The Future of Nonprofit Events with Bobby D.

The Future of Nonprofit Events with Bobby D.

February 25, 2020
34 minutes

Bobby D. Ehlert · Co-Founder, Inspire Hearts Fundraising | Justin Wheeler, Funraise CEO and Co-founder, sits down with  a world champion auctioneer with 10,000 hours behind the mic and hundreds of events under his belt. Their conversation will show you how to take your events from transactional to transformational and build a "golden goosebump moment" that'll excite your donors and encourage them to attend every event on your calendar.


Get that golden goosebump moment with Bobby D. Ehlert, world champion auctioneer and nonprofit events visionary, as he dishes on the future of nonprofit events (hint, it's all about the experience), event mistakes to avoid, and The Hug Squad.

Here's everything you need to know about taking events from Transactional to Transformational, straight from the pros.

  • 5 things you need for an unforgettable event
  • Why is immediate gratitude so important?
  • Crafting an event experience that culminates in beautiful donor relationships
  • Why silent auctions are like garage sales
  • Where does an event truly belong in the fundraising journey? (Hint, it's not the end)
  • What is Fund-a-Need, or Paddle Raise, or Special Appeal, or whatever you call it?
  • Event Tone: Extreme Gravity vs Uplifting Donor Experiences
  • What-Not-To-Do in planning a transformational fundraiser

Justin: I am excited for this conversation.

Bobby: Me too, happy to be here.

Justin: Yeah. So as we both know, nonprofits, one of their primary fundraising mechanisms are events.

Bobby: Yes.

Justin: I'm sure in your days of events, you've seen lots of bad events. You know, we're gonna talk about good events today.

Bobby: Yes.

Justin: And you're also a world-class auctioneer. World champion.

Bobby: Yeah.

Justin: Champion. Sorry, I messed that up.,World Champion, Auctioneer. So I think before we get started to kind of bring us in the mood of what an auction event looks and feels like. Could you help us get in that mood?

Bobby: Totally. Well, when we have the auction, we have something to sell. So what should we sell Justin?

Justin: Let's sell some Funraise software.

Bobby: Okay. All right. Let's get going. Here it is friends. We got Funraise software right here. Want to start the bid at $5,000. Now I'm gonna get $5,000, $10,000 now $15,000 to $20,000. $20,000 I'm here, now I'm gonna get, you gotta raise your hand, at $30,000 now I'm going to get $30,000, $40,000, 50,000! Now I'm gonna get $60,000, $70,000, $80,000, $90,000 $100,000! You give a $100,000, wouldn't you? Come on, it's for a good cause!

Justin: Right here!

Bobby: $100,000! Now I'm gonna get going once, going twice, anybody else? Sold! Right there! $100,000!

Justin: Hundred thousand. All right.

Bobby: We take cash, check, charge, bitcoin. All of it.

Justin: All of it. Oh, yeah. Well, hit me up in a couple of years.

Bobby: OK.

Justin: and I'll be happy to buy it. Okay, so prior to this recording, we've talked about events. We talked about auctions. And I want to get into that the moment what you called the golden goosebump moment. I want to get there, but before we do that, just provide some background, like, who are you? What do you do? How do you help nonprofits succeed and thrive in strategy?

Bobby: For sure. Well, my name is Bobby D. Ehlert. I am a world champion auctioneer. I got my start in the auction world. I'm a second-generation auctioneer. And I was doing auto auctions. I was, you know, an auto auctioneer, did a lot of the classic car auctions, was doing wholesale auto auctions, was selling used cars to used car dealers. And it was great. I mean, it's a great place to practice. It's a great place to learn that craft. And being a second-generation auctioneer, it was my stepdad, my mom, all my brothers are auctioneers. It was just kind of the way. And as you know, you're an auctioneer. Your name gets out into the kind of into the community and it's like, oh, hey, come help us at our kid's school event or come help us at this little golf tournament or come help us at this gala. And I was like, oh, wow, this is great. And it was fun because I got to go, you know, to the big events and, you know, got to raise money for good causes and and whatnot. And then I had a kind of that aha moment. Like the light, you know, kind of just like went off and like, okay, I need to do this. I was working with an organization and went to their event and they never really had a professional auctioneer before. It was kind of like the weatherman or somebody that. Yeah, you know, thought they could do it. So then I get in there and I bring a whole team in. It was amazing. Like we raised like, you know, like $50,000, $100,000 more than it ever raised. And they were like, because of you we're going to be able to help more kids, help more families. And we've never done this before and that's where...

