The “Charity Soapbox”

07 Aug

While planning a major Charity Fundraiser in Seattle, several years ago, I spoke to the founder and explained to her that when she gets up to address the crowd, to please keep her speech short.  She explained that she had a lot to say and her supporters attend to hear how the charity was doing.  I explained to her that people do not attend to listen to speeches, they attend to have a great time, enjoy great food and drinks and win items on their Auctions.  I explained to her that fundraisers are “Social Events” and not informative lectures.  If she gives a lecture, she will lose the crowd and their motivation and enthusiasm will plummet.  She didn’t listen and prior to the Live Auction, she stood on the stage in front of a large screen with a power point presentation and began.

I stood on the sidelines, grinding my teeth, watching the fundraising dollars drain from the room.  As she started, everyone was listening but after five (5) minutes, people began standing and walking to the restroom.  At the ten (10) minute mark, couples were standing and leaving.  At the 20 minute mark – it looked like the end of a football game – mass exodus.

For the Live Auction, people were already tired of sitting listening to her speech and a pack of wild horses wouldn’t get them engaged.  Prior to the Live Auction, I was approached by no less then 50 people who were planning to bid on the items and determining their bid amounts.  When the auction finally came, all of them were gone.  The Live Auction was a bust.  She didn’t listen…but honestly, Charities hardly ever do.

What you must realize is, people attend Charity Fundraisers for the “Event of it.”  At these events, it’s time for a “Soft Sell” and not over the top long winded speeches.  An informative video is the best option which shows different photo’s, background music and short comments from the people helped – NOT LECTURES.

You have to understand a Charity Fundraiser from the beginning of the day.  But the key is, think of it as one of your guests.  As the day starts, women are planning what time should they start getting ready.  After everyone is dressed, excitement starts to build.  During the ride there, couples plan on the amount of money they will spend.  As they arrive and walk into the venue, they immediately begin to see what is on the auctions.  They meet their friends, find their seats and Social Hour begins.  They watch the silent auction, begin to bid on items, buy raffle tickets and get engaged into the event.  They watch the clock wondering when the Live Auction is going to begin.

During this social period, this is the time for the Charity to meet their guests and talk about the Charity.  However, at some point, which I suggest as dinner is served, is the time for the appointed person to get up and thank everyone for attending, thank them for supporting the Charity and that the proceeds are going to continue the mission of the organization.  Let them know that representatives are here and if they would like to learn more, to come see you.  If people want to know more, they will approach someone – it’s called “Soft Selling.”

A three (3) year study conducted by BW Unlimited revealed that 70% of the people attending do not know who the benefit supports.

Needless to say after the fundraiser was over, she asked me why the Auction didn’t do as well – I told her why and that she didn’t listen to me.  Of course she argued a bit but finally came to realization that my advice was right.

But the problem was…the event was over.  I wanted to say “I told you so” but the lesson she learned was enough.

Moral to the Story:

Don’t give long winded speeches, let your crowd come to you.  If they want more information, they will come to you.  Look at your Charity Fundraiser as a Social Get Together with a fundraising mechanism and not as a Lecture.  Keep people happy and motivated to bid so that your organization can continue and grow it’s mission.

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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


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