When working at the  College Success Foundation outside Seattle several years ago, one of our founders brought up a new idea for our big fundraising evening. She had attended another event which had place cards at each setting with a pledge card on the inside. We thought, “brilliant!” and moved to use it.

Since the College Success Foundation had only about 180 total seated guests, we knew we could implement this without too much effort. As the image on the left shows, it appears like a normal place card (folded size 4.25″ w x 2.75″ h).

Inside, we merged the information we had on the guest. In every case, we had the name of each person attending. Using Raiser’s Edge, we included information such as preferred address, preferred phone and preferred email.

First the stats on giving: we raised about $220,000 that night from the six-item auction, 17 table centerpieces and a Raise The Paddle. We were delighted to work for a second year with Totally Blown Glassworks for the centerpieces. You watch the teaser videos we sent to guests here, here and here.]

The ”silent/via place card” gifts helped us in two ways: 1) to encourage giving and/or additional gifts and 2) to obtain new or corrected address information on our guests.

A total of 79 donations were received that night from these place cards/pledge cards with an average gift $2,789. That was 18 additional gifts solely from the place card/ pledge card, with an average gift of $322 (23% of people giving and 3% of gifts). We received three $1,000 gifts, two $500 gifts and then the rest were below the amount for Raise the Paddle. Many of these supporters were people who might be university administrators or presidents (part of our audience) but may not have been considered in our usual prospect pool.

Second, we also had 17 people amend their contact information – so we are able to be more donor-centric. Since these cards were produced and merged two days before the event, it was “fresh off the database.” It helped capture some information that we should have had, and others for new supporters, gave us what we needed to know (e.g., home address).

My colleagues at the CSF Celebration

My colleagues and I celebrating the College Success Foundation 10th Anniversary gala.

Third, we were also able to secure many credit card payments via this method, as people were able to add their credit card information and turn in the card, rather than wait in a “check out” line. This meant that there was literally no waiting at the end of the evening, except for boxing the centerpieces.

The previous year’s event had been a more lavish extravaganza celebrating the 10th anniversary and we welcomed 800 guests. It would have needed much longer lead time to prepare this for an event that size, but for an event this size (or smaller) I think it is a terrific way to capture some donors who don’t want to be part of the “splash” of raising their paddle when gift levels are called, or who are able at that moment to give a gift, but at a lower gift size.

For the entire event, from 169 guests (excluding the students, we had one scholar at each table for tables of 11) we raised $415,000. Not bad for one night! The expenses were approximately $60,000.

What innovations have you discovered for your events that help provide better connection or opportunities to give? I would love to hear!

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