Justin: And that was the moment where you're like, you know, this the skill that I've acquired over the last decade or so...

Bobby: Yeah.

Justin: I'm going to turn it into a career in helping nonprofits fundraise?

Bobby: Right. Yeah. So that's what I decided. I was like, this is what I want to do when I grow up. And this is all that I want to do.

Justin: Got it. You talked about, you know, your career in auctioneering and transforming that into the nonprofit industry. And, you and I have talked a lot about nonprofit events and, you know, kind of the good, the bad, the ugly. And you've highlighted a trend that you're seeing in the nonprofit space where it's moving more to towards this like fund a need sort of moment.

Bobby: Yeah.

Justin: Which we to talk about. But what are other ways that nonprofits are actually raising funds at events aside from that, like fund a need, you know, cash, end of night, cash auction. What other ways are you involved in helping nonprofits raise funds?

Bobby: Well, the live auction. The live auction is super energetic. It's Super entertaining when done with a professional, you know, somebody that actually knows what they're doing. I mean, it's our passion to start making events better again. The, nonprofits for so long have always used like the, you know, the free auctioneer, the funny uncle or the board member or whatnot. And they're probably really good at whatever their profession is. But you don't go look for the cheapest brain surgeon. You know, you want to make sure that you have an expert within this. And when it's done right, that's where you just create this environment where you're it's competitive bidding, and people are giving more than they thought they would. And they're spending more than the value of the item. And they're really, you know, they're caught up in the moment. We tried to create that moment from happening in the live auction. So that's there. And then, you know, there's silent auctions and everybody, you know, that has an event who used to have silent auctions. So, you know, we just walk in there and then there's revenue generator is whether it's raffles or games or something. We kind of look at the event as a whole and we kind of find these different places to to to enhance the revenue.  

Justin: Yeah. And you've mentioned that, you know, about 1% of kind of your effort with an organization is spent on stage and actually running the auctions. Yeah. And the fundraising and the rest of it is actually in building out that experience.

Bobby: Right.

Justin: So can you talk to us about what is it that you do to help nonprofits throw an amazing event that's unforgettable?

Bobby: For sure and the 1% is my absolute favorite part, but even more than that is, is working with nonprofits to help them to identify again the golden goosebump moment, what is the story that you're going to tell to really tug at those heartstrings so you're crafting that message, crafting that that production of, you know, once everybody's in the ballroom, like what is, you know, laid that look like. But then we also do a lot of work with donor development, with board development, making sure that they're prepared to come in and bring in their tribe, bring in their network. You know, a lot of the marketing...

Justin: So that meet like you're working with like the organization and the board, if the goal is to raise a million bucks, you know, you're like, alright, we need some people that be plants tonight to help kind of kickstart like the momentum and so forth...

Bobby: Yeah. You have to create the, you know, the icebreakers, the momentum builders, you know, that strategy. We do a lot of work with the corporate sponsors as well too. How do we get them engaged within the live fundraising. We help come up with ideas for live auction items, you know, all of those components that maximize that 30 to 60 to 75 minutes of true pure live fundraising. How do you make that better? And then we also do a lot of work with the gratitude process as well. Keeping the...

Justin: Like post-event?

Bobby: Yeah post-event. Keeping those relationships alive and cultivating that donor relationship.

