Frequently Asked Questions

Charity Auctioneer vs.Traditional Auctioneer

What is the difference between a 'traditional' auctioneer and Jim Miller?

Traditional auctioneers are generally classified as those who do estate sales, car auctions, cattle sales, antiques, artwork, corporate liquidations, real estate auctions, etc. Jim does not accept work in any of these areas. His clientele is made up entirely of non-profit organizations. Most traditional auction professionals will do a great job selling Aunt Sally's collection of china after she's gone. Your question should be, "Do they know how to effectively sell a kindergarten class project for $3000.00?

Another auctioneer has an entire 'team' at the auction. How much staff does Jim bring?

The simple answer is none.

Jim works solo and has developed a great method for training your volunteers to fill in the key areas of your auction. Clerks, Checkout, cashiers, spotters and table monitors can be trained to get the job done at no additional cost to your organization. If a circumstance warrants additional staff, Jim can, and will, supply some warm bodies. But it happens VERY seldom.

You can hire a "Team" to do your benefit auction, similar to what you might find at an estate sale, but those folks don't work for free. You are paying for every one on that staff. While each of these positions are important, it's just not necessary to have them handled by paid professionals at every benefit auction.

Online Auctions

Online Auctions: Good Idea or Great idea?

They are a great option for many organizations. The number of online auctions being added to existing fundraising planning grows every day. Several key reasons:

  • Additional revenue stream.
  • Takes some of the pressure off selling ALL procurred items in one night.
  • Great way to reach potential donors that are unlikely to actually attend your auction.
  • Creates global exposure for your organization.
  • Often times implemented to "right size" an otherwise bloated Silent Auction.

When used to supplement to an existing live and silent auction it can be a fantastic revenue stream. I like to target an online audience as one being located out of town(grandparents, aunts, uncles, alumni, etc) be sure to offer things that will be appealing, and make sense, to those folks. Selling a $100 gift card in your online auction for a national chain like Starbucks is great. On the other hand, a $100 Gift Card to the Java Hut in Detroit, has limited appeal to Uncle Tom in Pittsburgh.

Also consider the effort it takes to ship certain items.

Should "big items" carry over to the live auction from the online?

Absolutely not.

Feel free to offer a detailed preview of your items that will be featured in the live event, but starting the bidding process in advance, only forces you to start that item where the bidding ended online. In many instances, this puts you in the position of starting a live item at nearly the selling final price.

So much for getting your crowd involved. All the fun is gone.

When Should Our Online Auction "Go Live"?

Some online auction companies will recommend you run your online auction as a primer for your Auction Event. They may recommend you to run your online auction in the 2-4 weeks running up to your big event. I disagree with that approach.

Let me be clear, I like online auctions. They have thier palce in many of my clients fundraising efforts. I expect most organizations will offer online bidding as an effective revenue stream, sooner rather than later.

When your online auction closes, all those items need to be packaged and shipped to the winners. This takes time. Time you likely don't have in the days before your your annual event. Why add stress to an already stress filled day.

Add the fact that I don't see any financial benefit in following that advice and it's an easy decision.

Two approaches I like:

1) Start the online auction the day AFTER your event. Print the web address in your program for the night. Show it on your big screens. Have your auctioneer promote it. Print up and drop a business card in each persons bag at the end of the night directing them to your "Online Auction".

2) Start the online auction any time you want. I have several clients that run online auctions year round. Sometimes they have 50 items for sale, other times maybe only 10. But they place things in the online auction as they are procurred in many cases.

  • This avoids storing it all year.
  • Keep that cash flow throughout the year.
  • Ease the work load of your committee.

The argument that the online auction allows for the promotion of your event is a good one, but most organizations have their own website for promotion and can driving their own traffic to it via newsletters and event reminders.

How About Moving "Online: Items to the Live Auction if they are Doing Well?

This is the practice of placing an item in your online auction, allowing bidders to run up the bid online , then move the item into the live auction for your big event. PLEASE DON'T DO THIS. It takes the fun out of your live event.

This method forces us to start the bidding on those items at nearly the full market value in most cases and tells your live crowd they won't be able to enjoy the process of running the bid up. Most live auction bidders find the process fun and a challenge.

Don't take that away from them.

If you believe an item will find its best audience of potential bidders, and will make more money for a your organization online, then put it online and leave it there.

What about using eBay for our online auction?

