Category Archives: Fundraising Sales

Season of Sugar Begins: Can We Reduce It When Fundraising?

candyNo, I’m not going to become the Halloween equivalent of a Scrooge and give out toothbrushes or apples on Halloween — there will be candy at my door.

Nevertheless, if I can put on my Berkeley hippie hat for a moment, now seems like a good time to reflect on how much sugar gets pushed for a “good cause.”

Meanwhile, increasing evidence is emerging that sugar is a major source of health problems in the United States. (See, for example. the Harvard Health Letter’s “Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease” and “Eating Sugar Causes Massive Health Problems, Says WHO.”) A cause that helps one clientele while hurting another doesn’t seem so charitable after all.

With all the examples out there of nonprofit bake sales, kids selling cookie and candy, “cake walks” at fairs and auctions, and so on, reversing this tide might seem almost as impossible as, well, reversing an actual ocean tide.

But, the nonprofit sector rewards creativity. Donors’ interest perks up when something new and exciting comes along So, how about it? What other interesting temptations — gustatory or other — can we come up with? At the very least, a Google search for “sugar-free dessert recipes” will yield plenty of possibilities for that next bake sale.

Tips From an Experienced Charity Auctioneer

treasure chestI recently spoke to someone who’s been volunteering at a nonprofit’s live auction for ten years — and in a major role, too. He’s the one who stands up in front of the room and solicit bids from the audience.

He’s not an auction professional, but it’s fair to say he’s learned a thing or two during that time — strategies that he’s noticed the pros sometimes overlook.

His main tips can be broken down, so to speak, into the following:

  • Break costs down. When you’re trying to solicit bids for a big-ticket item — let’s say, a starting bid of $1,000 for a weekend at a local resort — do the math, so that people are not focusing solely on that big total number. You might, for example, say, “Hey, this place sleeps eight people, or four couples. If you get your friends together, that’s only $125 per couple per night, and it comes with tennis privileges and a nearby pool!”
  • Break the flow up. A good auctioneer keeps an eye on the audience, and is ready to respond when there’s a lag in the energy, or when people just need a moment to breathe. Telling a story can help, or bringing in something 0r someone new. One year, a good strategy for this developed spontaneously, when a member of the audience jumped up and said, “I was the winning bidder on this dinner last year, and let me tell you what  a fabulous experience it was . . . .” You could, of course, arrange for such testimonials in advance.
  • Break the audience up. That’s right, humor. Easy to aspire to, hard to carry out. But it doesn’t have to be yuck-it-up jokes. Stories from the experiences of the nonprofit staff and board — those inside anecdotes that you laugh (or cry) about at lunch — can be great to share with the crowd.

Even if your nonprofit hires a professional for the important role of auctioneer, doing some of the background work suggested by the above tips can help keep the bidding fast, furious, and fun. For a comprehensive guide to holding a nonprofit auction, see The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising (Nolo).

Why Your Nonprofit’s Next Fundraising Auction Should Set Earnings Records

boxesCorporate giving is up, according to the 2012 Giving in Numbers report from the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

It’s up across the board, to the tune of 42% or $4.48 billion between 2007 and 2012. That’s good when you want straight cash. But it’s even better when you want a non-cash contribution from a business, such as  a gift basket, hotel stay, case of wine, or other tempting item for your next charity auction.

Non-cash corporate contributions accounted for 69% of the 2012 corporate giving totals, up from 57% in 2007. We seem to be at a curious point in the U.S.’s economic recovery: Business profits are up just enough that owners feel comfortable increasing their donations to charity — but with sales on the sluggish side, they’re still ending up with excess inventory, which can go toward a nonprofit in need.

Of course, need alone isn’t enough to convince a business to hand over its goods. The savvy nonprofit will make professional requests that stress the attractive manner in which potential auction items will be displayed as well as how the corporate donor will be recognized.

For more on how to hold a great auction, see the article, “Twelve Steps to Preparing a Successful Fundraising Auction.” And while we’re talking about auctions, make sure your nonprofit isn’t making the common mistake of giving bidders an exaggerated idea of how high a tax deduction they’ll receive, as discussed in, “Is Your Nonprofit Overpromising Tax Deductions?

Happy National (Underfunded) Library Week!

books-188x300From April 14 through 20, the U.S. is celebrating books and the role that libraries play in people’s lives. Libraries have become many communities’ go-to place to rent a movie, do homework, search for a job, and more. Of course, many remain shuttered or on a reduced schedule, with libraries across the U.S. having become, in the last few years, victims of city and county budget cuts.

As if librarians didn’t wear enough hats already, these budget difficulties have led many librarians to assume a new role: fundraiser. I talked to a number of them for my book, The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising: Raise Money for Your School, Team, Library, or Community Group. Many were involved in contacting prospective donors, organizing special events, rounding up donations for an auction or raffle, and so on.

Fortunately, librarians are also a multi-talented bunch, and they’ve got a great theme to work with: reading and literature. Book sales, book awards, and author events are staples of the library fundraising world. But the fundraiser that gets my vote for creative adaptation of the theme is the Edible Book Festival, which started in 2000 and has now spread around the globe.

The idea is that people create cakes or other food items that represent famous books and in some cases, themes and characters from those books, which are displayed and then consumed at a public event.

Check out some of the pictures here and here. And if you’d like to learn how to hold your own such festival, check out the “Eat your words: Tips for hosting an Edible Books Festival in webinar,” to be held Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2 p.m. CST.


Would Your Nonprofit Recognize a High-Value Donated Antique?

Whether your nonprofit organization holds garage sales, auctions, or runs a thrift shop, this latest news piece — “Pot donated to charity is worth £360,000 — should make you rethink how you look over the donated goods.

