I was lucky enough to attend a great event last week in Vermont. This was a gala put on by a theatre company that I once worked for and continue to support. Like so many arts organizations, raising money is always front and center. They took the brave leap this year and decided to make a BiddingForGood auction the centerpiece of their fundraising at this event. While my husband and I were guests at the event, I was also a “bidder buddy” and was very invested in the success of the event – both financially and for the organization as a whole.
There were a number of things that they did right. They assembled a mighty team of volunteers who worked tirelessly for months in advance of the event. They built a fabulous auction catalog and did the yeoman’s work of reaching out to local businesses for quality donations. They also created a spectacular setting for the party in what was once a garage. No matter. It worked. They transformed the space into an inviting, funky and different kind of setting. So often we hear fundraisers say they are looking to “switch it up” and try something different. For many, adding a new fundraising element like an online auction or mobile bidding is a way to switch it up and invigorate your event. It’s one way to create something new for your supporters and your guests. In this case, re-imagining a space was a way to switch things up and made for a very special evening.
But here is what they did really well. They found ways throughout the evening to thank the people who helped make it happen. Very few nonprofits can do what they do without the help of volunteers. But by definition, volunteers do not get paid for what they do. Or at least they don’t get paid in cash. But they can be paid in kudos and appreciation and public thanks. They can be compensated with recognition and the immense sense of pride and accomplishment in setting a goal and meeting that goal. With luck, the committee can have some fun along the way.
So here was the scene. With a good sized auction catalog and some robust bidding on laptops at the bidding stations and on guest’s smartphones, it was time for the live auction. The live auction, as is often the case, was full of some very special home-grown items. A casting trip to NYC with the Artistic Director attracted some energetic and generous bidding. A mural painted by the scenic artist at the company was a much sought-after item. But they didn’t use paddles or bid numbers. They had a Mistress of Ceremonies, AKA the Artistic Director of the company and she, with help from her colleagues, was the “Auctioneer.” She did a phenomenal job of calling out the people who were bidding. She encouraged them, she acknowledged them in front of the room. She called them by name. She put them in a spotlight which said – these are the people who are stepping up to support our theatre. They may have won an expensive round of golf, or the chance to tag along on a casting trip to New York, but what they really got was a big thank you in front of their community for being generous, for being influential, for being someone who steps up and supports an organization that matters to the community.
Not all fundraisers bring together a connected group of supporters who know each other, but many do. Many school fundraisers do just that. They bring a community together. In the case of the theatre company in Vermont, this event brought together the people who want to have quality theater in their community. These folks support the arts and they love that there is quality, professional theater in their beautiful corner of the world.
There are many ways to say thank you. There are thank you notes, and public acknowledgements and there are displays at events that acknowledge and thank donors and auction committees. So don’t be shy. Say thank you and mean it. Say it every which way you can think to say it.
Ready? I’m going to do it right here, right now. I am going to say thank you to the many organizations that we work with who do what they do so well. I celebrate the generosity that we see all around us. I appreciate and applaud the passionate volunteers who rally around the organizations they care about and make great things happen.