Power to the Paddle

Blog Post by: Kim Perry

Sometimes peer pressure can be a really good thing. Case in point: the paddle raise (a.k.a. fund-a-need, call to the heart, or cash call) that takes place, typically, during the seated program at thousands of in-person fundraisers every year. There’s a magic that happens and a universal bond that forms in a room where everyone feels compelled to give at their desired amount. And when it hits the final crescendo culminating in a sea of paddles at the last round is something to behold. There’s nothing more victorious for a nonprofit than calculating the final sum – whether it’s $5,000, $50,000 or $500,000 – that will ultimately fund a specific need for their mission. Creating a tangible giving experience and a unanimous “pressure” for engaged donors (all in the span of a mere ten minutes!) can often be the highest revenue source of a fundraising event.

So, naturally, when I found out from my team that several of our annual events do not feature a paddle raise, I was stunned. Why in the world would a nonprofit make a conscious decision to omit this revenue source – and powerful mission moment – from an event which essentially opens wallets to “free” money? Don’t get me started on the excuses (“It’s a logistical hassle,” “We don’t have enough volunteers to be spotters,” “We don’t want to do a seated program,” yadda, yadda, yadda). Let’s just say none of them justify the omission when you look at the actual numbers. Allow me to put the money where my mouth is and demonstrate why I feel this 10-minute endeavor is worth every second:

Here are the sums generated from our in-person Wine Women & Shoes events just this year:

Abilene, TX: $14,500

Boise, ID: $78,700

Chicago (Western Suburbs), IL: $75,000

Savannah, GA: $29,700

Palm Beach: $785,850 

And let’s not forget our virtual events that incorporated paddle raises online, which can be equally meaningful:

 Louisville, KY: $68,160

Wichita, KS: $14,150 

Pretty amazing, no? After all, this revenue opportunity could have easily been omitted from all of these events for reasons attributed to logistics, software, and groups lamenting that “paddle raises haven’t generated much for us in the past.” 

In my final effort to make my case advocating this revenue source at every event, here’s a fun anecdote: We debuted our Wine Women & Shoes event in the Chicago Western Suburbs this year with our phenomenal nonprofit partner Bridge Communities. One of my dearest friends purchased a VIP table to host her girlfriends, all of whom, are brand new donors brought in the door by our event. Our President, Heather Frank, brought the house down doing what she does best leading their paddle raise to an astounding $75,000 finale. My friend and her guests collectively raised their paddles contributing over $5,000 from their table alone. The best part? They are already committed to buying a table at next year’s event where they’ll likely give at higher amounts as engaged donors. 

So, when you’re considering this revenue source for your next event, let’s just say our team agrees – hands down – always paddle up!