What's Your Auction's Reputation?

Benefit Auctions are not immune to developing a reputation over time. If you have been holding an auction for more than a few years, your event has one too.

This issue is especially prevalent at school auctions.  Most schools strive for diversity among their students. This assures a wide range of socio-economic situations.  The problem arrises when you talk to those who did not attend the auction.  Schools are very unique in the sense that every parent has a vested interest in having the auction be successful.  Yet, I see school auctions every year with <40% parental attendance.  Allowing for those with unavoidable conflicts, we still a few patterns from those who skip these school auctions.

The Live Auction is the biggest culprit. Often times it can will develop a reputation of only offering things worth thousands of dollars. This is exasperated by the Monday morning coffee talk amongst parents. "Did you hear Bill & Nancy bought the Aruba Vacation for $15,000".  or "I hear they sold a Parking Spot at the School for $2000 during the auction."  Nothing wrong with either item, but if that's all anyone is talking about, we have a problem.  It's not a stretch to imagine some parents taking note that this is an auction where they could not afford to buy anything.

According to the Center on Philanthropy, the percentage of givers donating less than $50 to charity in 2000 was the same as the percentage giving more than $5,000.  
This leaves plenty of folks in the middle that we can't afford to alienate.

Talk to those in the non profit sector and they will confirm that most donations are in amounts less then $500. A majority of Americans will go their entire lives and never write a check for more than $5000 to a charity. It's got nothing to do with how much they care about your school.  Only that $5000 is a lot of money to many people.

The best part is it's an easy fix in most cases.  Start by controlling the "spin" of your event.  Make sure word gets out to the masses that there were also some great items that sold for less than $100.  Better yet, STOP LOADING UP YOUR LIVE WITH ONLY HIGH VALUE ITEMS.  When choosing items for a live auction, the key thing to take into consideration is can you get 2 or more people to fight over this item?  
When working in Chicago, I can count on a battle over Cubs tickets in the live auction.  I'm not talking about amazing Private Suite Seats - just 2 tickets to a Cubs game in July.  That they may only sell for $150 makes them far more attractive to me.  

Auctions are about getting people involved in the process.  More people bidding, means more competition, which means the price goes up.

The person who never raises a paddle in the live misses out on, arguably, the best part of your evening.  The fact remains, only one person is going to win each item.  Does it hurt us to let a few others get in on the action for a few minutes?  Of course not, we actually benefit from them playing a valuable part in the process.  

If they are bidding, they are paying attention, not carrying on a distracting conversation and they come away with a positive feeling about your event.