep that in mind when we’re getting our auction items.
Find out what our patrons like. This is something I think that
people are afraid to do. The key to this, though, is actually
prep prior to your event. That’s keeping adequate reporting and
tracking of events that you’ve done in the past. Once again,
Jay’s going to talk about later is how to actually achieve that
reporting adequately. The second way is as simple as calling and
One thing that has really catapulted our silent auction is that
we take at our reporting and we look at our top donors and the
people that have participated most in the auctions and we simply
call them. I’ll call up John and I’ll just say, “Hey, John, I
noticed last year and previous years you always participate in
the silent auctions. You love it and it seems like that’s where
you do your Christmas shopping. This year, for our silent
auction, is there anything at all that you would like to see
that you would be interested in?” It’s a great way to then go
after items that you know are potentially going to go for sure
in the auction.
What makes your auction stand out? I’m almost certain that
everybody on this phone is in a market where there are silent
auctions taking place weekend after weekend. As we know, people
cannot achieve going and attending all of those events all the
time. We have to stand out from other auctions that are going
The big thing is not having the same auction items every single
year. Change it up. Make it different so that people don’t
always look at your auction and kind of disregard it after a
while. An easy way to change that is to put some items together
to create a higher value. That doesn’t always mean that you can
put a higher price tag on it. That means that you create a
higher value so that it’s more interesting to those individuals.
More items do not always mean more income for your silent
auction and live auction. That’s a big no-no. A lot of people
think, “Let’s just flood the event with a lot of auction items.”
Typically, you want to keep your auction items to about half of
the patron attendance.
The next is to make sure that you have price points for
everybody in the room, anywhere from $25 to a couple hundred
dollars. That way everybody in the room feels like they can
participate and they haven’t gotten in over their heads with the
Some current items that are really popular right now, men’s
watches, cigar boxes, pet baskets. One big thing right now is
three-day vacations. You don’t want to have long vacations. I
don’t want to say “don’t,” but right now your three-day local
vacations are really popular versus your eight-day vacations.
Those are some quick trends right now in the auction item area.
Some other trends are in functionality. Your mobile and online
auctions, pre-launching an auction, pre-authorization for
payment, closing the silent auction after the live auction takes
place. I just want to go through these, real quick, some
Making a more fun user experience for the patrons. They actually
get to see the auction items before they attend. They instantly
get notified when they get outbid. You’re going to see more
activity there. They don’t have to stand by bid sheets all night
long. At the end of the night, it really helps with increasing
the view as they leave because they’re not standing in line all
night. Organizational benefits include raising money before the
event even starts. Patrons don’t have to attend the event to
actually participate in the auction. There are fewer volunteers.
There is instant reporting at the end of the event, which is
going to help you with your next year. Fast and easy checkout
Why you would pre-launch your auction? One, to build more
excitement, not only for your silent auction but also for your
actual event. Patrons can actually start bidding and you can
start raising money before the event even takes place. I’ve seen
some auctions raise up to $8,000 before the door even opens.
Obviously, every organization is going to like that.
Pre-authorization, this is becoming very big in the auction
world. Allowing your patrons to swipe their card as they
register not only helps the organization make sure that they
collect all of the funds that evening and not be bill collectors
for the weeks afterward, but it really helps their patrons at
the end of the night because they don’t have to stand in a
checkout line before they exit the event.
Increasing auction activity, there are some main key points
here. With the mobile bidding, you instantly get notified of
when you get outbid. The big thing, though, is don’t rely on a
text message to promote bidding higher or bidding on items that
have not been bid on. Do that from the front of the room.
Nothing is going to replace the emotion that somebody is going
to give you in the front of the room. Do not rely on a mobile
bidding platform of any kind to promote items that have not been
bid on. Right before the silent auction closes or live auction,
just create that excitement right before it ends.
Another big trend now is leaving the silent auction open 10
minutes after the live auction. It allows those patrons who
thought that they were going to win a live auction item to go
back in and potentially bid on some of the silent auctions. A
lot of people have a budget when they come to these types of
events. If they haven’t spent their budget yet, let’s get them
back into the silent auction so they can do that and we raise
some more money there.
Checkout process, with a lot of the mobile bidding platforms out
there, it is really going to make it fast and efficient.
Remember for every event, whether it’s a gala or awards or what
not, they’re going to remember the last thing that happens in
the evening. If they’re standing in a line for 30 minutes,
that’s the last thing that they’re going to remember or they’re
just not going to stand in that line. Pre-authorization really
helps out with that post-checkout. Have multiple lines for
credit card processing, at least one for cash and check.
