Fast track tips to increase speed and money at your benefit auction

It’s finally spring, which fondly reminds me of track season!

You see, I started my career as a college coach in track, basketball, and volleyball at my alma mater and Saint Louis University.

In 1983, I was invited to volunteer as a coach for blind and visually impaired athletes representing Missouri at the national championships for United States Association for Blind Athletes USABA. The next year, I was honored to direct these national championships in St. Louis and served on the USABA national board of directors. Helping athletes reach their full potential was incredibly rewarding. I gained invaluable lessons about communication, team building and running a huge national athletic event. Today, I deeply rely on those incredible strategies, insights and techniques.

Now, I’m honored to coach nonprofit executives, development professionals, board members, sponsors, staff and volunteers on how to raise more funds and how to engage donors with their strategic benefit auctions.

So what’s the connection? 

Run your benefit auction like a track meet!
Here are my top strategies to increase speed and guest engagement to keep those bid cards waiving!

Try Out
Here’s my challenge. Take your mark and try out these specific momentum-builder techniques. Add them to your master planning agenda. Teach these ideas to your auction committee and staff. Then, give it a go at your next auction fundraiser. See what works best for you. Get back to me and let me know.

Optimize Your Speed
Your guests expect to attend a fun, upbeat, lively event. You expect momentum and a profitable night! Attention spans are short, so keep things moving. Your organization cannot make money if the guests are gone. If guests are bored or there’s been too much lag time, their attention will go somewhere else. We want to keep them focused on your mission and why they should support you generously at the auction.

Use Your Stopwatch
The first thing a track coach needs is a stopwatch, and you need one too! It’s very important to time out every single element of the event. Write up a minute by minute show flow detailing every single action on and off stage. Time out every element with your stopwatch. Stick to it!

Get “On Deck”
In a track competition, the next runner is “on deck” and the one behind her is “in the hole.” The same lineup works for benefit auctions. At the beginning of your event, the chairperson, board president, or executive director makes the welcome and thank you remarks. Immediately following those remarks, go right into the montage about the transformational aspects of your nonprofit organization. Set this up so that you have speakers “on deck” and “in the hole.” Put six or seven chairs on the side of the stage and insist that everyone who is making any kind of remarks is seated in chairs 10 minutes in advance of when they are speaking and line up in order of stage appearance.

Add a Manager
One of the best ways to maintain control of your strategically designed show flow is to engage a dedicated stage manager. In a track meet, that person is called the clerk of the course. She oversees the timeline, queues up the competitors, and ensures that everything happens on time. Get one.

Include Handlers
At your event, add specific volunteers called “speaker handlers” to bring speakers right from their tables and escort them to their chairs by the stage before it’s time to make remarks. Your speakers are often beloved to your organization, and your guests want to visit with them. But that s l o w s down your timeline. Assign one handler for each speaker to escort the speaker to the side of the stage, wait in the chairs, stay with him until it’s time to speak, and then escort the speaker from the stage back to his table following the remarks. When all of your speakers are seated and “on deck” lined up ready to go, your speed and momentum and bid cards will soar.

Kathy Kingston Try Outs!  
Here’s my challenge. Take your mark and try out these specific momentum-builder techniques. Add them to your master planning agenda. Teach these ideas to your auction committee and staff. Then, give it a go at your next auction fundraiser. See what works best for you.

Please let me know how these strategies and techniques work for you.

I’d love to hear from you, please contact me with questions and ideas: 603-235-1196

Always BIDhi!

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Perfect Your Pitch: How to Make A Fundraising Ask

What’s one of the most commonly overlooked fundraising mistakes?

Failing to ask, personally.

Failing to ask for people’s help, their time, their generosity. There’s so much to ask for in a fundraising auction event — attendance, items, sponsorships, volunteers, donations, new guests, higher bids, referrals, influence. I once counted and found at least 54 separate asks made in a benefit auction gala event!

So we’d better get good at it!

And, heres my top secret: You are really not “asking.” Instead, you, dear fundraiser are opening a wonderful opportunity for your donors to make a difference for something that impassions THEM! What an honor.

In my article, “Perfect Your Pitch” I’ll share some insights and some easy tips to ask unabashedly and confidently. To get you started, here are some of my top strategies and ideas that you and your board and volunteers can use right away.

