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Planning A Successful Dinner Auction Fundraiser - Expert Advice From Mike Orlando

  Posted in Fundraising on Sep 21, 2010 by Michael Orlando    0 Comments 
Planning A Successful Dinner Auction Fundraiser - Expert Advice From Mike Orlando
Fundraising events are a key component of a nonprofit organization's overall fundraising strategy. In some organizations the ability to make a major purchase or fund a program depends on the success of a particular fundraising event. I have helped plan and host hundreds of fundraisers during my 20 years managing my family's banquet facilities, Orlando Gardens Banquet and Conference Centers. In addition, I participate in planning the annual auction/gala for The Orlando Family Foundation for Charities. In this article, I will explain what it takes to plan a successful Dinner Auction.

Planning The Event

Plan Early
Planning an event such as a dinner auction takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work by many people. Try to give yourself a year to plan and try to recruit as many committee members as possible. I recommend hosting your auction in the winter months of January or February. These are typically slow times for event space and you are more likely to get the right space at the best price. Your best value will be all inclusive locations that provide food, bar and space at one price. Before selecting a date for your event you should check charity websites and local event calendars to avoid conflicts with other charity events.

First things first. Someone from your organization must be in charge: the Auction Chairperson. They are ultimately responsible for the success of the event as well as organizing and assigning Committee Chairs. The most important part of your auction will be the people you recruit to help you. You can use these volunteers as resources to help you acquire auction items, sponsors and donors. You will be surprised at the wealth of connections your committee members will bring to the table. For our auction, we recruit Host Committee members. Their job is to fill as many guest tables as possible at the event. However, our Host Committee members are required to acquire at least one table. They can send out invitations to all of their friends and families to gain a stronger support base for your organization. This is their only job. They are not required to solicit any auction items or commit to doing anything else. But it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Recruit other volunteers and assign them to committees that include auction item solicitations, save the date and invitation creation, auctioneer procurement, sponsor and ad book solicitations, day of auction set up and volunteer supervision the night of the event. Auction committee members should meet once a month during the year and report their progress to the committee chairs and the auction chair. In the two months preceding the event, you may want to meet every two or three weeks or more and stay in constant communication via email.

Auction Items
This is key to a successful fundraising event. Encourage the auction item solicitors to get creative and solicit anyone and everyone for anything that may be donated rather than having to purchase items. Anything donated requires less of the charity's funds committed up front and 100% of the auction sale price benefits the charity! Smaller items may be bundled together to offer a larger auction item. Anything valued under $200 should be used as a silent auction item. Those items valued over $200 should be considered as an oral auction item or perhaps bundled together to create a higher value for the oral auction. Start soliciting early for items. Don’t be afraid to solicit for auctions items. You will be amazed at how giving people can be, even in a down economy. Never assume someone will not donate something to your cause. I am 100% certain that if you don’t ask, you won’t receive! Discretion and tact are often required when soliciting auction items. Please be careful in accepting items from possible donors who want to get rid of junk. Remember, you are looking for QUALITY, and not so much QUANTITY. This isn’t a garage sale!

I recommend having at least two sections of silent auction items. Section One contains the less expensive items valued under $100. This section will close first, probably some time during dinner. Section Two should contain the nicer silent items that will close shortly after dinner. The oral auction items should be auctioned just after dinner is served and during dessert. Oral items should be prominently displayed by the auctioneer’s podium for all to view during cocktails and dinner. If trips are given away or other high value gift certificates, make sufficient and attractive signage to promote those items.

Choosing your venue to host your gala will dictate the ticket price you may charge. Venues range from Church basements to The Ritz Carlton and everywhere in between. And so should the ticket prices. You should determine how upscale you want this event to be and how many people will pay a particular price for a ticket. You should decide if you want a buffet style menu or a seated dinner. I would recommend an open bar in the ticket price to add value to the experience. The bar should remain open the entire evening allowing your guests to be free with their pocket books. Once you establish a ticket COST, establish a ticket PRICE. I recommend adding 50%-60% to the cost to establish your ticket price. This will not only add to your bottom line but will help defray the other costs you may incur for postage, invitations, decorations, etc.

