The Cash Appeal or The Ask
A Cash Appeal is made to the audience during the live auction with the intent of funding a special project or need. Many guests come with the intention of giving during this portion of the auction and may leave immediately following. I refer to this as the Fun‐a‐ need Exodus. This Exodus can be delayed by holding the Dessert Dash as a reward to the people who gave and for the audience in general. The End‐of‐the‐night raffle will also hold most of the guests until that drawing is done. If half the audience leaves at this point, who cares? They did what they came to do and at this point, staying for the last few items will make little to no difference to the bottom line.
This vinyl display was designed and created by Q Steckler. Mr. Steckler is the graphic designer and installer for the Whiskers on Wheels mobile adoption bus.
The Ask is the easiest piece of the auction to put together and for that reason, I think it is often overlooked and under promoted. Sometimes more money is raised during this
portion than both the live and silent auctions combined. The money can be matched by one or more business and private donors. Recognition gifts can be given to those that contribute, adding to the excitement and emotion. Because The Ask is so profitable a decision should be made early in the planning process as to what project or need will be funded. Once that plan is in place, spreading word about that need will rally people to support that need by attending, donating and volunteering. Let’s face it, a non‐profit organization is a business and everything about your organization is not sexy, emotional or touchy‐feely. Sometimes the granting process and individual donations will easily fund the more emotional aspects of your cause and the actual machinery of your organization can be neglected. The building might need a new roof. The bus might need replaced. The church might need new carpet, even adding an employee might make the difference in how many lives are saved by your services.
This vinyl display was created by Q Steckler for under $300. Q also designed and installed the graphics for the Whiskers on Wheels mobile adoption bus. Whisker City uses this display at all their fundraising events making the cost pay for itself many times over.
This simple display was lovingly created by volunteers. The message is obvious as shown through photos, letters and pamphlets. This display is ideal for a library but in a large crowded venue the message is lost. Create an instant message that can be built upon throughout the rest of the night
Every thing matters and everything can be funded when the story is told with some skill and finesse. Presenting The Ask should be carefully thought out and told so the audience connects with the need and message well in advance of the auction. The message need not be fraught with emotion, but there is no question that tears can have an affect on giving in the moment. Even if the money is to be used to buy tangible products, improve services, add supplies or pay off debt, the story must provoke giving. Sometimes it is worth the expense to contract with a public relations or marketing company to clarify your organization’s message and plan for delivering that message. If the goal is to raise $50,000, then create $50,000 worth of attention for heaven’s sake! The Ask is the most valuable single item of the evening and to be successful, the story must motivate the audience to give and give repeatedly without hesitation. Begin by mentally placing yourself in the audience. The text, photos, video or speech should answer all the questions a stranger might have if they heard the message for the first time. Allow some time for the presentation. The audience needs a minute to switch gears from the auction and settle down and focus. Lights may need to be turned down, presenters need to be on point, waiters must leave the floor and volunteers need to organize around the perimeter of the room. The story may last 3‐5 minutes. If every person gives, it may take another 5 minutes to call all the numbers. If someone from the organization thanks the audience afterward another 2‐3 minutes could be added. The Ask could and probably should take about 10‐20 minutes.
These are the steps to a profitable ASK. 1. Choose a need that has broad appeal and that most of the audience will relate too. A targeted need that has less appeal requires a strategy for selling and more advance effort to clarify understanding and garner support. 2. Make it the story simple and divide it into 3 parts. 1. This is what we have now. Be brief. 30 seconds. 2. This is what we need. 2 minutes. 3. This is what we will accomplish with your help. 1 minute. 3. Create a descriptive visual display with that message clearly stating the goals. You might want to breakout the actual costs for the need i.e. 10 computers at $10,000, 10 desks at $5,000, 10 printers at $2,500, etc. 4. Rally support for the need well in advance and start fielding questions. Respond to those questions before the marketing message. This feedback allows time to form a positive response to any objections or concerns and shape the marketing campaign on auction night. 5. Place the display in the lobby of the school or physical building of the organization before the auction. You may want to create a smaller display for this purpose and save the large display for auction night. 6. Post a page on the organizations website with an option of contributing to any or part of the need. 7. Blog about the results that will be created by funding the need. 8. Seek matching donors prior to auction night by surveying the membership and attendees. Matching dollars can be a great advertising cache for business owners.
9. Look for Bonus Bucks that match portions of the need. For instance for every $10,000 raised, Blue Sky Charities will add $1000 to the pot. 10. Begin searching for the vendor or vendors that the items will be purchased from and ask a sales rep from the company to help setup a tradeshow style display on auction night for maximum impact. Give at least one full length table with an 8 foot backdrop for conveying the visual message. Use lighting, monitors and other visuals to sell guests on the need. Ask for samples and place oversized price tabs on each piece. 11. Place a standup card or table tent on the dining tables describing the need with the paddle raise goal and include the increments the auctioneer will ask for. 12. Create 2x3 posters using the same art and place them around the venue at key spots, near the bar, near the entrance to the restrooms or even on the back of the restroom doors. 13. Create a 3‐5 minute PowerPoint message set to music or create a video. 14. OR invite a speaker to read a rehearsed appeal. This person should have a favorable image with the audience and can not be someone that might provoke controversy. Sometimes this person is not the director or the principal or the president. In fact, they might be a professional public speaker. 15. I like to play a gentle piece of music at low volume while I’m calling out the numbers. 16. Print a short version of the story along with the instructions and bid increments on the back of the bid card.
Example: Whisker City is dedicated to saving the lives of abused, neglected and abandoned felines. Because we are a no‐kill shelter, there is a constant demand for more space for cats and kittens in medical recovery, life time housing and in transition into the adoption program. Tonight, the Auctioneer will ask you to raise your bid card to make a donation. When you hear the level at which you wish to make a direct contribution, simply raise your bid card until the auctioneer calls your bid number. The funding levels are: $2500, $2000, $1500, $1000, $500, $250, $100, $50 and $25. 100% of the tax‐deductible contribution will be used to buy Whiskers on Wheels Mobile Adoption Bus #2. Tonight every dollar we raise will be matched by Maddies Fund up to $50,000! It is critical to have a properly timed and controlled Ask. I’ve had some terrible experiences because some well‐meaning person thought they could have an impact on the giving. The worst Ask I have ever experienced occurred during an auction for the Washington Conservation Voters. I typically step off the stage or to the side during The Ask presentation and then return once the video or speaker has finished. The presenter this night was particularly long‐winded and the audience became quite restless. A supporter interrupted the speech by running to the stage and handing over a $20 bill. The audience laughed as others ran forward and followed suit. I instantly knew this was a huge mistake and I stepped next to the presenter to stop the silliness. I began by asking the audience to raise their paddle at $1000. Nothing. Then $500. Nothing. Then $250. Nothing. Then at $100. Again nothing. And finally at the $50 level someone raised a paddle and at $25 a few more paddles popped up. The combination of a blow hard and a showoff completely wiped out the success of this profit center. I think they raised something like $3000. On the flip side, some spontaneous acts by the audience can double and even triple the giving. Many years ago at an auction for PetNet in Incline Village an audience member challenged his peers to raise their paddle on every increment I announced. This suggestion was so profitable I now invite the audience to raise their bid cards multiple times until “they’ve completely lightened their load”. The audience is a great teacher.
April Brown is an 18 year veteran auctioneer and specializes in fundraising auctions. She is also the founder and Director of Whisker City, a feline rescue organization located in Shoreline, Washington. Brown also hosts April Brown’s Charity Auction World, the only internet television show designed to showcase the world of charity auctions. She is the author of Money is Marvelous and The Foundation - Secrets to A Successful Charity Auction. April has a long history of dramatically increasing revenue for charities with a goal of $30,000 to $500,000 and higher. The Auction Powerhouse Training Method has helped thousands of volunteer and professional fundraisers attract new donors, develop profitable demographic and put together memorable auctions. Brown’s innovative strategies and concepts are used by auctioneers, development officers and volunteers throughout North America. She is a skilled auctioneer and combines her passion for business and love for charity by training others to do great things. April’s clients include private and public schools, hospital foundations and guilds, business and community service organizations and individuals