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3 PRO TIPS; How to Fundraise Different

Now that in person events are blessedly back, you have a chance to make a significant impact for your organization. Whether your event is a stand-up cocktail with tasting stations, or four-course sit-down with wine pairings, or business casual with theater style seating, or black tie under a big blue whale, or school colors in a gymnasium of parents… how will you make it new?

We want to share 3 PRO TIPS on how to do things different this year, to help you fundraise as much as possible. These practical solutions will give you a fresh approach to maximize your live fundraising. While there are many tried and true tenets to being successful, it’s best to infuse them with newness. Here are 3 PRO TIPS to make your event flourish:

PRO TIP #1: PRACTICE MISSION BASED FUNDRAISING. I will go into more detail below, as this process helps you identify what makes your organization different, and eliminates everything from the run of show that does not align with your mission.

PRO TIP #2: CONDUCT DONOR CENTRIC LIVE APPEALS. If you want people to share their bread, show them some butter. Make your guest experience the most important aspect of your event, and donors will love you with their money.

PRO TIP #3: CREATE A THEATER OF GIVING. Allow donors to emotionally connect to your cause. Consult with your leadership, development, event and production teams to create a meaningful experience to leave a lasting impact on guests.

You can completely transform your event with mission based fundraising, donor centric appeals, and a theater of giving. Let’s now dig deeper into these 3 PRO TIPS:


This is the most crucial, most fundamental, and most effective way to host fundraising today, or market anything meaningful, for that matter. If you are not doing it at your next gala, you are missing out. Why? Because nobody cares.

Nobody cares about you, what you do, who you serve, or your cool new Executive Director (ok, maybe a little :-) People are tired of cliched drivel, constant sales and advertising pitches. Their first instinct now is to filter your message out. If you want to meaningfully connect with donors, you have to cut through the rhetoric, and get to what matters. QUICKLY. Ahe fastest road to caring is through the heart.

Drill into your core values to determine what makes your organization different. Plan your program around an empirical truth about who you are, and what you do for OTHERS. When you determine that message, keep it simple. Back it up with stories, testimonials, videos, interviews, honorees, etc. Portray your truth in clear, consistent, concise language.

The opposite of mission based is inconsiderate. Do what you did last year. Skip strategizing live auction lots and emotional appeal levels. Let people speak for over 5 minutes. Have a lot of them. Don’t consult a professional auctioneer about your run of show. Let a board member bore people with an amateurish attempt to fundraise. Leave tens of thousands of imaginary dollars on tables of half eaten desserts as guests depart your gala uninspired. THESE EXAMPLES ARE WHAT NOT TO DO!

One lesson I’ve learned from successful fundraising galas over the last 15 years; organizations do not rise to the occasion, they fall to their highest level of preparation. If you care about making a difference, then mission based fundraising is for you.


This is the best part of my job. Forget about raffles, silent auctions, and even live auctions. Activate a fountain of philanthropy, dance in the waters of generosity. I call it an appeal, and there are other names; pledge moment, fund a need, paddle raise, etc. Basically, you ask guests outright to donate money to your cause. Live. On the spot. Raise a paddle. Fill out a donation card. Scan a QR code. Click a link. Every amount counts. 100% participation.

It’s a lot fun if you like a little pressure. And it takes work to make it look easy. Nobody can do it alone, and it won’t happen without donors. In fact, DONORS DO IT. And that is why our most successful clients continue to conduct donor centric live appeals at their event. Because fundraising is ultimately about your donors, not your organization. You should have a sign that says “Will Work for Donors.”

A panhandler once asked me what’s the greatest nation in the world? His answer, the dough-nation. How do you craft your appeal to donors? With words like YOU instead of WE. YOU help so many people. YOU make these programs and services possible. Without people like YOU, this organization would not be here today. Because of YOU (BOY), people will can reach their true potential. Thanks to people like YOU… you get the picture.

YOU shifts attention and consciousness to the individuals who matter most at your event. It shifts the focus from your organization, to your donors. Your live appeal is not even about your mission. It’s about your donors. Think about that. What do donors want?

A short program, tight run of show, no long speeches (may cause real compassion fatigue). Don’t bore donors going on and on about your organization, just get to the point. Trust their intelligence. Invite them to make a difference. Ask them to donate, and let them decide how much. Give donors all the consideration in the world, because they deserve it.


“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” -Shakespeare

This involves imagination. You can transform your fundraising event by encouraging donors to become philanthropic actors in a theatre of giving. Philanthropy tells a story. On a higher level, it asserts love for people in need of measurable support, by demonstrating a passion and purpose to make the world a better place for all. On a lower level, galas involve staged performances, where everyone has an assigned role in the show.

Your auctioneer is a metaphysical conductor of good will. More simply, they are your quarterback, who leads the team through a chaotic playing field to fundraising victory. Your auctioneer works with all the players on your team, follows the game plan, and improvises when necessary. Your donors are the crowd, cheering for you. (My theater is a stadium.)

If you want donors to participate in your vision of a better world, give them something to get excited about. How? Again, through the heart, more specifically, emotions, and most notably, pity and fear. You can create a cathartic experience to inspire donors to overcome their barriers to generosity. I’ll stop now, because these are deep psychological waters.

Let’s put it another way. Emotion is like alcohol. Many development professionals confuse inspiration with inebriation, and maybe they are right. However, for argument’s sake, let’s assume “getting them drunk” is not the only way to put people in a giving mood. You can also tell your story, share videos, and feature testimonials from real, vulnerable people whose lives improved thanks to your organization. This will go a long way in building trust, identification and an atmosphere conducive to empathy from your audience.

A theater of giving is a loose concept that includes donors in a more memorable experience. It goes beyond the transactional to establish a real connection with people. People give to people, which pretty much defines fundraising. And it doesn’t have to be dramatic to be effective.


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