Raise the Paddle

“Raise the Paddle” is an effective way to raise donations at a charity fundraising event. The “paddle” is typically a bid number and it is “raised” by event attendees to give a cash donation to the nonprofit organization.

It typically occurs midway through the live auction because folks are already in the “giving” spirit and may like to contribute if they don’t get the live auction item they were bidding on.

First you need to verbalize the “need” to your audience. It helps to have someone who has been positively and personally affected by the nonprofit share their personal success story with the audience. The speaker’s passion for the nonprofit and its services will put people in the right frame of mind and remind attendees why they are attending the event.

The auctioneer will let the audience know the available levels of donations. Typically, the auctioneer will have five different giving levels and go from the highest donation amount to least amount. The higher the amount the less paddles will be raised so it is important to secure these donations ahead of time. Live auction “spotters” can assist with spotting “paddles” and writing down all the bid numbers as they increase dramatically with the lower amounts.

Although $10,000 is a typical starting point, depending on your constituency, it may make sense to start at $1,000 or even up to $250,000. To determine your highest donation amount, find a donor who will give the lead amount. Solicit your regular (and generous) donors to be “shills” or folks who will commit to making donations at each level. Gaining financial commitments ahead of the event is the key to a successful “Raise the Paddle.” By having these donors planted in the audience, it will encourage other attendees to give as well.

My client, the Chula Vista Nature Center, conducted a Raise the Paddle during the Live Auction portion of their “Where the Wild Things Are” Food and Wine Classic this past weekend. Supervisor Greg Cox shared the “need” for scholarships for the Nature Center’s upcoming summer camps and how the funds raised that night would offset the costs of the camp – enabling more local students to attend. He started the giving at $2,500 and one of our donors (shills) raised his “paddle” (bid number). Then the auctioneer moved to $1,000, $500, $250 and $100. Total, they raised: $5,000.

The most successful “Raise the Paddle” I have seen was the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Promise Ball in 2008. The top gift level was $150,000 and given by one of the organization’s biggest supporters, Steve and Lisa Altman, CEO of Qualcomm. The giving levels decreased to $100,000, $50,000, $25,000 $10,000, $5,000, $2,500, $1,000, $500 and $250. There were generous donors at each level to help raise a total of $633,000.

And for your viewing pleasure, I had to pull up this picture from the JDRF Gala with my dear friend, Stacy Matseas who is an incredible volunteer fundraiser — and of course, the adorable, hunky firemen that were auctioned off that evening for a mere $5,000 (for dinner at the firehouse).

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3 thoughts on “Raise the Paddle

  1. Renee – as usual, you are spot on. Fund-raising (paddle-raising) is an intentional process. Have been with organizations that eschewed using the shill – much to their disadvantage. People like to follow leaders and a shill, with a paddle, is a leader. Moving the amounts down so that everybody in the room (who can fit even the smallest giving category) are motivated then to raise their paddle with the smaller amounts. It works.

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