Don’t Take that Money! The Politics of a Fundraiser

The Auction

Recently, I was at a friend’s benefit to help her get her new business off the ground. It was a typical event with an MC and an auction and a bunch of raffles. There was food, and music, and art. And there were a bunch of people wanting to support my friend.

There was a piece of art on auction and I bid on it. At first, I was the only one bidding on it but then a married couple, who are also friends of mine, started bidding on it too. AHA! A BIDDING WAR! I was very excited. And the war started.

Now, I’m having fun. The piece of art mattered less to me than the fact that I was having fun supporting my friend. So, maybe I got a little TOO excited with the bidding war.

Finally, the married couple, who were bidding against me, looked at me and told me that they already had the matching piece at home. I looked at her and realized that they were not near as excited about the bidding war as I was. In fact, their goal was to take that piece home with them. I was causing a commotion and was in their way.

I let it go and they took the piece home.

Paying way more than they probably thought they should have.

Guilty Much?

Hell, no I didn’t feel guilty! We were at a benefit! The whole point was to raise money for the cause!

But I did start wondering, do people realize the actual goal of a benefit? Do people know the Politics of Fundraising? I’ve never seen such a list, and yet there are expectations. I’m going to share what I’ve learned about fundraising events here.

The Politics of a Fundraiser

  • There is one goal: Raise as much money as you can while ensuring people are having fun giving it to you.
  • Before you go, decide how much you want to donate. Then make sure that you leave without that amount.
  • For the sake of everyone’s fun, if you are playing the raffle for stuff, and there ‘s a lot of stuff, pick only one piece of the stuff and put all your tickets on it. It’s no fun if one person wins all the stuff. I know this from experience. I didn’t really want all that stuff.
  • If you play a raffle in which you get half the proceeds, do not take that money! You give it right back as a donation and then bask in glory as everyone congratulates you on your integrity and will power! No one expects you to keep that money. It’s a fundraising game. You’re there for one reason, to help THEM raise money!
  • If it’s a casino benefit, play the games until you have lost all the money you wanted to donate. This isn’t Vegas. I can’t remember the movie but the line went “I’m here to lose all my money for a good cause.”
  • Leave without the money you already planned to donate. It’s for a good cause! That’s why you’re there!

When you leave the benefit, the money you wanted to donate should be gone and you should have good memories of the fun you had giving it to them! That’s it!

The Most Exciting Benefit I’ve Been To

Velocity Dance Studio in Seattle is probably the best producer of a benefit I’ve ever seen. They put on benefits so well, people bid on things they’ll never take home. Nothing leaves the benefit, at all.  Here’s how it worked when I volunteered at it:

  • A smaller intimate benefit with tables you can “purchase” and wine and light snacks that have been donated
  • A raffle for desserts that have been donated – the winners share the desserts with their tables.
  • Dance Performance Auction
    • Four dance groups put on performances.
    • An auctioneer, Matt Smith, auctioned them off.
    • But not just one person would win. Everyone had a number and he’d ask, “Who will give $500 for this performance?” Everyone who raised their number gives $500. Then the number goes down all the way to $25. Everyone can donate.
    • For the last dance performance, a representative of a company like Microsoft would stand up and let everyone know that for this dance, whatever was raised would be met, and sometimes doubled, by the company. People really bid on that one!
  • A raffle for half the proceeds. The winner comes up and ceremonially accepts the prize and then ceremonially donates it back. And we’re talking about a substantial amount.

No one leaves with anything and a lot of money was thrown around. People had a lot of fun. And it was for a great cause.

One year, someone took the money. It really messed everyone up. They questioned whether they should continue the raffle.

I must admit, the first time I saw the returning of the money, I was shocked. I mean, some serious bills could get paid off. The car needs a transmission. I have split ends.

But I’m there to support the person or organization, not to make money. Not to come out ahead. Coming out ahead is not supportive.

When you go to a benefit, know yourself. Figure out, up front, what you are willing to donate. If you can’t hand the money back, don’t do that raffle! If you can’t afford to donate a lot, donate what you can.

Remember the purpose of the event, and your part in it. Remember the Politics of Fundraising.