Pulling Off a Successful Silent Auction

Question: Our organization plans to hold a silent auction for the first time. What tips can you provide that will help us have a successful auction?

Answer:  First things first – set a realistic budget and fundraising goal! Once you’ve done that, consider these tips:

Plan well and in advance – Start planning at least 6 months in advance.
•    Know your audience.
•    Let your audience determine who you solicit for donations. The most successfully sold auction items tend to be vacation packages, tickets to events, sports equipment, baskets with assorted items, electronics, park passes, and hotel/restaurant combinations.
•    Set a deadline to receive items.

Stay organized
•    Establish a timeline for each phase of the auction.
•    Create a tracking system for donor information, communications, and donated items.
•    Strategize an efficient plan for auction set-up & payment check-out.

Select good volunteers
•    Have plenty of volunteers. It’s better to have too many than not enough.
•    Establish a good repertoire with them prior to the auction and maintain the relationships.
•    Make sure your volunteers know exactly what to do and are solely dedicated to the auction.  

Thank your donors and attendees
•    Thank your donors promptly!
•    Thank your attendees for coming and supporting your cause!

Questions about organizing your own silent auction? Email Debra Tate at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Raising Money When You Don’t Have Money

Question: I’m the president of an all-volunteer nonprofit board.  All the individuals on our board care a lot about the watershed we protect, but it’s very difficult to have much of an impact when we personally don’t have the time and organizationally don’t have the funds to do the work we want to do.  Someone told me recently, “with nonprofit work, you have to have money to make money.” Unfortunately, we don’t have any money…so my question is, how do we get into the fundraising loop?

Answer: Although it’s a bit fatalistic for my taste, there is some truth to the old adage “you have to have money to make money.”  The reason is, a lot of major donors, foundations, and businesses are more hesitant to donate to groups who don’t have a track record of others donating and supporting the work you do and demonstrating that you spend the money given to you responsibly and with impact.  The real test of how good of an investment a group is can be seen in how they’ve spent money given to them in the past.  Luckily, everybody starts somewhere—and this is how other groups do it!

  • Relationships.  There’s another saying in the nonprofit world: “people don’t give money to organizations, they give money to people.”  Again: not strictly true, but the nugget of truth here is that it’s a lot easier to get a gift from an individual you have a relationship with than a stranger, and easier to get a grant from a foundation where you’ve taken the time to build a relationship with them.  So, start calling foundations that give to organizations that have similar programs to yours, and set up some meetings!  Have lunch with prospective major donors—not to ask for money, but just to build relationships.
  • Organization.  If you can show a prospective funder or foundation that you’re organized, they’re more likely to take a chance on you.  For instance, it’s helpful to have a well-thought-out program plan that lays out what you need funding for. Write down what you want to do, how you plan to do it and what it’s going to cast, and start sharing your dream with others.  Your job then becomes finding funders who will share in, and invest in, your dream with you.
  • Spending other money well.  When you do get funding—through membership, events, grants, etc.—make sure you keep track of where it goes.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you can show a prospective donors what you’ve done with the money you’ve made so far—even if it’s just a little bit!—it can help give them confidence in their investment in your organization.

So, don’t let all the nonprofit idioms get you down.  Sure, it’s easier to make money when you have a lot of money, but you have to start somewhere!  The important thing is to be patient and don’t expect to make $100,000 overnight.  You’ll get there!

FAQ: Building and Maintaining Your Major Donor List

Question: I'm on the board of a watershed group that wants to start soliciting major donations, but we don't even know where to start.  Any suggestions about how we begin to look for prospects and build relationships with them?

Answer: It is often said in fundraising circles that your best prospect is the last person who made a gift to your organization. With that being said, to find good major gift prospects, start by looking at four groups:

•    your board
•    your top donors
•    those who make consistent annual gifts
•    those who make multiple gifts within a year

Out of those groups, create a list with a manageable number of prospects. You can always add to it as you go along. Start your major giving program by sending each of them a short handwritten note thanking them again for their support (you can never thank them enough!).  Begin sending this group a short quarterly report that lists your most impressive activities from that quarter and let them know that their support helped make those accomplishments possible. This demonstrates that their support makes a difference for your organization and has an impact on what they care about.

