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Charity Events

I often get asked by clients how they can raise more money from their charity events. This is critical for any charity event for both covering the event costs, as well as raising the maximum amount for the charity.

In my career I have produced over 100 charity events from a wide range of sectors and cultural groups. In this time I have seen a surprisingly wide range of fundraising methods. I will now share these with you.

Ticket Sales

This one is obvious. The ticket should at the very least cover the marginal cost for each guest. This is the total cost of the event, divided by the number of guests likely to attend. Determining ticket price can be difficult and depends greatly on the guest wherewithal, how important the cause is to them and the value they place on entertainment.

A good starting point is to identify the kind of people coming to the event and asking what they would typically spend on an important night out, such as an anniversary dinner or birthday.

Another factor to consider is the ancillary costs of the guest attending the event. These can include taxis, dry-cleaning/suit-hire, hotels etc.

But you can also raise money for the cause from ticket sales. One way of doing this, without inflating the price of tickets too much, is by offering staged pricing on the tickets. For example the first 200 tickets may be priced at £60 with the remaining tickets priced at £80. This may also encourage guests to buy tickets earlier, which will also help your cashflow.

Another method to use is early booking discounts. This is similar to the above except that the tickets that sell for the lower price are defined by when they are purchased, rather than the quantity sold.

If you can cover all costs of running the event from ticket sales alone you have made a good start.

Event Donations

Another method to raise funds for your cause is to get generous people or companies to pay for an aspect of the event. By doing this, more revenue from ticket sales may go to your cause. Some people like to feel to a sense of ownership and pride towards the event. This gives them the opportunity to express their generosity through something that all other guests can experience. This could include paying for the drinks reception, the band, table-centrepieces etc. It is important that the items they can pay for are value-adding, i.e. ones that make the event clearly better. Paying for the venue hire, linen, or marquee would not be a good thing to pay for as it is not value-adding.

The Feature Auction

The feature auction is the main method people use for fund raising. The feature auction is performed by an auctioneer, with all guests watching and participating at once. The auction lots are typically donations from guests and companies. Sometimes reserve prices are set but this is rare as there is no cost to the charity, so any money is good money. I once saw over £200,000 raised from such an auction.

It is vital that you have an experienced and charismatic compere/auctioneer for this. If you do not have one, it may be worth speaking to a local auctioneer or estate agent to provide someone for this purpose. This is great publicity for their firms and can be a good way for them to build rapport with people within their community and peer group.

In many cases the feature auction is excellent, but it can also not work within certain cultural groups.

I am going to be very blunt now, and express an opinion based on nothing more than what I have seen from the events I have produced. The feature auctions that raise the most money are invariably when there are several high-net-worth individuals (usually men, I don't know why) who are all competing to show off their wealth to other people at the event.

Yes, their motivations may be based on vanity, but if the outcome is that they are in some way bettering your cause, is there anything wrong with this?

At events where there are A-list celebrities and the like it is usually the people who are keen to make a name for themselves within these groups who make the high bids. More on celebrities later.

The other factor to consider with the feature auction is what the lots are. First and foremost they have to be desirable and have some genuine worth to the bidders. While a home-made cake may be a great culinary experience, it is unlikely to ever fetch more than the value of a quality cake from a specialist store (tops £20) It is unlikely that a company is going to give you expensive stock to give away (although I have seen Maseratis and diamond necklaces auctioned in the past). You are looking for items that have a low cost to the giver, but a high perceived value to the receiver. So the following are some good ideas, and ones which will typically be available within a given social or business group:

  • Use of someone's holiday home for a week
  • Free weekend use of a show car from a local dealer
  • Gift of promise, such as a golf-lesson from a local professional, a portrait painting or yoga lessons
  • A meal for two (often without drinks) at a local restaurant
  • A gym membership
  • End of line clothing or jewellery from a retailer targeting people within your audience

It is important that you tell the story of all the lots and how enjoyable they would be for the guests. So don't be ashamed to hard-sell these within the auction -this can actually be very entertaining if done tastefully.

Another factor to consider is how to show these lots off. The best way to do this is to have visual information, such as videos or pictures of each of the lots and show these on large screens during the auction. The nature of such events is that people will be drinking and therefore have limited attention spans with the auction, so this style of multimedia presentation is ideal. We often provide very large projection screens and/or plasma screens to show such information.

The Silent Auction

The silent auction is becoming very popular. This is a system where the auction runs throughout the night and with no auctioneer. This is done by a list of all the lots being listed on a projection screen with the current bid and who the current high bidder is. This way people can have a latent competition with each other for the lots that they want.

Bids for a silent auction are collected with 'bid slips' left on each table. They are then filled in and handed to the auction assistants. It is good to offer an anonymous option for bidders.

Pre-Food Appeal

This is probably the most effective fundraising method I have seen although it could be seen as unethical.

The basic idea of this is to have an appeal before dinner, in which a certain amount of money needs to be raised before dinner is served. This is typically done by telling the story of the appeal, and the importance of the charity's work. This can be done with video appeals or a speech. A presenter then uses this as a platform from which to explain how funds are needed to continue doing this work. The presenter then asks for guests to offer an amount to help. The amount typically starts high and works down. This gives people offering larger amounts of money to get more recognition for their generosity at the start of the appeal.

Make sure that the first donor gets a lot of attention and adoration, so as to encourage others to contribute.

It is sensible for you to have a target amount to be raised in mind. Tell your audience this when you are half way through the appeal.

Once you raise your target amount, you can then let the guests eat.

VIP Ticketing

Another simple method for raising additional funds for your cause is by offering VIP ticket upgrades. It is important that this does not alienate people with standard tickets however, you will need to gauge this.

VIP tickets would typically command a 30-40% price premium and could include some of the following:

  • Access to a separate bar area seating in a better location, such as next to the stage
  • Upgrade in quality of wine at the table
  • Free champagne
  • An opportunity to go back-stage
  • Premium gift bags
  • Gifting

Celebrity Affiliation

A variation of VIP ticketing is to sell celebrity affiliation. Many people seek out opportunities to experience a glamorous world and to have stories of mingling with the stars to tell their friends. These are experiences you may be able to sell to guests. Celebrity affiliations can include:

  • A seat at a table with a celebrity
  • Access back-stage
  • Opportunity to sing or perform with the celebrity

I hope that this information is helpful and will contribute to worthy causes in the future. If you have any further questions about your charity event, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Written by Johnny Palmer. Johnny is Head of Special Projects at SXS Events and has produced over 2000 events in his fifteen year career. SXS is a production and AV company and can help with a wide range of sound, video, lighting, staging and other services for your charity auction.

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