Maximizing Your Fundraiser for a Record-Breaking Paddle Raise

Welcome to our innovative fundraising guide. After extensive experience and keen observation, we’ve identified three pivotal strategies often overlooked in traditional fundraisers. Our approach goes beyond the expected, transforming every fundraiser into a record-setting event.

How To Get Money In The Room

One of the hardest things to do when raising money is to get money in the room, but here’s a way to do it–give an award.

Many non-profit do this, but for those who don’t, I would highly recommend it for two reasons. Honoring someone who has done a lot for your organization is a nice moment at every event. But if honoring someone is 1A, 1B should be to honor someone who has financial means. Think of it this way, the person you are honoring usually has friends who also have financial means and they will likely invite those friends to join them at their table. Now, you have 8 more people or at worst 4 more couples who will donate because their friend is being honored.

However, don’t honor the honoree until the paddle raise and the live auction is over. Make them sit through the fundraising. If you honor someone before the fundraising, they might leave immediately after the award. Don’t miss this opportunity to maximize your fundraising event.

An auctioneer hits a gavel at a charity auction.
Benefit auctioneer Eric Goodman interacts with a crowdmember at a charity event.

Closing the Bar, Opening Wallets

One of the best strategies to maximize your fundraising gala is to close the bar during the paddle raise and live auction. However, when I bring this up to every non-profit the reaction is the same, “Our donors are going to be very upset if we do this.” The non-profit is correct to a point because most people are more willing to donate when they’ve had a glass of wine or two. However, a glass of wine is great when they are sitting at their table, not standing at the bar. I explain to the person organizing the event, “If someone is waiting in line at the bar for a vodka tonic, do you really think they are paying attention to the paddle raise or the live auction? Just think about how much money we will potentially lose because someone wants a drink.” My suggestion is to close the bar during the fundraising and open it back up when the fundraising is over.

How do we do this? We give a 15, 10, and 5 minute warning when the bar is closing so everyone is aware this is happening and we also put a sign on the bar that the bar is closing temporarily at a certain time.

We want our donors to give their full attention during the fundraising, but if we give them an option to take their attention away from the fundraising, like leaving the bar open, we are losing money. So, if you want to maximize your fundraising and take every penny out of the room, close the bar so your donors open their purses and wallets.

The Fantastic Four Elements for a Record Breaking Event

A benefit auctioneer can only do so much to help you reach your fundraising goals in a paddle raise the night of the event and your auctioneer would be disingenuous if he/she told you otherwise. It’s combination of pre planning to go with a confluence of events which happen in unison to help you shatter your previous paddle raise record.

As I tell every non-profit, a mission moment is a blowtorch, and I am the gasoline. The better the mission moment, the more money will be given from your donors. I once had a donor during the paddle raise give $50,000 when I didn’t even ask for that much. I asked him after the event, why did he do it? He told me, “After listening to the mission moment on why it was important to give, I knew I had to do something big.” He certainly did. Think of it this way, if you can make your donors cry because of the emotion of the mission moment, it’ll be more than tears flowing from their faces, the cash will flow as well.

When I consult with non-profits, I constantly ask them about having a plant to start off the paddle raise. This is important and crucial for many reasons and I can’t stress this enough. The success of your paddle raise can die a quick death without a plant. A plant is the person who will generally start off the paddle raise at a certain dollar amount. If someone is willing to start at $10,000. I will start a level higher at $15,000 knowing we may not get anyone at $15,000, we might and I’ve seen it many times, but we are locked in at $10,000 for sure.  

If you don’t know who the first donor is going to be, the auctioneer is literally flying blind and the chances of a crash, unfortunately, very high. If I start at $10,000 and no one raises their paddle and then go to $5000 and no one raises their paddle—all the oxygen will be sucked out of the room.  The room will be silent, and your donors will feel like they failed. In nearly 10 years of being a benefit auctioneer, I’ve done one event where they didn’t have a plant, although, they told me they might have someone at $5000. They didn’t and the paddle raise was a painful slog through the levels. 