For example Georgia River Network's last quarterly report included:
•    a story about Paddle Georgia 2013 with links to explore the media coverage, the virtual tour, and daily blogs and photos
•    an update on the Water Trails Website
•    information on the Hidden Gem paddle trips
•    a list of legislative and regulatory issues that GRN is following
•    a thank you for the donor’s support

Monitor your gifts, and as members make a gift, immediately send a thank you note. Build the relationship before you ask for an increase in giving or for significant support.

One of the best ways to jump start a major donor program is to find someone who is willing to put up a matching gift that will match new major donors. GRN recently had three matches that included:

•    Many of GRN’s previous $1000 donors agreed to donate $1000 again this year, if their donation is matched by a new $1000 donation. Ask your current major donors if they will help you bring in more major donors.
•    Another anonymous donor put forward a $5,000 challenge to match gifts of $500 or more from donors who have not made a one-time $500 gift to GRN before.
•    Lastly, a family foundation in Athens provided a grant that matched anyone who had made a $1,000 gift in the past but has not yet made a $1,000 donation this year.

Let those on your prospect list know about your matching gift opportunities through a letter and an email (also mention it in your general communication such as newsletters) and follow up with them with emails and phone calls.  

Build your donor relationships as you would with any relationship – with kindness, with concern for their point of view, with regular communication about the impact their support makes, and with a balance of giving and asking .

Good luck!  And if you have any questions, feel free to email Davin Welter, GRN's Director of Development, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





End of paddle GA In 2008, I was a hard-working teacher with few interests outside of my job and my family.  Luckily, I read an article in the AJC about Paddle Georgia, a trip that one participant described as “life changing”.  Little did I know how much that one small article would indeed change my life.  I went to Paddle Georgia 2008 with no paddling experience but with high expectations for a great trip.  By the end of the first day, I felt defeated.  Due to drought conditions, I spent much of the day getting out and dragging a heavy canoe, leaving the river after dark exhausted and discouraged.   I left the river trip the next morning despite it being a week long journey.  Fortunately, my story does not end there.  I realized that the paddlers who were having the most success that day were paddling kayaks, so I traded my heavy canoe for a small kayak and became a paddler.  I went back to Paddle Georgia in 2010 and since then have participated in six Paddle Georgia events, three Fall Floats, and several Hidden Gem paddles.  I have gotten to know the staff and members of the Georgia River Network and have been inspired by their passionate dedication to Georgia’s water resources and to sharing river adventures with its citizens. Through the Georgia River Network organization, I have met many  new friends and found a wonderful  river family.  My first “failed” trip with the Georgia River Network truly did change my life.  That trip was the beginning of  me living a life filled with adventures both on the water and off.  I am now a retired teacher and am having the time of my life hiking, camping, traveling, and paddling.  I am always ready for a new adventure, and I am very grateful to the Georgia River Network for helping set me on this wonderful journey.

- Karen Hill, Georgia River Network member 

 “It is always a pleasure to work with Georgia River Network either as a participant in one of their events or as a collaborator working on a common goal. Everything they do is highly organized and well run by helpful staff and volunteers.  I don’t hesitate to jump into a project or event with GRN because I know they will give 110% and work hard to create a positive outcome. We are so fortunate to have a statewide organization that focuses exclusively on protecting and providing access to Georgia’s Rivers.”

-Gina Rogers, Georgia Water Coalition coordinator and Conservation Issues Coordinator for Georgia Wildlife Federation 

I have been a supporter of the Georgia River Network ever since the first Paddle Georgia over 10 years ago. It was that experience that raised my awareness the Georgia River Network and their activities in working to protect the rivers and streams in our state from misuse and preserve them for generations to come.They are a good crew and I am proud to know them and support them in their work.                                              

  -Doug Mathews, Georgia River Network Supporter and Paddle Georgia Participant 

EPD Logo FINAL transparent2 1I’ve always been impressed by the work Georgia River Network has conducted on behalf of Georgia rivers. Whether it’s organizing the annual conferences or river gatherings, putting together paddling trips, or providing training opportunities for advocates of clean water, you can count on GRN to put on a good event. The work they do to protect, educate and advocate for Georgia waters is incredibly important: connecting like-minded people across the state in an effort to safeguard our aquatic natural resources. And, as much as they’ve provided for organizations across the state – helping raise funds for watershed organizations, helping to get better access to rivers for canoers and kayakers, helping with capacity building in fledgling groups – it is equally important that we support GRN and the services they provide for all Georgia citizens. Thank you Georgia River Network for all you do, we look forward to working with you more in 2017 and beyond!

