Be Gracious, Be Generous, Be Gregarious: Your Guide to Successfully Navigating Fundraising Events

Those perennial signs of spring are just around the corner: daffodils, robins, golfers and, in Lancaster County, fundraising events! Whether you’ll be attending your first or your 50th fundraising event, there are ways to make the most of your experience and participate in its success. 

Be it a black-tie gala or a decidedly un-gala event, you can be certain that the fundraiser’s festivities are a culmination of thousands of hours of work by committees, as well as collaborations among volunteers and employees of the nonprofit organization. The event is probably the nonprofit’s most important fundraising opportunity of the year – a make-or-break evening that can determine the budget and the success of the organization’s mission for the coming year. 

Thanks to a pause in events due to Covid and the fact that a new generation is taking part in these all-important fundraising events, we thought it would be advantageous to provide an etiquette refresher/primer for veterans and novices alike. 

The auctioneering Keller family has made fundraisers an integral part of their business. Left to right are Andy, Mike, Jess and Tim Keller.
Photo by Nick Gould.

Tim Keller, a second-generation professional auctioneer who has grown his father’s local auction business, H.K. Keller, into a specialized fundraising auction event and consulting service, advises patrons to “come with the intention of being an asset to the organization, not a distraction.” Tim and his sons, Andy and Mike, head up teams that handle more than 60 annual charitable happenings from Colorado to Florida, and especially from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. 

Be Prepared 

“There’s an unwritten rule that, if you are invited to attend a fundraiser as a guest of someone else, you are expected to support the event by at least the amount of the ticket price,” Andy Keller says. Come prepared with a check or credit card and bring some cash for the $20 side games like wine tosses, 50/50 raffles and the volunteer bartenders’ tip jars – it all goes back to supporting the nonprofit organization. “Arrive with plenty of time to participate in those small games and the silent auction before dinner,” Tim suggests. 

Be Sociable

Did you know that your reserved seat at the event’s tables is not a random occurrence? Very likely, your seat location was carefully selected by a volunteer committee or the organization’s event planner – yes, you matter! Hours of thought and discussion are invested in creating lively tables where guests are placed to interact, often based on their shared interests, or as an opportunity for them to learn more about the organization’s work through one of their representatives. 

Do be social and engage in conversations with your dinner partners; you may be surprised by what you have in common!

Be a Savvy Bidder

The live auction items are often the big-ticket items, like trips and one-of-a-kind insider experiences. Some preparation may help you land one of those gems, with a little help from your friends. Weeks before the event, most organizations will mail out their catalogues of live auction items or post the items’ details on their social media sites. This is your chance to pitch the idea of that group vacation or once-in-a-lifetime golf trip to your buddies. 

“A week at a vacation home in the Outer Banks for eight, or a gourmet dining experience for six, for example, requires some discussion with your friends ahead of the event to ensure their interest and establish a maximum bid for your group,” Tim explains. Live auction items sell in seconds, so that’s not the time to ponder. Keep that bidding paddle handy!

Be a Supportive Guest

If the live auction items are out of your budget, you can still be a stellar guest. “Be engaged, be excited, and celebrate when one of your tablemates wins a bid,” says Andy. “Cheers and applause create energy in the room.” 

Many nonprofits also offer an opportunity to simply donate to their mission through a live ask for donations. Often following an emotional touchpoint showing the organization’s life-changing impact, this appeal is your chance to add to the success of the night through a donation in an amount at your comfort level. Remember to settle up at the check-out desk, particularly if there is dancing or more fun following the auction. 

Dress for the Occasion

What to wear? Check the invitation for a hint at the dress code. Black tie is a “wow!” level formal affair. Ladies may dazzle in full-length or cocktail dresses, while gentlemen may go all out with a tuxedo or, if that’s not in your budget or closet, a well-tailored dark suit with a white shirt and conservative tie (no cartoon characters or sports logos).

If the suggested attire is not otherwise specified on the invitation, you will likely be in-step in business clothing (which is not your work-from-home look). Ditch the jeans and don tailored pants, a sport coat and open collar dress shirt, guys. Ladies, a dress, pantsuit or pulled-together separates will serve you well.


  • Tim and his sons have seen their share of dicey guest behavior. Loud, obnoxious conversations during a live auction are a big no-no and reflect poorly on the self-centered revelers. This is the time to be a team player.
  • An open bar is not your signal to load up on “free” drinks (it’s a fundraiser!). 
  • Don’t be cheap. Come prepared to bid over the “retail” price of silent auction items – it’s a fundraiser, not a fire sale.
  • Please, no skipping off with your table’s centerpiece. These are usually available for purchase (and thus benefit the organization). They are not freebies.
  • “A successful fundraiser is one that offers every guest the opportunity to support the cause and genuinely feel good about their being there, with excitement and fun,” Tim notes. “That goes for us, as well. As auctioneers, we choose to do events that we can be authentically passionate about. You can’t bluff that.” 

Upcoming Benefits/Fundraisers

What follows is a partial list of upcoming fundraisers. If you’re not on an organization’s mailing list, reach out for an invitation! Even if you can’t attend, a donation is always welcomed and appreciated. 

Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development: 40th Annual Gala, Saturday, March 9, schreiberpediatric.org 

Prima Theatre: Stage Brawl, Saturday, March 23, primatheatre.org

American Heart Association: Lancaster Heart Ball, Saturday, March 23, new.eventgives/67661

Lancaster Catholic High School: Purple & Gold Gala, Saturday, April 13, lchsyes.org

Lancaster Country Day School: FunFest, Saturday, April 13, lancastercountryday.org

Lancaster Symphony Orchestra: Black & White Gala, Saturday, April 13, lancastersymphony.org 

Our Mother of Perpetual Help School: OMPH Gala for Education, Saturday, April 13, omphchurch.com 

United Disability Service: Annual Gala, Friday, April 19, udservices.org

North Museum: Cosmic Bash, Saturday, April 20, northmuseum.org

Excentia Human Services: Flamingle Gala, Friday, April 26, excentialhumanservices.org

Janus School: Raising Spirits, Saturday, April 27, thejanusschool.org

Samaritan Center: A Gala Renewed, Thursday, May 2. Samaritanlancaster.org

Lancaster County Career and Technology Foundation: Fly on the Run, Wednesday, May 8, Thursday, May 9, lcctf.org

Touchstone Foundation: Feast of the Senses, Thursday, May 9, touchstonefound.org

Water Street Mission: Top Chefs of Lancaster County, Friday, June 7, wsm.org

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