Exceeding Lowered Expectations

Exceeding Lowered Expectations

Every event I’ve done this year, except one, has started off the same way: With attendees exhibiting an almost palapable, universal apprehension during the cocktail hour. I’ve had people come up to me and ask me, point blank, “What’s going to happen during the live auction? Is anyone going to bid?” The universal unspoken question, “Will there be any money in the room?” is suddenly so front and center that it is no longer taboo to bring it out into the open.

I typically try to make light of it, asking if they’ve brought their checkbook and assuring them that we’ll make the most of whatever potential is in the room. The reality is I’m holding my breath for each and every event, along with the event chairs, staff, planners and beneficiaries. The economy has everyone lowering their expectations to the point that we all become joyously happy if we’ve got two bidders on every lot.

Overall, events are down. We know that. At this point you should be aiming to raise the same as last year, while secretly accepting that a 25% downturn may be the economic reality of the times. The best event I’ve done so far in 2009 came within 11% of its 2008 total; but there is a success story to be found in there.

Planning on a challenging economy, the staff lowered food costs by over $15,000 by replacing the caterer with three restaurants who came in and each prepared a course.  The event then hired a freelance wait staff (and paid about 1/2 what they typically did through a caterer) to serve the event. The result was they netted more money than they had the year before, even on a lower gross.

The challenge with lowered expectations is to not lower them so visibly that you let your crowd off of the hook. You have to change how you talk about and ask for money, and any conversation with a supporter that sounds exactly like conversations in the past is going to be immediately ignored.

But if you are a non-profit that provides services for the needy,  demand for your services goes up in a down economy. In and of itself, that is a new way to speak about the needs and expectations of the event, while acknowledging the reality we all are existing in. The catch is not to lower expectations to the point that everybody shows up expecting everyone else to make it happen – a collective SEP Field, if you will.

It is always about messaging. It is always about messaging. And this year, more than any other, that messaging needs to be done in a clear, two-way communication. If you are dependent upon a select few bidders to support your auction, find out if they are going to support you this year, and if so, how much you can rely up on them. You need their help, and you need them to buy in to your event and your organization.

The number one question you should be asking isn’t just, “Can I get them to come to my event?” It should be, “Can I get them on my board?”

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