Last paddle is a game played during the last giving level of the Fund-A-Need. Typically the last level of the Fund-A-Need is $100 or $50, though some nonprofits stop at $1000. This game works better the lower the last level is.
If you are unfamiliar with Fund-A-Needs, they are usually performed top-down; starting at the highest level and working to the lowest.
There are two reasons for this:
- Psychologically speaking, starting with a call for $20k makes $1k sound like less money than it is, more people are inclined to give when the level sounds lower.
- We expect less donors at the top than at the bottom, so the Fund-A-Need happens in the shape of a pyramid, building momentum as it goes. This gives us the opportunity to recognize major donors and use that recognition to spur increased giving at the lower levels.
Last paddle is introduced right at the beginning of the final Fund-A-Need level. The auctioneer stops the Fund-A-Need for a couple minutes to explain how the game works. They introduce an amazing prize or package and explain that the last person to have their paddle in the air at the end of this giving level wins the prize. People can raise their paddles as many times as they want but each time they do, they commit to an additional donation at that giving level.
This game usually starts out slow with a paddle every twenty or thirty seconds. As the game continues and the room warms up, the paddles start shooting in the air faster and faster, like popcorn. While waiting for the room to heat up, the auctioneer stands on stage, stalling for time. Depending on your auctioneer this can be a good thing or a bad thing. The game continues for a set amount of time: seven, ten, even fifteen minutes. When time is called, the last person who put their paddle in the air is declared the winner.
I have seen a lot of chatter about this game recently. Other auctioneers talk a lot about how the game raises an extra two or three thousand dollars each time they play it.
This got me thinking. Are people really making extra money by playing this game? Or, are they making the same amount, or even less, as they would if they ran the Fund-A-Need without the game?
For a fundraiser like me, extra money during the Fund-A-Need means only one of two things: Either everyone in the room participated or those that did participate increased their gifts. These are the only two ways to generate extra money during a Fund-A-Need.
I decided to do an experiment. I went over to YouTube and searched for videos of people playing this game. I watched several, taking notes on how many paddles went up, what the total was, and how long the game lasted.
What I found was not surprising to me, but it might be surprising to you. Maybe you’ll think twice before playing this game at your next event.
My experiment showed several things:
- The quality of the prize greatly increased the chances the game would generate extra revenue. Hamilton tickets and high-level luxury vacation packages were guaranteed to make this game a success. However, including Hamilton tickets in your live auction would raise just as much money, if not more. The increase in revenue is connected more to the prize item than to the game.
- The game takes between eight and fifteen minutes to play. That’s a long time to spend on one Fund-A-Need level, especially at the end of the Fund-A-Need.
- When I tracked the paddle numbers, I discovered that only a small number of donors were playing the game, each bidding multiple times. My hunch is that it’s not the lower level donors who are bidding, it’s the major donors who can afford to place multiple $100 bids during a game. It can feel like you are getting a lot of participation in the moment, but you may be shutting out your lower-level donors entirely. Think about it, if you are a lower-level donor, are you going to bid one time on an item that a major donor will end up winning because they can afford to bid five times?
- The game kills the Fund-A-Need momentum and the mission of the nonprofit gets completely lost. Because the auctioneer has to stop everything to explain how the game works, the mission of the nonprofit comes secondary to the rules of the game and the prize. The Fund-A-Need becomes all about winning a cool prize. The philanthropic reasons for giving are removed entirely, and that should never ever happen.
The next time you are at a fundraiser and you see this game played, pay very close attention to what is happening and who is bidding. If you aren’t going to a fundraiser anytime soon, do what I did: Go on YouTube and search for videos of this game in action. Watch a few of them and take notes, then as yourself these questions:
- Was it worth the time?
- Was it worth the loss of messaging?
- Was it worth the loss of lower-level donors?
I think you’ll come to the same conclusion I did.
I have also heard that last paddle is a confusing game to play. Donors often come to the check-out table and are shocked to discover that they owe more than anticipated. Many don’t realize, even when it is explained very clearly, that each paddle raise commits them to an additional donation. This confusion leads to awkward and uncomfortable conversations that no one wants to have. This makes a lot of sense to me, it doesn’t matter how clearly you explain the game, people are drinking and some of them are going to miss the rules.
The takeaway here is: If you are considering playing last paddle at your next Fund-A-Need, do some research. This game may not make you as much money as you think.
Have you played last paddle during a Fund-A-Need? What worked well, or not so well, for you? Let me know in the comments.