Justin: So, I've been to a lot of nonprofit events and I've been to some that I've just like I will never come back as event.

Bobby: Yeah. Oh, I hate to hear that.

Justin: Why do non-profits think that just because someone is coming to your event they're going to give? Right, I think that like I think you can correlate the overall experience, the quality of event to the dollars raised at the end of the night. So why do so many nonprofits get it wrong and just throw events that that feel like very little thought and effort and energy went into actually organizing?

Bobby: A lot of nonprofits look at the event as kind of the endpoint of this fundraising campaign. And they're like, okay, once so many times we're like, we're just burnt out, we're tired, the event's done. And then, you know, they just disappear and they take a vacation for the next two weeks because it was so time-intensive to build to that moment. But then it's an event when done effectively is really the midpoint. That's where you're identifying new donors were transforming guests into donors, were transforming donors into major donors, possibly legacy donors. And it's about creating that experience that you can't really have anywhere else but at that event, when you have that human to human connection. So it's really, you know, how do we kind of look at these events? Let's formulate them better. Let's evolve this event experience that then makes a better donor relationship.

Justin: So that you talk about the goosebump moment. The golden goosebump moment.

Bobby: Yes.

Justin: And, so how do you, walk me through the process that you will walk an organization through to create that moment? I mean, that's obviously very planned, right? It's like you can't just hope it's gonna happen?

Bobby: It's scripted.

Justin: Yeah. So walk us through, your process in like helping an organization create that moment.

Bobby: So we look at the timeline of what their event looks like and then we look at past data and kind of find out where, you know, their fundraising has happened before. So, like, okay, we're gonna we're gonna do this here. But we need a story. We need something that's going to really tug at the heartstrings that's gonna inspire people to give and what are your story, what we call story, assets that are available. Is it a particular survivor? Is it, you know, someone that's been affected by the, you know, by the mission? And maybe it's a parent, maybe it's, you know, someone that's involved then and then how are we gonna tell that story? Are we gonna tell it with video? Are we going to create some type of production on stage or within the audience? Or is a combination of both? I mean, how are we, you know, utilizing these story assets to then create those goosebumps? So we do a lot of brainstorming. We do a lot of kind of storytelling and creating of what this is. And usually, the reason I called the golden goosebump moment is, when I get goosebumps, I know it's going to work. I'm like, oh, my gosh. That's it right there. Let's tell that story. And then how do we tell the story and then how do we identify the right moment and the right time? And really, it's about striking the right note and striking the right tone. It's kind of like the blues vs jazz. There's the blue note. So how do we create that note at to happen at the event and then using that to then push us forward within the fundraising?

Justin: Sure. Yeah. So out of the 10,000 hours you've been behind the microphone, you've never gotten goosebump fatigue?

Bobby: No. Well, there are high highs, low lows within events for sure. And at the end of it event, I mean, yes, definitely the highest high I've ever, ever been on. And it's some it's a big drop afterwards because of so much adrenaline, so much emotion is built within that. And we have such a deep dedication and connection with our clients is that we do have a lot of empathy fatigue that comes from that. So we feel it. We see it in. And it's a lot of self-care to take care of that, to be like, okay, how do we get to the next one?

Justin: Sure. I think to for, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but I think one of the things I've seen at events and where I think actually nonprofits go wrong, in trying to create that, you know, golden goosebump moment, is they think that they have to create this environment of like extreme gravity for the issue that they're working together. It's just like it's like the doom and gloom, right? Sort of like illicit, kind of like, the guilts to get people to give. And it's like the world is falling apart. You know, these kids are not going to be able to go to school, whatever.

Bobby: If you don't give they're going to die!

Justin: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And you see you see that like, you know, played out in a lot of events. And sure, it can be effective for some people and maybe it's what some people need to give. But the events that seem to raise, significantly amount more money, are the ones focused on the success, right? This is what we have accomplished because of people like you in the room. This is the impact we've made.

Bobby: Yes.

