When the paddle raiser is starting, you want to bring the house lights up and the spotlight down, to ensure that your auctioneer can see the whole room, and equally important, is to ensure that everyone in the room can see the people who are participating in your paddle raiser.
Your auctioneer will read off the paddle numbers of every person who makes a contribution.
You should have two or three people with a clipboard who will “record” every number the auctioneer reads. They should not be “looking” at numbers in the audience. They should just keep their heads down and “record” every number they hear from the auctioneer.
It’s important for the auctioneer to have a nice steady pace when reading the paddles.
BEST PRACTICE: The auctioneer should say the word “Number” before reading each paddle, and every digit should be said individually.
The auctioneer’s cadence should look like this:
The goal is to read the numbers in a steady, consistent and clear voice so the recorders have no trouble accurately writing down every paddle number the auctioneer reads off.
As a back-up, you should also audio record the paddle raiser so you can resolve any discrepancies.
Every once in a while, a nonprofit who is new to paddle raisers will say, “We’ve got 20 volunteers with clipboards, and each one is assigned to two tables. They’ll write down the paddle numbers of anyone who raises a paddle at one of their assigned tables.”
You don’t want to do that.
Of course, that’s efficient. Of course, that would effectively capture the bidder numbers, but taking this approach will cost you a lot of money.
Let’s revisit some of our earlier topics and see the impact of the auctioneer reading off the numbers vs volunteers stationed throughout the room writing down the numbers.
As we said earlier, “Status” is one of the things you offer your guests when you ask for paddle raiser donations, and your guests are grateful for the opportunity to attain status.
Earlier we explained that your donors want you to give them “cover” so that raising their paddle isn’t seen as showing off. (Remember the Kissing Cam example?).
Earlier, we explained earlier that the United States is a consumer economy filled with people who love “transactions”. We explained that in your paddle raiser, a “transaction” is a good thing, while a “purchase” is a bad thing.
Remember, you want to give your donors a transaction, the opportunity for status and the “cover” to remove the stigma of showing off. If you stay focused on doing those things, your guests will reward you generously with cash.
Most nonprofits are aware that the “story” of the work their organization does has to be front and center during their fundraisers.
But this story of what you do, how you do it and the impact you’re having can’t simply be told by a series of talking heads on the stage. It needs to be told through the faces of the people you serve.
We have to remember that people don’t donate money to “causes”, they donate to other people (or animals). If you’re telling your story through the “faces” of the people you serve, you will engage the empathy of your guests, and they will donate more money.
In the book “Give and Take” by Adam Grant, the author explains that “humanizing” can have a remarkable effect on behavior.
He cites a study that was conducted on a group of Israeli radiologists (x-ray techs) who evaluated a large group of CT scans from patients. Grant writes:
“After three months passed, the radiologist had forgotten the original CT exams and they evaluated them again. Some of the radiologist got better, showing 53 percent improvement in detecting abnormalities unrelated to the primary reason for the exams.
But other radiologists got worse; their accuracy dropped by 28 percent—on the exact same CT exams in just three months.
Why did some radiologists get better while others got worse?
Their patients had been photographed before their exams.
Half of the radiologists completed their first CT exams without the patient’s photo. When they did their second CT exams three months later, they saw the photo. These were the radiologists who improved by 53 percent.
The other half of the radiologists saw the patient photo in their first CT exams and then completed their second CT exams three months later with no photo. These were the radiologists who deteriorated by 28 percent.
When the radiologists saw the patient’s photo they felt more empathy. By encouraging empathy, the photos motivated the radiologists to conduct their diagnoses more carefully.”
Putting a human face on your mission is critical to the success of your fundraising effort.
So how do you use faces most effectively: One of the things we recommend is a 3 to 5 minute video immediately prior to your paddle raiser (aka Fund-a-Need). That video should be positive and uplifting and focused on a single patient or family or, if there are ethical or legal issues with singling someone out, try to make it as small a group of people as you can.
You want the audience to connect with the story you’re telling, and there is a huge difference between these two approaches:
Your audience will always have a much more powerful response to an individual story that it will statistics or generalizations about the services you offer.
So whenever possible, make sure you’re using the “faces” of your constituents in your fundraising effort, and especially in your Mission Moment, which comes right before your paddle raiser.
We’ve talked a lot about the power of teamwork, and one thing that is generally true of team sports is that everyone can always see the scoreboard. Two of the greatest advancements in the television coverage of NFL football were the scoreboard bug that lives on the screen permanently, and the yellow first-down line that is superimposed on the screen.
In a quick glance, the image below tells you:
As a fan of football, when you tune into any NFL game, you have a wealth of knowledge that will help you understand the situation in the game. In fact, this technology has impacted our enjoyment of the game so dramatically that it’s hard to imagine watching a game without it -- even though that’s what we used to do just a few years ago.
Obviously, we can’t give this level of detail, clarity and context to your event audience, but we can at least tell them the score.
After every paddle raiser level, you should share the running total with the audience. In Chapter 16, we talked about the recorders are who are writing down every number the auctioneer reads off. You also need another person whose sole job it is to “tally” every number the auctioneer reads off and use that tally to maintain a running total.
At the end of each paddle raiser level, the auctioneer should say, “We have so far raised _____!” You’ll be amazed and how this score-keeping update keeps the audience engaged in the game, and keeps them giving.
Having said all of this, and after showing you a graphic of an NFL game, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “This is where having a fundraising thermometer on the screen will be really good.”
Please re-read Chapter 7 if you need a reminder on why you should not use a fundraising thermometer on the screen.
If you’re hoping to do your best fundraising, then you want married couples in the room when the paddle raiser (aka fund-a-need) is happening. Have you ever noticed that all-male events and all-female events don’t raise quite as much money as the co-ed events?