Here’s the big one. With a lot of the mobile bidding platforms,
they really get people in and out when it comes to payment.
Where a lot of organizations struggle is they don’t allocate
enough volunteers to help the patrons go get their items. That’s
an area where we can really speed up our event and our checkout
Tracking for our next event, this is really where the CRM is
going to come into play. We want to know what items were bid on
the most, where our money is coming from, how many people are
participating, who bought what, the top donors. These are all
key factors so you know who’s going to attend your event, how
much they’re going to spend, and what type of items you really
want to cater to at that auction.
Some of the key points, I just want to go over them really quick
before I wrap up and turn everything over to Jay. We must know
what types of patrons are attending our event. If we don’t know
that, we don’t know how to properly set the mood for our
evening. Whether it’s a silent auction, live auction, wine pull,
raffles, all of that is going to be based on the type of
attendees that you have that evening or that afternoon.
Know what your patrons are interested in, whether it’s a silent
auction or a live auction, but even a wine pull. A wine pull is
not great for every event. A raffle is not great for every
event. We’ve got to know who is attending and what they’re
interested in. We have to make it fun for the patrons. Whether
it’s an awards event or a social event, people still want to go
and be entertained. Develop a fast process of a checkout. Once
again, this is catering to your patrons.
The number one thing for a next year event is creating a
reporting system so that you have the results going into that
next year. That is very crucial to every event that we host.
Even if it’s a walk or a run, we have to know who we’re working
I just wanted to go over, really quickly, a lot of those key
points that I’ve seen over the last six months and some of the
trends that are happening out there. Feel free to contact me for
more information. I do want to turn it over to Jay because a lot
of the information that he’s going to go through is going to
really focus on taking the information that I shared and taking
it to the next level.
Jay: Thanks, Steve.
Steven S.: Yeah. That was great. Wow. There was a lot of really helpful
information there. There’s definitely a science to these live
Jay: Don’t you wish that he was a few of the events that we’ve been at in
the past? It would have been a lot easier.
Steven S.: Definitely. I’ve been to some events where people were not
following those things and it would have made a lot of
difference, I’m sure.
Jay: One question you’ve got to write down, I don’t know what a wine pull
is but I’ve be glad to participate in one.
Steven S.: Yeah. What is that? I didn’t know what that is either. You
better tell us, Steve.
Steve R.: Basically, you create this huge wall of wine. Every bottle in
there is at least a minimum value. There’s a big bottle in there
for a couple of hundred bucks. Everybody just pays, say, $20,
$25 and they choose a bottle of wine that’s in a bag. They don’t
know what they’re getting but hopefully they get that big bottle
Jay: Sort of like popping balloons at the county fair, right?
Steve R.: Exactly.
Jay: Well, great. Good. We’re going to take some of those ideas…
What Steven just talked about is getting everything into CRM.
Almost any CRM system that you have has the ability to import in
that information and, whether you’re using a particular event
system or particular auction system, has the ability to export
something into a spreadsheet file and then bring that in.
One of the key things that we want to make sure of is that
either the systems are totally integrated together, which that’s
not often the case. I think 10 years from now we’ll look back
and say, “Wow, people really didn’t have those so they tied
together.” If they’re not, the ability to get the proper
information into a spreadsheet and then to import that in is so
Let’s talk about a couple of the other items. When we talk about
the retention success test for any event, I’m going to give you
two or three steps here that I think can make huge difference in
that. It requires a top-notch database which everyone can use.
No matter what your system is, I don’t care if you’ve got every
bell and whistle in the world and everything that you would ever
dream of, if your fundraisers don’t use that, you cannot
increase your retention.
Retention is based upon relationships. The relationships are
built by the people that are interacting with your donors and
with your prospects. If those interactions are not kept in the
database, that’s going to not be the situation. What I talk
about there is a database that everyone can use so that
everybody from your fundraisers, to your officers to even your
executive director… If it’s not easy enough that the executive
director can use it, it probably is never going to be able to
record that information. As I said, even fundraisers and
executives must be able to use that.
How? Well, in order to make it easy, the CRM or database is so
intuitive that no training is needed, period. I’m very sincere
about that. I’ve been involved with providing technology and
databases for 30 years, ever since 1983, in this marketplace. I
look at what’s sitting right here on my desk. Steven knows, he’s
sitting right here beside me, I’m holding my smartphone.
