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Avoid Making This Huge Mistake at Your Next Fundraiser

You ever hear that saying that if anything can go wrong, it will? I’m pretty sure that whoever came up with that wasn’t some mathematician talking about the universe*, but was actually giving some sage advice about fundraising events. They had to be, right?

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Let me give you an example. Why don’t we start with a story?

Imagine you’re planning your first fundraising event (super difficult, right?), and it’s about a month away. You have to research auction software because you need it for your event, but this is the first event like this that you’ve done, so you don’t really know what you’re doing or what questions to ask. Yikes!

But you power through, and somehow through the grace of God, some backdated Karma, and maybe a lot of sugar highs, you manage to get your complete guest list, along with their tables and meal choices into the system. Win!

Now, during this process, were you warned that you should have a backup plan for registration? That the internet can be unreliable at some venues or just might not be able to handle a ton of users at once? Did anyone ask you what you would do if the card swipers didn’t work?

Of course they did! But you are so stressed out that you’ve managed to convince yourself that you could build this beautiful house out of cards, and there was no way it was coming down! Kinda like if you close your eyes, the scary thing doesn't exist. Everything is gonna be fine, no great! Because denial isn't just a river and all that. 

So poor naive you gets to your venue, all pumped and open up all the laptops for check in. It’s Time to Go!

Aaaand the internet won’t connect.

You frantically call the venue site manager and the rest of the Universe (aka the IT guy who made the rookie mistake of giving you his cell number) to come help you fix it. After a few minutes of nail biting, and at least one month off your lifespan, it’s connected and you’re ready to rock and roll!

But for some reason your auction software won’t open.

So you boot and reboot, try to call the auction software provider, bite some more nails, and take a few more months off your life. And it works! Hooray!

Your whole team is now set up, excited and ready to take names and swipe cards. Your first guest arrives! THE TIME IS NOW!

And there is an error. Their name isn’t coming up. You know they’re on the list.

Your next guest comes. The bid number that you try to assign won’t go through.

More guests come. The system tries to assign a bid number that you already gave out and passed. To 4 different people!

Just like that, your fantasies of a smooth check in have all gone up in smoke. You’re now stuck behind the registration table troubleshooting for all of your team. The line is taking so long to get through, that you’re now late on your program. So you decide to abandon your check in system all together. You send someone to make copies of the masterlists. Why didn’t you do that before?! Your team is now checking people in on paper and writing down bid numbers.

Then, you are so late on your program that you just have to let everyone in, and pass out bid numbers when the auction starts.

So to recap, you now have guests that aren’t attached to their bid numbers, bid numbers that aren’t attached to credit cards, and some people who aren’t on your list at all! Talk about a nightmare.

Take a deep breath

The good thing is though, that this didn’t actually happen to you in real life. You’re safe.

It did however, happen to me. This was my very first gala. My little house of cards came tumbling down so fast, it was comical... well, after I finished crying of course. 

It was a disaster, absolutely, but in the grand scheme of things, it was an invaluable learning opportunity. I got a first-hand, crash course on all of the things that could go wrong with gala registration so that I don’t ever make the same mistakes again.

Here, in a nutshell is what I’ve learned to do for every major event:

  • If you use web based tools, be sure that they also have some offline capabilities
  • Checking with the venue is part of due diligence. Go and test your equipment on their wifi ahead of time if you can. This doesn’t mean there won’t be problems later, but it’s a first step that will take you a long way
  • If you use laptops or tablets at registration, have backup lists on either Google Sheets or Excel in case your software doesn’t work
  • I also print out a couple apha lists and also some with alphabetic breakdowns. This might be overkill for you, but it helps me sleep at night

I do hope that you have many of your own invaluable learning experiences, but hopefully this helps you to avoid these particular pitfalls. After all, there’s no point in crashing into something, when someone else can just as easily yell “WATCH OUT!”

What about you? I’d love to hear about any crazy experiences you’ve had, and anything you do for a Plan B. Leave a comment below!

*Murphy’s Law states that whatever can happen, will happen. This is also commonly interpreted as Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.