-Harold Harbert, EPD Outreach Coordinator 

I did my first ever Paddle Ga trip in 2012 on the Altamaha River. It was basically my first time in a kayak and I was immediately hooked. I've made so many great new paddling friends since then through my attendance of different GRN events. The leadership and organization of these trips is beyond exceptional and I've always felt safe and well cared for. There are no greater people than paddling people!!

-Becky Parker, Georgia River Network Supporter and Paddle Georgia Participant 

Many organizations seem to be just on paper.  Georgia River Network is made of real people making real efforts to save our beautiful Georgia rivers by educating young and old about how important rivers are to our daily living.  Yes, it runs on donations and grants, but the most important part of GRN is sharing the experience of river loving by encouraging new and experienced paddlers to actually get on the river and learn how to care of this resource.  By involving others in activities by making them exciting and informational, GRN spreads the news via people that we need to take care of our rivers.  
Exciting, knowledgeable, down-to-earth leaders are the utmost importance of a successful organization that makes a difference in our world and in the future of the world.  Georgia River Network has those leaders.

-Cynthia Cox, Georgia River Supporter and Paddle Georgia Participant 

 "It's our pleasure to support GRN in every way we can. Georgia River Network did SO much for our Board, organization, river, and to get Flint Riverkeeper off the ground. GRN staff has meant so much to us, personally, in the professional development and activities. I can point to dozens of initiatives and victories that would have never happened without GRN and its wonderful staff. Thank y'all for WHO you are and WHAT you do. You are appreciated by many, particularly me."                                                                  
 - Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper

"Georgia River Network provides invaluable assistance on water trail work, especially if your county and city leaders understand the economic impact of increased tourism generated by the water trail (not to mention the health, peace of mind, and sense of community that a good water trail can contribute to).

I've been on the BRWA board most of the last 20 years, 16 of those as its treasurer. (I also must disclose I have been on the GRN Board since March 2010, although none of the specific water trails decisions were Board decisions).  BRWA got a Paddle Georgia grant in 2010 from GRN, which we used to put water trail kiosk maps on some of the access sites of the Broad.  After that, GRN chose the Broad River and BRWA as one of the water trails that got assistance during the year 2013 from Gwyneth Moody at GRN for organizational and start up work on the water trail.  Gwyneth helped with material for our website and for the Memorandums of Support that we got from 4 of the 5 counties in the middle to lower Broad River watershed, where most of the paddling sports occur.  She helped organize and educate the water trail committee through numerous meetings that first year when most of the legwork was developed on making the Broad River a water trail.  With committee input, Gwyneth developed a power point presentation that helped sell the county commissioners and the public on the need for a water trail (and what a water trail is).  She also helped with leads on available grants, which led to a grant from a private foundation that allowed BRWA to acquire property now owned by  Madison County to put in a new public access canoe launch (in progress now).  BRWA was already a non-profit organization, but as an all-volunteer organization with no staff, I doubt we could have gotten the water trail off to such a great start without the initial help from GRN.  I know we wouldn't have done it without GRN's focus on water trails, and GRN's online water trails toolkit and other resources.

If you want to encourage healthy, family friendly outdoor recreation that can also help inform and educate its users about the importance of clean water and clean, healthy streams, you can't beat a water trail.  It also helps bring fishermen, kayak fishermen, and recreational boaters together for a common and worthy cause.  (Plus, when talking with local governments for their support of the water trail, having the expertise of a state wide river advocate like GRN behind us went a long way)."

