‘A Fundraiser’s Place in Heaven’

A man knocked at the heavenly gates,
His face was scarred and old.
He stood before the man of fate
For admission to the fold.
‘What have you done,’ St. Peter asked,
‘to gain admission here?’
‘I’ve been a fundraiser, Sir,’ he said,
‘For many and many a year.’
The pearly gates swung open wide;
St. Peter rang his bell.
‘Come in and choose your harp,’ he said,
‘You’ve had your share of Hell.’

Celebrity Autograph AuctionIntroduction

Holding a celebrity autograph auction is a great way to raise funds for your organization. Celebrities love to donate autographed photos and memorabilia to worthy causes, especially if it is close to their hearts.

In this exclusive report, we’ll show you step by step how to plan, implement and hold a successful celebrity autograph auction. So get out a pen and a piece of paper to jot down notes as you get ideas, and start reading!

6 Reasons Why People Donate to Nonprofits

Marketing experts say that the most common reasons people contribute to nonprofit organizations are:

  • Wanting to feel generous
  • Wanting to change the world
  • Wanting to be compassionate
  • Wanting a sense of belonging (or acting out a sense of duty)
  • Wanting to feel well-being
  • Wanting to be recognized

Remember these six reasons when crafting your solicitation letter, making phone calls, etc.

Writing a Solicitation Letter

To begin creating your solicitation letter, write a couple of paragraph about:

  • The history of your organization
  • Services that your organization offers
  • Key accomplishments of your organization
  • Testimonials, reviews or quotes from others who have benefited from your organization

Then write about each of the following topics:

  • Your organization’s philosophy or mantra (how and why it provides service)
  • How your organization relates to or with other organizations (locally, nationally or internationally)

You can also add:

  • Photos of your organization’s work
  • Charts or maps showing your organization’s growth
  • An overview of your organization’s budget and finances, especially if they are healthy
  • Anything else that’s information about your organization, including awards received, publications it has appeared in, etc.

Finally, you must clearly state how someone can give to your organization by:

  • Donating an autographed item to be used in the auction
  • Serving as auctioneer or guest speaker at the auction
  • Contributing publicity, radio blurbs, written testimonials, etc. to help advertise and get attention for the auction and/or organization

You should also mention what the celebrity will receive after making the donation, such as:

  • A mention in your organization’s newsletter or Web site
  • A listing as a sponsor in the auction’s program
  • A coffee mug, t-shirt, award, etc. given as as token of thanks
  • Positive mentions to press by the organization about the celebrity’s help

Raising Funds by Mail

First you’ll need an accurate source of celebrity contact information like Contact Any Celebrity. Their site features a fully-searchable online database of the contact information for over 60,000 celebrities including the agent, manager, publicist, production company, attorney, business manager and charitable causes for each one.

If you can’t find the celebrity you’re looking for, they will research the celebrity for free, and let you know when the information has been updated in their database. They’ll even refund you fifty-cents for every returned letter you get in the mail, if you get any. (They employ full-time researchers who update the database daily).

The best contact to send your solicitation letter to is the celebrity’s publicist. If the celebrity doesn’t have a publicist, your next best bet is the manager, then the agent as a last resort. The publicist is the person in charge of getting the celebrity positive exposure, such as linking them with a worthy cause (yours!). The manager gives advice on career choices (and sometimes handles publicity as well). The agent, on the other hand, is only concerned with getting the celebrity paid work, such as a movie role, TV show, live appearance, book deal, etc.

Be sure to send your solicitation letter on your organization’s official letterhead. It’s also best to include a 9×12 self-addressed stamped envelope. This makes it much easier for the celebrity to respond in a timely manner. You can simply ask for an autographed photo of your organization’s auction, or you can send your own unsigned photo to be autographed (be sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped 9×12 envelope if you do this).

So how do you begin a direct-mail effort? Here’s an overview:

1. The Envelope

What will make the celebrity (or the celebrity’s assistant) want to open it? Is there an intriguing headline or a photo on it? Does it mention a free gift? The recipient’s name printed in large letters is supposed to attract attention. The use of a real stamp (even a nonprofit bulk rate stamp) makes the letter look more personal. The point is to get those envelopes opened!

2. The Letter

A direct-mail letter should be clear and timely. IT shouldn’t be melodramatic, but should generate an emotional response. To do so, include anecdotes and stories about real people (or animals, or whatever you cause is about). Combine long and short paragraphs and sentences. Follow a long paragraph with a one-liner in bold and maybe even underlined. This technique draws the reader’s attention to the points you want to emphasize.