Think about it. Each time you hold your benefit auction, gala and fundraiser, you too can deeply inspire your guests, donors, volunteers and potential new supporters to raise more money for a cause that impassions them.

Nonprofits and schools have scrapbooks full of life-changing stories they forget to retell. They have urgent needs they never describe.

Donors want—and need—to hear about the impact their gifts will have. They want to know they’re making a real difference. As long as you communicate that, your ask will be a powerful and welcome invitation.

First, The First Rule of Fundraising

The first rule of fundraising—I’ll keep repeating it—is that people give to people, for things they care about. When you’re looking for the best way to invite people to your benefit auction event, you might use save-the-date cards and invitations. However, the most powerful, potent, and effective way is to make a personal ask—not by e-mail or text! In person, over a cup of coffee, or at the very least, by phone.

The personal ask makes a huge difference. It’s about cultivating a relationship early—before your benefit auction—and continuing that relationship during and after the event.

Remember, you are now building relationships with your guests so that you’ll continue to raise funds after your benefit auction and to engage donors in your strategic advancement plan. This is because you’ve designed the event as a cultivation event as much as a fundraising event. With nurturing, the relationship you started will continue for the long term. People give to people, for things they care about.

What to Say? How to Ask? A Powerful Primer

As a young professional in my early twenties, I volunteered for a St. Louis YWCA leadership event that provided excellent fundraising training. The presenter, a senior advancement officer at Saint Louis University Hospital who had just raised $60 million for a capital campaign in 1980, taught me powerful words to use when making an “ask.” He encouraged us to pass this wisdom forward. So here you are.

Here’s how I’ve adapted his invaluable words: “Would YOU be willing to consider (fill in specifically what you want) so that YOUR gift will (fill in the impact of the donors gift) for (fill in the name of your organization)?”  Then, hold the silence, Don’t interrupt. Simply wait attentively and quietly. Listen.

You can use this model at your next meeting and role-play with board members, volunteers and staff. Ask, for example, “Would you be willing to consider purchasing two reservations for our fundraiser auction so that we can increase outreach at schools for the our Great Cause?” Asking, “Would you be willing to consider” is not looking for a yes or no. You’re just opening the door for the donor to consider the opportunity you’ve just graciously offered.

Keep Inviting Generosity

Your fundraising auction gala is the new golden gateway to donor engagement. Attract new donors and build long-term connections that you can leverage at your auction fundraiser. That’s exactly why I wrote A Higher Bid.  Think of every guest as a long-term donor. The key is to communicate the impact of the donors’ gift. Ask how you can align your guests with the work your organization is doing. Help your board members to discover the connections your guests have to the mission and to members. Understand each person’s interests and core values and how they relate to the core values of your organization.

Every Guest is a Donor

Create a culture of giving so that your guests to feel moved by your work, to feel deeply interested in the work you do as a nonprofit, and to be deeply touched by the difference you’re making.  It all starts with your personal gracious invitation to give.

There are lots of other great tips for making an ask for fundraising events and auctions.  What’s your favorite?  Feel free to share your ideas.

Ready to go deeper? Take your fundraising to higher level!

Are you really serious about engaging donors and raising more funds?

I’d love to help you break fundraising records and to design and conduct your fundraising event, auction and gala, feel free to contact me for your complimentary consultation.

Kathy Kingston   603-235-1196

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Does your benefit auction cause bidder fatigue?

Would it surprise you to know that many fundraising auction organizers and gala committees unknowingly cause “Bidder Fatigue?” What’s that? Bidder Fatigue is a fundraising plague where your beloved guests become exhausted by poor planning at fundraising auctions and events. This results in loss of dollars and donors to your organization. The symptoms are easy to spot: Loss of money. Lack of bidding. Too much talking. Walking around. Hanging out at the bar or hallway. Leaving early. What’s even worse? Lack of donor retention.

What causes Bidder Fatigue? Lack of strategic planning. Wrongly placing the Live Auction and Fund a Need at the end. Too many items. Too much BS: boring speeches. Talking heads at your program. Volunteer amateur auctioneer. Inadequate sound system. Lack of focus on mission impact. Not communicating the impact of the donors generous bidding and contributions. Lack of immediate gratitude. How can you avoid the dreaded Bidder Fatigue?  Read my article here for some tips.