It's hard to compare eBay with companies like I generally recommend if this is one time deal and you have fewer than 30 items to sell online, consider eBay or If your organization is looking at a long term online marketplace to bring in revenue for your organization, then consider a company that specializes in working with non profit online auctions. is best of breed. is also nice alternative worth looking at.

Silent Auction FAQs

How many items should we have in the silent auction?

Obviously each event is different, but here are a few things to consider.

Silent Auction Keys:

  • Avoid getting caught up in the circular auction reasoning that tells you "We need to raise $25,000 in the silent, so we need to have 500 items at ~$50 each to hit our goal." That's just not how it works.
  • Too many items assures you will create a "buyer's market" that keeps your yields low.
  • It's about traffic control. Get bidders in, place bids & get out of the way for the next guy.
  • The average guest at your auction will maybe bid on about 5 different items in your silent. That means they are NOT interested in an overwhelming number of items on the tables that night.
  • How many things are asking them to sort through to find those 5 things they love?
  • Silent auctions take time to develop. It's a slow process, don't panic if bidding activity is slow during the first 1/2 of the auction.
  • Bidders traditionally wait until the last few minutes to get serious about their bids. Regardless of when you close your tables.
  • If you are adding a silent auction to Golf Outing or Food Tasting Event, where many folks will be focused on other "things"...You need to really cut back your silent numbers.
  • Assuming you are having a plated dinner, close your silent before you sit down. Period.
  • There is no magic number of "sections" for an auction. But I seldom see a good reason to have more than 4.
  • A good rule of thumb is 4:1 ratio of Guests to Silent Items.

Should we use themed or colored sections for our silent auction?

I'm not a fan of the use of themes, but ultimately we want to have your silent sections stand out in the room. I'll take an easy to find silent table over one with a cute name any time. Each section benefits from being immediately identifiable as a "Closing Section" when it's easy to find. When we announce the "Dads & Grads" section is closing, people start looking for signs that may or may not be visible. It's much easier to say "The Purple Section is closing. That's the the one with giant purple balloons/purple streamers, etc".

That said, the concept of "Theme Sections" is somewhat dated and usually built around a concern that bidders won't find things in the silent auction unless we give them a cute name to find it. I'll admit that the "Something for Mom's Section" is self explanatory, but I'd wager you have too many items in your silent if we need to give them a road map to find items.

I'd much rather see your Silent Auction tables arranged to reflect increasing values as tables close. As we close out sections, the items should be more desirable and sometimes (but not always) more valuable. We want that last table to be something bidders will fight to own. The theory is based on simple supply and demand. As tables close, bidders have fewer items to bid on, supply is less each time we close a section. We will create a situation where we have the same number of bidders now fighting over fewer items. Advantage to the House. That last table of items should be the best of the best. Some folks call it the Super Silent or Almost Live.

Very clearly marked Silent section.

Coordinated table clothes can also work well but keep in mind, w hen 300 people start filling the room, the table clothes may not as visible as you planned.

Matching Balloons AND Tablecloths.

How do we set opening bids in our silent auction?

Silent auction bidders are generally classified as "shoppers". They are looking for a deal. Knowing this ahead of time will save you a great deal of stress and confusion over the bids you receive at your silent auction.

1. Start by establishing the Fair Market Value(FMV) of an item. Note: This is often less then the Donor Value, which is often exaggerated for a variety of reasons. Let's say the FMV is agreed to be $1000

2. Keep in mind that the average Silent Item will ultimately sell for around 60-70% of FMV. If using Electronic Bidding, you will skew somewhat higher.

3. I recommend starting your bids @ 40% of FMV. In this case $400 as a starting point.

4. Bid increments should then move at roughly 10% of the FMV. I'd likely round up to $50 bump on this item. NOTE: If your item is worth $685, just round up/down to keep the math easy for your bidders. Please don't have $68.50 increments. ;)

5. Do the math. If we start at $400, and go in $50 increments, how many bids will we need to get to our expected sales range for $600-$700. In this case, we only need 5 bids to enter that range.

6. Does this seem reasonable? If not, go with larger increments or start the bidding a bit higher.

7. If an item is expected to have plenty of bidders, because it's a super popular item, you can realistically start the bidding anywhere without worry. Do you have Taylor Swift Tickets? You could startat $8.50 and go in $3.17 increments and it will not effect the bidding. Demand will outpace supply by a wide margin.

