Fundraising Silent Auctions: It’s the Items, Stupid
What makes us think a perfect stranger, who’s never given to our organization before, will choose to do so? It’s highly counter intuitive. People are more likely to continue doing what they’ve done before.
We talk a lot in fundraising professional circles about the folly of concentrating too many resources on donor acquisition and too little on donor retention. Whenever I coach volunteers to do fundraising, I always suggest they remind current donors how many years they’ve already been giving to the organization. It’s significantly more difficult to get people to reach a new decision.
But what if you’re a start-up organization that doesn’t have many donors? What if your only choice is to go after first-time donors?
Let’s take a look at parallels in the retail marketing world. The always provocative thinker, Seth Godin, recently blogged about buying something for the first time. He notes there are only three kinds of sales, and the third is akin to a revolutionary act (one-third of people in the world have never made a first-time purchase; they do what their parents/grandparents did). The three kinds of sales are:
- Buying a refill, another unit of a service or product you’ve purchased before
- Switching to a new model/brand/style
- Buying something for the first time
In the end, it’s good to keep one thing in mind: it’s all about community. We want to belong. We want to be a ‘member’ of something. We make the same decisions as our friends and relatives because we’re mutually dependent on one another. And communities are about dependence, and caring and contributing. There is comfort, and safety, in numbers.
For start-up nonprofits seeking to develop numbers (i.e., an annual giving base of individual donors) the lesson is clear. To paraphrase Seth:
It’s not going to happen tomorrow, or the next time. It will happen because we show up. We settle in. We become part of the fabric of the community. Ideas spread within the community. When we consistently over deliver, then drip by drip, day by day, that’s how we change the world.
The bottom line: Everyone wants to make a difference. If we operate on the premise that people want to be engaged, then we can figure out how to engage them and persevere in so doing. And, equally important, we must have a plan in place to steward these new donors so that in the future they will make the first and second type of decisions – and spread this decision-making to their friends and relatives.