This week we are joined by one of the most successful event fundraising auctioneers in the business, Glen Fladeboe! He tells us the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of virtual fundraising, and shares some tips and tricks to help make your next event great. You won’t want to miss it!
We are joined by Carly and Ann of Ann Plans
So you guys have to tell me a little bit about you before we get into the topic. Tell me Ann about how you got in the business.
Ann: So I started my career out of college in nonprofit fundraising. It’s not what I went to school for. My first internship out of college led me to a position where I was helping to start a new nonprofit get going. So that’s where I started doing fundraising. I had the opportunity really early in my career to work as part of the staff for the 1991 international Special Olympics. So we had 6,000 athletes coming from 90 countries. I was part of the sponsorship team. And then right then and there I knew that I liked fundraising, but what really gets me excited and what I’m really passionate about is bringing large groups of people together to make important things happen. And I love challenges. I love problem solving. I get bored super easily. So when I was doing grant writing and direct mail, it’s like, yeah, I could do that for about a year for an organization. And then it’s like I need more, I need more challenges. So the work we do, there is never a dull moment.
So you’ve been, so you’ve been doing events now you said 20 years?
Ann: For over 20 years. Started Ann Plans 12 years ago and our marketing materials our websites said, it was really me for the first five years working with our organizations. We took out a client about seven years ago. Courage, Kenny Rehabilitation Institute invited to do plan three to five major events for them at that time. I knew if we were going to take on that new contract and still be able to work with all these other great organizations, we needed to grow the team. So brought, my first person on and um, right now we’re a team of four people plus some contractors who help us day of events.
And we’ve got Carly, Carly, you’ve been around the nonprofit and fundraising area for awhile?
Carly: I have, yeah. I actually have similar background as Ann I was working in nonprofit fundraising for about seven years. That is what I went to school for. I was an arts administration major at Butler University in Indiana, a little liberal arts school. They basically kind of teach you the and outs of running a non nonprofit, which obviously a big part of is those donations and fundraising. I also enjoyed it, but you know, I actually really did love the direct mailings. I wanted a change and asking people for money all the time can be a little challenging. And I realized, you know, a consistent of my background and my jobs, were those donor events and galas and I really just kind of loved them. And so here I am. I love seeing something go from nothing to just a memory that someone has for years That is just such a cool memory.
You’ve been all over the place, right? You said Chicago, Texas, Minnesota. Why Minnesota?
Carly: I’m from Chicago. I love my now husband, brought me to Texas and then a few years living in Texas, he started job searching and life brought us up here, back to the Midwest. And we love being here.
You’ve seen non profits succeed and fail at putting together an event, lead us tthorugh that.
Ann: Absolutely. So when we start working with a client, whether it’s a client that’s looking to create a brand new event or a client that’s looking to take their event to the next level, one piece of advice I give is that whatever we decide to incorporate into this event, we need to execute at a super high level. One of the biggest compliments I think an organization doing a first time event as an example can get is for their guests to come and say, oh my gosh, I never would have believed you hadn’t done this event before because the whole guest experience from start to finish is flawless. I think build a base of supporters who are going to be your cheerleaders and champions and really help to spread the word and get others invested in the event. So we work with some events that don’t have committees. Sometimes that works fine, but the most successful events that we get to be a part of have a strong committee. And those committees are made up of people who typically are well connected in the community and or have a tremendous passion for the organization. These days we don’t necessarily need committee members, who are gonna pick out the napkin color, although they’re welcome to weigh in. But we’re really looking for committee members who are passionate about the organization, can help secure sponsorships, individuals who can put together a table of other people and are going to do that strategically. One thing I say to clients is it’s not about filling the room with warm bodies. We want to get people there who are excited about this work or have the potential to get excited about what you’re doing and to invest in the work.
So while we’re on that topic, how would you do that if somebody was like, hey, so we have like 500 people, but like nobody gives money. Like what are the things you would do?