Dont Lose The Race Between Time and Money

Your guests expect to attend a lively, fun, upbeat and profitable fundraising event to support your great cause. Attention spans are short, so keep things moving. Your organization cannot make money if the guests are gone. If guests are bored or there’s been too much lag time, their attention will go somewhere else. We want to keep them focused on your mission and why they should support you generously at the auction.

Communicate Impact

Your guests want to be inspired about a cause the impassions them. Bring your mission and it’s impact into every aspect of your event. Be explicit. Don’t just let anyone say anything they want when he or she has the microphone. Be strategic in how you write the inspiring remarks for speakers. Be shorter. One or two minutes of inspiring remarks or a personal story is enough.

Retain a Professional Benefit Auctioneer and Consultant

Why risk it?

In my experience, organizations can raise 20% and much more by partnering with a professional auctioneer who specializes in fundraising. Retaining a professional benefit auctioneer is not a cost. It’s an investment. A professional fundraising auctioneer specialist is a distinct asset to your core leadership team, not a liability expense on a spreadsheet.

How much money are you leaving in the room? It makes me scratch my head when an organization tells me they will be using a VIP, a celebrity, a parent, a media personality, a magician, or even a commercial auctioneer for their charity auction because it’s cheaper. This short-sighted approach is a common misconception and represents a devastating way to leave money in the room and lose long-term connections to your beloved donors.

PS: Retain your professional benefit auctioneer ASAP, many are booked months and even years ahead. Good fundraising auctioneers are ALWAYS in demand.

Win the Race Between Time and Money

Play It Out on Paper First. First, make sure that you plan your show flow timeline for your benefit auction event on paper. It will probably take several drafts to finesse the actual show flow or written timeline. There are layers to show flow, so make one column for the timeline, one column for elements of the event and a separate column for the productions details like AV and food and volunteer duties.

Insist On A Seamlessness Timeline

When it’s time to start, you must insist that your event runs with no lag time. The biggest enemies of fundraising are boredom and distraction. Strategic show flow timeline can help you position your mission in the best way possible. Intentionally design and build a high level of excitement and your mission, creating momentum that will crescendo with the fund-a-need.

Fundraise Even Earlier

If you are conducting your Live Auction and Fund a Need after dinner, you have already lost money. Consider moving up these powerful fundraising elements to earlier in the program. Many of my most success clients are actually raising more funds by holding the Live Auction and Fund a Need before serving dinner. While this many not work for everyone, be strategic about positioning your powerful fundraising elements earlier than ever.

A Fundraising Quality Sound System

Insist on investing on the best sound system for fundraising. Hire a professional sound system that is designed for fundraising (not dancing.) This means that each guest can distinctly hear ever word from every speaker and every word from your professional auctioneer during the Live Auction and Fund a Need. Insist on high quality audio equipment and the very best sound technician of the A/V company. Insist on audio speakers on stand that surround your entire audience. You want and need each guest to hear and to be inspired to raise the most funds possible.

No BS! No Boring Speeches

No talking heads! My number one rule for show flow is “No BS!” By that I mean, “No Boring Speeches!” Why? In benefit auction events, time is money, and boring speeches will cost you—not make you— money. I’ve developed formulas you can use to calculate how many dollars per minute and per square foot you want to make.

To calculate the dollars per minute you need to make in your benefit auction event, simply divide your target fundraising goal amount by the number of minutes that will elapse from the second your doors open until the event’s triumphant ending.

If your event drags out and is not well-orchestrated, it can cost you much needed revenue for your cause, and you run the very high risk of losing the interest of your audience in the short and the loss of donors in the long term.

Brief, Inspiring Remarks

Here’s my special rule: Anyone who holds the microphone for more than one or two minutes is eating into prime fundraising time. This is important to understand from a financial standpoint, but it’s also important from a momentum standpoint. To illustrate how crucial this rule is, please take out a piece of paper and write the word “SPEECHES” on it in large letters. Then, take your pen and scratch it out as hard as you can. Replace it with the word “BRIEF INSPIRING REMARKS.” Ask the chairperson of the board who will tee up the live auction to make brief inspiring remarks instead of a speech or keynote address. Ask your client who will tell her first-person story for your Fund a Need to make first-person inspiring remarks. That phrasing alone will make a huge difference in the expectation of everyone participating in your event.