8. On the other hand, if an item is REALLY unique, super specific buyer be prepared to adjust. Imagine we have a "Basket of the Worlds Finest Knitting Supplies" Valued at $600. We are not likely to have enough interested bidders to get the needed bids for anywhere near FMV. Start your bidding a little higher. The shopper who appreciates Knitting Stuff, will still think they are getting a great deal at 50% of FMV. We just won't have the volume of bidders to drive pricing up. So consider that you will get fewer bids than normal, and we want them to all count.

Tips on combating the Bargain Hunter at your auction:

  • Base your opening bid and increments on an items FMV - NOT the Donor Value (which tend to be inflated).
  • Never lower prices mid auction. Once bidders sense you will do this, they will just wait you out every year.
  • Bargain shoppers need to be enticed at first glance. Make certain your opening bid is realistic based on the FMV.
  • Don't fool yourself into believing, because your organization is really great and everyone in the room loves you, they will throw money at your silent auction. The average yields in a silent auction is 60%-70% of Fair Market Value(FMV) Much of what we see in Silent Auctions is available at a Retail level. No one at your auction NEEDS to buy a toaster over at your auction, so expecting them to overpay for it, is just not logical.

Why is the Bidding in Our Silent Auction So Slow?

Silent auction bidders are generally classified as "shoppers". They are looking for a deal. Knowing this ahead of time will save you a great deal of stress and confusion over the bids you receive at your silent auction.

Don't fool yourself into believing, because your organization is really great and everyone in the room loves you, they will throw money at your silent auction. Average yields in a silent auction is around 70% of Fair Market Value(FMV) That $100 item you got, is likely going to sell for $70. If you are not careful, it could go even lower.

Tips on combating the Bargain Hunter at your auction:

  • Don't let your Silent auction become bloated. It's simple Supply & Demand. A 4:1 Ratio of Attendees to Items is good number. EXAMPLE: 400 guests=100 silent auction items. A saturated marketplace means nobody needs to fight over anything and deals are everywhere.
  • The 4:1 Rule of Thumb does not apply to "outlier" events like golf outings and events where you have more than 750 attendees.
  • Base your opening bid and bidding increments on an items FMV - NOT the Donor Value (which tend to be inflated).
  • Avoid allowing increments of less than $5. If an item won't support a $5 increment, consider packaging it in a basket with other items.
  • Never lower prices once your auction starts. Once bidders know you will do this, they will just wait you out every year.
  • Most silent items will receive 4-8 bids during an auction.
  • Bargain shoppers need to be drawn in at first glance. Make certain your opening bid is realistic based on the FMV. Start between 30-50% of FMV. EXAMPLE: Item with aFMV of $100, might ~$40.
  • Increments will be different for each item. I like to be in the neighborhood of 10% of the FMV. EXAMPLE: That same item with FMV of $100, starting at $40, can move in $10 increments.

Do some commonsense math for any item in your silent auction. Take your your proposed opening bid, the chosen increment and the items FMV. Now take the expected number of bids on an item and see if it seems reasonable to expect it to work out.

EXAMPLE: FMV of the Item is $500. Opening bid is $200. Expect maybe 8 increases of $50 each you are at $600. It's not the norm to exceed FMV in the Silent, so maybe you lower your increments to $25 so people can get into the bidding.

Should We Use a "Buy It Now" Option on Silent Auction Bid Sheets?

"Buy It Now" - "Instant Purchase" - "Get It Now" - Guaranteed Bid"

First, it's a relatively small number of people who actually exercise this option. Most feel "only a fool pays full price" when it comes to a silent auction. Remember, silent auctions attract "shoppers" who want a deal. That said, it doesn't hurt to offer it and costs you nothing if it ever gets exercised.

If you do go this route, treat the "Buy It Now" option like a privilege extended to the bidder. If a bidder doesn't want to be bothered with checking their bid all night...Here's the solution. They can, for a premium, buy their way out of the process.

Remember: You're the one taking the risk. Without the Buy It Now, an item could sell for much more in the course of normal bidding.

NOTE: Some items have a FMV well above what the donor may have told you. Especially sports tickets - many sports fans are accustomed to paying above market value for a good game. Most anyone in Green Bay will happily pay you 3 times the $79 face value for 50 yard line seats @Lambeau Field. Using a 135% Buy It Now formula on that will cost you a bundle.

Same rule applies for this seasons"hottest holiday toy" i.e.; "2002 Tickle Me Elmo", "2006 Xbox" or "The 2007 Wii". All were selling for 3-6 items FMV in the months leading up to Christmas.