Justin: This is the impact we're to make in the next 10 years.

Bobby: Yes.

Justin: Is that a part of the message that you try to help nonprofits kind of craft through?

Bobby: And again, it's that roller coaster of emotions that we're trying to manage and direct towards at the event. And in, yes, you really have to talk about, you know, kind of the bad thing that's happening. But let's focus on the results. Let's focus on the impact, this focus on the solutions that are happening in and how would donors engaged with within that and when how the donor has, you know, a responsibility or, you know, the helping with that. So it's then turning that like into a more hopeful ask because of your donations, we're making this mission a reality. And the needs big out there. And we need this. And then that's where we build that momentum into a more hopeful, you know, community engaging community-building ask what's like, we're coming together and we're making amazing things happen.

Justin: Totally, that makes sense. So there's all types of events, right? And I really wnt to focus on more like the fundraising, because, I mean, you could host events for like donor nurturing and so forth. But when an organization is thinking about an event, like the cost of an event and how much they should raise, like what would you say or what are the goals that you would set if an organization is going to spend $100,000 on event production? What would what would be like a good return from an event?

Bobby: Well, I mean, you definitely want to see a 3-10x return on anything. So if you're overhead of an event is $100,000, you should really have that that overhead covered before you walk in the door. I mean, you can do that...

Justin: Through sponsorships?

Bobby: Through sponsorships, through ticket sales, you know, do that math. Figure out how much it's going to cost to put on the event. But then now we have all the donors and all the guests are at the event, we're telling the story, we're getting ready to go, you get to create those fundraising opportunities to then that's where you're going to make your profit. And that's where you're going to really, really, you know, build those revenues.

Justin: Yeah. For the events that you've been a part of, they've been successful, especially ones that you like comeback and continue to facilitate, what are like the ingredients that you've seen that make the event successful, like people coming back, people giving more money? The event raises more? What are the things that really help enhance the quality of an event?

Bobby: So it's really having a fully engaged board that's focused upon this event. So the board has to have a buy-in within that. The entire leadership and development team has to be focused on, okay, what is our goals with this? I mean, is it to raise money? Is it to develop new donor relationships? Is it to show some, you know, some corporate sponsor love out, you know, develop those relationships. So getting that buy-in of everybody that this is what we're focused in here to do and we're gonna do everything to really design the conversation. And it's all about changing the conversation of what an event is. So, you know, what is that conversation that we're having, within what used to be called the cocktail hour now we're coining it the connection hour, how are we driving those conversations? So having that successful component there, how are we setting everything up for success in the room that night, prior to the event? So then you have that kind of that connection hour and then you actually have the production that happens within the ballroom. And you know, what does that look like? What does it taste like? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? All of those components there and getting everyone focused in the room that this is what we're here to do. We're here to raise as much as we can and whether we're doing live auctions or, you know, and doing paddle raise, doing the fund a need, that is where you're gonna really maximize your fundraising opportunities. But then also the most successful organizations that we work with then have a gratitude process built in beyond the event to where once someone raises their paddle, how are we saying thank you?

Justin: Right.

Bobby: Like immediately after. And there's one group that we have taken from $50,000 to this year, we're going to raise over $1,000,000 at their event. And it's been like seven years building towards that. But they have a hug squad that goes out, hugs everybody as soon as they raise their paddles.

Justin: So my paddle goes up at the event and someone's coming to give me a hug?

Bobby: Right. Someone is running over giving you a hug! And they're like, wow, this is amazing! So that's their building, their gratitude process and they're showing the impact of that gift immediately and then cultivating that relationship. And then year over year, they're showing the impact of what the event was. And then the donors are getting excited, like, oh, because I come to the event and I raise my paddle on it buy the auction items...

Justin: I get the  hug.

Bobby: Yeah. I want to be, I want to continue to come back. This is a great organization, this is a great event and this is some place that I want to bring my friends to. I want to bring my network to. And then that's where it just grows exponentially.