Create an Unforgettable Inspirational Moment

To raise more fund and engage more donors, it’s vital that you can create that compelling emotional mission moment during your Fund a Need. Consider an emotional inspirational first-person story about how your organization changed the speaker’s life. For example, this could be a compelling true story about how one of your rescue animals found his or her forever home or how one of your alumni benefitted from your outstanding education. (For more more ideas on Fund a Need and using inspirational fundraising stories, feel free to read more in Chapter 13 of A Higher Bid.)

Your guests will be inspired and more generous when you include a 2 minute transformational story. The goal is for your guests understand the impact of their gift. When you are strategic with your show flow and intentional with keeping your mission front and center throughout your program you’ll raise more funds and engage more donors.

Need More Help?

If I can ever help you design your fundraising event, auction and gala, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help you raise more money, engage donors and break your fundraising record!  Kathy Kingston   603-235-1196

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Our new grant winners from The Kingston Fund

We are excited to announce this year’s grant winners from The Kingston Fund!

The Kingston Fund Board
Meet the Kingston Fund Board of Advisors – Kathy’s nephew and nieces
Arley, Lexi, Brie, Lindsey, Kathy, Molly, Megan, Erin and Alysha

To give back and to play an active role in philanthropy, Kathy established “The Kingston Fund” in 2006. Her nephew and seven nieces, the Board of Advisors study proposals and make annual grant recommendations.

We fund groups that help abused children, families in need, people with disabilities, homeless kids and families, hospice, beaches and education. A Donor-Advised Fund of The Cape Cod Foundation, Kathy created this fund in loving memory of her parents Winnie and Willie Kingston who dearly loved Cape Cod.

Cape Kid Meals – Blessings in a Backpack
To support food for elementary school children in need on Cape Cod. 1 in 3 children on Cape Cod are food insecure. Weekends can be very difficult for school children who are food insecure as they may eat very little until they return to school on Monday. Cape Kid Meals was created to close that gap and provide food for the weekend.

Dream Day on Cape Cod
To support children who face life-threatening illnesses by giving them respite from the world of hospitals and treatments, where they enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature, the camaraderie of family and new friends, and the joy of being a child.

National Alliance for Mental Illness Cape Cod & the Islands
To bring a national Mental Health First Aid training team to the Cape to conduct a training for 30 strategically selected individuals for them to become certified Mental Health First Aid instructors in the community.

Cape Cod Times Needy Fund, Inc.
To support for the Housing Stability for Grandfamilies program. This program assists at-risk grandparent and grandchildren families, “grandfamilies”, with rent and mortgage payments, with the understanding that housing is a key component to family and financial stability.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Islands
To support mentoring programs that partner with under-resourced families to provide their children with transformational, one-to-one professionally-supported relationships with caring adult mentors, so that their children will thrive.

Homeless Prevention Council
To support of our efforts to serve youth facing homelessness on the Lower Cape. Homeless Prevention Council is happy to be working with programming and support mechanisms that insure youth facing homelessness stay in school and achieve their goals, even during challenging times.

The Kingston Fund

A Donor Advised Fund of Cape Cod Foundation

For more information:

Contact Kathy Kingston:   603-235-1196

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Engage Donors in 7 Ways at Live Auctions

Anyone can throw party. Only YOU can develop relationships with your guests that will help them realize the impact of their gift for your great cause.

How do you engage auction guests, whip up your live auction, focus on your mission, keep it fresh, get those bid cards waving, and make sure your guests return year after year? After more than 30 years of consulting and auctioneering for all sizes and types of nonprofits, charities, schools, and associations, I’ve experienced every imaginable live auction situation. Here are seven of my favorite strategies so you can turbo-charge your live auction:

  1. First and foremost, focus on fundraising! If your event has been planned like a dance or party and your live auction is an afterthought, you are leaving untold thousands of dollars in the room. However, if you strategically design your benefit auction first to engage donors and purposefully create a dynamic culture for giving, far more funds and goodwill for your nonprofit will be raised. Kingston Tip: Intentionally script brief compelling mission-related remarks for every speaker. These remarks should illustrate how you transform the lives of your clients. Inspire your guests to bid high and make a difference. It’s vital that every one of your guests needs to understand what the funds raised will support, who the funds will benefit, and how their high bidding for your nonprofit makes a difference.

