8 mistakesThe numbers don’t lie: 93% of event attendees say their number one priority when attending a fundraiser is to have fun – even more than supporting the cause.

How can you make giving fun? By focusing on the 3 E’s: Engage, Entertain and Extract.

In today’s post, we asked benefit auctioneer Ailie Byers of Alpenglow Auctions to share 8 common mistakes nonprofits make when Entertaining guests. They are:

  1. Thinking short-term

  2. Unclear leadership

  3. Poor sound and lighting

  4. Skipping a benefit auctioneer

  5. Inefficient checkouts

  6. Unprepared A/V team

  7. Catering and alcohol blunders

  8. Overspending on the DJ and band

Read on for strategies to avoid these mistakes.

1. Thinking short-term

Grow annuity

First, let’s lay the groundwork for a sustainable view of fundraising events.

“My take on events: Treat them like annuities: slow-growing investments that raise a certain amount over years or even decades ,” asserts Byers. “A donor may only give $100 this year. They may only give $100 next year, and the year after that – and that’s fine. You never know who might turn around and donate $10,000 ten years down the road.

At a fundraising event, some attendees are testing you to see how they’re treated. Treat every guest wonderfully, and you’ll stand out when they do have the means to give more to your cause.

The most important thing you can do to turn first-time guests into repeat donors, is to make sure they have fun at a worthwhile event.

2. Unclear leadership

Leadership tug of warEvery event needs a designated point person. This means one or two auction chairs (or co-chairs) are the established authority; volunteers, staff and the auctioneer can go to them and discuss any and every issue that comes up.

“Sometimes I have event chairs, development directors and the Executive Director all coming to me at different points in the night, giving instructions and input,” Byers says. “They might all be good ideas, but I can’t execute all of them. Some contradict each other. I need to know who is the ultimate decision maker that night, and who can make decisions with a moment’s notice.”

Your auction chair must see the event as a whole piece, from an elevated perspective. Fundraisers are notorious for having many moving parts – you need a leader who knows how those parts fit together.

“The best auction chair often times isn’t the Development Director or Executive Director,” adds Byers. “Sometimes it can work, but it might be a better use of their time to network, firm up commitments, get information for the next year.”

Whoever you choose, the point person needs to be determined before the event, and all need to be clear about their night-of roles.

3. Poor sound and lighting

Poor sound and lighting can hamper your eventWhat’s the most important thing to get right on the night of your event? The auction items? The guest list? The fund-a-need?

No piece of the auction puzzle is more critical than excellent sound and lighting. (Just ask any auction organizer who has put on event with poor sound and lighting!)

A ballroom may sound fine when you’re checking the sound before the event, but when hundreds of donors begin crowding in, the audio environment turns into a train station or airport fast. No matter how hard people focus, poor sound causes speakers to come across with about as much clarity as Charlie Brown’s teacher.

People won’t be moved by your video if they can’t see it. People can’t bid if they can’t hear. And on stage the auctioneer wants to see everyone’s faces.

“Faces tell me a lot about the energy in the room, the feelings of the bidders, and who is still interested versus tuning out,” Byers shares.

So make sure the entire program can be clearly seen and heard.

4. Not hiring an auctioneer.

If you’ve been following Winspire News for some time, you may know the importance of hiring a professional benefit auctioneer.


The two biggest money makers at any fundraising gala are the live auction and fund-a-need, or cash appeal. To get the most revenue possible out of these two portions of the night, you want a professional at the helm; someone who can deal with challenges, roll with the punches and take advantage of fleeting opportunities.

alpenglow benefit img.jpg

“As an auctioneer, I know how to have a conversation with 200 to 300 people at the same time. This is not an easy or natural skill,” Byers says. “The whole time I’m focused on extracting money from the audience – not just selling objects – and making everyone has a good time.”

Benefit auctioneers are specially trained in understanding charity audiences, opening wallets and selling your mission, not just the items. “The best auctioneers can sell a glass of water for $1,000,” Byers adds – because they know how to sell your cause.

5. Other mistakes

What about inefficient checkouts, an unprepared A/V team, blunders with catering and alcohol, or overspending on the DJ and band?!

These topics and much, much more are all covered in a recent webinar. We teamed up with benefit auctioneer Ailie Byers to share “3 Common Reasons Event Fundraisers Flop!”. You can view the entire session, plus a half hour of lively Q&A, for free. Hit “View all webinars” below to request access to this video plus our entire library of helpful sessions.