- Victor Y. Johnson, Broad River Watershed Association

"Georgia River Network is working for the rivers and streams that we all love by funding projects that will lead to tangible improvement of water quality. GRN has become an important partner with the Chattooga Conservancy by heping us Get the Dirt Out of Stekoa Creek, the most polluted tributary to the National Wild and Scenic Chattooga River."                                           

 - Andy Smith, Chattooga Conservancy




"The Satilla River Water Trail wouldn't have happened without the expertise and assistance from Georgia River Network and Gwyneth Moody. The trail idea began as an interest of a local county in connecting to and celebrating the river that flows through their backyard. We saw it as an ideal opportunity to engage this interested public and establish a partnership to create something even bigger and with a positive impact for the community and the river. In 2015, we worked closely and regularly with Gwyneth to begin the process of setting up a water trail partnership and organize a pathway forward to establishing the first Satilla River Water Trail for the region.

GRN's plethora of resources, including templates and toolkits, and their numerous contacts and networks from map making help to legal advice, plus their years of experience in assisting groups with water trails helped us tremendously with the the process. Now we have a strong partnership of over 15 entities with support from the neighboring municipalities and a soon to be official Satilla River Water Trail that includes printed maps, access signage, website, social media and kiosks. GRN and Gwyneth's help was essential to the success of our water trail, and for that we are forever grateful!"SatillaRK Logo

 - Ashby Nix Worley, Satilla Riverkeeper


SRKlogo400x400Each year, through a grant from the Turner Foundation, GRN provides re-grants to Georgia river groups to address the big issues facing their waterways. In 2012, GRN awarded Savannah Riverkeeper funds to address water quality issues in Augusta, GA. One way SRK is doing this is through their Canine Sewage Detection Program.

“The city of Augusta has repaired 5 significant [sewer] problems identified using the sewer K9. One of these was so substantial it required a main road in downtown Augusta to be closed for over a month, and the entire street for 3 blocks being dug up to replace [broken sewer] lines. We are very happy to see such significant amounts of money being allocated to such projects and view this as a sign of success.”

- Tonya Bonitatibus, Riverkeeper/ Executive Director, Savannah Riverkeeper

"In early 2011, South River Watershed Alliance submitted an application to Georgia River Network for a mini grant [to design SRWA's website]. I thought it would be a slam dunk. Convincing GRN's staff that our results were measurable was no easy task. After all, do you really know how many people will visit your website in a month or can you say with any level of certainty that the people who visit are the people you thought would visit? In the end, we successfully made our case and SRWA was awarded the grant which made our website possible. SRWA's website is a vital part of the South River's voice. Without GRN's help SRWA's work to restore and protect this magnificent natural resource would not be where it is today. GRN also helped SRWA get the word out another big way! In September 2012, the two organizations partnered to stage a paddling event dubbed "Unveiling Hidden Gems". In this instance, one of the gems was the South River. The event attracted a group of 75 ethnically diverse river enthusiasts and included both novice and experienced paddlers. Many of the folks participating had never heard of the South River!"

- Jacqueline Echols, South River Watershed Alliance

"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you to Georgia River Network. We could not progress on the coordination of a Yellow River Water Trail without all of your help. A small group of kayakers, paddle boarders and local citizens had our first meeting in August of 2011. Our goal was to organize and volunteer to provide an environmental group that watches and protects the Yellow River. We formed a committee, established board members and were all excited.  Our goals were to clean up, advocate, educate, preserve, monitor water quality and establish a water "trail". Well..... by the end of 2012...we had done a lot of talking but not a lot of progress.  In February of 2013, after a year of spinning our kayaks round and round, Gwyneth Moody excitedly informed us the Georgia River Network was coming to the rescue! She brought her motivating excited little self down to Porterdale, Georgia and lit a fire under quite a few folks. She is training us to form partnerships, providing the tools for submissions to local municipalities to designate access points, breaking it down into smaller responsibilities and delegating. Georgia River Network interns are helping build our website, organizing property owner listings and much, much more. Establishing the Yellow River as a Water Trail is important for so many reasons. We absolutely could not do this without the help of Georgia River Network!" 