The other reason to have a plant, specifically at a higher level like $10,000 or even $5000, it makes your donors feel like it going to be a big night of fundraising. A donor is likely thinking, “If someone can donate $10,000, I can certainly donate $500, even if I was only planning on donating $250.” These numbers can multiply quickly with a high value plant. Don’t get one, and I honestly believe, a non-profit is putting their paddle raise in jeopardy.

The biggest mistake I see with many non-profits is their original timeline. And I tell all of them, take care of your donor’s time and they will take care of you. 

How many times have you been to a fundraising gala and the program is long because of long speeches?  I tell them, “You’ve sat through these long programs at other fundraising galas and hated it, so why are you doing the same thing to your donors?” They pause and say, “That’s a good point.”

It’s important to raise awareness, but this fundraising gala isn’t about YOU, it’s about YOUR DONORS because you want them to give money. If you want them to give, put together a program they will enjoy and snappy, not something you will enjoy. Keep your timeline tight with short speeches and put the fundraising like the paddle raise and live auction in the middle of the timeline, not at the end. This is a common mistake. Don’t make that mistake, get your guests to donate when they aren’t antsy to get home. Take care of their time and they will take care of you.

Stock the lake with fish. The more money you get in the room, the more potential there is for the non-profit to get it in the paddle raise. However, if you don’t have a great mission moment, plant, and an efficient timeline, all that money won’t go into the paddle raise. It’ll walk out the door.

Benefit auctioneer Eric Goodman holding a box and interacting with a crowd member at a live auction event.
Event auctioneer Eric Goodman holds a football as he interacts with the crowd during a live charity auction benefit event.

Don’t make your timeline wait because of the waiter/waitress service

We’ve talked about keeping a tight timeline and one thing that can throw it off dramatically is a sit-down dinner. A sit-down dinner is formal and it feels more special, but it can also wreck your fundraising.

The slower the wait service to go with not enough staff, the more it will slow down your timeline to get to the fundraising. Make sure salads are plated as well as desert. Every time plates are served and cleared, it eats up valuable time and you don’t want this happening during the fundraising as it causes a distraction in the room—taking away from raising money.

You are paying for this service, so demand they have more than enough staff to work quickly. Remember, the longer the program, the more people are going to want to leave your event. Don’t let them leave because the venue didn’t have enough staff on hand as you will watch money walk out the door.

The little things: lighting, sound, sightlines, and seating

It seems obvious to have good lighting, sound, and sightlines, so be diligent when scouting a venue.

Make sure the lighting is good enough so people in the back of the room can see the auctioneer, who is likely standing in the front. If your guests can’t see the auctioneer and the auctioneer can’t see them, there is great potential to lose money. Throw in poor sightlines with wooden beams in the room, and it’ll be very difficult to see raised paddles.

The same goes for sound. Make sure the venue supplies the audio and test it out while scouting the event. If your guests cannot hear the auctioneer describe the live auction item, you guests won’t bid.

Sometimes it difficult to have everyone sitting at a table in the room, but this is crucial to fundraising as well. More people tend to talk when they are standing than when they feel like they are a captive audience sitting down.

I did an event where people were sitting in the front and the other half were standing in the back. Nearly 90% of the money came from the people sitting in the front, while the people standing in the back were talking and doing nothing more than making noise—distracting from the fundraising.

Wide shot of a ballroom full of people getting ready for a live fundraising auction event in Denver, Colorado.

Be a Part of the Change

Join us in revolutionizing the world of fundraising. We’ve been honored to serve a variety of organizations, such as: Colorado Police Officers Foundation, Epic Experience, Warrior Now, Firefly Autism, Boys and Girls Club of Weld County, Larimer County, and Cheyenne County, Dream On 3, African Leadership Group, One World Surgery, Canine Partners of the Rockies, TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Cancer League of Colorado, Children’s Literacy Center, and many more. Be a part of our next record-breaking event and witness how these strategies transform the traditional approach to raising funds. Together, we can achieve unprecedented success.