BRACE YOURSELF—this is going to hurt a little. Tough love always does.
Charity galas, golf tournaments, bachelor auctions (yes, there are still a few), fashion shows—you name it—a million of these charity events happen all over the country on any given date, day and night. The same thing happens at each and every one of these events: Organizers let easy money walk right out the door and never realize it. Why? Because the organizer and volunteers forget that the event is not about them, the sponsors or even the charity, but about the people sitting in the seats with the money.
Really. It is about the people who have spent their money to come to your event, hoping beyond hope that they will eventually have a good time at one of these things. More often than not, it turns into the same old thing, which translates into fewer and fewer ticket sales as time goes by because no one wants to get stuck at yet another boring chicken and rice (or beef tips with asparagus) dinner event.
When I first started in Houston radio, I volunteered to emcee and serve as celebrity auctioneer at hundreds of charity functions to get my name out in the community. Once I became a top-rated rock radio personality, I continued to emcee and act as an auctioneer at these events to say thanks to the fans (aka Steeleworkers) who had put me at the top of my profession. I do it to this day to give back to my community. I shake my head in disbelief time and time again as I watch potential deep-pocket donors ignore what’s being said (or sold) from the podium, or even worse, walk out the door because they have just had enough. They are bored. And the longer it goes on, they become tired.
Armed with 35 years experience and confidence, as well as a bird’s eye view from the podium, I am going to be blunt here. You are losing thousands of dollars in easy donations and it is your fault. Here are some tips:
---> Flow everyone past the silent auction items to get to their seats. Bar, auction items, seats, stage. That order. Always.
---> Put the live auction items or descriptions in large displays by the bars. And make sure there are easy-to-find-and-read descriptions at the tables. It gives people more to talk about.
---> Keep the entertainment volume low enough during the cocktails and dinner so that people who paid a gazillion dollars for a table can actually talk to their friends. The more they just sit there without interaction, the less they drink, and the less involved they get in your event, auction or otherwise.
---> Serve drinks and food as soon as you can. Hungry people are grumpy people and do not spend as much. They want to eat and drink the minute they walk in the door.
---> No one came to hear you or anyone else drone on. Half the people in the audience know little or nothing about your charity—nor do they care. They are just there for the good time and the drinks, possibly the entertainment. This is not the time to educate anyone.
---> They say just before a woman leaves the house, she should look in the mirror and remove at least one accessory. Apply that same rule to your program. Just before the program goes to print, remove one or two planned activities—a speech, a friend’s sister singing, yet another awarding of another plaque, etc.
---> And about those plaques, glass thing-ama-jiggies and other trinkets. Stop it. Most go in a closet or the recycler. If you must give someone something, just say a big thanks from the stage and leave it at that—or make a donation to the charity in his or her name.
---> Keep the live auction to a minimum—five big items at the most—and do it immediately following dessert. Also, you really don’t need someone who can do the fast auctioneer patter; no one really understands it. You lose bidders because they are not sure what they are bidding on and are scared to admit it. Get a local celebrity with a big personality who can handle the fast pace of an auction. Let him or her do their magic and work the crowd. (Bonus tip: Never, ever ask a local celebrity to be there more than two hours. They are invited to do dozens of these things every week. Respect their time for choosing yours.)
Hopefully I have made you rethink your upcoming charity event. Bottom line? To make money at a charity event you must wine, dine and highly entertain—in that order. Look at your program; if something doesn’t fit one of those three criteria, dump it.
Keep up the good work. Now go raise some money.
Dayna Steele is the CEO of YourDailySuccessTip.com, a rock radio Hall of Famer, and the author of the 101 Ways to Rock Your World book series.