Justin: So you mentioned, you know, the fund a need being kind of like the pinnacle of the event.

Bobby: Yes.

Justin: And so if you're fundraising at the event, you have to have fund a need.

Bobby: Have to!

Justin: Tell us talk about what is that? Maybe, you know, organizations, I've been to at events where the way that like the fundraising has ended has been like, go to the table, swipe your card, make a donation...

Bobby: FIll out the envelope.

Justin: Yeah, fill out the envelope. So tell us about fund a need and what that is.

Bobby: So this is, I mean, this is the most effective and efficient fundraising method at an event that we've identified. When I say we, my partner Erin and I, created this firm called Inspire Hearts Fundraising. And we're the only firm across the nation that is working with nonprofits in fund a need only events and paddle raised only events. Where we're identifying the golden goosebump moment, all of the strategies building into that and then just creating that philanthropic crescendo that allows everyone to be engaged within the fundraising. Auctions are exclusive. So if you have a silent auction, it's got 100 items. You're only gonna have 100 donors. If you have a live auction, it has 5 auction items. You're only gonna have 5 donors there. Yeah, but if you have 500 people at your event and you only have one hundred five giving opportunities with your auctions, how do you engage the other 395 people?

Justin: Sure.

Bobby: That's where the fund a need comes in. That's where you can truly create a collective and community giving experience where everybody comes together and I mean it's contagious. When the paddles go up people are giving. More people see that. They see that pride in that joy in that person. They want to join in. They want to be a part of that. And it allows everybody to give at a level that's meaningful and inspirational for them. Some can give high. Some can give low. But it's really, truly not how much they're giving, but it's the fact that they are giving and then they're joining this community.

Justin: To go back to like the details around that, something you were saying earlier, as you've noticed, even down to the way the rooms lit. I mean, if there is a table not, you know, that isn't lit properly, people will get out of feeling that kind of social pressure to give. And so you talk about, you know, like not just like the moment, but also making sure all the details are dialed in to provide the best experience. So we were also talking earlier about just like the, you know, the trends around silent auctions and live auctions. You know, we hear a lot of nonprofits almost feel like obliged, like they have to do these things because it feels like...

Bobby: Or it's the way we've always done it.

Justin: We've always done it. And so, you know, it's something you said, is you show up to events and sometimes it feels like you've shown up to a garage sale because you have 100 items that have nothing to do so much with an actual mission of the organization. So how how do you help nonprofits kind of either migrate away from that type of event fundraising? And how has the response been in those conversations?

Bobby: So what we're talking about is it's a transactional giving model vs a transformational giving model. So transactional is you're giving to get. So it's stuff. That's the silent auction. That's a live auction. Auctions are very exclusive and it only allows certain people to give within that. And it also attracts a different type of transactional giver, which is like, okay, I'm gonna give you something and you're gonna give me something in return. So it's that's true. That transaction. But we're really trying to do is helping organizations evolve that event into a true transformational event to where it not only transforms the organization, through better fundraising, it transforms those that they're serving because we're raising more money. They're alel to fulfill the mission more effectively. But it also transforms the donor to feel that they are a part of something bigger. They're doing something. They're writing their own legacy story. And by raising their paddle, they're joining this. So so creating that transformational experience is so important for an organization that's really hit like a plateau within their fundraising. Or they're maybe going backwards and they're kind of like, whoa, how do we change this? Well, it's the culture of philanthropy that you have within your organization, within your event. And how do you evolve that? How can you upgrade that experience to then allow more donors to come in and allow meal donors to give bigger and, dive, dive deeper within that?

Justin: I would imagine you guys, as you shared, around this, transformational experience, it's changing the minds of donors as they're coming in. I know someone's coming in, so I'm gonna give $1,000. But as you said earlier than you could you could give that person maybe to give up the $10,000, because the experience is what's actually going to push it vs, you know, buying a couple more items.