Whatever percentage you decide on, just use common sense on those special items and toss the formula out the window.

TIP: The Buy It Now price on those Green Bay tickets...I'd say $1400.

What information do we need on our Bid sheets?

Some guidelines for your Silent auction Bid Sheets:

  • Provide a clear and brief description of each item. (Consider bullet points)
  • Each sheet should be printed on a computer using a sans serif font. (Helvetica, Arial, Veranda, etc.)
  • Include the Item Number for each item in your silent auction.
  • Print the Bid Increment for each item in BOLD TEXT.
  • If using EMS(Event Management Software) pre-print your increments.
  • A blue or black pen sitting next to each Bid Sheet

Some things you DO NOT need on your Bid Sheet:

  • Bidder's name
  • Bidder's phone number
  • Donors name (generally provided on the accompanying Item Description Sheet)

How do we set up Silent auction tables?

Here are some good ideas to get you thinking.

Using Celebrity, Media Personalities as Auctioneer

Why hire a professional auctioneer? Our guy does it for FREE.

Just because they don't send you a bill, doesn't mean it is not costing you money. A bad auctioneer will cost you considerably more in lost revenues than a professionals fee.

Your auction is very likely a major part of your annual fundraising goal. Whether the auction goal is $10,000 or $10,000,000 you can't afford to get it wrong. The saying is true, "You get what you pay for." Gambling on the performance, advice and overall effectiveness of someone who dabbles in auctions is risky to say the least.

Just because someone is a "really charismatic person", "super funny" or "knows everyone in the room" does not make them an effective auctioneer. Fortunately, there are some very good benefit auctioneers who work with non profits everyday and understand your specific need needs. They will be able to help develop an event that your guests and donors look forward to every year.

It's always going to sound self serving coming from the guy who does this for a living, but I get a call a week from someone who tried the "free guy" last year and is ready for a change.

What do you think about using local TV celebrities and Radio DJ's as auctioneer?

It's the old "Would you hire a lawyer to fix your plumbing problem?" issue. Jim actually worked in radio, so clearly there are exceptions to this adage. Most broadcast professionals will be happy to help with your auction. They generally do it out of professional courtesy and a genuine desire to help a given organization or community. They will also tell you, many times, that you are better off hiring someone that really knows what they are doing. A celebrity can be a great part of an event (maybe an emcee). Depending on their stature, they may even be an event draw and sell a few tickets. Just don't confuse their talent for reading the 6 o'clock news with the ability to get top dollar for your live auction items.

If you MUST use a non-professional for your auction....

As a true believer that 'a rising tide lifts all boats' I really do want every auction to go well. Bad auctions do nothing to help the non-profit industry. So if you really cannot employ a professional to handle your auction and you feel you are within the local laws pertaining to the use of a non-licensed individual, here are a few things that will help your volunteer get through the evening.

1. Keep it small. A bad auctioneer is like a fish out of water. He's fine for a few minutes, but things will go bad pretty quick if we dont' take action in due time. If your volunteer is not trained and has little experience, your guests will know this pretty quickly. Don't make guests(and the volunteer) suffer by extending the pain with a lengthy auction. A professional might fine with 10 items, but a well meaning volunteer will be much better off with considerably fewer items.

2. Provide Item Details ASAP. Again, professionals are somewhat used to the fact that things very often happen very last minute in the auction world. Do everything in your power to lock down the items for your live auction as early as possible and avoid last minute changes. Much of the issue with using non-professionals is everything is new ot them. Providing the details of each item to your volunteer well in advance gives him/her the chance to get comfortable with the items and do some research. They can then focus on other aspects of their big night.

3. Avoid Complicated Selling Scenarios. Consignment items, minimum bids, multiple offers for single items, Dutch Auctions can all be daunting if you've never handled them before. Avoid whenever possible.

4. Great Support Staff. If you are using a volunteer, make sure that your Clerk, Spotters and others involved in the Live Auction have some experience under their belts. Having one rookie on the team is much easier when they are surrounded by old pros.

5. Remember they are not a Professional. You've made the decision to use a non-professional for your fundraiser. Your expectations should be appropriate. Communicate to your volunteer that they should not try to 'become an auctioneer' overnight. Don't worry about the 'fast talking thing'. Just pace yourself and let the room carry you along through the bidding.

6. Live items should all be Awesome. Selling Chicago Blackhawk's tickets a year after they win the Stanley Cup is not all that hard. Simply hold them up and hands will start flying in the air. Selling Chicago Cubs tickets in August when they are 21 games out of 1st place, is tough. Stick with the best items and everything will go much smoother.

