Make the Most Out of the Money in the Room

Make the Most Out of the Money in the Room

It is important to make the most of the money you have in the room at an event, but doing so is not always as straightforward as it might seem. Every event has a ceiling, a maximum dollar amount that is appropriate for any single bid or fund a need pledge.

This ceiling has as much to do with the biggest bidders in the room as the people who can’t afford to spend a dime. In fact, it has everything to do with the relationship between them. No big bidder wants to stand out too far from the rest of the crowd. No one wants to make a bid on a lot and hear someone in the back of the room gasp, “that’s three months’ rent!”

This is one of the reasons we recommend doing at least 10 lots before your fund a need. Not only do we need to successfully devalue money, we need to make people who are willing to spend the money heroes and not fools. It is also why we recommend working with donors to establish the lead donation for the fund a need. There is more strategy at work than simply starting at the highest point someone is willing to commit to.

Just because one donor is willing to give you $10,000 doesn’t mean it is appropriate to open your fund a need there, especially if the high water mark for any other auction item has been $4,000 or less. We had $10,000 lead donors in each of the fund-a-needs for the past two events I’ve done. One raised $70,000 and the other less than $30,000.

At the former event, $10,000 was a completely sensible place to start the fund a need. We’d opened at $10,000 last year, and items have historically sold for close to that amount. When we opened the fund a need and started collecting pledges, three people raised their paddles: the same three people who had been bidding each other up on some of the big lots all night long.

The other event, however, was a different story, and a reminder of why bigger, higher, more is not always the best motto for fundraising. The ceiling in that room was around $4,000 – it was a highly corporate event with a few committed board members comprising the majority of the bidders. One exceptionally committed board member told me that he wanted to open the fund a need at $10,000 and get everyone else to come along with him.

He came up onstage during the ask, and challenged the crowd to match him at $10,000. Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets in a roomful of silent paddles. He quickly dropped to $5,000 then $1,000, put up another $10,000 of his own money, and threatened to pick people up and shake the money out of their pockets. All told, we made an additional $17,000 in the fund a need, on top of his $20,000. He showed great passion, but we did not make the most of his money.

If we had been able to work with him during the planning process and come up with a strategy, we could have given ourselves a better chance of getting more participation from other bidders.  For example, if we used his money as a challenge grant at the $1,000 level, we could have pushed for more participation from the crowd as a whole. There was no-one else in that room with $10,000 to spare, and they all knew it.

We could have then opened at a level commiserate with the expectations of the room, and not blown everyone out of the water. He could have been the hero for making such a grand commitment, and the rest of the crowd could have been made into heroes as well for rising to his challenge. As it was, he seemed pushy and everyone else felt inadequate.

Asking for money is hard. Asking for it at the appropriate level, firing up the room and getting everyone to join together to make something positive happen is a minor miracle. A miracle that requires months of planning, clear communication with donors, and an intimate understanding of the capacity of your crowd.

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