Ann: Right. So what are the strategies that has worked really well for some of our clients is to have as part of your committee, a group of folks are really focused on the guest recruitment strategies. An organization here in the twin cities we work with and they have just two subcommittees. They have an auction subcommittee and they have a guest recruitment subcommittee. I think part of it too is it’s just having conversations with your individuals who are hosting tables or your corporate sponsors, helping them to think about what kinds of people does it make sense to have at the event. In most cases we would rather have other officers of the organization, people in leadership positions versus filling the room with just kind of as a thank you to the employees and, and to do that. Sometimes it’s okay, but if you have a room that’s just filled with people who are there kind of for a fun and free night out. You’re not gonna see the results. My husband now and then I can rope him into volunteering at some of our events. The ones that are more fun and interesting. He says to me, when I come to your events, I just, I just can’t get a deal at the auction because people are bidding these up and he understands that. That’s totally what it’s all about.
How do you create a guest experience that is centered around the mission?
Carly: We definitely have seen so many creative ideas. Some of the things that we do is asking the guests a mission focus question during the reception. That is just a neat reception idea, an interactive element. So the example is a big heart at one of our events, tthat was raising money for cardiovascular health. We asked the guests just on a large sign, I care about heart health because… And that gets your guests thinking about, okay, this is a mission focus question, why I’m actually here, what this event is raising money for and why? Yeah, why am I here? Why do I care about heart health? And it’s then it can also be a really cool piece that you then bring back to your organization and use in some capacity.
Ann: It’s large three dimensional, it lit up,great photo opportunities. Something really cool that an organization we work with that does rehabilitation work for people who have had injuries, strokes, those kinds of things was we were raising money through the direct giving moment for a piece of robotic technology and it’s called the exoskeleton. And so it’s basically a robotic suit that people who are unable to walk on their own, they can put on this suit and they can have that experience, that sensation of walking, which isn’t just about the empowerment of I can walk, but it really has proven to be a really effective therapy model to get people closer to being able to walk on their own. So during the reception for their gala one year, we had a gentleman wearing the suit walking around the reception, so here was something that people had never seen before. It gave them a little sneak preview of what they would be an invited to support later that evening.
You have to keep them thinking about it the whole time?
Ann: Absolutely. Absolutely. One of my favorite ways that we welcomed our guests to an event, this was several years ago for a children’s theater company and the theme was based on the wizard it was called the Emerald and Ruby curtain call ball. And we had theater students who were young teens who dressed in these really formal flying monkey costumes. They were super classy looking but people knew they were flying monkies. We actually had the yellow brick road red carpet and the valet would pull up and align the red brick carpet. We had like 12 of these students and so right then and there it was fun. It was creative and people were reminded of why they’ve been there.
During that direct giving part of your event. Um, many of our clients will have some of their participants like the Guthrie Theater has youth who are in their education programs who are bits batters, during the fund to need and another way to just remind people of why they’re there and why this work is important.
Carly: We also have seen some really cool photo opportunities where you can incorporate a neat background that can really speak to what your organization is raising money for, bring that into your photo op because that’s where your people are taking photos and then sharing it across social media. So just another way to kind of explain who you are and define yourself.
Ann: A fun way to bring some technology and social media into your event is to do a social media wall. Have monitors throughout the event space as well as in your program area where people can post photos. We suggest having multiple places throughout your event space that remind people of how they can do that. Because once people start seeing their friends and their colleagues and they’ve had a couple of drinks we have got to sometimes remind them, hey, just text it here or post it on your Instagram.
Let’s talk about being intentional in crafting the messaging for a really strong program.
Ann: Yeah, absolutely. So I believe the event messaging needs to start from the very beginning when you’re communicating with your potential guests and your guests. So we really are advocates and we’ve seen this as a trend over the last couple of years where more and more nonprofits aren’t being shy about saying this is a fundraising event that we are inviting you to. And this is how you can make a difference. So when we work with our clients on their marketing collateral, starting with the save the date and our preliminary social media, it’s like let’s remind people about what they’re coming to support. Don’t be shy about what your fundraising goals are.