- Tonya Bechtler, Yellow River Watershed Association

"On behalf of Off Grid Expeditions, Inc. I would like to take a minute to tell everyone how great Georgia River Network is and how instrumental they have been to our success. April Ingle has surrounded herself by one of the most experienced, knowledgable, dependable, and honorable group of river loving individuals I have ever met. Each member of the staff at GRN has become a close friend of mine and to all of us at Off Grid. At any given time I will drop whatever I'm doing to help and assist the efforts of GRN because they have already done so much for us. Up until a few years ago, no one knew about Off Grid Expeditions. Georgia River Network extended all of their resources with open arms to get us going in the right direction. Since then, we have worked with GRN members on dozens of events and have created an amazing alliance! Georgia River Network leads by example and they "walk the walk" when it comes to getting positive results for Georgia's rivers. I am humbled to be part of such an amazing organization."                                                                                                                                                          

- Jason Dupont, Off Grid Expeditions

"By far the biggest help from Jesslyn [Georgia River Network's Watershed Support Coordinator] was her positive support and brainstorming ideas. She was extremely supportive of me as a person and professional and gave me the confidence to stick with the work...figuring out a lot of tough decisions along the way. She was in-tune with both mine and the organization's needs and understood exactly what I was looking to accomplish. She provided helpful materials that I used in crafting a job description and updated employee handbook. I will use these documents in 2014 and hopefully can continue working with Jesslyn on future improvements to our organization."

- Emily Markesteyn, Ogeechee Riverkeeper



Making Board Term Limits Work for You

Question: I’m on the board of a watershed group that’s probably not much different than other nonprofit boards: a few of my fellow board members do their fair share of organization-related work each week, show up to events, respond to emails, attend every board meeting, etc.  Others don’t.  We’ve been talking as a board about what the responsibilities of board members should be--what a fair distribution of labor within the organization would look like—but it hasn’t changed anyone’s behavior.  How do we work towards having a board where everyone takes their board responsibilities seriously?

Answer: The normal answer to this question probably has something to do with forming committees to make the work more manageable for each person, or giving all the members of the board the training and information they need to achieve what is expected of them, etc.  And under ideal circumstances—with a board full of people who are motivated and full of energy to work for your cause--that’s the answer I would give.

But the truth is, everyone comes onto a nonprofit board with a certain set of personal priorities.  Your lax board member might look perfect on paper: she’s a lawyer who is well connected in the community and knows a lot about website design, which is a skill your organization desperately needs right now.  She might also be a wonderful person who everyone loves (when she shows up). However, she’s also a mother of two with a fulltime job. She might really love what your organization does, and at the time she was asked to serve on the board, she probably thought she could do what was expected of her. But a year into her term, it’s become evident that she just doesn’t have the time or energy to do what’s required of her.

And this is one of the reasons you have board term limits in your by-laws. Not everyone has the time, personality, skill set or even interest in your cause to be a great board member—and it’s nobody’s fault when you bring on somebody who turns out to just be a board member by name and not action.  But board terms are a good way to gracefully transition a non-performing board member into another role in the organization—a funder, an occasional volunteer, a champion.  Whatever she can offer.
The mistake most boards make is holding on to a board member who might not be a great fit—for whatever reason—and hoping they can train them or badger them into doing a better job.  It’s hard to let people go when their term limit is up —even if you haven’t seen them in a year; I realize there’s a bit of comfort in having their name on your website.  Plus, who will take their place? It’s tough to find new people who are willing to do the job, too. 

But an organization is only as good as its leadership, and if a board member isn’t doing the job they signed up for, somebody out there will. It’s just a matter of finding them, sometimes through trial and error, but eventually through knowing the look and attributes of somebody who will be great.  That’s a learned skill, too.

My mom is a horse person, and for a long time she had a herd of about 20 horses that she used as therapy animals for disabled children.  And she was always trading and selling perfectly nice horses—horses I sometimes got attached to.  When I asked her how she could be so heartless as to sell Honey Bun or Pepper—such sweet horses!—she tried to explain that it was nothing personal: they just weren’t great for disabled kids to ride. There was no point in keeping one around that wasn’t doing its job. Period.

And it’s like that with nonprofit boards also: in the end it’s the health of the organization is that matters.  And that health depends so much on the quality of your herd.  So make those term limits work for you and get some fresh horses in your stable.

Good luck!