Recently, I had a conference call conversation with the ED of a nonprofit and her board, who were considering hiring Marquam to consult and auctioneer their upcoming benefit. They’d used other ‘auctioneers’ in the past and had not achieved the results they wanted; therefore they were considering NOT hiring a pro this time around. A board member was attempting to make a case to the rest of the board that they needn’t spend the money on a professional benefit auctioneer and fundraising team again this year. She posed a question that first stunned me yet quickly emboldened me to answer her honestly. “What makes your company so special? I mean, why are you worth your fee?”
Education, Credentials + Experience Make the Auctioneer
Pausing for a moment, I pondered just how to approach this answer. One can move from confident to cocky in mere seconds if the answer is not delivered intentionally. Swallowing hard, I said, “The first thing that sets us apart is we are a team of fundraising specialists who work on behalf of – and side by side with – our NPO partners, to raise them the most money with the least amount of effort. We are a team of auctioneers who are ALL graduates of nationally accredited auction colleges, members in good standing of the National Auctioneers Association and perhaps most importantly, Benefit Auctioneer Specialists (meaning that we have earned the coveted BAS designation, indicating that charity fundraising is our specialty. Worldwide, only 1% of all auctioneers earn this distinction). In addition, you won’t find us selling livestock, automobiles or anything else. Fundraising and benefit auctions are our sole focus.”
Disruption + Innovation are Key
Now that’s all fine and good but I hadn’t yet covered the truly amazing part yet – the part that CLEARLY defines us as unique and innovative. “In addition,” I continued, “we represent a tiny fraction of auctioneers in this country, as all of our auctioneers identify as minorities or representatives of underrepresented groups. In an industry where just 16% of auctioneers are women, 78% of our auctioneers are women. Of the statistics we could find (which are much harder to come by than one might think) fewer than 5% of professional auctioneers are people of color or identify as being from underrepresented groups. ALL of us identify as minority groups.”
I heard a collective inhale from the board I was addressing. The board member then said, “Wow. So you are real auctioneers. With real education. And you’re challenging the good ole boys network? How disruptive.” Indeed. She hit the nail on the head. We are disruptive. That is a primary brand value of ours!
Review the Numbers
Feeling more confident, I persisted, “What truly defines us are our final event numbers. And the fantastic things our partners have to say about working with us. I can provide you a plethora of testimonials and references should you desire them.” After this, the board member’s attitude completely shifted and she replied, “That was a great answer to a tough question. I couldn’t have scripted you better myself. Does anyone else have a question for the auctioneer?”
“Yes,” replied another board member. “What are the qualities of an organization that determine whether or not their fundraising is successful under your guidance?” Whoa – did these people vote on the best questions to ask to try and derail a fundraising pro? I wondered.
Believe in What You Do!
My answer to this was simple yet honest. “Passion for one’s organization and mission is first and foremost. Authenticity, faith and a belief in what you’re doing are likely the most important things as they rub off on folks. And donors always know when genuine love for an org is present in the room. But second to that is something not every org wants to hear – especially orgs who do the same thing year after year. I believe the quality that sets successful fundraising orgs apart from the rest is their willingness to review their historical data from a 10,000 foot view, ditch those things that are not serving them well and be willing to innovate, get out of their own way and continually refine their offerings. That, and find out what your donors really want. Then – deliver!”
Data Drives Strategy
Now, this can be dangerous territory for more conservative orgs or those who have been regurgitating similar events, offerings and fundraising approaches for some time. Many of the folks running such events are emotionally tied to what they’ve always done and believe that any departure from tradition is sacrilege.
My response? Phooey! Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same things over and over expecting different results? My best advice is to poll your donors and review accurate historical data. Numbers NEVER lie, and when reviewed from a strategist’s point of view, they can suggest better, easier and more fun ways of maximizing revenue.
In the end, a simple conversation led with honesty, facts and conviction completely turned the tides on this interview. Educating the client with the truth about what sets us apart made us a new friend in the nonprofit world. And guess what? We got the contract too!
Reach out to find new ways to drive your fundraising and revenue potential. Find out for yourself what sets us apart and check out our fundraising services for in-person and virtual galas. We can’t wait to make beautiful events together.
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