November 04, 2008

Playing Games With Fund-Raising Events

Revenue from special events has decreased as the economy sours, and charity auctions are no exception, according to Jon Carson, chief executive at cMarket, a company that helps charities run online auctions.

Mr. Carson says charities are having a harder time getting big-ticket items such as trips donated to auction, and participants are less likely to place multiple bids. But one Rochester, N.Y., group has found a way to enhance its live auction and raise some additional money at the same time.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester uses a pre-auction “Heads or Tails” game for participants that Patty Schwarzweller, its development director, says would work well as an ice breaker for other types of charity events.

Here’s how it works: At the beginning of the program, the master of ceremonies announces that participants can compete for a prize in a game that costs $10 per person. If they choose to play, they place cash or a pledge form in a specially marked envelope at each table.

The master of ceremonies asks everyone playing the game to stand. Then the host asks them to place their hands “on their head or their tail,” after which he flips an oversized replica of a coin, Ms. Schwarzweller says. Those whose hand placement matches the result of the coin toss keep standing, she says. The others sit down.

The game continues until only one person is left standing and declared winner of the prize — usually dinner for two at a local restaurant, Ms. Schwarzweller says. The game raises about $7,000 annually from some 700 auction guests, and nearly all of them participate.

“It gets everyone moving just a bit before the live auction and hopefully focuses their attention on the master of ceremonies,” says Ms. Schwarzweller. “It gets everyone laughing.”

What games or other tactics have you used to improve donations at your fund-raising events?