You want readers to understand that your nonprofit has an urgent, yet reasonable and attainable goal. You want the reader to know that by joining your cause, he or she is joining a winner.

Include a P.S. after the signature. In fact, marketing experts say that most people read the P.S. before they read the opening line of the letter!

Event Budgeting

The point of holding a celebrity autograph auction is to make enough money to exceed your total cost. By a lot, you hope! But how do you make sure this happens? Below are some ideas:

It is important to start the planning process early, as much as a year before the event. You should begin writing celebrities to secure autographed items as soon as you or your committee decides that having a celebrity autograph auction is a good and profitable idea.

1. Figuring the Income Side

Try to create your celebrity autograph auction so that it produces income in more than one way. For example, sell tickets to the auction, and also sell advertising in the printed programs, sponsorships at the event, etc. Standard event income categories include:

  • Individual ticket sales
  • Table or group sales
  • Benefactor, patron or sponsor donations (for which donors receive special recognition in return for contributing higher amounts than a basic table or seat would cost)
  • Food and/or beverage sales at the event
  • Sales of goods and/or services
  • Advertising sales (in printed programs, on banners and signs, etc.)
  • Purchasing a chance (raffle ticket, door prizes, etc).

2. Capturing All Expenses

Events produce expenses in a variety of ways. A great way to save money is to try and get as many of the items below donated by local companies in exchange for a sponsor listing in your program and/or a mention at the event:

  • Building/facility/location (space rental, site use permits, security detail, portable toilets, tents, clean up costs, etc.)
  • Advertising and promotion (posters, invitations, publicity costs, postage, Web site development, etc.)
  • Production (lighting and sound equipment, technical labor, stage managers, DJs, MCs, auctioneers, etc.)
  • Travel and per diem (hotel rooms, limos, etc. for celebrities who will be making an appearance)
  • Insurance (liability in case someone should get hurt due to your organization’s negligence or shipping insurance to protect valuable donated goods)
  • Food and beverages (including permits for the sale and/or serving of alcohol, if necessary)
  • Decor (flowers, awards, tents, name tags, signs, banners, t-shirts, etc.)
  • Office expenses (letter writing, mailing list management, press release creation and distribution, postage, etc.)
  • Staff expenses (volunteers, etc.)

In spite of your careful planning, certain expenses can appear unexpectedly and can cause you to exceed your budget. If you plan to serve food at your event, keep this tips in mind so you can avoid surprise charges:

  • Confirm whether or not all service and preparation charges are included in the catering budget.
  • If you need to add additional meals at the last minute, find out what your caterer charges.
  • If meals that you ordered are not eaten, you will most likely still need to pay for them. But check to see if there’s a way out (unopened beverages, etc.)
  • If some of the wine you’ve purchased is not consumed, ask if the wine store is willing to buy it back from you.
  • If wine has been donated to your event, serving it may not be completely free. Find out whether your caterer charges ‘corkage’ fees for opening and serving it.

Non-food related expenses can sneak up on you too. Be sure to:

  • Confirm whether or not you’re expected to pay for the shipping costs of the items donated to your event.
  • Ask whether tax or deliver are included with printing costs.

Treatment of Celebrities and VIPs

Your auction depends heavily on donated goods from celebrities. Remember to treat them well so you’ll feel comfortable asking them to donate items again in the future. This not only includes sending thank you acknowledgements, but if you’re also having a celebrity serve as auctioneer, guest speaker, or entertainer, here are some other things to consider:

  • Have flowers waiting for them in their hotel room.
  • Find out in advance what foods or beverages they like to have backstage in their dressing rooms.
  • Plan in advance a place where they can get away from the crowd if they want rest and privacy.
  • Double-check your sound and lighting equipment with them to make sure they are presented under optimal conditions and so the celebrity feels comfortable.
  • If your honored guest is elderly or has a disability, double-check that any hotel, restaurant or event site is fully accessible and that all elevators and other necessary aids are working.

Again, many of items above such as flowers, food, beverages, etc. can be donated by a local company. Make sure to let the owner know that the celebrity (mention by name) will be seeing or using their product!