I recommend contacting a local celebrity or personality. People like being in the presence of celebrities and this helps make your event FUN. People like FUN and being ENTERTAINED.

Be Organized
A lack of organization can be disastorous to the outcome of a fundraising event. Give yourself plenty of time to set up the auction and get your auction committee on the same page. Everything should be complete and in it’s place at least 2 hours prior to the event. Every successful auction should be no more than four hours long. The worst thing you can do is drag out the event for five or six hours. No one likes to be there for that length of time. Set a time schedule for everything taking place and stick to it. Sometimes not everything goes as planned so just deal with it the best you can and move on. Try not to let the guests see you sweat!

Your Charity
If possible, please try to have individuals who benefit from your proceeds attend the event. For example, if this event benefits a school, try to have some of the students attend that evening (or at least a portion of the evening) to help in any way so your guests can “put a face” to what the evening is all about and who is benefiting from their donation. If this isn’t your first auction, let your guests know how the proceeds have been spent from the previous year’s auction. This helps them identify with your organization.

More Ways To Fund-Raise

This is a great tactic to raise money for something specific within your organization. I will use a school as an example. If you would like to raise money specifically to purchase Smart Boards in the classrooms, you may ask for guests to raise their hands if they would like to donate to “fund this need”. You should let them know that the Smart Boards cost (for example) $5,000. You may ask, “who would like to donate $1,000 to the purchase of a Smart Board?” You may then decrease to $500, to $200 to $100 and down to $25. As people raise their hands, you can have volunteers record their bid numbers. At the end, you may be surprised with the result!

Direct Donations
Another successful fundraising technique is to simply ask people for money. At the end of your oral auction, you should ask your guests if they would like to make a donation. Your auctioneer should announce, “For those of you who may have been out bid on an auction item but would still like to donate to our charity, I’d like to ask at this time if anyone would like to donate $5,000. Please raise your hand if you’d like to donate $5,000. (some may raise a hand!) Would anyone like to donate $2,000? Would anyone like to donate $1,000? Would any like to donate $500?” And so on until you ask if they would like to donate $25. Make sure you have plenty of volunteers on hand to record who raises their hand for any given amount. Have the auctioneer give the volunteers plenty of time to catch everyone that raises their hand. I have seen this raise anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000 by simply asking people if they would like to donate. People plan on bringing money to auctions, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!

This is a tremendous way to raise money for your cause. Sponsorships are usually corporate driven. You can solicit Major Sponsors for $5,000 or $10,000 that would include their logo and name in all printed materials, special signage the night of the event, a table at the event for 8 or 10 people (depending on how many seat at each table) and a special gift for each guest at the table. The gift should be something nice with a cost around $25 per person.

Ad Book
Another fundraising idea: Turn your event program that contains your auction items into an ad book. You can solicit businesses that may only wish to place a business card size ad for, say, $200. Get as many as you can since this will help pay for the program printing, unless you know someone who can get the printing for free!

No matter what you do, the ultimate goal of your event should be to raise as much money as possible the the charity and keep your guests entertained and coming back year after year. Make sure to have your Host Committee members send out thank you notes after the event to all of the tables they solicited. Make sure you capture address and/or email addresses of all guests to keep them informed of the auction for next year or any other fundraisers you may have throughout the year.

Good Luck!

Michael Orlando is the President and General Manager of Orlando Gardens Banquet and Conference Centers and Orlando ’s Catering and Event Planning. This is a family owned business for over 40 years.

Tags: Fundraising  Orlando Gardens  Orlando Gardens Banquet and Conference Centers  Michael Orlando  Orlando Family Foundation for Charities  Event Planning  Auction Fundraiser  
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