When we’re working with our clients on social media posts, pre event, we want to share a lot of the fun things. Some of the things we don’t share because we want them to be surprises, but we want people to be like, oh my gosh, this is going to be an amazing night. They have all this cool stuff going on. But it’s also an opportunity to share a little bit about a participant story or to share some facts about your organization. When it comes to programs definitely a trend is shorter programs are the way to go. And we’re really finding the majority of our clients are on board. We don’t necessarily need the CEO and the board president and this person and that person. We don’t need eight or 10 people unless it’s an awards program. I think it’s, it’s important early on to be really clear about what are the aspects of the organization’s work that are most important for people to hear. And remember that people, many of them will have had three or four drinks by the time you get to the heart of your program. So you want to repeat those messages throughout the program. It needs to all tie together. You folks are experts when it comes to producing videos. My favorite videos are those where your watch them and you’re like, oh my gosh, I wish it had been longer. You know, like it’s like, that was so cool. I want more of that individual story or I want to more about the organization because the story was told in such a creative way. So we really focus on doing it a lot of it through storytelling. So even if it’s the MC or the CEO of the organization whose main job is to talk about some exciting highlights of what’s going on, if that person can also share a personal story of why this work is important to them, I feel like everyone going on stage should have a story that helps people to connect to the heart of the work.
Now take me to fund to need. How do you really get people to take action on it?
Ann: A lot of pre planning is key to a successful fund to need. So one part of that is determining what your dollars are going to support. Many of our clients, the money goes to general operating. That’s where they need the money. In some cases it’s actually more powerful. One of the biggest key factors, once you kind of figure out where the money’s going to go and how you’re going to message that is to do your homework on getting some donors lined up with pre commitments. If your auctioneer is going to start at 25,000 or 50,000 or 10,000, whatever your top level is, we want to make sure we have one ideally two or more donors at that level. I believe you ideally have pre commitments at your top two or top three because sometimes you get a couple at the top and then youget to the second level and there is no one. Match components can be really powerful as well. We did an event recently where every dollar in the room up to $200,000 would be matched. Most of the matches we see are not that large. So typically say we have a $10,000 match or a $20,000 match, we’re not going to announce that right off the bat because if someone raises their hand at 20,000 and the match it was 20,000 we just, we just match the match. So I 20,000 or $10,000 magic, let’s save that for the lower level. May maybe we get to the $500 level and the auctioneer can introduce the match and it’s their way to build it.
I want to talk about trends that we’ve seen in nonprofits. What kind of trends are you seeing?
Ann: Organizations are branding their event more and more to the mission of their organization. Habitat for humanity, for example, has the hard hat and black tie affair. So it speaks to the fact and their event name. This is a formal event, but it also speaks to their mission and people have a lot of time fun wearing hard hats and jewelry made out of nails and all of that. We do some work for a local affordable housing organization. Their event used to be called the grand gala. Does that tell you who they are? It says nothing about any organization can or have had the grand gala. So they rebranded last year as a celebration of home.
What other trends are you seeing?
Carly: Balloons are so hot right now, back and booming. Not just arches but sculptures. Different components being used.
How do you lay the groundwork for a first time event?
Ann: Start early, I would say ideally we’re looking at least a year out. We met with a client last week that’s looking at doing a first time event the fall of 2020 and they’re like, are we starting soon enough? They’re actually having us put together for them kind of a proposal to do a proposal.They said, can you put together kind of a roadmap for us? Are there things that we need to think about and need to feel we can have in place? So one of those things is they’re concerned about do they have the types of board members who can help make this be the kind of event it needs to be in terms of the fundraising and the attendance? So they’re actually doing some work overall on board recruitment and board development. And so they’re thinking about this event and what are some of the local companies where we might want to try to tap a board member out of their company?
I think another thing that’s super important is to know ultimately what are you trying to accomplish with this event? We worked with one organization and at one point it was going to be a concert at a local sports venue then it was going to be something inside of a theater. And when it came down to it, they really wanted an organization that welcomed the community to come and celebrate with them and learn more about who they are. So we did a block party for them that’s at one of their local sites and had entertainment and kids’ activities, some information about their programs, food trucks, and really brought people to their property and said, everyone’s welcome here.
So lastly, how do you plan for the unexpected?
Carly: Even the best of planners, they can’t expect everything. The opportunities are there to just learn once things happen. We’ve seen obviously have a rain plan if you’re going to have an outdoor event, step one, have a rain plan. Program like we were talking about is so huge. What’s going to be your plan B if one of your speakers is sick or can’t show up that’s pretty common.
Tell us a little bit about you, how does someone get started?
Most people that become an auctioneer grow up in the business. All the auctioneers that work for us, most of them have a family member that was involved. My dad became an auctioneer in 1978 and I had no plans to go into the business. I went to Wilmer high school graduated, went to Hamline University and have a degree in communications. I was working for WCCO tv in college and out of college.
Then my dad had a heart attack and a stroke. He had a stroke the morning of my wedding. I left my job at WCCO and went back to our family business. My dad wanted my sisters and I to go to auction school, the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Mason City Iowa. We all went there, I went in 1994 and in college, I started doing these events when I was 19. I had no money I was living in St. Paul. People found out this kid in Drew Hall at Hamline University had his license. I was 20 years old and I was doing little events to raise money. By the time I graduated from college I was doing 30 of these a year in the early 2000’s. Then it went from 30 to 50 to 90 to 150 and today this year our company will do 300 all over the country.
You fell into it in a way?
I did fall into it. I will tell you a fair amount of growth and success we’ve had is a little bit of God given but also who we are. You have to have a heart for non profits to be successful in this. You have to care about why this is important to the community. You have to care about what it will do for people. It is hard to be successful at what I do if you stand on a stage in front of 1000 people and don’t have empathy for what your raising money for.
Yes you have to be excited about the vause or you can’t do your best job.
The business today is so different than what it was 5 years ago and 10 years ago. The audience can sense if your not authentic. They can sense if you’re there for a paycheck. They can sense if you haven’t done your homework. You can’t just be standing on the stage going through the motions. I tell the auctioneers that work for us all the time is the real key is can you build a bond with the audience. You are building a bond and they are saying I trust this person cares I know what the money is going for. Today, the two portions were involved with, the live auction being one and the fund to need giving moment being the second portion. The second portion is raising 80% of the revenue. I tell people, if I’m on an airplane and somebody asks what I do for a living, my lead answer is I own a company that consults and advises and facilitates giving moments for non profits. So much of the revenue is from people pledging financial support, not me auctioning items.
Maybe you can speak more to someone who doesn’t understand the difference between the live auction and fund to need?
I wouldn’t be here today if the fund to need hasn’t’ grown to what it is. About 20 years ago in the industry, people would do the events, raffles, silent auctions. They identified there are so many people in the room that don’t win or don’t care if they get the wine basket. You have to create an opportunity for guests to pledge financial support. That’s the moment where the MC or auctioneer stands up and makes a case why you should donate to the mission of the organization and people pledge financial support. For those of you listening, if you don’t remember anything I say remember this, do a fund to need and focus 90% of your energy on mission based giving where people can pledge financial support. I think years from now it is absolutely the future and direction of fundraising. It is the total key. The big thing now is a lot of people are not driven by buying something, they don’t care. They’d rather write a check to build wells than purchasing a night on the town.
We have been talking about the shift in millenials and how different the mindset is of giving.
Before the end of the show I will highlight there still are live auction items that are selling really well. There is one interesting that’s happened, last year congress made some tax changes on the deductions you can make. We have seen an uptick in people spending money in live auctions because now there’s a limit to how much you can donate to a non profit to have a tax consequence. Dinners are the best, in home dinner with a chef is the best item, and how we’ll sell those things for $7,000-$15,0000. Some people are wanting to give 15 thousand but in this case I’m giving and getting a dinner.
To your point about millenials, the big change that we’re seeing with younger people aging into the marketplace, this is probably the second most important piece I’m observing right now in the business. 15 years ago this business is about seen to be seen dress to the nines, what is the new hot ice raffle bar etc. What’s the new trick and gimmicka? The new change is millenials want to think and feel this is important. It’s not what’s the hot new thing, people still like to be entertained, the biggest thing for younger donors is, is there there behind it.
Sometimes people show up to have a party and it’s hard to weave mission and fundraising in that.
Not only is it hard but sadly, the planners have miscalculated what they’ve created has put downward pressure on the fundraising environment. They’ve actually created an environment that is more difficult to raise money because they believe it should have been about a party or something unique or cool. My wife, when we were dating, she’d come and sit down, I’m going night after night, she’d sit down and in the first 20 minutes she would say I totally get it, I get why this is important. She wouldn’t know about the organization but based off the opening the show, how they communicated she would know. There were other nights where she would sit for an hour and say, I don’t get why people care. The mindset of the donor changes throughout the night.
When people come to these events you can tell the ones that came because they wanted a party vs the ones that are there to have fun, but they are there for the cause. I want to get back to the statement about how the planners can make it more difficult to raise money. What are things they can do to make it easier?
We now know, on any given saturday night that we will raise more money at 8:20 than 9:05. You will raise a significant more money, they are more engaged there mindset is more clear, their buzz is a little bit better. It is significantly easier to raise money earlier. Timing is a really big thing, the time at night. One of the greatest mistakes you canmake is getting into your fundraising too late.
The second big thing is it has to be mission focused. Does it really make a personal connection about why this is important. Design your showflow so it leads in right before the fund to need, are they sitting in their seats and are they able to say I get it. There has to be clarity in messaging as well. A lot of event planners will set it up but do not connect the dots on what it means and what it will do. Talk to people in advance see the momentum donors. When I am standing on stage and trying to raise money, 99 times out of 100 when I am asking for a large sum I know one or two people will give. They are called seeded or momentum gifts. If you don’t have that in place, people don’t want to be the first one to raise their cards, but after 2 or 3 people do it they’d be happy to do it. You have to alter the mindset, if 2 or 3 people give 25 thousand dollars there’s 600 people sitting in the room and they think more about there donation. Create the perception there is organic enthusiasm around what you are raising money for.
The program length is critical, tell me what’s the perfect program like?
Almost everyday we get a call from a new perspective client. I’m handling these calls and I’ll tell people now, we will roughly know how you will do three days before your event. After we look through the shoflo, we know who is in a more tricky spot and whos going to be in a great spot. The right length of the program, if you can make it about an hour and fifteen minutes I think that is helpful, that’s assuming a fifteen – twenty minute break for dinner. You have to build in time for the live auction, air on the side of caution.
How many items for a live auction?
It depends, it’s changed, the short answer is fewer today is better. There are nights now where we are doing two or three items because the fund to need has grown, it is rare in the midwest to see events with other 500 people with more than 9 live auction items. A general answer would be someplace 4-7 live auction items depending on the size and history of your event.
Often times we will raise more money with fewer items. You’re not creating competition within itself for the items, and the environment and energy around the live auction is usually higher. The other thing we are evaluating is if the fund to need giving moment is coming after the live auction, I’m looking at how much money and energy is there in the room, because those two items are contingent on eachother.
You’ll laugh when I say this, there are so many nights that I walk out and think, why did people ever hire me when I was 23 years old? In the moment, the decision you are making and experience helps, you have to be intuitive and thoughtful, you have to be data driven. In the moment many clients don’t realize the choices and decisions the auctioneer makes makes a $7500 difference in the moment.
The other piece, if you ask me aside from mission based giving and fund to need, if I said where’s this business at five years from now, I would say it’s not based on just how much money we raise night after night. That’s a big mind shift. It’s a shift about how we are thinking about this. We also have to make decisions based on how to keep donors more active and involved and keep those relationships strong regardless of the financial gift they make that night. The big thing is the auctioneers I hire, they have to be mission focused, look at the big picture, and they have to make people feel valued and appreciated. It can not be driven by did we top last year’s financial goal. Now there are so many non profits, the real question is can you keep your donors longer than anybody else. It can’t be a revenue equation, it has to be a relationship equation that is built on trust, accountability, communication, and authenticity.
The other thing that surprises you over the years, there’s nights where somebodies giving $100 and maybe that’s all they can give or used to giving. Then six months later they will gift a farm to them. Sometimes these relationships that are based on a $100 gift, the long term upside to sincerity and thankfulness is a big deal.
I’ve seen some of your tricks, what tricks do you have?
When you have a double item you can sell twice, it’s super helpful. A lot of committees don’t understand how complex and in the moment that is for the auctioneer. A lot of times when I am doing that I can’t sell that second dinner unless I’m at x amount for an example. Then I have to get both of these people and keep them both with me. As they are bidding you have to gauge their interest. You have to stop before you lose the second person. It’s a lot of dynamics and in the moment.
A really helpful trick or experience is, so much of the value of these items has nothing to do with the item, it’s the relationship around the item.
How should an auctioneer be charging for their services?
Some charge a flat rate or a commission fee. A flat fee is better in the nonprofit world. I don’t want people to think we are giving different advice based on our compensation. The fees across the country vary, and they’ll change. A lot of auctioneers will prorate their fee based on their revenue. I also tell folks whether they hire us or somebody else, I encourage them to grill the auctioneer before they hire. If you spend a half hour asking the tough questions you’ll figure out who the right fit for you are. You should interview a couple two or three. The challenge depending on the size of your event, we schedule a year or two out so you have to be really on top of that.
Meeting Minds by EideCom
You’re using events to create awareness, welcome to the show! Tell us about Matter and what you do.
It’s an organization that was started here in our community by some people in the commercial real estate space. I love the way it started. It started by asking what can we do with our own two hands to serve the world. As successful business people there were people coming to them all the time saying can you support our cause and they said well what do we have that we could use to help others. In their case their answer was unique they had real estate space. They had all these warehouses. At times they were empty at times they were full with tenants. They said how can we leverage that to serve others? They started to adopt this concept they called repurposing corporate surplus.
They took in different items from the community. It started with food, sometimes office equipments, it got quickly into medical equipment. Over the course of the last 18 years the organization has matured and grown into this movement really of people that believe there are a lot of great people that don’t have access to a great life. But we can provide that access to have a great life. We are working primarily in the food space. Of course asking the same questions our founders asked, what does Minnesota have in our community we can export to the world? We have incredible food companies, we also work in the agriculture space, lastly we’re often known in Minneapolis as medical ally. Access to all this medical equipment. We take in millions of dollars of medical equipment that we repurpose all over the world. The last 15 years we’ve worked in over 70 countries around the world. It’s fantastic! Our community is such a generous one. We really become a beneficiary of the equipment and food that we can then repurpose so everybody in the world can have a shot at having a better life.
Everything is new in our hospitals, the equipment is being constantly turned over and I was thinking where does it go? There are places in the world that would love to have gently used equipment. You guys do that!
Exactly, we live in a competitive hospital environment. Especially in Minnesota. It’s very competitive and we become the beneficiary of that. This year I was in Congo and walked into a large hospital. Inside the maternity ward there were about 40 women giving birth and there wasn’t one bed in the room. They were all giving birth on the floor, there was blood and fluids all over. It’s one of those moments where you think to yourself this is not right this is not ok. Here we have a warehouse full of gently used hospital beds. That really becomes our urgency and mission. It’s the right thing to do to give these women beds to give birth on. It’s just the beginning of it. It’s something we have great access to here in Minneapolis. Thankfully we can serve others around the world. I have the best job in the world. I get to serve people.