  3. Communicate impact before you start the live auction. Insist on making emotionally inspiring remarks (limit to two minutes, maximum) about how your guests’ high bids will change lives. Kingston Tip: Immediately before your live auction, remind supporters “Why We’re Here!” If you can effectively communicate this, you’ll rivet your guests’ attention and wrap people’s hearts and minds around your mission and seriously increase your guests’ generous support. Prepare your auction guests to bid generously!

  5. Sell the sizzle. Show an exciting PowerPoint slide for each live auction item. Make sure your guests know exactly what is being sold. Remember, a confused mind never buys. Your audience won’t look at boring or crowded slides. Kingston Tip: Use high-quality photos of what you’re selling. Each slide needs the name of the item (its title) and item number. Bidders will memorize the item numbers they’re going to bid on, and they often don’t pay attention until that item comes up. For trip number 3 to Greece, create a PowerPoint slide with a couple of great pictures (the whitewashed buildings of Mykonos, perhaps) and a few key bullet points. Be sure to include the name of the donor as well. That’s all you need on the PowerPoint slide. Use one slide for each item. Locate these visuals strategically, so the audience is facing both the benefit auctioneer and the presentation.

  7. Insist on a professional, fundraising-quality sound system. You must also be strategic about placement of the audio speakers. Kingston Tip: Make sure that you place individually powered audio speakers on stands to surround your room, not just at the front of the room. This ensures that everyone in the room can hear your live auction clearly. Plus, your auctioneer needs a dedicated handheld wireless microphone set to his or her voice. Remember to add a good sound system for your silent auction, too—there’s a lot of noise in silent auction areas and it’s critical that your bidders hear your announcements and understand when the silent auction sections are closing. Not investing in a great sound system is a surefire way to lose money and your guests’ attention.

  9. Conduct your live auction far earlier than ever. Don’t put the live auction at the end of the evening, or interest will fizzle. To keep the momentum of the auction and narrow the focus, put the live auction earlier. Kingston Tip: Conduct the live auction before dinner or start your live auction during dinner. A lively and energetic live auction makes for inspired bidders who spend their money happily for your cause. However, beware of the dreaded “auction fatigue” that can cause your fundraising auction to be dull and boring and, worst of all, fail to bring in money for your cause. You will recognize auction fatigue. It often occurs when the live auction is scheduled at the end of the event, when your guests are done in. No one can raise money when guests are tired or already heading for their cars!

  11. Pre-promote your live auction items. Gone are the days where your guests will automatically come to your auction and bid high. Help your supporters learn about and get excited about your amazing live auction items. Remember, hot items are trips and experiences and that means your guests need to check their calendars and prepare in advance of your live auction. Kingston Tip: Create a compelling mini-promotional campaign with personal contacts, e-mails, letters, and social media to stimulate buzz and create competition far before your fundraising event. And remember that less is more! Hand-select fewer live auction items with greater value and make sure they match your guests’ interests and tastes.

  13. Retain a professional benefit auctioneer. Why risk it? You and your dedicated auction committee work for months on end, then on auction night you turn your entire event over to your auctioneer. Don’t leave money in the room. With a professional benefit auctioneer who has wide experience, proven fundraising ideas, and a dedication to good causes, you will raise more money. For me, I typically see an average increase of 10 to 100 percent in live auction revenue when I am the professional auctioneer following a year that an organization uses a volunteer, parent, celebrity, media or VIP personality. That is the value of hiring a pro who knows how to engage the audience, move bids along to reach the highest possible amount, keep the focus on the nonprofit mission, and create a lively and entertaining event that maximizes your fundraising and leaves your guests eager to return the following year. Kingston Tip: Remember, investing in a professional auctioneer does not cost you money in the long run, because you will generate more profit and engage more donors. Note: Hire auctioneers with the “BAS” Benefit Auctioneers Association professional designation from National Auctioneers Association. They are uniquely trained and dedicated to raising funds for nonprofits, schools and charitable organizations. You can visit:

Need an Auctioneer? If I can help you find an auctioneer, please feel free to contact me: 603-235-1196

(From A Higher Bid: How to Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Benefit Auctions by Kathy Kingston)

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