The technology that’s in this smartphone is literally 20 times
what I sold in database technology for years and years. Yet,
every user of a smartphone, there’s only maybe one out of a
thousand that ever attends a training class. Why? Those
smartphones are designed for you to pick up and start using,
figure out what you want, add to what you need, and make it
happen. I fervently believe that the databases should be the
same way, for anyone to sit down and it’s designed to do that.
Let’s talk a little bit about design philosophy. I think it has
got to be very simple and very clean, much like using Google.
People always remarked in the early years about why the Google
screen doesn’t have more on it. I know they dress it up a little
bit by changing what’s on the word Google, but that’s about it.
It’s got to be where people can just sit down and start using,
they can use it on any device, and they avoid a multitude of
features that people don’t use.
We were recently out at the Association of Fundraising
Professionals national conference in San Diego and we actually
conducted an informal survey there. We found that the average
organization felt like they were using less than 20% of the
particular functions and features of whatever application they
were using, which is sort of amazing. When they decided to buy
that, most of the time they were buy based upon a large
multitude of features, not the ones that they were going to be
using day after day.
I’m going to show you a couple of examples from our database,
Bloomerang, and how clean and easy it is to use. This is the log-
in screen. When I said any device earlier, whether you’re on
your phone, tablet, iPad or your laptop or desktop, you can just
go to the website and log in by typing the information you see
Then when you’re in the application itself, only these six icons
appear. You don’t have to worry about tabs and rows of tabs and
things of that nature. You can really just click on any icon. In
this case I clicked on the one with the people there, for
constituents, and it just sort of guides me to just typing a
name. If I’m an executive and I’m an infrequent user, I’m only
coming into this a few times a day after I’ve interacted with
outside constituents, I can very easily find that person and
decide what I want to do with them by just typing that
Step two is building in best fundraising practices. This is
where we’re going to tie in some of the hand-off of the
information coming in from the event area. When we talk about
building in best fundraising practices, I’m going to focus on
two areas, donor retention and donor engagement and the next
area is prospect and donor communications. This is really
critical, particularly the latter area, as you talk about follow-
up with people from your event.
Now, when we talk about best practices, I’m not relying on Steve
and myself. We need to bring in the heavy hitters for that. What
we’re doing here is cueing in the experts. The two people that
we rely upon quite heavily are first of all Dr. Adrian Sargeant,
sort of the father of donor loyalty, engagement, and retention.
He literally wrote the book or books on that, as you can see
there. Then, on the left, is Mr. Tom Ahern, our Bloomerang donor
communications head coach, who has written several books on
donor communications, donor enewsletters, how to make them much
When we talk about what they bring to the table, it was Dr.
Sargeant who coined the phrase that a 10% increase in your
retention can increase the lifetime value of a fundraising
database by upwards of 200%. One of the key things that we don’t
often talk about is that most of those first-year donors, and we
know special events, if nothing else, are outstanding at
bringing those first-year donors in, is that 70% of them or more
Let’s think about what that means communication-wise. One of the
key tidbits and having been on all three sides of this, I’ve
been an event sponsor, I’ve been a participant, and I’ve been a
technology vendor providing it, one of the things I think is
often lost is that people are inviting folks to sit with them at
their gala table or someone’s runner and they reach out and have
50 or 25 people sponsor them or their run or walk. I’m a big
believer that the next communication should come from that
participant or from that table leader. They can come back and
thank you for your support and let them tell their own personal
story of why they’re involved with the mission of that
organization. Folks, that is so powerful if you have that first
communication come from the person they have the allegiance or
Let’s talk a little bit about what lifetime value means to you.
It’s not just the retention but we’re talking about the total
net contribution that a donor generates during his or her
lifetime in your database. Special events are wonderful for
bringing people in the front door, but we’ve got to be so
careful that we don’t have just as many going out the back door.
The key to that, building that lifetime value, is to keep them
The most critical time period, according to Dr. Sargeant, is
getting that person involved from the first time they make any
sort of financial contribution to their second contribution. If
you wait until nearly a year to ask again, the chances of that
occurring are very slim. In fact, Dr. Sargeant mentions that if
someone gets past 90 days without interaction, communication,
and, perhaps, a second donation, the chances of them being a
second-time donor have dropped by more than 50%. That’s a very
key aspect of this, that communication coming in.
