Auctions, silent, live, and big board, are great ways to raise more money during fundraisers. Great auctions are built on powerful CONNECTIONS between the buyer (your donor) and the seller (your fine organization). As an entertainer, I am constantly looking for ways to build rapport and strengthen the connection between the audiences and the performers—and an auctioneer is a performer.
Here are my top tips to make more money from your auction and for your cause by setting up the auctioneer and your guests for success:
1. Always sell your organization rather than selling a bargain. Your organization does great work to empower people and help our community. Your service is powered by money and caring people. If your donors were solely motivated by bargains they’d eat fast food or rice and beans rather than paying $500 (or more) to attend your gala. Your donors believe in your organization and are attending to provide financial support to you. Remember all of your donors contributions are based on your great work!
2. Always say THANK YOU and appreciate every single bidder that wants to give you money!
3. Don’t publish market value of auction items! You are not a retail store. Auctions are a competition between two or more buyers that want the same item. Showing people that they can buy the auction item for $2,500 at the store means they won’t pay more to buy it from you, even though the money they spend with you goes to your programs!
4. Just because you like selling something doesn’t mean someone else wants to buy it! Everyone loves puppies, but not everyone is willing to make a lifelong commitment to a dog you have picked for them.
5. No one buys an auction item because it is a valuable item—they only buy it if they want it.
6. Invest in a professional auctioneer! A professional auctioneer practices and improves their craft every day. They are personally motivated to maximize the proceeds from your auction! They know how to build rapport with your donors and create competition to drive bids. A professional auctioneer can pay for themselves by generating higher returns on one or two auction items.
Your CEO, board chair, or superstar volunteer might be gregarious and incredibly successful at work, but that doesn’t always mean that person can step into the auctioneer role. Let them contribute by bidding, mingling with donors, sharing their passion for your mission, and encouraging others to bid.
7. More auction items do not automatically mean more money. Too many items overwhelm guests, and similar items dilute the value of each one.
8. Make sure you have good spotters and cues for live auctions. Spotters are a key part of the experience. Give them cowbells, whistles, or something else that makes noise when you get a new bid. This helps the auctioneer and creates excitement.
9. Order of live auction items is key. The first item should not be the most expensive or most difficult item to sell, but a warm-up that will attract plenty of bidding, allow donors to test the waters, and give the auctioneer time to build rapport with the audience.
10. Always ask for money to support your services after the live auction. Some people call these paddles up or service sales. I’ve seen health care providers ask everyone in the audience for $100 to provide mammograms, $500 to help pay the light bill, or $3,000 to provide a single scholarship. This raises money while connecting donors to exactly what you do.
Participation is key on this one. 10 people donating $100 is generally easier than finding one person to donate $1,000, so start with the lower-dollar options that give more people the ability to participate. Of course, if you can find 10 people to donate $1,000 at once, GO FOR IT!!!! Did I mention that these items are 100% margin and are already part of your daily activities?
11. Smile and have FUN!
12. Pre-sell – don’t wait until the night of the gala to let your donors know what you are offering! Send a mass email or just pick up the phone and call a few donors about auction items you think they will want. The longer your donors have to think about winning a particular auction item, the more they will bid competitively to make sure they win.
Have a great auction and thank you for the great work you do improving our community.