By Dan Campbell, Senior Partner, Fundraising Auctioneer

One of the most common questions we hear from those we consult with is ‘how many fundraising elements should we include in our program?” What is too many? Which ones are best for our event?

It is not surprising that we see some events that are jam packed with programming and fundraising. The gala is deemed an important opportunity to share our mission, and maximize fundraising. And while we are at it, let’s get as many people to attend as possible!

We will save the guest count for another discussion, but today we will discuss the importance of an efficient and effective fundraising program. Today’s gala attendees are more demanding than ever, and do not have the patience for a long program or being nickel’d and dimed for giving. We call this “bidder fatigue.”

I know none of us would allow this to happen, but I think of a similar experience on the streets of Las Vegas, or the beaches in the Caribbean, and how many people will approach you with something to purchase or look at. This is quite annoying to most! On a much smaller scale at our events, we can have all sorts of folks who are working hard to maximize the success of each fundraising element, and find ourselves over stimulating our audience, and unintentionally alienating some (hence, bidder fatigue!).

Too many games or raffles, too many silent auction items to view, too long of a live auction, too many levels for the paddle raise, can have an adverse effect on your fundraising. Consider that most attending your event come with a preconceived plan to spend at some level. For some that may be just the ticket to attend, however, studies show as much as 80% of your attendees did not pay for their tickets themselves, as they may be invited by a table sponsor or are a special guest of your organization.

Using staff or students to go and sell raffle tickets introduces the risk of several people approaching each guest in a one hour window during cocktails. This can be hard on your crowd, disrupting conversations AND inviting that individual to make their one and only commitment to fundraising via one of your lower cost/lower return fundraising elements.

Of course, guests and donors have different ways of giving. Some want to simply write a check, some want to buy a trip or an experience, and others want to spend on games of chance. Donors can also change from year to year, as they might write a check one year, and the following year want to purchase a vacation. It is good to have something for each donor type in your fundraising lineup.

Rather than throwing the kitchen sink at your guests, have a strategic discussion with your team on how many fundraising elements are logical for your event. Note that schools are unique, and are comfortable with more fundraising elements. Either way, the first step is to rank all the fundraising elements in terms of time investment, cost and return-on-investment, complexity, and what I would call the “annoyance factor.”

A paddle raise is nearly a must, due to the fact it has such a high return on investment, very little complexity, and takes less than 10 minutes. A live auction also has big impact, but be careful not to lose your audience with too many items. At 2-3 minutes per item, an 8-10 item auction will take 25 minutes or so. An audience experiencing bidder fatigue will disengage, get noisy or leave, and ultimately distract those that do in fact want to support you.

If being considered, a game or raffle or silent auction is more passive in your program, but the complexity and return on investment may be less than ideal. If I had to set a guide for most galas, I would say 4-5 fundraising elements is plenty. If you have more, consider swapping those in year-over- year, to keep things fresh!

By reducing the number of fundraising elements, you allow your donors to consider their commitment level for giving for the night and ideally help lead them to the most impactful moments of your program. And at the same time, their night is more enjoyable as they can focus on your mission, and have a pleasant memory of your event!