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23 Ways to Fundraise Better in 2023 and a Bonus

Would you like to fundraise as much as possible next year? There are proven ways to increase your chances of success. Many are simply about avoiding common mistakes, such as not hiring a professional auctioneer. After years of consulting with organizations and hosting their fundraising, we've created the following list of guidelines divided into 3 parts: Program, Auction and Appeal.


Is the run of show clear from start to finish? This means accounting for every minute with a detailed document. Every aspect of the program should make sense to the people and talent producing the show, and donors watching from their chairs.

Keep speaker introductions to 1 minute. It’s a gala, not an awards ceremony. Even if there are awards, no one is so important that they need more than a 1 minute intro. If they are that important, everyone will already know who they are!

Keep speakers and honorees to 2-3 minutes. Tell them you are not doing speeches this year, just brief remarks. Avoid the word ‘speech’ altogether. The worst offenders are the ones who start with “I don’t really have much to say.”

Pre-plate 1st course to begin the program. Vegetables are inviting. People are comforted by the thought that if they sit down, something delicious will welcome them. Bread and butter are immediate icebreakers. On with the show!

Fundraise directly before or after dinner. If hold an event with the intent to fundraise, don’t dicker. Set up your auction and/or appeal with 10 minutes of mission based program, then just do it. Nothing is worse than fundraising last.

For standing events cut your program in half. This means double-time. Cut all remarks in half, videos in half, attention spans IN HALF. It’s physics, not psychology. You can’t cram a 60 minute seated program into 30 standing minutes. CUT IT.

Sell your auction lots in 2.5-3 minutes. This is a HUNT thing, not necessarily an industry standard. We just like to keep it moving! Sure, if an auction lot is going to raise extra thousands of dollars, we keep taking bids. Otherwise, it’s SOLD!!

Do the live appeal/paddle raise in 7.5-10 mins. Again this is our method of doing things. I’m a poet. The economy of language is best expressed like this: the most meaningful things in life are said in the least amount of words. I love you Mom :-)


Is each live lot unique and incredible? This is a key question, possibly even a scale by which to judge what belongs in your live auction. People don’t need things, they want experiences that cannot be found elsewhere. Make every lot count.

Sell 3-7 auction lots; and 1-3 of them at least 2x We get asked this often, and usually refer to the fact that it takes 2.5-3 minutes to sell a lot. 4 lots take 10 minutes. Time remains money. Why not double, triple, quadruple it?

Order your auction from lowest to highest. This builds momentum. Start with small, more attainable lots to encourage bidding. Don’t expect people to put their hands up at whatever number you throw out. Climb to the top in a crescendo.

Pre-market with email/display table/program. As a courtesy to your sanity, and your guests at the event, let them know ahead of time, over and over, what you plan to auction. The more touch points the better will help you build the buzz.

Powerpoint with image/caption/details. So many organizations want to skip this one. A picture is worth a thousand dollars. Someone many not hear the words “Week in Paris” (CAN YOU PASS THE SALT?) but the Eiffel tower says it all.

Give auctioneer 3-5 sentence descriptions. Keep it short. We intro most auction lots in 30 seconds and sell them in the next 2 minutes. I don’t need 3 pages on Sante Fe to sell Sante Fe. 1 week, 8 people, 4 beds, 3 baths. Includes flights and cactus.

Include any reserves/minimum bids. Most people haven’t a clue to what this means, but basically… is there an absolute minimum bid for an auction lot? This applies mainly to consignment (don’t), egotistical chairs, and idiotic artists.


Who’s the 1-2 minute emotional speaker? They are the most important person in the room. They are either a survivor, parent, mentor, student, teacher, recipient, patient, etc. They are your happy customer to inspire others before the ask.

Start at the highest pre-secured level possible. No one is going to just give you 100k. Ok, a guy did last week at one of my events, the only time in 11 years. But be realistic. Begin your appeal at 10% of goal. 10k for a 100k goal. PRE-SECURE IT.

MUST HAVE PLANTS AT TOP 3 LEVELS!!! Biggest, worst, most negative, self-defeating, ignorant, lazy, arrogant thing done to screw up fundraising. PRE-SECURE at least 1 donor each at top 3 levels. If you remember any of these, make it this.

Please re-read the previous guideline. Whoa, you thought I was exaggerating? In the Spring of 2017 we did a study of 40 paddle raises. 37 of them went over goal. The 3 that did not achieve goal failed to pre-secure lead donors. Hear crickets?

Provide a sentence for what each level supports. Nothing out of Proust here, just a one liner. $2,500 can support one school’s participation in the program. That’s it. Sure, it’s unrestricted. It’s also proven donors appreciate concrete examples.

Powerpoint slides for every level. Harken back to the same point made for the auction. Do it for every level of the appeal. Amount, image, caption. $1,000. Picture of a boy or girl with a mentor. And the words: Sponsor a child for 1 month. Easy.

Clear instructions on how donations are made. This may sound simple. But when dealing with volunteers, amateur fundraisers, people who’ve imbibed Syrah, it can get messy. For this you need a professional auctioneer and a collection system.

Intro auctioneer to software partner. This your your system! It may be donation cards on the table (with printed QR codes), paddles assigned to each guest, or mobile giving. We all work together to make sure no money is left on the table.


Close the bars during fundraising. Turn the stage lights down and house lights up. Sound sobering? Perhaps you’ve got them right where you want them. Clear away the distractions, remove barriers to empathy, let your message shine through.

As you can see, many of the ways to fundraising better, are about messing up less. Your organization’s mission, how you alter lives, why that matters, what donors can do about it… this is what your event should be about. The heart and soul of it is that you want donors to leave with a feeling at the end of the night, the feeling they did something meaningful. In the end, it’s about them.


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