Bobby: Right. And that's where the biggest jump in fundraising can truly happen is within that paddle raise, within that fund a need, because you're silent auctions get a cap out or whatever is gonna cap out at. Your live auction, you know, I mean, unless you have some amazing items and some amazing donors...

Justin: Or your world champion auctioneer.

Bobby: And that. So then you have, you know, you've kind of only got a certain amount you're gonna raise, but the potential within the fund a need is unlimited. It's how much do you want to raise and how you can use those right strategies and techniques to identify what your true potential is. And it's kind of scary to think of how the opportunity costs of organizations that haven't been doing this or they've been doing it poorly, like how many billions of dollars are we leaving on the table? Like literally on the fundraising table, if not done effectively, literally tap into that true potential of what that opportunity is and how we can fundraise better and create better experiences to just really make a bigger impact in the world.

Justin: Yeah. No, that's really well said, and I like this concept of, you know, moving an event fundraising strategy from transactional to transformational because it unlocks the potential as you as you've shared, of giving the organization the ability to have a more kind of long-tail relationship with the donor. Someone that buys $1,000 ticket to something that they can buy anywhere vs funding, you know, a kid to go to school for the rest of the year. That meaning of that is going to be very different. And creates opportunities for engagement down the road, you know, much more kind of more effective engagement down the road.

Bobby: And that's where the event when you change the focus of the event being the midpoint or the beginning of a relationship and then it's a how can you then showcase the impact of that gift beyond that? And then that's where you continue to re-inspire, re-energize that connection of the donor to your organization, your impact that you're having. And then that's where we can move them up the ladder and take a $1,000 donor into a $10,000 donor, or $10,000 donor to a $50,000 or, you know, taking a major donor like that and then transforming them into a legacy donor to where, you know, they do want to, make a significant an investment within your mission. It's amazing when it happens. And I love to see organizations that do that because it truly can change everything.

Justin: Yeah. So you've told us about the golden goosebump moment. Told us about like the kind of key ingredients to make an event successful. I'd love to hear your perspective on what are the things nonprofits should stay away from or what you know of the 10,000 plus hours experence that you have. What are some like mistakes that as nonprofits are gearing up for their, you know, their annual galas in 2020 and beyond? Like, what are some mistakes that you can help navigate that you can share so that organizations don't make those mistakes?

Bobby: For sure. So it's setting the expectations of what this event is. I mean, a lot of times organizations forget to put that this is a fundraiser. It's a gala. It's gonna be spectacular. It's gonna be amazing. Well, this is a fundraiser. You have to say that's going to be there. And you have to also share, you know, what are the activities that are going to happen? I mean, look, if you're going to have auctions, let people know what those auctions are and what those items are, market those. I mean, you're opening a store for one day. You have to market those effectively. But what's most importantly in that is marketing your mission effectively and marketing that impact so when somebody raises their paddle, they know what that's going to. So who are you benefiting, you know, with it? So it's that preparation, you know, for the event is one thing that they need to do. Events that don't do that, it just you know, it's a recipe for disaster. So getting the right people in a room, you know, proper audience development is key. So making sure that you do have the right people the room, you don't want a ton of vendors, you don't want a ton of, you know, corporate tables that just, you know, send kind of the low-level staff in for a free meal. You want it. You have the right audience that's cultivated and ready to give. And then looking at that story that you're telling, how you're telling it, how you're, you know, showing the impact. And everybody is like, oh, we need to have statistics. Statistics don't sell mission. It's the stories. It's that, you know, kind of human relationships. So setting that up, and then once you've again identified and created that golden goosebump moment, what's said immediately after that. And so many times we hear from nonprofits to be like, oh, yeah, it was great and then our auctioneer or our asker or our board member whoever. They said the wrong thing and it was like a record scratch! And it just takes everybody out of that moment and just destroys it. And it's where they could have raised a ton of money and people just all of a sudden are like, oh, and they just, like you said, go to these terrible events and you're like, oh my God. So you have to have the right person to make that ask.