7. Picking the Right Person. It's notabout 'knowing everyone in the room'. On the contrary, that can be a dangerous crutch that can lead to all kinds of issues. Look for someone who is comfortable on stage with microphone. I'll take an Improv or local theater alum over a CEO any day of the week.

There is a reason professionals get paid to do this. It allows for some assurances that things won't go sideways during your auction and you will get top dollar for your items on any given night. A well meaning volunteer can certainly get you through a tough situation, but keep your expectations in check.

What About Consignment Items?

Should we Purchase Consignment Items for our Auction?

Often referred to as "enhancement" or "no risk" programs, I seldom see consignment programs that benefit my client as much as they benefit the company acting as consignor.

While they look attractive and generally carry little or no risk if an item fails to sell, consider a few things.

  • On a item that sells for $150.00, if the first $100.00 is going to a consignment shop, who gets the best end of the deal?
  • With a $3500.00 vacation consignment package that sells for $3800.00 in your live, that bidder's $3800 is now gone from the room, yet only $300 goes to your organization.
  • If you research these items' Fair Market Value, more often than not, the "consignment price" is very close to the FMV of an item.
  • A current "Listed" or "Offered" prices on eBay should not be considered an accurate indication of any items value.What, if ever, does it actually sell for?
  • Consignors are in this to make money. Very often, the "recommended" opening bids are higher than many buyers will be willing to pay at auction.
  • There are serious considerations to evaluate about the authenticity of many "memorabilia" items in the collectors market. The FBI will tell you the overwhelming majority of Sports items offered on the Internet are counterfeit.At the very least, deal locally and insist on Certificates of Authenticity an everything.
  • Most d onors at your event, believe they are purchasing an item to ultimately benefit your organization. It is the obligation of your organization to make it clear to a buyer, where his money is going.

There is no difference in my advice when considering consignment items items for live, silent or online.

Live Auction FAQs

How many items should we have in our live Auction?

While there is no perfect number, I've seldom seen a live auction that benefited from having more than 12 items in it. A great auction item is a great auction item. Most times, it will do just as well in the silent. Trust the room.

Keep in mind, most of you are also presenting a great silent auction as well. Don't be afraid to put your "excess" items on a silent table. More times than not, it will do jsut as well.

It's a common misconception that silent auctions are not effective for raising the big dollars. Don't get me wrong, I understand there's an earned reputation of under performing silent auctions. Frequented by "deal seekers" and "Bargain hunters". But that's only part of the equation.

Put a few "almost live" items in your silent and watch your guests fight over, and run the price up on your great silent auction items. One of the key issues with groups that are afraid to put something in the silent is they seem to feel that bidders won't find the item. If this is the case, maybe you should take a look at how many items you have in your silent auction. ;)

More items does not guarantee more money for your auction. Never has, never will. All more items will do is make it harder for bidders to find the few items they are interested in.

Should we be using a PowerPoint/Keynote with a projector?

Yes. Anything that get our message to the bidders. It's a great piece of technology for promoting Live Auction Items before and during the Live Auction. A big shiny screen on the wall tends to grab peoples attention. It can be a great way to pass on information about your schedule, upcoming auction items and to promote raffles and games. Maybe best of all, it's a great way to show off some sponsors logos and thank your volunteers and donors in a big way.

As the price comes down, we see a growing number of big screen TV's spread throughout the room. These are great.

What types of items should be avoided in our Live Auction?

Avoid Artwork*, clothing, furs, furniture, orthodontia, fancy rugs or high end appliances. All are very personal items and difficult to sell. Most are also straight forward retail items that people are not likely to overpay for as they have clear idea of the value. Remember, the auction ideal item is something that 100% of the bidders would want to own. Clearly, that's tough to find. So we settle for an item that has the widest possible appeal and is most likely to get people fighting over it in a live auction setting.

Way to often I see "A Complete Orthodontic Package - valued at $6000" and the committee will Often want this item in the Live Auction. I agree, at a school auction, there are plenty of families who will need this item. But,do we really see people fighting over orthodontics? Parents knows what This stuff will cost and every orthodontist offers multi-year financing. At an auction, the winner will need to write a check that night.

