By: Erin Williams, Fundraising Auctioneer & Consultant 

Our Raising Paddles team is hard at work helping nonprofit clients prepare for a great fall season of fundraising! As you are planning your fall fundraising gala, ask yourself, or better yet reach out to a few key donors to learn ways to improve their donor experience. We know a positive gala experience is an important element to help achieve donor retention and increase fundraising. Here are a few solutions to some common donor pain points:

Possible Donor Pain Point: Check In 

The old saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. Long lines, unorganized processes, unfriendly staff or volunteers can leave your donors feeling frustrated before they reach their seat.  

Ideas for Solutions:

  • Investing in professional support staff can be a good investment if you don’t yet have the trained volunteers to manage the check in process. Ask your chosen bidding platform about sending staff to your event to manage this for you. Another option is partnering with a staffing service that is trained on all major bidding platforms. We are happy to connect you with a bidding platform and/or staffing service that can send staff to your event.
  • Offer two areas for registration. One for those that have pre-registered and have a method of payment on file and another for those that haven’t pre-registered. 
  • If you’re utilizing volunteers, train them! Also, consider providing each volunteer a cheat sheet with basic information they can reference. 

Possible Donor Pain Point: Long Bar Lines During Cocktail Hour 

Long lines can be another point of frustration for your donors early on in the evening. 

Ideas for Solution:

  • Consider offering more than one bar area during cocktail hour to keep lines to a minimum. If your donors spend the majority of the cocktail hour in line for a drink they aren’t bidding on silent auction items, purchasing raffle tickets, perusing the live auction display, etc. This also limits the amount of time they are visiting and chatting with each other. This could mean that they will be distracted in conversation during the program. So, let them chat it up before they’re seated! 
  • If your cocktail hour is an open bar, consider offering a “simple bar” also known as a “self-serve bar”. Keeping large ice containers stocked with a variety of beer, seltzers, soda, water and wines offered in glasses on a table ready to be picked up is a nice way to minimize your bar line. 

Possible Donor Pain Point: Extra Long Speeches/Program

Crafting a run of show and communicating to program participants their allotted time is important to keep your donors engaged and NOT wishing they were home watching TV. 

Ideas for Solution:

  • Create a run of show accounting for every minute of your gala and sharing it with all program participants. 
  • Guide any speakers to help them prepare “remarks” – the connotation most have with the word “speech” is longer than 2 or 3 minutes. 
  • Allow time before doors open to do a run through of the program. This is a great opportunity to smooth transitions, check technology, coach program participants, etc. 

Possible Donor Pain Point: Check Out 

The matching bookend to the check in process is the check out that can be an opportunity for frustration. 

Ideas for Solution:

  • Keep the bar open and the music playing after the program closes. This can allow a staggered release of donors at the check out line rather than a mass exodus. 

Possible Donor Pain Point: Lack of Appreciation and Gratitude 

This is major! Donors that feel appreciated often become legacy donors. Make intentional efforts to make your guests feel appreciated at your gala and after the event is over. 

Ideas for Solution:

  • Build a gratitude plan before the gala! Draft the eblast and organize the thank you letter writing party so that you’re able to act fast after your event. 

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these ideas further, I’d love to speak with you! Happy fall fundraising! 

Erin Williams

Cell: 618-303-4657