Your Fundraising Event’s Special Appeal

Your event has a lot of potential for fundraising revenue. But remember that people give to people. If we break out pre-event and post-event revenue, the ones based in relationship have far more potential. Your silent auction will never raise as much money as your special appeal. A great silent auction averages a return of about 40% of value. So instead of focusing all of your attention here, take a good look at your special appeal. The special appeal is the part of your event when you tell your story of impact and then ask for a cash contribution from those in attendance. This is fundraising for your mission.

Event Revenue

Silent Auctions, Raffles & Games…

Silent auctions, raffles and games are all TRANSACTIONAL revenue that doesn’t emotionally connect your donors to WHY you do your important work.

For the special appeal to be its most successful, there are several components that you should consider when putting it together. It has to be strategic and based in emotionally-connected storytelling.


Tell ONE story. The moment you start telling the story of MANY, your audience starts to use the statistics against you. The emotionally compelling story of ONE will get your audience to emotionally connect to your work. They will automatically extrapolate that you do work with more than just one person.

A Personal Journey

Tell the story of that ONE person’s journey, from who they were to who they are now. Getting them to talk about the past—especially if it was difficult—can be challenging. But doing so will show the full scope of their journey and change.

Be the Change You Want to See

Situate your organization as the CHANGE AGENT in this person’s journey. You were the component that they met that got them from who they were to who they are.

Point-of-View Storytelling

Get them to articulate what their situation looked like before you, what your organization provided them and what their life is like now. You want to show your impact through the story of their change. You declaring this is far less effective than someone who is personally impacted by your work telling your audience their story of change.

Multiple Points of View

Multiple voices can tell one story. Your story should focus on ONE person’s trajectory, but you can use additional people to make your case. Make sure they are speaking about your featured speaker and supporting the story of their journey.

Creating a Connection

This is not the time for talking heads. This is the time for creating a heart connection between your audience and you. This is the time for telling ONE compelling story of change with your organization planted at the center of that change.


An effective appeal needs three things: the story, the ask and the collection.

The Story

Using the framework above tell your audience the story of impact. This can happen with your speaker live on stage or with video. Video can be a great way to focus your audience and tell a concise story. If you have a live speaker on stage, their story should be scripted in advance and you should work with them so that they feel comfortable on stage telling it.

The Ask

No one will give you money if you don’t ask them. So, for example, use the video as your tool to tell the story and then use the individual featured in the video to do ‘the ask’ with one or two very simple sentences. The video should say it all and the live speaker just brings it back down into the room. Make sure your speaker ‘asks’ for donations. You want a call to action that is engaging and not passive. It is best if the ask comes from the person who just told their story. If that can’t happen, find someone connected to the story, like a caseworker or someone witness to their change. It should not be your executive director.

The Collection

Make sure you have a way to collect the donations! This can happen actively with bid cards or more passively with envelopes at the table. Active collections will always raise more money as they tap into the donor’s want to be seen in the room giving. You can make envelope collections more active by passing them out at the table after the ask instead of just having them pre-set. When folks are handed something, they are more likely to hand it back. The active collection should be performed by your benefit auctioneer. If you are using envelopes, you can utilize your emcee to give the audience directions for filling them out and turning them in.

Your special appeal is your largest fundraising opportunity at your event. Take the time to put together a story and strategy for how you are going to emotionally engage your donors and give them a mechanism to donate to you.

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Event Revenue - Kristin

Kristin Steele, Owner and Director of Operations + Communications at Swaim Strategies
As a nonprofit advocate in Portland for over 25 years, Kristin helped start Swaim Strategies in 2004. As a writer and teacher by trade, she works with nonprofits to increase their fundraising by improving how they tell their story to strategically impact their events, special appeals, and videos.