posted by Lisa Weiss

I’m surprised by how often I speak with clients who have never heard of a Paddle Call. A Paddle Call – also known by names such as Fund-A-Need, Flurry, Special Appeal and others – is a highly effective tool for raising a lot of money for your cause in a short period of time.
A Paddle Call takes place during the live auction portion of your event. The auctioneer asks for guests to raise their paddles to make a monetary donation towards a special project, a scholarship fund, a large piece of equipment or a special item that is needed by your organization. Guests who would like to donate raise their paddles while an auction committee member records the paddle numbers. The auctioneer then asks again, this time for a lower amount. Typically, a larger number of guests will raise their paddles. This goes on for at most five levels – for example, $5000, $2500, $1000, $500, $100 – at which point the auctioneer should have reached a level where the majority of guests have their paddles raised.

Sounds easy. And it is. But to make your Paddle Call even more successful, here are a few tips and tricks:

The Appeal

Prior to the Paddle Call, have your auctioneer invite a speaker to the podium to make a short presentation about the specific cause or project for which you’re raising money. The best speakers are those who can clearly define the need and elicit an emotional response from the audience. When selecting a speaker, look for a charismatic and trusted member of your community, a respected leader in your organization or an expert in the field. And don’t hesitate to think outside the box. Slide shows, short performances and skits can be very effective as part of the appeal.

Most importantly, never lose sight of the goal of the appeal: to pull at the heartstrings and purse strings of your audience.

The Starting Paddle Call Level

The level at which your auctioneer starts the Paddle Call will depend on the composition of your donor audience. Are there big donors in attendance who might give a large sum, like $25K or more? Or is your largest donor likely to be in the $1,000 or less range? Do not start the paddle call too high, or your guests may feel uncomfortable.

If you have a guest who has approached you prior to the event with a large monetary donation, ask if she would be comfortable raising her paddle during the Paddle Call to ‘kick things off.’ Typically, once someone donates a large sum, other guests will likely step up with similar donations. Plus, lower levels are then perceived by the audience as more ‘do-able,’ and you’re more likely to get higher pledges across the board.