I see two primary reasons why these get shoe-horned into live auctions. First, the misconception that "Because it's valued at $6000 it MUST GO LIVE. That's just bad auction policy. Second, these doctors tend to be really good people who already know everybody in the room, so it's a feeling of obligation to include them in the highest profile part of your event. I've pretty much given up arguing this point. It's just Good way to way to manage your fundraising efforts.

* Unless done by small children or freakishly trained animals.

In What Order Should We Place our Live Items?

It's a huge mistake to place your "high value" items at the end of your auction.

When laying out the order of your items, use a bell curve approach. Place your top items in the middle third of your live auction. This allows unsuccessful bidders on your high value items a chance at the other goodies later in the auction.

Start with an affordable, easy to sell item, peak in the middle with big stuff and then finish strong.

How Do You Handle Pushy or Demanding Donors?

Very carefully. Ultimately, this is YOUR auction and we need to avoid allowing donors make demands that might put you in a situation of going against long established best practices. Auctions and politics seem to go hand in hand many times, and can be tough to avoid. I find that if we educate the donors to understand why we make these recommendations, we can often diffuse a situation.

Far and away the most common situation is a donor who insists their items be included in the Live auction. Keep this in mind, when I recommend an item NOT be in the live auction, the most common reason is I'm concerned the donor may be embarrassed when it doesn't sell at the level they believe. Donors often think if we just make it very clear to potential buyers "what this item is worth", they will immediately increase the bid. It does not, nor has it ever, worked like that.

Where should we place our Fund A Need, Paddle Raise?

I like to see the Fund-A-Need tucked into the final third of the live auction. If your live auction has fewer than 5 items, we sometimes just place it at the end.

Alternate names for this element:

Bids for Kids
Hands for Hearts
Dollars for Scholars
Stop the Auction
Paddle Raise
The Big Ask

* The advent of electronic bidding has allowed for this element to be placed nearly anywhere as the results are added in real-time and not something we need to consider as much given guests desire to sometimes leave soon after the auction. Discuss the best situation with your auctioneer.

Using Electronic Bidding Devices

Transitioning to Electronic Bidding Devices

Using electronic bidding devices is easily the biggest advance in Charity Auctions in the last decade. The simple answer is "yes" you will make more money if you utilize them for your auction. Most companies will tell you, and I agree, that you will gain 20-30% in yield, regardless of which company you choose. Simply having a computer manage bids in those last 3 minutes of your Silent Auction is enough to ensure immediate benefits.

The cost is an issue for some groups, and rightfully so. Talk to the available vendors out there and go with one that meets your specific needs. Smart phones, tablets and combination of both are all available. The companies I list are all great, but every client has unique needs. I welcome the opportunity to help clients find the right fit.

I've had a select few clients, who after giving electronic bidding a chance, had concerns over the Zombie Bidder Syndrome...Where bidders just stare at their phones and forgo the normal social interaction that comes along with most events. It's the same conversation that is taking place in many homes regarding dinner table etiquette.

Technology is great and I honestly don't know of any Auction Committees that tried Electronic Bidding and then went back to paper and pencil. But it's important to note that not everybody needs to go all Techie at the auction. electric. Plenty of non-profit organizations have very successful silent auctions rolling old school paper and pens.

Miscellaneous Charity Auction Questions

Will Jim help our committee with auction planning, in advance of the actual event?

Absolutely. Jim feels it is in everyone's best interest to make sure the boat is on the right course as early as possible when planning something this important. If there is something an auction has been doing for years, but never realized its detriment to the event, Jim is going to tackle that issue months in advance to avoid any last minute problems. Without advance consultation we leave too much to chance. Jim is available for client consultation on an unlimited basis. In person, by phone, email or fax, Jim will make sure you have the answers you need to best suit your fundraising needs.

Is there a "best" time of year to hold a charity auction?

I am part of succesful acutions every month of the year. Listen to your crowd. Schools need to work around vacation schedules and breaks on school calander. Some organizations avoid the holidays, when "the money" tends to head for warmer climates. Which is why many of the largest benefit auctions in Florida, California and Arizona are held in January, February and March.

Generally Jim books his auctions 8-12 months in advance. That's not to say you can't book him on 2 days notice. It has happened! The bottom line: If you are having a charity auction, get your auctioneer locked down before most anything else you need that night.

Our auction has hit a plateau. Now what? Can we fix it?

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."- Ben Franklin

If your auction has hit a plateau, maybe something is wrong. It may be a major thing or something that just needs a little tweaking, but who's qualified to determine the best course of action?

You can approach this issue several ways.