Now, we talk about retention. This is a chart we put together
that shows the overall donor retention in the non-profit world,
based upon actual records. Databases has dropped over the last
five years from 50% to 41%. That’s sort of sad when you compare
this to the commercial sector where the average retention of
customers from one year to the next is 94% and over here we’re
What I always marvel at is, down at the bottom right hand corner
here, this 70% that I’m pointing to right now and highlighting,
there were a small number of organizations that actually had a
70% annual retention rate for their donors from one year to the
next, and they were very good at making this happen.
One of the key things that we always point out in any CRM system
is the ability to very quickly measure the retention. This is
the dashboard from the Bloomerang product as an example here.
You can see that this particular organization, in the last 365
days, has a retention rate of 45%. This literally changes from
day to day as they use the product. They can compare what their
retention rate is from this week to next week, from this month
to next month, to see how they’re doing in that regard.
This dashboard becomes your cockpit. It’s showing your retention
rate, your revenue, and your actual campaigns. If we go back to
that report there, one of the fun things is that your event can
be one of these campaigns. You can see, literally, did you hit
your goal, how it’s going on. Particularly if you followed the
advice of what Steven said there a minute ago of opening up the
auction phase prior to the event, you can actually start to see
this campaign progress goal being achieved as the event moves in
and the follow-up after the event as the monies are collected
and things are all coming in from each type of event you’re
One of the other things that we think is important is measuring
the engagement level. What you’re seeing here for this
individual is their engagement level. It moves from cold to cool
to warm to hot to on fire. That’s based upon these various
factors that you see here. Attending an event is one of those
key factors of engagement for that. I think, also, stewardship
over here, anybody that’s responsible for bringing in additional
sponsors, allowing people that they introduced to the
organization to become donors.
You want to make sure in your record-keeping system that you
link back to the original connector, to the person that invited
them to the event so you can see how many people from their
table contributed or people that participated in their
sponsorship for their running or walking activity, how that ties
in, so that the hard credit goes to the person making the
donation but the soft credit is reflected in the connector
person’s record there.
Also, key engagement factors, volunteer activity, whether or not
they’re opening up and looking at their emails, whether they’re
clicking on links here, this really tells after the event is
over you what kind of engagement you’re having and whether
you’re having this person get tighter and tighter with your
organization or whether they’re moving further away. If we don’t
see that engagement meter move in the next three, four, or five
months after they’ve participated in one of your events, if we
see this stay the same or dropping, we know the chances of them
participating on their own in the next year are going to be very
These are just some of the factors that we bring into play
there. It might raise a question, too, as Steven said. If you
have any questions, ask them in the chat room and Steve and I
will be taking those in just a second.
Now, when we talk about donor communication best practices, I
always refer to Tom Ahern. For those of you that are not
familiar with Tom’s work, just type “Tom Ahern” into Google. He
does a weekly newsletter that’s one of the very best in the
industry. I always recommend his newsletter. I love his quote
here, “Successful direct-mail appeals are quite simple. At heart
they are love letters to donors and prospects woven through with
clear cries for help.”
Steve talked a little bit earlier about your communications with
the individuals. It’s very important to be talking about the
donors themselves and the impact that they personally are
making. It’s nice to know what your organization is doing, but
just reciting facts about your mission and your accomplishments
are not as important as saying to the donor, “You made these
come to life. You made the difference.” It was Tom that was
talking a lot about using the connector, the person that brought
them to your event, to help with your first initial
I’m also a big believer in that first set of communications.
Here’s a timeline that we see here out of the Bloomerang program
where we can see each touch point. I think it’s also very
important in the first three to four months after the event, if
this is a first-time donor and contributor to your organization,
to send out a brief survey. When I say brief, that’s four or
five questions at the most to find out their opinion. Did they
like your event? How do they want to be communicated with? Do
they want to be communicated with in paper or electronically?
How often do they want to be communicated with? What aspects of
your mission are they most excited about?
If you can ask people’s opinion and, more importantly, put the
results into the database and strictly follow what they’ve asked
to do, your chances of making them a two-year, four-year, five-
year, 10-year donor are much greater.
As you can see, any time you can see a timeline like this and
find out how many touch points we’ve had with somebody… If
you’ve got thousands and thousands of contributors, we know
those touch points can’t all be face-to-face meetings. We can
certainly make some of them telephone calls. We can make a lot
of them personalized communications, whether it’s in writing or
electronic, so that they’re personalized and they talk to the
interests and the needs of that individual. That makes such a
huge difference as we go forward.
If you want to, one of the things that we help people move into
is into a prospect management or a