The Most Successful Charity Auctions Do These Things...

A few tips to ensure you have great Charity Auction.

  • A great Audio System is not a luxury.  It’s worth every penny you spend on it!  A surround-sound approach is best.  A speaker in each corner of the room will avoid blasting out the people near the stage, plus your guests in the back will be able to hear just as well.  Hotel and banquet hall sound systems are inadequate 99% of the time.  They are NEVER as good as a professional stand alone system.  You need sound where ever you will have bidders int eh building.  If your bidders can’t hear…they won’t bid.

  • A “cool” venue may not always be ideal for a Charity Auction.  Try to envision the room with tables, a stage and 400 people in it before committing to a venue that looks awesome but may not be conducive to an effective auction.

  • Close the silent auction before dinner.  This remains a contentious issue at way too many auctions.  It’s simple - if your auction is run well; the money in a silent auction is made the last 5-10 minutes of bidding.  Close it before dinner and give your volunteers some time to get things recorded and ready for checkout before the end of the night.  ** The advent of Electronic bidding has given us a bit more time, so closing during dinner works very well for many groups.  But please don’t wait until 10pm to close things down.

  • Stop allowing donors to manipulate your auction.  Donors sometimes offer advice on where to place their items in the auction.  They will always want it in the Live Auction.  Allowing politics or friendships to dictate how you run your auction is nothing but trouble.  Your auctioneer will advise you on where donations will perform best.  Trust their judgment.  Never promise a donor where their item will appear.  Don’t be afraid to walk away from a problem donation.  It will only be embarrassing to the donor when the item they think is worth $12,000 sells for $1200 in the live in front of 450 people. 

  • Leave no money on the table.  Ask every guest for an extra $25 before they leave.  It doesn’t matter how we do it,  just ask.   The good number of folks in your crowd are NOT winning anything in the Silent/Live Auctions.  Give them the chance to donate any extra cash in their pocket.  Our job is to ask them for it.

  • Don't put your BEST items at the end of the Live Auction.  When arranging the order of your items, use a ‘bell curve’ approach.  Place your highest demand items just past mid way through the auction.  This way,  those unsuccessful bidders on your those high profile items still have something else to buy later in the auction. 

  • The first few items are Live Auction “pace setters.”  They should be of “average” value with broad appeal to your group.  This gets everyone excited from the start.  Keep everyone involved by not focusing your Live Auction on only “big ticket items”.  A good auction item is anything we can get two people to fight over.   Not just things valued over $5000.  This will help your Live Auction avoid gaining the reputation of being “only for the rich people”.

  •  Take every step possible to keep things moving and stay on schedule.

  • Auction yields seriously decline around 10:00 pm on a Friday/Saturday. (9pm on weeknights)  Start with this fact and work backwards with your event schedule.  Use realistic times when calculating serving times, speeches, any program elements & auction timing.  Will Mr. BIg Shot CEO really keep his speech to 2 minutes?  Respect your guest’s time.    

  • There is no perfect number of items for a Live Auction.  I always recommend you go with your very best auction items for the Live.   If you have 6 GREAT items and 3 more that are so so.  Go with the Solid 6!   Remember, a good item, is a good item, is a good item.  Those fringe items will do just fine in your Silent Auction.  

  • Let me be clear.  Items do not sell for more BECAUSE they were placed in the Live Auction.  Nor do items underperform simply because they are placed in a Silent Auction.  I see great items sell very well in Silent Auctions all the time.  I also see weak items bomb in a Live Auction on occasion.  It doesn't happen often, because I have honest conversations with my clients about the worthiness of any item in contention.  There are few things worse for a non-profit then embarrassing a donor. Have an honest conversation with a donor that may be insisting her item be in the Live.  Explain your reasoning and make the case for why your Silent Auction is a great place for the item.  The embarrassment that comes with a Donor's item bombing in front of 500 people is hard to recover from in any Development Office. 

  • One more thing on Live vs Silent Placement.  Much of the "My item MUST be in the Live Auction" issues we see are directly related to past performance of similar items in very poorly managed Silent Auctions.  For as long as I've been doing this, the number one issue at Benefit Auctions has been ridiculously over crowded and often unorganized Silent Auctions.  Items underperformed beaus bidders could barely find and sort through the really good stuff.  THAT is why things did poorly.  That thing in the Live that sold over value?  It was great items that many people were willing to fight over owning. 

  • Reinvest in your auction.  Streamline.  Computerize.  Organize.  Adjust. Adapt.  Listen to your volunteers.  Track the sales data. Get honest feedback from guests.  Fix problems.  Try new things.  Don't do what the organization downtime street is already doing.

Fair Market vs Donor Value on Donations

When working out the details on your silent auction item, it's imperative that we accept that many donors exaggerate the value of their donation. Just because a donor tells you something is worth $3000.00, does not necessarily make it so. Our job is to recognize that fact, before we start calculating opening bids and bid increments...not to mention fundraising expectations.
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Keep Auction Item Descriptions Simple

Don't know where it started, but somewhere along the way, auction committees started writing really long and detailed descriptions of items being offered in Live/Silent auctions. Most are taking a stab at being creative or cute in an effort to convince folks to bid. Sometimes we get too carried away.
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