Best Practices for Your Interns, Volunteers and Fundraising Auctions

resizedmarksphotoBest Practices for your Interns, Volunteers and fundraising Auctions

I recently had the chance to speak with Robbie Samuels, Senior Manager of Events and Donor Engagement at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), about intern and volunteer engagement.  We also talked about how to successfully run a fundraising auction for your nonprofit. Robbie has managed 12 silent auctions over the last seven years and has raised amounts ranging from $15K in 2005 to $30K in 2012. Nice job, Robbie!

This blog post will focus on some ideas and best practices he uses with his interns and volunteers to maximize the effectiveness of GLAD’S auctions.

  1. Learn what it means to be a supervisor. “Raise the bar on your expectations and interns will meet or exceed it.” When interns and volunteers get strong training, know where to go for questions, and are given the opportunity to solve problems, they help build a strong auction team. Treat them as employees and invite them to department meetings and staff events whenever possible. Inclusion helps them understand the bigger picture of your organization’s mission.
  2. Invest time in training your interns and volunteers. Robbie chooses to spend more time on training and mentoring his interns and volunteers rather than  building a large auction committee. Over the years, he has had anywhere from a .5 FTE (full time equivalent) intern to 1.5 FTE interns working for a minimum of 6 months prior to the auction. Look for the combination that is right for your organization.
  3. Find great auction items. A key component of any auction is the items. Aside from taking note of items auctioned at local charity events, Robbie suggests spending some time having interns and volunteers canvas local businesses in teams of two. He arms them with an auction donor request letter on his letterhead for them to hand out, with a reply form on the back. Another great idea is to make sure your team wear t-shirts from your organization while out on the streets!
  4.  Send an introductory email before approaching businesses. Robbie schedules two large canvassing days, a month apart, and emails businesses a week before he plans to visit, and then again a day before. This approach allows the business to think of what they can offer. He says that sometimes he will walk into a business and they will already have an auction item waiting for him.
  5. Don’t be afraid to look far and wide for interns and volunteers. Robbie has recruited from Northeastern University, GLAD’s website, and from the community via Craigslist. In fact, Robbie volunteers himself, organizing a well-established Meetup group called Socializing for Justice ( It is a wonderful resource for local internships, jobs, volunteers and networking events.

Robbie is always full of great advice and ways to do things better. He reminds us to not limit ourselves to only local community resources for auction donations.  Put together great travel packages by soliciting a hotel stay, restaurant gift cards, tickets to a cultural attraction and/or spa services. Robbie has found that businesses are more willing to donate if they know they’re going to be part of a package, so be sure to mention that in your letter.

Robbie Samuels utilizes his extensive event planning and fundraising experience to improve upon GLAD’s successful annual events. As development’s liaison he engages with donors motivated by GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. Robbie co-organizes Socializing for Justice (, a grassroots group he co-founded in 2006 to build a cross-cultural, cross-issue progressive community, network and movement in Boston based on the philosophy of abundance. He also provides trainings on the Art of the Schmooze, Fundraising: Getting Past the Fear of Asking, QPR: Suicide Prevention for Community Leaders, and Intercultural Awareness. He holds a BA and an MSW from SUNY Stony Brook. Learn more about him at

Posted by Mark McCurdy.

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