There are two major reasons for that.
Most people have some financial threshold they won’t pass through without consulting their significant other. It’s one thing to be at Costco buying $200 worth of groceries. It’s another thing to be at a charity event, raising your paddle to donate $1,000.
Our observation is that neither men nor women spend blithely when their significant other isn’t there.
If you want your paddle raiser to really succeed, you want couples in the room. You want husbands and wives sitting next to each other jointly making the decision to contribute to your organization.
This is the reason that breakfast and lunch events tend to raise less paddle raiser money than dinner events. At breakfast and lunch, you have a much higher percentage of guests who are there alone or with co-workers rather than with their spouses.
In Chapter 8 we explained how important it was to have a lead donor and to use that lead donor to help you determine where to start your paddle raiser. The final question you have to ask is, “how low do we go in our paddle raiser?”
Our recommendation is that you don’t go below $100.
Sometimes it’s tempting to go down to $50 or $25, but we believe that most of the time that’s a mistake.
The first issue is that the audience is looking to you for guidance on how much money they should donate to you. If you say $25 is the amount that you need, then they’ll give you $25. But if you tell them that $100 is the amount you need, they’ll give you $100.
I believe fundraising galas can be like wedding registry. If you’re going to attend the wedding of someone who is not a good friend or family member, then you go to their registry and you look for the least expensive option.
If they have gifts that are in the $25 to $50 range, you’ll buy one of those and won’t feel guilty at all, because they created the registry. They said that these items were things that they wanted and needed, so if you choose one of them, you’re just giving them what they asked for.
But what if you’re looking at the wedding registry for that same couple and the lowest value item is $100? You might grouse about the price, but you’re going to buy a $100 item. They’ve put together a list of everything they want and need, and you’re likely to buy something on that list.
The same is true of your gala attendees. They’re looking to you for cues about how much money you want from them, and if you give them a bunch of $25 options (e.g. wine wall, drawing tickets, $25 paddle raiser level), then they’ll take your suggestion and give you a small amount of money.
Our recommendation is to not go below $100.
The $100 level in your paddle raiser is the most accessible for most of the audience, but it can also take a long time to read off all the numbers, especially in a big room. And that can be very tedious for the audience.
Why take all that time to read off number at the $100 level, when you could just sweep the room and collect the numbers?
Your auctioneer can say something like this:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we’d like to share a final opportunity tonight. Here’s what we’d like to do. We’d love it if you would just “turn in” your paddle for $100. If you have not yet made a contribution, we’d like you to turn in your paddle and contribute $100. If you’ve already made a donation at a higher level, we’re asking you to turn in your paddle and add $100 to whatever you’ve already committed. I spoke to the check-in company, and they issued about 500 paddles tonight. If all 500 were turned in, we would raise an additional $50,000 at the $100 level. We’ve got volunteers throughout the room who are going to pick up the numbers. Please hold your paddle up high, and someone will come to get it from you. Thank you for your generosity!"
The sweep at $100 can save a lot of time, and raise a lot more money. Many of your donors who’ve already given at higher levels will “add on” $100 to their previous gifts. And donors who have not yet made a gift, will hold their paddles up to contribute $100.
You’ll accomplish all of that in less than 1 minute.
Here are six common fundraising mistakes that nonprofits make when planning their paddle raisers. These decisions seem innocuous, but the impact on your fundraising can be devastating. to consider when planning your next Live Auction and Paddle Raiser.
Ever attend a fundraiser where you needed a paddle to bid on live auction items? Fundraising may be an art, but if we get too artsy with our fonts, they become hard to read and can negate the professional effort you're putting forth.
Stick with solid, sans-serif fonts like Helvetica or Arial. If an auctioneer has a hard time reading the paddle numbers, it becomes a huge barrier to bidding, so it's best to just avoid creative fonts altogether.
And while we're talking about fonts (you can tell font etiquette is important to me!), make your font size large enough for the auctioneer to see. Don't make them squint. A solid, sans serif font with large lettering that is at least 3" high, will ensure your auctioneer doesn't miss a beat ... or bid!
For an auctioneer, most of the bidder paddle spotting happens in our peripheral vision. How is the auctioneer supposed to see a paddle raised when your large centerpiece is blocking his or her line of vision?
It is important to remember that your auctioneer is not only on stage, but also he or she is 5 - 7 feet above that stage too. The auctioneer's line of sight is different than guests sitting at a table. Keep your centerpieces low to the table so everyone can not only see the auctioneer, but also so they can be seen by the auctioneer.
While you may want to create a dimly lit ambiance, you should make plans to change the lighting during your live auction. Your auctioneer needs to be able to clearly see the audience members and paddles raised. Not only do we need the lights on, but we need to avoid blinding the auctioneer by putting a spotlight on him or her. Being able to read the numbers on the paddles is crucial for live auction fundraising!
Many organizations are trying to "recreate" the traditional gala and want to do away with paddle numbers. This can be a mistake because your guests enjoy the professional flair of their uniquely assigned number and look forward to being able to use it to publicly display their commitment to a cause. Numbers are universal, making it easy for auctioneers, donors and event organizers to all be on the same page.
Turning a public fundraising event into a private event is one of the biggest fundraising mistakes. When donors commit their donations using envelopes, we lose all of the momentum and intangible energy that is created in a room when the whole group gets to band together and raise funds. Seeing multiple paddles in the air and hearing a flurry of numbers being called out is not only exciting, but also reminds everyone why they are there. In other words, it helps guests put their money where their mouths — and their hearts — are!
When it comes to fundraising, it is important to focus on the details that are in our control. By removing these six (6) barriers to bidding, you can be sure that you have maximized your fundraising capabilities and your guests will appreciate the ease of supporting your organization as well!
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