Getting Results With a Paddle Raise or Donation Request

Cash donations are the most direct way to fund-a-need or provide unrestricted cash to support your cause. Asking for donations may feel cold and transactional. This need not be so when you lead with your mission. Leading with your mission with purpose and including facts and figures makes the ask even easier. Pair the ask with ease of giving to get to your goal as fast as possible.

In conjunction with an event fundraiser donation requests can be handled with an online donation form or in the live setting as a paddle raise or on it's own. Live settings may be in-person or during a live stream event activity. In all these situations make the ability to donate as easy as possible. Quick tap or click to donate followed by a secure payment operation.

Paint the Picture

Paint the picture of how the donation will be spent with images and videos. Spend time to make the images impactful. Use the images and videos in emails, website, mailings, and messages. Make versions that are shareable in the social media streams where your audience connects with you. Consistent messaging across all communication channels is imperative to ‘stay on brand’. Think like a marketer, include the logo, core mission, and tagline for unity in the branding activities.

Use video to share the story. An impact video created for an annual fundraiser is essential to give a tour and multiple voices to mission. Use video to show how past funds were used and how future funds will continue to make a difference. Consider using a variety of speakers that benefited from the resources. If that is too personal, a brief synopsis from a leader in the organization can also carry the same emotional imagery.

By the Numbers

Supporters are giving money to you for the cause so you can combine the funds to make a bigger difference than they could individually. Prepare data objectively and present it in a format that can be understood and readily consumed in seconds. Graphics and numbers that are specific to the current activity make the supporter understand that their money will be spent wisely and within a reasonable timeframe.

Infographics are the best of both worlds in terms of message and image. What dollars are being spent and how will that help the cause.

Two experts share their advice on how to run a fund-a-need. Here is what works:

  • “The best fundraising events motivate and engage attendees, and help donors internalize the mission of the organization so that they will be compelled to donate.” Gazala Uradnik, GFS Events
  • “Calculate your core number to make fundraising easier” Sandy Rees, Get Fully Funded

Know Your Equivalency

Every fundraising group using GFS Events is encouraged to include a fund-a-need to their activity. Gazala encourages each organization to understand their numbers and ask to give in terms of an equivalency.

The most important part of the ask is the Why. Using your equivalency number directly in the donation area brings meaning to the dollars. This means converting the donation into something tangible for the community that is being served by the organization. Attach the dollars to an image of helping. Example- you are in the education field how does the donation provide enrichment directly to the student.

One example that works well is “a week of giving”, leading up to a big event, donation buttons on a website or a paddle raise to provide the opportunity to give. During the week new content is shared daily to encourage supporters to check back in for new messages. Pair the new content with a thought leader or influencer message or video. Ask the influencer to share on their social media or email list to encourage a wider audience to tune in.

In this image, you will see the final day of the ‘week of giving’ for Seattle Music Partners (SMP) virtual event fundraiser that GFS Events produced. Throughout the week a new view was posted and the videos were shared daily. Each person’s video had a unique interview or musical performance. These videos encourage an immediate call-to-action. The SMP audience did turn in daily to see and hear the new video pieces.

By describing exactly how funds will be used the donor knows exactly how the donation will be spent. The more details makes for a more informed donor. An informed donor can feel proud of their donation and easily share and encourage others to participate.

​Seattle Music Partners cultivates a diverse and vibrant music-making community by providing youth with low-cost music instruction and one-on-one mentoring to eliminate racial and economic barriers to quality music education. Each contribution level is equivalent to music services:

  • $5000 gives 25 student musicians the opportunity to have a month of instruction
  • $2500 gives 5 students mentorship with a tutor
  • $1000 allows the hiring for a professional lead ensemble
  • $500 gives the student musician access to perform in a concert
  • $250 provides neck straps or violin bows

Know Your Core Number

Sandy Rees of Get Fully funded says “the days of asking people to give simply because you’re a nonprofit are long gone. They care about the difference you’re making in the world. They care about the lives you’re changing (or saving). So, ask them to give an amount that means something. That something can be summed in a core number.

Units of service can be tricky and you may have to try a couple of times to drill down to the smallest unit. Basically, it’s the smallest piece of the good work your nonprofit does.
For example, an animal shelter may think its unit of service is taking care of one dog. They take care of a dog, feed it, shelter it, and find it a home. That’s what they do, right?

But let’s dig deeper.

If that shelter spent $500,000 last year running their facility (that’s their total cost) and they cared for 3500 dogs during that year, that means if each dog is a unit of service, each unit costs them $142.86. $500,000/3500 dogs = $142.86

Some might give at this level, but it won’t be an overwhelming response.

Let’s look again and see if there’s a smaller unit of service.

Let’s say that the shelter knows (because they’ve measured it) that the average dog stays 3 weeks (21 days).
Let’s divide it out and see what the cost for 1 day of care for 1 dog is. $142.86/21 days = $6.80/day is a much easier donation for more people to make. Getting to a smaller unit of service could bring in a larger quantity of donations and increase your donor pool for future giving opportunities.