1.Let your well meaning committee or Board of Directors tell you what they think the auction needs.
2.Copy what the guy down the street is doing at their auction and hope he's getting it right.
3.Just keep guessing and keep your fingers crossed.

Another option is to consider the opinion of a professional consultant who sees the same problems at charity auctions every day. He will see the signs of potential problems and help you avoid them, before it's too late. Even better, a pro will be able to share the success stories from established, time tested auctions and tailor the approach to fit your particular organization. We can all learn from other people's mistakes.

Got any good auction pictures?

Can I Attend One of Your Auctions?

Sure. Just drop me a line and I'll forward some contact information for upcoming events. Sometimes a committee may let you duck in the back of the room to see how things run. Other times you may need to buy a ticket.

Importance of Auction AV & Sound Systems

What are the minimum sound requirements for an auction?

A goodaudio system is NOT a luxury!

A surround-sound approach is best. A speaker in each corner of the room will not overwhelm the nice people near your stage. As an added bonus, people in the back will be able to hear as well. Speaker stands should be raised high enough so sound will not be blasting someone's ear all night. Hotel and banquet hall sound systems areneveras good as the representatives promise. A professional, third party, sound system is worth every dollar. If your donors cannot hear · they will not bid.

What About Sound effects or Music Between Live Auction Items?

It's often distracting, seldom done well and sounds terrible when not done properly. An effective auctioneer will be all the entertainment you need.

This also goes for Sound effects that may be considered for your Live Auction Power Point/Keynote Presentation slides.

K.I.S.S. - Bidders need details on what we are asking them to buy. They don't spend extra money because we had some corny special effects in our Slide Presentation.

What Type of Microphone Do You Prefer?

I prefer to use a hand-held wireless microphone. Not a lavaliere or cattleman's mic. With enough cord, a wired mic is fine as well in some situations. that said, every auctioneer has his/her own preference.

Acceptable microphones are available from the following companies:


  • RadioShack
  • Samson
  • Nady

Will our DJ's Equipment be enough for the Auction?


Most DJ's and bands configure their sound systems to adequately cover a dance floor. Which means if you crank up the volume so the guests in the back of the room can hear, you are blowing out the nice folks in the front seats. Turn it down--and nobody in the back of the room can hear.

Talk to your DJ and see if he/she can borrow or rent a few extra speakers to better cover the room. It's their business, they know people with lots of AV stuff. Just communicate your needs and give them a chance to help you. They will most likely be able to help you out.

Good Audio is not a luxury. Don't skimp on it. Get the proper equipment you need to communicate with every person in the room the night of your event.

The "house" sound at the club, banquet hall is never adequate for your live auction. Ask the Venue manager if they would feel good about letting a professional singer use the system?

Auction Scheduling and Timing

How do we stay on schedule at our auction?

You are right to be concerned about running late.  It's a top complaint among auction attendees.  Respect their time and get them out of there at a reasonable hour.  Remember, auction yields begin to decline after 10:00 pm.  Run long at your own risk!

Have your auction over and done by 10pm.(Earlier for weeknight events) Here's some Tips to Stay on Schedule:

  • Bundle announcements just before/after dinner.
  • Videos should be no longer tahn 5 minutes.
  • All speakers should be scripted and kept to less than 3 minutes.
  • Honories either get an award, or can give a speech - not both.
  • Keep caterers on schedule.  
  • Avoid "donor pressured" or "politically influanced" items in your live. 

    I understand the desire/need to thank everyone in the room. But remember, this night is about making money.  If your organization has done its job, the guests want to support you. Respect your supporter's time and get them home at a reasonable time and they will leave with a positive feeling about your event. 
  • Catalogues

    If we only do one thing while producing our catalogue...

    First, it's worth noting that the need for even printing a catalogue is up for serious debate.  Admit it, very few people actually read them.  They are expensive to print.  Did I mention nobody is reading them anymore?!?!   And advertisers are increasing less interested in seeing their business names in print.  they prefer an online link that can drive traffic to their business.

    If you do print one...avoid using script or silly, fun fonts! 

    You never see Newsweek or The Sunday Paper printed in Comic Sans or Script for a reason - it's difficult to read at any length.  We are not printing a fun, one page flyer for the Bowl-A-Thon. 

    Sans Serif fonts work best (Helvetica, Arial, Veranda, etc) but a Times Roman or Garamond is not a horrible option.

    Fair Market Value of Auction Items

    What are the IRS Guidelines for establishing Fair Market Value on Charity Auction items?