The charity in question was a hospice thrift shop in England. It had received a dusty Chinese bamboo brush pot that, instead of selling in their store, it was smart enough to turn over to an auction house. A “fierce” bidding war ensued. (I’m not going to do the math, but £360,000 is even more in dollars.)

Of course, that’s the sort of good luck that most groups can only wish for — resigned, meanwhile, to sorting through piles of donated ratty  T-shirts and cheap glass vases. But the real question is whether members of your group would recognize such good luck if it came your way. The article makes two things very clear:

  • the shop’s workers receive regular training in how to spot items of value, and
  • the charity has established an ongoing relationship with the auction house, making it easy to arrange such trainings, as well as appraisals and sales.

It’s not hard to implement something similar where you are, if you go to local experts for advise and help. And even lesser payouts can be significant — for example, if you’re able to sell a first-edition book for $50 rather than $5.

By the way, you’ll notice that the comments to the article express concern that the charity should have offered the item back to the donor. Probably true, if they knew who the donor was — but they may not have, as the article did mention that he or she was “anonymous.”

The Positive Side of Re-Giving

Last year, donor Bill Knight paid $12,000 at a charity event for a guitar autographed by Gene Simmons of Kiss — and later donated it to another charity for auction. This year, he paid $20,000 for another Gene Simmons-autographed guitar. He plans to give this one away to charity, too. (See “Kids With Cancer Society sets $300,000 fundraising record.)

What a great tradition! It makes you wonder you many memorabilia items are sitting in donor’s houses that they’ve enjoyed for a while — and are maybe ready to pass that ownership thrill onto someone else. (It also makes you wonder how many more Gene Simmons guitars Bill Knight will buy. Stay tuned for next year’s auction . . . .)

No need to wonder, however, whether this picture shows a Gene Simmons guitar. It doesn’t.

Fundraisers: Go Easy on Selling the Sweet Stuff!

Despite the girl selling cakes on the cover, readers of my book The Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising know that I think the time has come to cut the sugar and other junk that so many nonprofits have come to rely on in selling goods for cash. The mixed message — we’re trying to help society, but we’re going to close our eyes to the health implications of what we’re purveying — is just too strong.

It’s not that I’m anti-treat. (Ask anyone who knows me!) But rarity is part of what makes something a treat, and sweets and other junk food are anything but rare in people’s lives these days, including those of children. That message rang out loud and clear with the publication of a study finding that, despite years of outcry and supposed efforts to curb the problem, junk food remains ubiquitous at the nation’s elementary schools. (See “Junk Foods Widely Available At Elementary Schools, Study Shows,” by Lindsay Tanner.) School lunches are nothing to brag about nutritionally, and then the kids can head straight to the vending machines for sugary, fatty, or salty chips, cookies, and so on.

Any fundraiser considering selling cookies at school, or even asking kids to sell them on behalf of a group, should consider that context. Fortunately, healthier alternatives are available, such as granola, low-salt pretzels, or home-baked items using whole grains and recipes adapted to reduce the common baddies. (In fact, now that I look again, the girl on my book cover is selling un-frosted cakes. Good job, cover girl!)

Church in London Earns Cash by Renting Parking Spots

You know how I’m always on the lookout for ways a nonprofit can boost the positive side of its balance sheet by turning existing assets into cash?

That’s why I was intrigued to read this article by well-known real estate writer Broderick Perkins, describing how the website — already well-established in England — is coming to America.

The tag line on the website’s home page pretty much says it all:  “Have an empty spot in your driveway? You could be making money by renting it out.”

Perkins further explains that founder Anthony Eskinazi,  inspired by his own difficulty finding (or affording) a parking space when he visited AT&T Park in San Francisco to see a Giants game, went back to England and set up what the website calls a “match-making service for property owners and drivers.” The site continues to manage the relationship, having already helped over 40,000 property owners in England gain extra income from renting their unused parking space by the day, hour, or month.

The church I mentioned in the title is near the busy Kings Cross Station in London and has, according to Perkins’ article, earned some $180,000 from the website in the last three years, comprising more than half its annual income. (These are tough times for tithing.)

Of course, not every nonprofit owns its own property, or has space to let.  (And if you rent, or are part of a homeowners’ association, better check with them before you sign up.)  But hey, pass the word on to your most-likely-underpaid staffers. Maybe their driveway could put a few extra dollars into their pockets while they’re spending long hours at work!

Getting Creative With Fundraising Methods: Newly Released Podcast

Wondering how important it is to come up with a fundraiser for your group that’s new and different? Or how other groups have managed to come up with winning ideas? Check out the podcast “Bringing Creativity to Your Fundraising Efforts,” drawn from Ilona Bray’s recently published book, The Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising. It includes tips and stories from parents, events planners, and more.

Feeding Kids Sugar to Raise Money for Diabetes Research?

Yesterday was “Mug Root Beer Float” day at the Oakland A’s baseball game, at which families brought lots of kids to enjoy meeting celebrities, watching floats, and of course drinking root beer floats.

Yes, it sounds like it was fun.  And according to the press release, the event raised over $29,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

But as a friend of mine who went to the game commented, “Isn’t there something a little weird about feeding kids sugar at an event dedicated to dealing with a disease that’s all about the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar?”

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’d say it’s very weird. No one has yet found the cause of diabetes, but doctors are certainly raising alarm bells about sugar consumption and obesity, both of which are rampant in the United States. I give the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation credit for creating a business partnership that got them in the headlines and raised some significant amounts, but what a mixed message to send.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that processed and sugary foods have been drafted into the cause of fundraising. And people are taking notice — and better yet, suggesting creative alternatives.  For example, you’ll find some helpful tips on healthy food alternatives in this guide from Canada’s Nova Scotia Department of Education, called “Fundraising with Healthy Food and Beverages.”