Once you have your Core Number, you can use it to inspire more single gifts or even monthly gifts, like the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri did:

For more examples on how to calculate your core number, click this link to the full article Calculate your Core Number to Make Fundraising Easier. Below the article are comments from real organizations that share their real core numbers.

Know Your Fundraising Options

So now you know how to pull the facts and figures together, next decide upon the method for the ask. If the event fundraiser or auction does not include a donation button or paddle raise you are probably leaving money on the table. With multiple people bidding on an auction item there can be only one winner. The others were willing to spend money and donate however by not winning there is no obvious reason unless you ask. If you ask and they don’t donate that’s ok. If you do ask and they do donate that’s even better. You have to ask!

Simple Donation Buttons

Using donation buttons on your dedicated event website is different from a year-round donate button that may reside permanently on your website. The fresh event website mentally tells the supporter this is a new ask that will be funding a new round of needs.

Using the above specifics regarding knowing your numbers and defining the ask include donation levels that reflect an equivalency or your core number.

Paddle Raise at Live Event

At a live event fundraiser, the paddle raise can bring in ⅓ to ½ of the needed funds. A skilled auctioneer or emcee calls from the stage the paddle raise activity to begin. This stage in a virtual event is still relevant and requires an entertainer to keep the audience engaged.

The paddle raise starts with the highest increment by which you know you can get at least one paddle to raise indicating the donor will give. Paddle raise usually begins with the announcement of a large donation. Although the donation is announced at the event these large generous donations have been in process for quite some time. The board or development team is always in the background developing partnerships for giving. The event fundraiser is the perfect time to spotlight the donor and give proper recognition.

The remaining paddle raise is followed by lowering the donation level and calling out the paddle number or donor name that wants to contribute. Sometimes these are still quite large in the beginning and are also pre-committed. As the bids cease the emcee announces the next lower dollar amount for donation.

Paddle Raise Planning & Implementation

Every appeal has three key elements and using this formula works. Kelly Russell, a professional Benefit Auctioneer from Artisan Auctions sums it up like this “People give to people”.

Kelly’s 3 steps to implement a successful paddle raise looks like this:

  • The Story
  • The Ask
  • The Collection

They give most when it comes from a place of emotion, and the quickest way to create connection is through story. Kelly was joined by Samantha Swaim of Swaim Strategies to talk through Paddle Raise Strategy. Every good Special Appeal starts with someone sharing a story of how an organization impacted their lives. See this story in a video which demonstrates how the organization was the CHANGE AGENT for this one person. And you DO want to make sure your story features one person.

Using Auctria for Paddle Raise

A traditional paddle raise can still be conducted with a virtual event. With Auctria there are few ways to do so:

When using Auctria the organizer can still move through the levels with the Live Auction controller. If you are already using the live auction controller for a virtual live auction then it’s easy to shift to a paddle raise on the same screens. The live auction controller is best used when allows the audience to focus on one auction item or in a paddle raise one level of giving. There is only a single button to click or tap to make a donation.

When the event fundraiser is donations only text-2-give is the quickest and easiest way for donors to contribute. Auctria makes this easy too. Set up the text-2 give number, donor sends a text with the donation amount and then instantly receives a link with which to make a secure payment.

Make the donations obvious by celebrating each one that comes in with a verbal recognition or leaderboard or both. Doing so does two things, reiterates your appreciation for the donation and sends a confirmation that the donation was received. People like to see their name in lights. People like to see their names amongst the others. Providing an opportunity for people to help fund a charity that is aligned with their sense of purpose warms the heart and increases endorphins.

Celebrate Goals

After the fundraiser concludes that is just the end of one chapter. The story continues with how the money raised is helping those efforts it is intended for.

A great example of a success story has been shared by Fighting for Blindness. Their marquee fundraiser is Scramble for Sight golf tournament and auction. It is a one-day event starting with golfer registration, exciting tournament activities on the course then coming together for an open air dinner, silent & live auction. In 20 years the event has raised over two million dollars and even more exciting the millions have been used to fund research, treatments and cures for blindness.

That funding has been a driving force behind the progress toward cures, including the identification of more than 270 genes linked to retinal disease, and the launch of 40 clinical trials for potential treatments. On an annual basis, the Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Foundation’s Clinical Research Institute fund more than 90 research grants.

Fighting Blindness website is very clear with a transparent breakdown of what percent of funding goes to research as well as financial statements for transparency.

Although the actual operations and usage of funds may be out of scope for the auction team be sure that bidders and donors are in the communication channel to receive updates. Reinforce the thanks for giving with ongoing status updates. Thanking now allows you ask again later!


Special thanks for sharing expert advice and images:
Gazala Uradnik, GFS Events
Sandy Rees, Get Fully Funded
Kelly Rusell, Artisan Auctions