Picking a Date and Location

Check around your community to make sure that you’re not planning to hold your celebrity autograph auction on the same date as another nonprofit. Be sure to do this. Competing for the same audience on the same date – or even dates that are close to each other – hurts both organization’s results. Also, avoid dates that are close to holidays as most people will likely be out of town or too busy to attend.

Sample Celebrity Live & Silent Autograph Auction Timeline

Although events vary greatly in size and complexity, we recommend that you work against a six-month schedule. The following outlines a sample schedule for a celebrity autograph auction:

12-14 weeks before the auction

  • Assemble committee and co-chairs
  • Find and confirm location for event (or earlier if possible)
  • Assign subcommittee responsibilities in the following areas – securing auction items, auction operations, food and refreshments, invitations and promotions.

10-12 weeks before the auction:

  • Send letters soliciting autographed items for the auction to celebrities

8-10 weeks before the auction:

  • Write and design auction invitation
  • Do follow-up calls for auction items
  • Secure services of auctioneer
  • Solicit donated food and refreshments and/or meet with caterer
  • Begin compiling invitation list

6-8 weeks before the auction:

  • Begin writing auction program (Assign smaller auction items for silent auction, bigger items for live auction, usually no more than 10 to 12 items per live auction)
  • Send invitations to printer
  • Recruit volunteers for the following jobs: to check in guests on the night of the auction, to set up auction tables, decorate and arrange auction items, to act as big spotters for the live auction, to prepare food if not catered, to take payments after the auction, to clean up after the event.

4-5 weeks before the auction:

  • Recruit volunteers to address and mail invitations
  • Finalize your auction program to include with the invitation
  • Mail media releases to local news outlets

3-4 weeks before the auction:

  • Address and mail invitations with program
  • Make follow-up calls to potential donors of food and wine if you’re seeking them
  • Tour auction location and discuss any special requirements or potential problems

1-2 weeks before the auction:

  • Prepare bidder’s cards (assign each guest a number for use to record bids)
  • Prepare silent auction bid sheets (assign a minimum bid for each item)
  • Confirm auctioneer
  • Confirm volunteers to work on day of the event

1 week before the auction:

  • Visit venue to make final arrangements for decorating
  • Purchase decorations
  • Create attendance lists for check-in table
  • Arrange for drop-off of auction items

Day of event:

  • Deborah venue
  • Set up auction tables with silent auction items and bid sheets
  • Set up refreshment/drink tables
  • Set up check-in tables
  • Be sure volunteers are in place and understand the tasks assigned

Final checklist and tips:

  • Ask auctioneer or MC to encourage bidding on silent auction items
  • Set a firm time for closing silent auction bids and announce the time remaining at 5 minute intervals
  • Be prepared at end of auction for buyers who want to pay and receive their items all at the same time

You may think no one will rain on your parade, but you’ll want to have emergency backup plans anyway. What if your performer becomes ill, a blizzard shuts down roadways, or your permits are not approved on time? You’ll need to quickly move, replace, reschedule or cancel your program. The faster you can communicate any changes, the better your constituents will feel about sticking with you and your cause.

Issuing a Memorable Invitation

Make your invitation something that your potential guests will open and remember. Addressing the envelope by hand and using real stamps rather than a meter or printed postage makes it look more personal, and an intriguing phrase, logo or personalization on the outside gives it a greater chance of being opened. IF you can afford the increased cost, full color printing on the outside envelope can catch your guest’s eye.

What do recipients first see when the invitation is opened? Most invitations are made up of an outer fold piece, a reply card and a reply envelope. Want more attention? What if some confetti or glitter fell out of the envelope when opened? If you have a small number of invitees, roll your invitation into a small mailing tube, or even send it in a box like a gift to be opened!

Make sure that your invitation’s recipient can easily see who is extending the invitation, what time the event is, where and when it is being held, how much it costs, and how to RSVP. Print the address where you guests should respond somewhere on the reply card, even though it is also printed on the reply envelope. Sometimes pieces of the invitation become separated. You want your guest to readily know where to send his her reply.

Packaging Your Autographed Items

When it comes time for your celebrity autograph auction, make sure to package your items nicely for maximum effect. For example, cover your display table with a colorful tablecloth, sprinkle confetti on it, and prop your items up so they can be seen easily. Put your items in a cellophone wrapped gift basket, frame autographed photos in nice frames (be sure to prop them up on the table!), and package multiple items together (such as an autographed photo along with other memorabilia from the same celebrity).

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