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  • Writer's pictureAmFund

The Art of the Ask: 8 Insider Tips

Master what can be the biggest fundraising components of your evening.

Open Ask with Bidder Paddles

When it comes to fundraising events, doing a cash call or an open ask is an essential part of increasing donations at your event. Let’s take a look at eight top tips to help your organization with its open ask at the next big event.

#1 It’'s NOT a Party: It's a Fundraiser!

Too many organizations and committees focus on putting on a huge party and lose focus on fundraising! Nothing is sadder than seeing guests leave an event after partying all night, having lost track of who put on the event and why it was held. Worse yet, they were never given the proper opportunity to support your all-important work!

Drunk Donor

First and foremost, it’s a FUNDRAISER. That’s why you are holding the event and what matters most the day after, is how much money you netted after all your efforts and how much your guests want to continue to support your good work.

Your event is your opportunity for “FRIEND-RAISING” too. You’ll meet many of your guests for the first time. This is your time to make new friends and turn them into donors and “AMBASSADORS” for your cause.

This is your chance to tell your “captive audience” about your story, your mission, your successes, and your goals. You want your important and affluent guests to leave raving about the event, but even more… great work you do!

#2 Keep your program emotional and engaging

Nothing is more boring than starting with a long list of “thank yous” and “I couldn’t have done it without yous.”

Long Speech

Keep speeches short and to the point. Long speeches bring programs to a grinding halt. It’s about your mission, hosting your guests and raising the most money!

Have your MC welcome everyone warmly and state the main compelling reason you are holding the event. You can show an attention-grabbing professional 5-minute video that demonstrates your great work and achievements over the year, but make sure your host closes that video with the statement that much more work needs to be done and that’s why we are all here.

#3 Never Mention the Economy!

Presenters think they help the organization when they say, “We know times are tough. That’s why the XYZ organization needs your help now more than ever!” This approach ALWAYS backfires. Potential high bidders are reminded even their own finances might be in jeopardy, and their wallets slam shut!

Economic Trends

This is your guests’ chance to escape their own daily cares for a few hours, and focus on the good they can do for others. When they are in a positive, receptive mood, they are more likely to bid high and to make large donations!

Never make the mistake that because people are finally bidding competitively, you should leave the silent auction open longer. Of course they are finally bidding… because they know they are running out of time!

#4 Don't Deflate the Room or Give Your Donors an "Out"

You also may be excited about announcing the success of your major donor drive, or a windfall grant from the government or another foundation, but save those big announcements until AFTER all your event fundraising efforts are complete. And never begin your program by telling your guests how this year’s attendance is larger than ever and with so many sponsorships, you have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars at your event! That will give the impression you’ve raised all the money you need, and if donors get the impression your budget is in great shape, they’ll feel far less obligated to help.

Cash Balloon

#5 Timing is Everything

Successful at-event fundraising is like surfing. Be sure to “catch” the fundraising wave early when its “cresting.” That’s when guests’ anticipation and willingness to help are at their peak. The moment guests arrive, they’re excited to see what’s in store.


Hold the silent auction during the cocktail hour. Auctions are about impulse buying and instant gratification, so 90 minutes is plenty of time for guests to get a cocktail, mingle and bid in the silent auction. Never give guests all night “to think about it.”

Close the silent auction with fanfare, by clearly announcing there are only 30 minutes left to bid, then 15, 10, 5, 1 minute, then 30 seconds and finally the 10 second countdown. This exciting countdown is essential to generate competitive bidding.

Begin your live auction 6 minutes after the last dinner plate is served. This should be between 7:45 and 8:30. Your MC should introduce your live auction, reminding guests how this is an exciting way to win great trips and prizes and support the organization at the same time. It’s a win-win for everyone, so bid high and bid often!

Transition to the open ask no later than 9 PM. That’s when your fundraising wave is rolling into shore. Be sure to ride it all the way, gathering as many donations as possible.

After 9 PM, guests have been at the event for about 3 hours; they’ve had enough to eat and drink and they are checking their watches in anticipation of leaving. This is the time Cinderella loses her glass slipper and her coach turns into a pumpkin. So get the fundraising done as close to 9 PM as possible. If you don’t, thousands of dollars will float out the door with your guests who either mentally tune out or go home. For those who want to party longer, save your dancing and entertainment until after your fundraising is done.

#6 Don't Tap Out Your Donors Before the Live Auction

Save the Open Ask or call for donations for AFTER the Live Auction, which should be held a few minutes after the last dinner plate is served. Because only a few people win the in the Live Auction, you will not have depleted your audience for the Open Ask. Some organizations believe doing the call for donations first will get the maximum money out of the room. But if you do, you may “tap-out” most of your guests which will deplete your bidder base, making your live auction less successful than you want it to be.

Out of Money

After the live auction, your host should change the mood by asking everyone be quiet and pay attention. Then introduce the person who will speak about your mission and the need for donations. Don’t simply present success stories. Focus on your unmet need, and why your guests’ help is essential to accomplishing your important goals.

#7 Don't forget to designate donors before your Open Ask

Not only is it important to help donors visualize the need for donations, but it is important to set the stage for those higher donations. Have the courage to ask for major donations. You will never get what you don’t ask for.

Mr. Money Bags

Organizations should speak with their known big supporters and board members to prearrange the first donations for each level of the Open Ask. These are not mock donations, they are real contributions from known donors. This helps to “prime the pump” for other donations. It also eliminates that awkward moment when people look around and wonder who will go first. Once one person raises his or her hand for that big donation, others are encouraged to do so as well.

#8 Tell Guests Specifically How Their Donations Will Be Used

Designate specific levels of donations and what each level can do for the people/pets you serve. Ask for donations at 3 specific levels, and always ask for the highest donations first.

Make sure the work at each level is different in scope not just quantity.

For example, if a thousand-dollar donation will buy lunch for 1000 homeless people, don’t ask for $500 next to buy lunch for only 500 people. Make the $500 level different. That second level might cover the cost for a visiting nurse to see 10 homeless patients in a day.

A final example might be: at the $250 level, donors could provide a week’s worth of groceries for 4 needy families.

Finally, after you have asked for donations separately at each of these levels, invite guests to donate at any level they wish. “We certainly appreciate ALL donations, so if we haven’t expressed a level that resonates with you, please donate whatever you wish.” This scoops up the remaining donations. Be sure to thank EVERYONE for their generous support!

For more tips on how to present a compelling open ask at your next event, contact us at AmFund. Our Development Directors bring years of experience and we are ready to help your cause!


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