Monday, May 21, 2012

Throw Down: Stories & Auction Benefit

It helps to create a snazzy flier.
Last Friday night I attended a reading and auction to benefit The Endowment for Unexceptional Humans - read all about their unique mission to "help regular people with a good plan achieve success" at their website,

The founders of the Endowment have a lot of friends and colleagues in the Boston literary world. The authors gave an evening of lively readings that drew a crowd, and donated cool items to be auctioned off. Amy Clark, one of the founders and organizers of the event, estimated that they made 75% of their profits from the auction and sold merchandise; 20% from the $5 suggested donation at the door; and 5% from the donation jars they left out by the snack table. Every little bit counts! She said they also got a lot of good press which led to some online donations at their web site.

Interested in planning your own fundraising event? Read on to learn how the Endowment put theirs together. Click here to meet the great authors who donated their time, goods and services. And click here for a playlist of background music that will make the perfect soundtrack to your gala event.

1. Secure a Venue

If you're a small non-profit, you want to make sure that the cost of your venue doesn't take too big a bite out of your profits from an event. The Endowment economized by renting out the community room of First Church Somerville. Churches are great places to consider because they are dedicated to community outreach and may quote a discounted price for a non-profit business. Community centers, art galleries and community theaters are other possibilities. Consider approaching organizations you are already a part of, or friends who might have access to spaces they can donate or let you rent for a deep discount.

2. Give People a Reason to Get Excited

The organizers knew they needed two things: entertainment to get people in the door, and auction items to raise some cash. The program for the evening consisted of each of the authors reading a short piece, and then describing the item they had donated for the auction. Hannah Baker-Siroty read poems about cattle and auctioned gift certificates to Grass Fed, a new burger restaurant in JP. Stace Budzko read a short piece, and told a story about getting his parents to get him a motorcycle by hiding tiny toy motorcycles in every corner of the house; he auctioned off a few hours of one-on-one writing sessions with a handful of toy motorcycles thrown in. Surrealist author Christopher Boucher auctioned off a cage named Steve, which had been woven by his wife. He read a piece on how to care for your new pet cage, Steve. Sarah Braunstein read a love letter to 1967 Peter Parker, and then auctioned off a set of cool Spiderman merchandise. Brad Clompus read three short poems, one about mice, and then auctioned off some fancy chocolate mice. William Giraldi read a section of his novel, Busy Monsters, and auctioned off a lifetime subscription to Agni, and a one-on-one writing consultation. Julia Lisella read three poems that pair well with wine and beer, and auctioned off a gift basket with poems, nice wine, two Coronas and a lime. She also filled in for Cammy Thomas, reading her poems and auctioning off a basket of fancy food items appearing in the work. Finally, Board member and professional massage therapist Jamie Thompson auctioned off some body work sessions.

3. Keep the Show Rolling

While the authors and their one-of-a-kind items were the big draw for the evening, don't underestimate the importance of having a good MC - Jeremy Bushnell kept things moving quickly, seemed at ease in front of a crowd and kept up some good banter - and in this case, an auctioneer. Lulu Savage ran the show that night and made me appreciate how important her job is. Lulu worked the crowd with her quick wit, gently heckling the timid bidders, and genuinely cheering with every sale. This is exactly what you need - an auctioneer who makes you feel like a winner for parting with your cash. Lulu specializes in fundraising events - if you're looking for a an auctioneer in the Boston area, hire her!!

4. Stock your Merch Table

I am currently sporting an awesome black messenger bag with white lettering proclaiming, "FOLLOW ME. I HAVE A PLAN." The Endowment used a local company, Hemlock Ink in Somerville, to screenprint an array of items, from messenger bags to t-shirts and hoodies. The merch table also had books for sale by the authors - a nice way for the authors to see a little profit for the evening - and free buttons with the Endowment's logo; giving them away for nothing is a small price to pay for free advertising.

5. Publicize Like Crazy

Long before you even begin to plan a major fundraiser, you need to build a following for your organization. Spend time creating a professional-looking website, and then promote the hell out of it on facebook and twitter. Create a facebook page that's specific to your organization as well. Make sure to update these frequently with all the interesting things you're working on and make it eye-catching with photos and video whenever you can. The bigger your public presence is, the easier it's going to be to pack your venue.

When it comes time to get the word out about your event you can use facebook to invite your followers first. Then create a buzz by posting little teasers on the event wall, your own wall, and your organization's facebook page. Do the same on twitter. Know a blogger whose interests align with your event in some way? Invite her personally to see if she'll cover it (yes, I was happy to).

Finally, do some more traditional marketing. Print up your eye-catching flier and post it in the neighborhood around the venue. Send out press releases in the hopes that someone will want to do a story about you, or send someone to cover the event. Finally, post your event in places with free local event listings - the Auction was listed in the Grub Street newsletter, Bay Windows, Cambridge Community Television's calendar, the First Church Somerville calendar and the SoJust calendar.


  1. According to your percentages they made 110%...

  2. Whoops! Thank you, math police! I meant to say 75% of the take was from the auction itself.