Fundraisers – How To Be A Great Emcee

No dough. No show.

~Steve Martin as Lucky Day, The Three Amigos

I can help you host an effective fundraiser. 

Emceeing a gala celebration, donor dinner, auction event, or any charitable fundraiser is just like hosting other events. Except for one thing. . . 

Money!

The main way the organizers of a fundraiser evaluate the success of this function is simple: 

Did we make money? 

Along with delighting your audience, as you should at any event you emcee, your goal at a fundraiser is clear: Help this organization raise funds at this event. 

The stakes are high. Most non-profits need to raise money now. They often depend on one or two fundraising events to generate their annual budget. An organizing committee will spend 6 to 12 months or more planning this program.

Money!

Seems like a no-brainer. After all, these are called FUNDraisers. But it’s fascinating how often these events turn out to be information-raisers, décor-raisers, or reasons-to-drink-alcohol-raisers. Too many fundraisers fail when it comes to the mission of raising money. As the emcee, you can help. 

Let me give you a roadmap. Remember these three things when you emcee a fundraiser:  

  1. You are hosting a party with a purpose
  2. You are presiding over the entire program
  3. You are inviting people to partner with this cause 

You need to know the WHY behind this event.  What is the CAUSE that defines and unites this group? 

To keep the event on purpose. Know the answers to these questions: 

  • Are we trying to reach a specific financial goal with tonight?
  • Will we announce a $ total before the event is over?
  • Are there specific “giving handles” we are inviting the audience to fund? (Example: “Your gift of $25,000 will allow a deserving student to graduate from our university debt-free!”)

Keep the program on track. Make sure to:

  • Welcome the attendees and give them a preview of what will be happening on stage and off. 
  • Keep the meeting moving. If they are exhausted by the time you get to the “Ask”or paddle raise, the giving will be diminished. 
  • Make it fun. Leave attendees with a sweet taste in their mouths. No matter what the financial outcome of the event, put a nice bow on the end of the program—so they want to attend again next year. 

Encourage attendees to become giving partners

  • Reinforce the vital importance of what this group is doing. (If you don’t like what they are doing, do not host their event! The audience can feel it if you are faking your endorsement of a charity).
  • Do all that you can to help orchestrate a powerful Auction or Ask (or both)

Give the audience crystal clear directions about how to give.

Examples:

  • Make a bid by raising your paddle.
  • Fill out the form at your table and place it in the gold envelope.
  • Text your pledge amount to the phone number you see on the screen.
  • Buy a raffle ticket from Mike or Ann Marie before the drawing at 8:45 pm. 

Show Them the Money

As MC, you can help maximize the giving–without making the audience feel like the charity is begging (or bullying) them into donating. 

Read on and you’ll know exactly what to do and what not to do.  But first, here is just a partial list of possible fundraisers you may be invited to emcee:

  • Galas
  • Annual dinners
  • Donor gatherings 
  • Benefit concerts 
  • Live auctions 
  • Sporting events
  • “A-thon” events, i.e., walk-a-thons, hike-a-thons 
  • Golf tournaments 
  • Holiday programs 
  • Celebration ceremonies 
  • Estate sales
  • And many more

Although there are many types of fundraising events you may be asked to host, here’s some good news: There are only 3 ways an event can actually generate funds! 

Get to know these  A, B, C categories. 

The “ABC” Giving Options for an Event Fundraiser

While there are many “giving mechanisms” for fundraisers. Truth is, they all fall into one of three categories. You can invite attendees to give at a live fundraiser in 3 main ways, via:

  1. Auction
  2. Buying 
  3. Commitments/pledges 

Let’s look at each category. We will start with. . . 

AUCTIONS: 10 Tips for Hosting Live & Silent Auctions

#1. Limit the number of Live Auction items.

The sweet spot is 3 to 7 items max. Don’t auction off 20 items. It takes up too much program time. Remember, many attendees will not participate in the bidding, not matter what is up for auction.

#2. Set minimum starting bids low enough to get the bidding going. 

Make it easy for people to participate. But don’t start the bid amount so low that you radically undervalue an item. The key is to value the gift, trip, or experience, like an attendee would, not like the person who donated it.

Most of the time the program coordinator will tell you the starting bid amounts. But let her know before the event if you feel the amounts have been set too high. 

#3. You don’t have to be a “barker” to be a good auctioneer.

Some pro auctioneers can do the rat-a-tat-tat vocal effect. Like they are auctioning cattle. That’s great. But you don’t need to do that. Build up the value of each special item up for auction. Build excitement.  Validate the audience for all bids. You guys are great and you’re supporting a great cause!

#4. Participation is the most important thing.

Come down from the stage. Walk into the audience with a wireless hand-held microphone. Interact with the attendees.  Thank people by name for bidding. Remind attendees that their bids not only give them a chance to win, but more importantly, support the great work of this organization. Silence/no response kills the excitement of a Live Auction. Invite interaction and involvement. 

#5. Generate “bidding wars.”

People will bid higher and higher amounts IF it looks like someone else might win an item they want. This taps into FOMO (fear of missing out). You can build up the drama between two or more bidders. “Evan, are you really going to let Ryan get this item? I can tell you want it more. Who is going to get it?!”

#6. Make the Live Auction entertaining

Remember most of your audience will not bid at all. That’s just the way it is. Most are happy to watch others jump into an auction, but they would rather support the charity in a different way. But…even though a smaller segment of the audience will make bids, include all the guests in the excitement. Poke good-natured fun at tables with people who aren’t bidding. Enjoy the buzz of the auction yourself. Your enjoyment is contagious. They won’t have fun if you’re not. 

#7. Build momentum up to the last item which should be the Big One.

