How To Plan and Execute a Special Appeal

Auction Paddle Raise

Silent and live auctions are powerful tools for raising money for your organization, and a great way to get and keep your constituents involved in your cause. You should also consider other tactics to use in addition to the auction to maximize their giving. Even if your event attendees don’t win the bid on any silent or live auction items, the “special appeal” makes it easy for them to participate or give.

The Special Appeal

The special appeal goes by several names, including “Fund-a-Cause,” “Fund-a-Need,” “Fund-an-Item,” “Fund-a-Cure,” “Paddle Raise,” or even “Dedicated Pledge,” among others. If you’re using a professional benefit auctioneer, he or she will be familiar with this and be able to work with you on the planning and execution of the appeal.

During the planning stages for your benefit event, discuss the strategy for conducting this appeal with your auctioneer to maximize its effectiveness and ensure it complements the auction. Guests who have attended multiple benefit events have come to expect an appeal at an event. However, pre-event thought and planning is key to maximizing the revenue opportunity.

According to Sherry Truhlar of Red Apple Auctions, “A special appeal is something the guests anticipate. Many of the largest donations come through the appeal, and many events make more money on their appeal than on the auction itself. It’s all in the planning—from soliciting pre-committed donors to how to conduct the appeal and how to combine pre-committed bids with bids from the audience.”

Strategy and Planning

“The special appeal allows every guest to give directly to your mission. Timing, presentation and lead gifts should be thought out well in advance. Success requires strategic planning.” – says Amber James of Stokes Auction Group. The first step in planning is to determine the nature of the special appeal. The special appeal should be a concrete, specific need that will benefit the majority of your audience.

For instance, if you’re a school, choose something that is going to apply to all grade levels and to all parents, not just a few. Along with the focus of the appeal, it is essential to determine well prior to the event what dollar amount is needed to completely fund the special appeal. By polling your most committed donors ahead of time regarding the special appeal and the cause it will fund, you’ll get a good idea of how to set your bidding increments in order to reach your goal. More importantly, you’ll get a better idea of their commitment level so you can have reasonable expectations about their giving level, and possibly how to encourage them to donate above their giving level.

Larger donations can serve as challenge or matching opportunities and may generate additional interest and excitement, even creating up a bit of fun and a competitive environment in the special appeal section of the event program. Keep in mind that some of your key donors may not be able to make your event, but they can still give via proxy to the special appeal (Yet another good reason to conduct pre-event research). Proxy bids for absentee donors should be acknowledged, as they will inspire other donors.

“The key to success to a Fund-a-Need at your special event program is timing” states Renee Jones of National Fundraising Solutions.  Opinions vary regarding when to do the appeal. Some auctioneers recommend conducting it half-way to two-thirds of the way through the live auction. Others, like Renee, feel that in order to maximize revenue generated, the ask must come early in the program, be educational, entertaining, and draw the audience into your organization’s mission.  Straight monetary donations at multiple levels are more inclusive and appeal to the entire audience where tangible items appeal to a smaller percentage of attendees.  She is seeing a trend where the Fund-a-Need is overtaking the silent and live auction in revenue generated during a special event. Always remember it is a FUNdraiser!

Auction Special AppealAnother successful trend Renee has experienced for special events is the special appeal being conducted before the live auction.  Over the last six fundraising seasons, she has moved the special appeal before the live auction for the majority of her clients, which allows a larger percentage of the audience to participate. Many packages in the live auction have a degree of exclusivity and higher value that may be out of the range for a large section of the audience. This group has a tendency to loose attention during this portion of the program. By conducting the ask first, Jones does not have to regain the audience’s attention after the live auction. What kind of percentage success is Jones seeing with this change?  Jones says “Double digit increases in straight donations to the non profit and higher numbers achieved in the live auction as well.  The flow is more natural and people enjoy how it expedites the fundraising portion of the evening as well”.

Consider your past experience when determining when to conduct your special appeal, or discuss timing with other organizations and your auctioneer. Whatever you decide, you should determine timing prior to the event so you can ensure that all the special appeal elements will be in place at the appropriate part of your event agenda.

Executing at Your Event

“The Fund-a-Need Special Appeal is the most powerful fundraising and donor engagement strategy for benefit auctions and special events today.” states Kathy Kingston of Kingston Auctions and author of A Higher Bid. The ideal person to make the appeal should be committed to your cause and a compelling and passionate speaker. If the speaker is directly affected then it will be even more compelling. However, your speaker needs to be able to get their point across quickly. It’s important to keep their address short, simple, and focused. If it adds to the power of the presentation, and you have an audio visual set up to accommodate it, a PowerPoint slideshow or video can support your point.

Leverage your auctioneer to drive the appeal and keep the energy up during the giving. The auctioneer can cue the lead giver to set the tone for giving with a large donation, whether this gift is $1,000, $10,000 or more. The auctioneer can then ‘take over’ to coordinate and accept the bids. The auctioneer should keep the process fun, exciting and playful, and allow enough time for all interested parties to bid at their desired levels. Audience participation is key here, especially if the auctioneer is incorporating absentee bids. High energy generated during the appeal will positively impact the rest of the auction. “If your organization has done its job (prior to the event), bidders came ready to support your cause, so keep your appeal presentation brief.

Respect your guest’s time and keep your event on schedule! Don’t leave such an important part of your evening to a volunteer. A professional benefit auctioneer understands how to build greater support for your organization both financially and emotionally—actual results from a wide range of nonprofit events have shown that people give more money when asked in the right manner. Leverage the experience of a professional benefit auctioneer to strategize on when and how to conduct an appeal as well as solicit those large gifts prior to your event and you will see some amazing results!

Have you had any unique experiences with special appeals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

2 Responses to “How To Plan and Execute a Special Appeal”

  1. I will be responsible for the live appeal segment of our annual fundraiser this March 14th and enjoyed reading your article. The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families is looking for an auctioneer who can help them drive donations but can’t seem to be able to identify an auctioneer who is able to work with the organization’s limited budget. Thanks for your ideas in the article above.

    Carmen Rojas
    CHCF Board Member
    CHCF Gala Planning Committee Chair

    • Debby Roth-Bush

      I am sorry you are finding it difficult to hire an auctioneer in the price range you have. Professional Benefit Auctioneers are not an expense – but an investment that brings much more than you will spend on him or her.

      To extend your search – look at our partner list and search under Benefit Auctioneers/CA – if you have exhausted that resource, then try the National Auctioneers Association website under find an auctioneer. You can search by city/state and speciality –

      You might also try your state associations in California – sometimes they will post auctioneer wanted and for what:
      Southern California Auctioneers Association –
      Western States Auction Association –


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