How do you choose where you are serving?
It’s a good question. The line is long this list is long of people who would like to partner with us to get this medical equipment. Really for us it comes down to partnerships. It’s about the relationships you can build with people. Find those shared values, visions, outcomes that meet and align. We look for those partners around the world where we can go hands on face to face. What is the vision you have? Are we the right group to help? It starts there, once we establish that then it becomes detail work. Figure out what needs to be done.
Getting your hands on stuff is a task on its own, then deploying them is another, it takes time and money. Something you do a great job with is engaging people in your mission. How are you using events to grow your engagement?
There are two areas I’d like to touch on. I started reading the book the Power of Moments. It’s a very intriguing book. They are making the case that when you reflect on your life there are these moments that stand out. It’s the power of those moments that shape your life moving forward. It forces you to make certain decisions of what you are going to do. It’ impacts where your family will be involved. He has so many cases in the book that he draws to prove this point. I found it helpful and interesting especially for events.
That’s what events become, a powerful moment. At least at Matter that’s what we are hoping to do. We want to create a powerful moment where people consider what’s important to them what do they need to invest in. The two areas for us, in the food area we have a Matter Box. It’s a box of healthy shelf stable food. It’s really a healthy eating starter kit. We collaborate with hospitals in the community and different organizations. The design is to help kids primarily understand what healthy eating looks like. It’s not that confusing or difficult but sometimes if you don’t have a tangible example you don’t know. ‘
We assemble these boxes and our strategy is called companies that matter. We engage corporations in town, and ask them to consider coming with their team and packing these boxes. We create an event. One of the things we’ve said is we want it to be the Disney experience. In that context it’s not oftentimes a big event sometimes it is though. It can be a work team of 10-20 people sometimes up to 100 people. It really becomes a moment for them to consider, I’m getting my hands dirty helping the community and we try to bring beside that what is the meaning you can bring to your community and whole life. Those are opportunities to create an experience for people to have that powerful moment. That’s the one space to grow engagement.
It creates an experience that is memorable and that’s what a lot of non profits or people conducting events struggle with. You want a take away people can have that is memorable. We are trying to create that. One of the interesting things we came across, we did a large event with General Mills. It became a nation wide experience. Ellen Degeneres got involved with her million acts of good campaign. What we developed was a movement around this you matter idea. We created these little you matter notes. Every volunteer writes a note of encouragement. It could be as simple as you’re special, keep going. Every volunteer that packs a matter box writes a you matter note. A kid gets that and read that. That became almost more so than the food the inspiration, really that was the moving piece for them. That was a powerful thing that we incorporated into a event, a simple idea that I thought it was a silly idea, but it’s amazing. Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that can be the spark.
One of the events I’d like to mention is an event we created with Cargill called Matterbox Madness. It’s an opportunity especially this year with us hosting the final four event. We bring companies together, last year we had 30, and they each form a team and get really competitive and compete against each other bracket style to find a champ that is a Matter Box packing champion. It’s a fun opportunity, another principal we employ, people like to have fun. To come together and create something fun.
Another thing we’ve tapped into is the corporate groups are type A personalities and they like to compete. That’s an event that is coming up this spring around the final four tournament. We are going to try to incorporate as many companies as we can.
A lot of people ask the question, when you approach these companies with these ideas, you have to have them flushed out, but at the end of the day, how do I go approach them?
I wish there was a silver bullet for this one or a magical answer. Our development team is always looking for what’s that sneaky magic, I hate to break it to our team and myself, it really is a lot of hard work. Classic networking, getting out, knocking on doors. I would say there are some strategies we use. We work with our board of directors, we have this group of influencers we’ve brought together and ask them who do you know. We ask our board members every quarter that they would make one connection to an influencer in the community for our development team.