Justin: To facilitate that conversation.

Bobby: Yeah. And then the right person there that can really speak your language and understand what's going on and see that. So that, I mean, is a big thing. And then last is saying thank you. A lot of times they forget to do that. And if they don't say thank you immediately, effectively and show the impact of the gift, that donor, they might only be there for one night and you might only have one time to create that relationship. But if they give you something and you don't say thank you in an effective manner, they're gone forever because there's 1.5 million nonprofits out there that they want to give money to and you're competing against all them. So you have to have the right gratitude process.

Justin: So what are, aside from like the you know, the hug concept...

Bobby: Right.

Justin: I could see some organizations have maybe a hard time deploying that strategy.

Bobby: Right. Not for everybody.

Justin: What are some other things you've seen to be effective with nonprofits around the gratitude initiative?

Bobby: Well, we love when the paddles go up, you know, whether the hugs coming out or sometimes there's events that's like champion for kids or whatever, then, you know, there's some medal. Sometimes there's tokens that'll get handed out, maybe a bracelet, maybe, you know, something that is kind of a token of that giving. The other night we were doing a private school event and they were trying to fund the cafeteria. So then what they did is they had these baseball hats with I helped to fund the cafeteria. So they handed out all these hats to everybody. I mean, you had a giant box of hats and it was all gone because everybody wanted one. And it was a way to say thank, you know, a way for the audience to feel like they're a part of that, so having some type of token for giving, you know, once the paddle goes up is a great thing to do, but then it's also the, that surprise and delight afterwords for, you know, like creating some type of experience after the ballroom doors kind of starting filter out, it's like is there a hot chocolate station? Is there, you know, this or is there that. My favorite is fresh-baked...

Justin: Hopefully an open bar.

Bobby: Yep, right? After parties are great. Everybody loves that. But the the fresh baked cookies in the valet. And you come in with a handwritten note by the kids and it just like really, really instills that spirit beyond the event. And then, you know, it's that thing that you want to create, that thing that they'll wake up the next morning, be like, oh, that was awesome. Then they'll tell their friends about it. And then now your donors are becoming your best ambassadors as well, too. So something creating something cute.

Justin: So aside from like the kind of like pulling it emotional, you know, like heartstrings. What about, like, are galas, does it work well to educate? Because I've been to a lot of galas where maybe like the beginning of the program or like the near the end of the program, the CEO or executive director, will do a 20-minute talk on the issue. Is that a buzzkill or is that important?

Bobby: Totally. It used to be like, okay more is more. No, less is more. Small remarks. Impactful remarks are way more powerful than a 20-minutes speech that's going to go out. And it's those little taste tests, you know, marks. Especially now, attention spans are shrinking. So how you how can you capture the attention in a meaningful way? And then how can you keep that inspiration rolling? Is it little bitty videos? Is a little, you know, remarks as there's pictures on the screen. You know, what is that? Because this is an opportunity you have to educate your guests that are hopefully going to translate, you know, transform into donors. This is also an opportunity to re-energize your current donors and really kind of give them a state of this is where we're at, so there has to be education upon what is happening with the mission, but then the impact, that's, what you have to share.

Justin: It's more about inspiring the donor and talking about the impact. So there's like that baseline kind of understanding. And then part of the kind of cultivation and gratitude kind of follow up to keep the donor engaged in a part of the organization. More education can happen like after the fact.

Bobby: Totally.

Justin: When you're in the moment, it's you know, make that emotional appeal cause that's why people give. And then after the fact, when they're hooked, maybe educate them more so that they go deeper with the organization and stay around a longer period of time.

Bobby: And that's what you want. So many times we'll work with organizations that'lll raise a ton of money on the night of. But then I'll have the development director, the CEO, call up, you know, in a wrap-up meeting and be like, you'll never guess what happened. Someone raised their paddle for $500 and they just dropped off a check for $5,000.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Bobby: And it was because they were inspired, they were motivated, you know, to give a little bit. And this is a big buzzword in the fundraising world which is, test money? They're giving test money on the night of the event to be like, what is how is this gonna make me feel? And then if you have that effective follow-up process, that gratitude process beyond that.