    The IRS has a page on this very subject.  Follow the link for FULL details.

    "Donors who purchase items at a charity auction may claim a charitable contribution deduction for the excess of the purchase price paid for an item over its fair market value.  The donor must be able to show, however, that he or she knew that the value of the item was less than the amount paid.  For example, a charity may publish a catalog, given to each person who attends an auction, providing a good faith estimate of items that will be available for bidding.  Assuming the donor has no reason to doubt the accuracy of the published estimate, if he or she pays more than the published value, the difference between the amount paid and the published value may constitute a charitable contribution deduction."

    Revenue Ideas: Raffles, Drawings & Games

    First Choice Raffles

    This one is easy, but not necessarily for every auction. It is a slight variation of the popular "54 Card Drawing", but can also be handled like any standard raffle the night of your charity auction.

    In a sell your guests “the opportunity to claim/take/remove any item from the live auction before we begin."  

    You pick the number of tickets to sell and the price at which they are offered.

    Sell 100 chances @ $100 each for $10,000!

    Sell 50 Chances at $50 for $2500!

    Every room has a different level of comfort for buying tickets at a given price.

    Draw the winner immediately prior to the start of your Live Auction and the winner takes ANY item they want from the live. 

    Normally, its pretty easy to estimate, in advance, what they will choose. This  enables us to guesstimate the value of your prize and set your ticket prices appropriately. Make certain you don't have something in the live that could, under normal circumstances, fetch more than your expected gross ticket sales.  


    Selling 100 First Choice Tickets at $25 each is not going to work if you have a 14 Day Hawaiian Vacation, valued at $7500.00 in your live.  In most live auctions, that item is going to be what the winner will.  Bad news is you potentially lose $5000.00 on the deal.

    Adjust ticket prices to make sure the math is in line.

    NOTE: I’ve seen groups try to exclude one or more items from the “first choice” because it was considered to be “exceptional”.  I strongly disagree with this practice.   It's confusing to buyers, and generally sounds cheezy.  We might as well announce,  "take anything you want from the live...except the things we know you really would like".  It's all or nothing. 

    Should we play Heads or Tails?

    Sure.  Here's the scoop on how to do it the right way.

    Quite simply The Easiest Money Making  Game on Earth.
 It only gets screwed up when we try to make it more complicated.

    The premise is simple.  

    1. Choose a prize that you are confident your guests will be willing to pay a few bucks to win.  Prize should be valued at less then $750 in most cases.  The “Buy In” price should be based on crowd size, the prize and financial situation of your crowd.  $20-$25 is, by far, the most popular level.  This is a game for the masses, don’t overprice it.  We want as close to 100% participation as possible.

    2. Have a well chosen, small group of sellers get people to sign up.  We want as many people in the room as possible to play.  Don’t focus on the rules and how to play the game. the pitch is simple: “Give us $20 and you can win 4 Cubs Tickets”. Anyone can play, no skill involved.

    3. Have your auctioneer run the game just before the start of the live auction.  (A good trick to get everyones attention for the Live)

    4.  Game is played by a series of coin flips. Everyone who bought a chance to play stands up.  Each time the coin is flipped, players must guess if it will be “Heads or Tails”.  They publicly indicate their guess by placing their hands on their “head” or “tail”.  

5. Each flip eliminates those who guessed wrong.  They immediately sit down.  Last one standing wins.


    * You must limit it to one chance per person.  Allowing multiple chances will enable someone to “buy” the contest.
* Prize MUST have overwhelming appeal to your guests.
    * “Tag” your players once they Buy In.  A flashing lapel pin, Mardi-gras beads, a sticker on their forehead; anything to create a buzz in the room.
    * Play this game ONE time per event.
    * Don’t price out your crowd by making it too expensive.
* There is no second prize!
    * Can be fun to bring the “final few” on stage for the last few flips.
    * Avoid offering discounts. i.e: “3/$50” type of thing.
    * Net profit = number of tickets sold @ $20 - “Prize Value”.  Do the math!
    * Great Prizes: Small Flat screen TV, iPad/iPhone, Giant Wine Basket, Local vacation getaway, Concert/Sports Tickets

    Auction Pictures & Videos!

    Auction Pictures! Auction Pictures! Auction Pictures!

    I've included an evolving collection of auction photos to help you with some new ideas for your event.

    Photos are here.

    Do you have any examples of great impact videos that have been used by other clients?

    Here are some great examples: