Over 1 year ago in the Bay Area, Snoop Dog stood on stage at the ‘Say No To Guns’ charity auction featuring Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Diana Nyad & Silicon Valley VC Ron Conway next to signed posters, shirts and shoes. A group of very excited bidders along with cheerleaders and 49ers alumni watched as the bids came in.

I watched as this drove over $200,000 in donations to Snoop’s Snoop Youth Football League, and helped generate a large amount of exposure for the non-profit.

Snoop Dog with Abra Annes

At every gala or auction I’ve been to since then I noticed a formula of sorts to each program.

If you’ve ever been to a great gala, you probably remember the highlights. The speaker’s message was electrifying, the food was exceptional, and you may have met some very interesting people. That entire experience designed specifically with you in mind.

I started to pay attention to the main aspects at different auctions. Who sat next to me, how long behind the program they went, how much the major players at the event were involved in the program.

What I learned, is that the experience goes far beyond a small staff of logistics people. The entire support system infrastructure was based on one thing, experience. When I ran across a Charity Auctioneer Abra Annes of Generosity Auctions at a large gala at Pixar Studios in Emeryville a while back, I asked her what parts of a great gala were best for branding.

I got 8 great ones here that can help brand’s get the most traction out of being involved in a charity auction.

Abra says,

“You really know when you see a brand that’s on top of their game at an auction. They’ve got their shirts on, they are bartending, they’re part of the auction. Those always stick out in my head.”

Here’s the best strategies she’s seen over the years doing auctions for charities.

1. Experience over 50% more brand exposure with this charity matching tool.

Brands are most effective when they seamlessly mesh with charities that fit their passion and their target customer market. Find a charity that cares about that specific social issue that you do. Meet with the charity leadership outside of the office and let the shared vision be realized by the group.

Often times, the charity will promote your brand for long after the gala and in their digital presence (email and social). I’ve seen charity board members promoting brands in private conversations because both groups share the same vision around specific social issues.

There are a number of great charity list resources out there online with a quick search!

2. Double your brand value immediately with VIP people using this method.

A brand’s most valuable connection are the non-profit board members. These VIPs are almost always industry leaders and may double as advisors or mentors if the vision of the charity and the brand has strong synergy. Every non-profit board is public information and many big business leaders are on boards.

If you want to make a strong connection in a natural way, find out which nonprofit board they sit on and connect with the organizer.

3. Find secret sponsorship discounts that make you look like the main sponsor.

Most fundraising events offer standard sponsorships (name on the website, invite, etc.). This a huge area for creative negotiation. Ask for Tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts or space inside of the program. These will make your brand look like the biggest sponsor.

One brand I saw at a gala was able to add a water bottle and a coupon for everyone as they were leaving. Another great way to brand is to get the list and send everyone a thank you note.

4. Make your brand a part of dozens of real 1 on 1 conversations in 1 night.

Don’t set the bar, be the bar. Ask if your company can be the volunteer bartenders. At these events, everyone tends to congregate around the bar. What if your team was manning the bar in company t-shirts, having real conversations with your target market?

5. The secret ambassador program that charities let pitch their VIPs.

Be an ambassador for the organization (and your brand). There’s always time to chat at events, especially when dinner is being served. This is the time to have your team get up and each take 3-4 tables to personally introduce themselves, and thank each person at the table for coming.

Personalized gratitude for support not only goes a very long way, but it opens all kinds of valuable conversations.

Pro Tip: Find out how you can offer your thanks in the follow up email that goes out to everyone from the charity.

6. Recruit 5 times the brand power with this volunteering hack at galas.

Volunteer the week before the event. This let’s you have personal conversations with the charity’s logistics people. These are the people that make the decisions on media, coordination and possibly some sponsorships.

This is 100% free advertising if you build strong relationships and ask directly. Bring your team to stuff envelopes or set up the venue. Film and photograph it and have it published in your brand’s marketing. The staff will be eternally grateful for the help and you’ll meet a bunch of awesome non-profit people!

7. Have the biggest VIP person in the room have lunch with you and talk branding.

Donate a raffle or a live auction price. Lunch with your founder is always a good one. If the auctioneer knows how to work the VIP audience, one of them will win the bid. You’re founder will get the chance to have a great conversation with a VIP philanthropist and the opportunity for some free branding.

Pro Tip: Make sure the item is very unique (and at least around $2,000 value). A membership for a year, a lunch, an exciting once in a lifetime event.

If these methods are followed and mastered, there are a lot of branding opportunities in the space. If you’ve ever been to a gala, you probably know that there isn’t a lot of competition for branding mastery.