13 October 2017,

Beyond fundraising: Donor focused benefit auctions


Get away from the “event-only” mindset and you increase your chances at raising donor retention rates.

By NAA Staff

What, actually, is a donor? What are the biggest challenges organizations face regarding donors?

Knowing the answers to these and other questions, Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS, Founder & Principal of Kingston Auction Company, has raised millions of dollars for non-profit and charitable organizations. Having that knowledge also has allowed her to successfully establish long, beneficial donor relationships in addition to leading high-level fundraising events.

“Benefit auctions are the new catalyst for donor development,” said Kingston, who is a consultant, speaker, and an award-winning author. It seems the two could be symbiotic.

Retaining donors is the top challenge non-profit and charitable organizations face. According to Kingston, in 2016, charitable giving was up 2.7 percent from the year before, which amounts to a staggering $390.05 billion. Within that amount, however, 75 percent of first-time donors do not give a second gift. And the average donor stays just 1.9 years to support the specific cause.

It begs the question: Why such a high turnover rate?

Trust and shifting relationships are a plausible explanation as donors are applying more discretion to their decision making. But, that’s not the full cause. Fundraising donors also are reluctant to give again when they are not repeatedly asked, not properly thanked, or not given sufficient reason why their gift is vital. These all are repeatedly overlooked.

So, as benefit Auctioneers (or auction professionals in general), how can one assist in donor retention and increased gifts? By correcting those overlooks and asking, thanking, and communicating.

Fundraising: Understand your donors

First, it is beneficial to understand your donors and their passion for the cause.

Use social media and other tools to investigate the cause and its audience. Find out to which other charities and organizations your attendees have given gifts, and find a way to personalize the event experience for them.

According to Tom Ahern, it is important to “Make each donor feel special. Make each donor feel wanted, happy, good, needed, proud, pleased, and important.”

Then, make the cause ongoing rather than just focusing on one event. You can do this by changing the consulting business model to a more philanthropic model rather than an event-centered model. Doing this could increase donor retention. How? Changing the model shifts the mindset away from thinking the event is the highlight of the fundraising effort. Donors then can see giving as an ongoing effort as opposed to a “one event and it’s done” situation.

Also, invite diverse people who can bring different elements and experiences to the event. Then, you can emphasize the common passion shared by so many unique people and highlight the community they have created. Next, inspire that community with real stories of the impact of the audience’s gifts.

During the event, make sure to constantly remind donors what the cause is and what their assistance is going to be. You can do this by using “Impact bullet points.” In addition, make sure you are an “expert in gratitude” by weaving in the pronoun “You.” Using “you” personalizes the donor and connects them to the mission.

Following all of this helps an auction professional establish a trusting, thankful relationship with donors. Get that foundation set, and you, as an auction professional, have the power to influence donor retention amounts.

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2017 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips on  this topic? Full audio of the presentation is available in the NAA Knowledge Center soon. You can also check out other valuable NAA content here.

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