People want to have fun and want to feel like they are enjoying themselves, how do you design an event that is fun and entertaining?
That’s the second category I want to reference, it’s the gala events, we have a handful events we do that are more what you’d call traditional gala events. One of the things we looked as is trying to really push on the status quo or how things have always been done. We get in the room and do what we call the fight unite strategy. Let’s get in a room and fight about ideas and then unite on something in the end. We push for outcomes through that strategy. It’s helped us to challenge some things. A lot of galas we go to we see stereotypical things. What happens is it becomes a little mundane. We are always looking for things we can do that are different.
Two years ago we decided to do our gala event at the sun country airline hanger. The owner is a friend and supporter of ours. There were a few things that happened. It allowed us to reduce cost on venue space, it gave a lot of flexibility on what we could do in that space, it allowed us to put the financial resources into a creative outlet. We were able to pull off our most successful event raising over 1 million dollars and everyone that was there was blown away. I don’t think it was that we were magical in our execution or set up, I think it was so many different elements that people were taken back by that.
When you do something like that, tell me the benefits with not dealing with a hotel or traditional hotel.
It’s a great thing to comment on because we took a different approach to it this year. There are cons as well. It’s a lot of work, you are trying to figure things out every time. There are benefits to going to the Rivercentre. It creates a lot of work for our team and the folks we work with. But there are real upsides, for example, we did our Gala at our own warehouse. The venue was free, and then we were able to work with food vendor’s in town. We had 7 different restaurants that agreed to donate. When we went to each of those, they donated an item or a couple of items so it wasn’t a huge burden to each group. We took our food budget from $55,000 to $0.
So what does that money go to?
It’s a combination, some of that goes to the bottom line then we are able to leverage that for other things. What’s really cool is during the event we announce that! There is a round of applause. There’s an element of stewardship, we have the flexibility to do that, but you can’t do that for every event.
You brought up a really good point. A couple of principles we employ is we are always looking for those win-win situations. Where a company comes, donates, we acknowledge them, they gain business. We win from the financial side and they win as well and feel good about it. We are continuing to look at what are those win-wins. Two of the words we use when starting the planning process are fun and meaningful.
Tell me more about the fun element.
I’ve become a believer in data driven decisions. Data can help. We try to do as comprehensive of a survey as we can to find out what the elements are that people like. It’s nice to get the data and have data to prove people like these elements. That’s one place we start. We do a team debrief and look at those elements. People here in the midwest like other interesting people that come to town outside of Minnesota, celebrities, artists, comedians, whatever that might be. Most people won’t say they do, but the reality is, from our research and surveying, people actually do like it.
How do you tie the meaningful part in while keeping it fun?
One of the constant critiques we get is that the event is too long. I don’t think anybody complained about a short event. I think that’s a challenge for organizations, you have so many things going on and you want to tell them it all in one night. It’s a difficult thing to widdle that message down. That’s an area of growth and opportunity for us. You can kill the fun if you try to get too much information across. Other things get hurt along the way.
When it comes to using these events to get the message across, how much of the program is helping the audience to understand the mission?
We survey the audience to see what works. It’s something we can continue to improve. For us the power of the story is really one of the things we put at the top to drive the meaning. The most effective story is video, you can limit and control what’s being presented and how long. This year was a little bit unusual, we had a gal, a new partner is in Zimbabwe and had all our friends from there come over. One of them, when we got to know her, could tell she had a gift for sharing stories and captivating your interest so we had her before the appeal get up and share a story. There’s a little risk in that, but she has a true gift to be able to understand the audience and she hit a home run.
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Meeting Minds by EideCom
On today’s episode we talk to Brady Forseth from the Starkey Hearing Foundation and most recently the African Community & Conservation Foundation. He shares how he, with a team made the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala become an event that raises over $10 million in one night. Hear the importance of truly internalizing the mission of your organization. Contact Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org