How To Wow Supporters At A Successful Fundraiser

Earlier this year, I joined several other companies at the United Way’s Not-For-Profit Leadership Summit XII in Tarrytown to lead a seminar entitled, “From Basics to Brilliance – Finding the Wow Factor for Your Events.” Following the seminar, I took some time to gather these experts and get their best advice for non-profits looking to maximize the “wow factor” at their events and increase donations as a result. Here’s what they had to say:

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Hire an Event Coordinator

A common problem amongst nonprofits is the justification of expenses. But sometimes, even nonprofits need to spend money to make money, notes Rose Cappa-Rotunno, president of event planning firm Cappa Crucy & Co. “An organization should review its resources to see how to best maximize the talents and connections they have,” she says. How can this be done? Outsource to an event coordinator. “A good consultant will maintain the timelines, oversee the budget and keep abreast of the tedious but important details that make an event successful,” Cappa-Rotunno says. “Not only will your consultant likely come along with contacts to help keep costs down, but your organization’s developmental staff can now focus on acquiring donors instead of running an event.”

Provide Entertainment

A little entertainment and authenticity go a long way when you’re talking about winning over an event’s attendees and allowing everyone to have a good time for a good cause. President of Hal Prince Music and Entertainment, Jill Prince, pointed out the importance of supporting a good theme. She says, “One tip from a music and entertainment standpoint is to have some fun music or a visual entertainer to greet the guests.” Some examples she provided include celebrity look-a-likes on a red carpet, an a cappella singing group, a living statue, or a steel drum band to accommodate a tropical theme.

Address the Senses

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“Address the five senses,” advises David Pellon, director of catering, sales and operations of the New York Hospitality Group. When it comes to making a lasting impression on event attendees, his recommendations include: balancing sweet and salty as well as hot and cold foods for a memorable dining experience. Just as important are the aromas and what the guests are holding. Pelton’s advice? Go with what’s “in” at the moment. “Smoky foods, cold drinks, frosted shooters, and hot alcohol beverages in the winter,” are all perfect examples, he says. But don’t forget about what your guests see and hear! This means utilizing music and action stations to get attendees to participate, and decor and themes, which allow them to fully indulge in the experience.

Auction Centerpieces to Raise Money

Joseph Pugni Jr., president of Joseph Richard Florals, LLC suggests using centerpieces to your advantage. Whether decor is floral or otherwise, centerpieces are often donated, Pugni says, which opens the door to raise some quick and easy money for your cause. “If you have 10  tables, you have the opportunity to raise more money by auctioning off 10 centerpieces for attendees to take home,” he explains. This can be done in the form of a silent auction or raffle and provides an awfully nice parting gift for those who win the prize.

Keep Guests Engaged & Invested

As a visual society, sometimes hearing about a cause is not enough to make an impact. Donvil Collins, founder & CEO of content display technology firm VeeKast, explained the importance of video screens spread throughout an event. This is something I can also attest to. Have you ever watched a video clip demonstrating what an organization has done for a person and how their life has changed as a result? Collins advised that it’s imperative if you want to increase donations. He says, “Use video to show real stories of how the organization made a difference and display a tracker or thermometer heading toward the goal. A few stories and a visual representation of how much is needed to continue making a difference is powerful in aiming to exceed the goal!”

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Consider Return on Investment

Each panel member I consulted offered unique advice due to their varying standpoints in business; however the underlying message presented by each of them is that you, on behalf of the non-profit, need to take full consideration of your guests’ wants and needs in order to yield the results you’re looking for. With that said, my personal tip would be to plan events with ROI in mind, not just costs and expense. That means considering all of the advice given above and identifying which aspects of a fundraising event are important enough to put money into. This will be different for everyone, but the trick is identifying which are best for you and investing in them with the end-goal in mind.

Remember this: If your guests cannot hear during your live auction, you’ve wasted your money because they will not give us much as they could. If they could not see the video, you’ve wasted your money in creating video and lost the opportunity to connect with them. If they did not know who the sponsors of the event were, you will lose the dollars donated by those sponsors. And if you do not have a solid team in place to guide you during the event, odds are good that you will spend more money in the process on mistakes. 

Joe Guilderson is President of Corporate Audio Visual Services. Joe can be reached at (914) 592-9700 or e-mail at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Westchester Magazine editorial staff.

Joe Guilderson, president of Corporate Audio Visual Services.

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