Justin: It leads to something bigger.

Bobby: It leads to bigger gifts. That's how you can then, you know, move them up the ladder and it happens so many times they're like, well, yeah, we got a bigger gift from so-and-so because they felt so good at the event and they slept on it. They talked about it. They looked at their budget. You know, I want to make a bigger impact. I want to make a more significant investment in your mission. Let's... we're gonna write a deeper check.

Justin: Nice. So as you kind of wrap up here, I'd love to spend the last couple minutes hearing from your perspective on where events are going. How do you see, you know, the next decade of events panning out for nonprofits? What are the type of events that can help nonprofits win in 2020 and beyond?

Bobby: For sure. So what's going to happen is event time is going to shrink, silent auctions are shrinking, if not disappearing. Live auctions are shrinking, if not disappearing. And it's moving to a more professionally produced event because we are we're designing that experience. We're designing that feeling. So events are going to really trend towards that and those organizations that are investing in that production and then they're also investing within their fundraising with that preparation leading up to and then having the right person there to help with the fundraising is what's going to separate the performers, the successful events from the ones that are going to probably fade away. So it's really looking at the donor experience and creating a donor-centric experience, like focusing on what does the donor want? And then when you give them what they want, then they're going to give you what you want, which is the treasure, the time, the talent, the tribe, the connections, all of those pieces. You know, you come with that. So that's what I see. Events are going to shrink because I mean, there's so many events that are in the world. But you have to find out how you can stand out amongst the noise. I mean, it's very simple marketing. So what can you do to accentuate the experience?

Justin: So simply put, it's just like, events going to focus more on just that incredible experience and everything else is gonna kind of be cut out if it doesn't contribute towards that overall feeling of a good event, good experience and so forth.

Bobby: That's right. If it doesn't add to that, forget it and let's focus on what really matters.

Justin: Yeah, I can see how that could be scary for some nonprofits maybe who, you know, are raising tens of thousands of dollars through these silent auctions and to convince them to stop doing that and instead invest what you spent on the silent auction into a better experience, because hopefully that will raise more. I could be scary for some nonprofits, but from your experience, you're seeing that it's actually paying off.

Bobby: For sure, because then you can spend, you know, the time we were spending on going and getting all the gift cards, getting all this stuff, it's like lots of actual conversations with our donors that are going to attend. I mean, you have you're raising $20,000 in your silent auction, I mean, how many items is that? How many hours is that? But let's have some really good conversations with major donors and other corporations maybe that could come in with some other sponsorship money and you can offset that, you know, hugely. I mean, if you're you having a silent auction, making sure it's strategic, if you're gonna have a live auction, make sure it's strategic. And it all needs to help to build that momentum into that golden goosebump moment and looking at, you know, what is the return on investment of time and dollars? Where are you going to make your most money? Paddle raise, fund a need, amazing live auctions and everything else, again, we gotta forget that it's, focus on what matters.

Justin: Bobby, thank you so much for coming in today and enlightening us on what makes events so special for all of our nonprofit friends that are listening, they can get in touch with you directly...

Bobby: Definitely.

Justin: Bobby D. to basically help design their next big event. And so if you're a nonprofit looking to scale up your fundraising through events and or looking to revive an event that hasn't maybe produced the best return for you in the last few years, Bobby D is the guy to talk to. Because he and his team can help take it to the next level. So thanks for coming in today. We really appreciate it.

Bobby: Thanks for having me. This has been fun.

Justin: Absolutely.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit. This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise. Nonprofit fundraising software, built by nonprofit people. If you'd like to continue the conversation, find me on LinkedIn or text me at 562-242-8160. And don't forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internet. Go to and sign up for email notifications today. See you next time!