Make the first thing up for auction an “entry” level bid item. You’ll discover that many of the same people will bid on multiple items. Once they jump in, they have fun, and keep engaging. Keep the pace up, and end on the highly prized item.

Example: “Ladies and Gentlemen, are you ready for this one? This is called “The Experience of a Lifetime.” This dream vacation in Spain is valued at $33,000 dollars. But tonight, I am going to start the bidding at the ridiculously low price of $9,500 dollars! Who will start the bidding?”

#8. Start the Silent Auctions before the dinner/program begins.

Suggestion: Do not jump on stage to start/end a silent auction. Save your big MC entrance for the start of the on-stage program. Do a VO (voice over) announcement: The Silent Auction has begun. Make sure you get your name on the item you want, so you don’t miss out.”

#9. Create a sense of urgency about the Silent Action.

“Friends, just ten more minutes left! These Silent Auction packages are going fast. Make sure you bid on your favorites, including the brand-new TV, the amazing trip to Sea World, and the Coffee Lovers Dream basket.” 

#10. End the Silent Auction on time

Do a back-of-room vocal countdown like this: “The Silent Auction is closing in 5 minutes. 2 minutes. 60 seconds. 30 seconds. 10, 9, 8… Closed!  Congratulations to all our winners. Please find your seats now ladies and gentlemen. Our program will begin in 5 minutes. Thank you.” 

The next way a fundraising event can generate funds is via. . . 

BUYING: Attendees Can Support the Cause by Making Purchases

There are hundreds of possible things attendees can be offered at a fundraising event. Here are some proven items/buying opportunities that tend to appeal to guests: 

  • Tables for 6 to 8 attendees (These of course are sold before the event date)
  • Advertising spots in the printed program 
  • Platinum, Gold, Silver, and other levels of event sponsorship
  • VIP Dinner & Live Show packages 
  • Raffle tickets
  • Centerpieces
  • Fine wine
  • Artwork
  • Handmade jewelry 
  • Gourmet popcorn and other treats 
  • Hand-made holiday gifts
  • Unique toys 
  • T-shirts, clothing, and accessories
  • Autographed sports memorabilia 

Some of these offerings are attractive to attendees who do not want to bid on auction items. They want to support the purpose of the event and head home with something nice. 

The time to sell these items is before the program starts and after it ends. Warning: Avoid offering anything for sale during the auction time or connected to the “Ask.” (In fact, the best fundraisers focus on ONE main way of giving, not all three of the ABC’s described here). 

Example: If your attendees are high-capacity givers, do Not put the spotlight on them buying gift items at the back of the room. Give them a compelling reason to donate. More on that in a moment… 

As the Master of Ceremonies, highlight the opportunities for attendees to buy something wonderful while simultaneously supporting the worthy cause. 

Remember, if something is not seen, it will rarely be purchased. However, avoid “plugging” everything. You want to set a tone of celebration not a sales-a-thon. Focus on the items that will generate the most fun and most revenue for the charity. 

In my experience, the most powerful fundraisers, do not sell tables or any items. They invite people to invest in the work of the non-profit or charity. Here’s how you can help: 

COMMITMENTS: 10 Ways the MC Can Maximize Giving Commitments

#1. Give attendees a compelling reason Why they should give and How

Example: Your gift of $___________ will provide clean drinking water for __ kids! “I invite you to check the box on your pledge form that says:
YES, we want invest $5,000 to build 5 water wells.

#2. Create group unity around the giving

People love to give when they feel they belong to a giving community. Look for ways to create participation and camaraderie.

Examples:

Please stand for the pledge of allegiance.

Raise your hand if you have a family member who has been affected by ___________.

Take a moment to thank the person sitting next to you. Say to them:

Hip hip hooray! Thanks for helping clean up the bay.

#3. Make a donation (but don’t brag about it) 

My wife Shannon and I invite you to join us as and impact the lives of people who so need our help today.

It’s powerful when you invite attendees to give with you.

Remember what Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People said. He was asked why he was such a good salesperson. Carnegie answered: “Because I’m sold!” 

#4. Create a sense of urgency about giving now 

Here’s why we want to act tonight…

Examples: “Your gift will be matched when make your pledge tonight. This organization is on a roll. And together we can multiply the impact.”

#5. Inject FUN into the fundraiser

Before we ask for anything tonight, we want to give away a brand-new electric car! Who wants a chance to win it?

According to the Saint Paul, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Charities do too. As the emcee, you want to invite people into a joyful experience. People love to give, not just because the cause is important, but because of how it makes them feel.

#6. Create excitement around the giving

Everybody who bids on a silent auction item is going to receive one of these hand-made Hero capes for their child or grandkid.

#7. Publicly affirm the leaders/board of the non-profit group

I looked up the word “compassion” in the dictionary. It says: See Melanie Garcia. It’s a privilege to introduce our Founder. Please welcome…

#8. Avoid promoting too many things

Good: There are two powerful ways you can invest in this work tonight…

Bad: Buy a shirt, purchase a raffle ticket, join the live auction, fill out the giving form, and don’t forget you can buy one of our centerpieces.

#9. ASK them to give!

It is shocking but true. Many fundraiser events forget to ask attendees to give. Your guests are smart. They know they have been invited to the event to support the charity or cause, as emcee your job is to facilitate this “Ask.”

#10. Thank them, thank them, thank them

Example: “We are so grateful you were here tonight. Make sure you receive one of the special 20th Annual Gala Gift Coins as you head out. It’s our way of reminding you that you are truly appreciated.” 

Hosting a fundraiser is a privilege. You will do a fine job when you help connect the attendee’s hearts to the worthy cause. 

This is an excerpt from Adam Christing‘s forthcoming book, “How To Be A Great Emcee: The A to Z Guide to Hosting Events” by America’s #1 Master of Ceremonies. Follow along as new chapters gets posted to this blog category each week.