What everybody ought to know……

About The Fundraising Auction & Consulting Business

Some plain talk about a simple business that often sounds complicated.


A little while ago we were talking with the Executive Director of a big nonprofit organization, a well-informed woman.  She said that she had never done business with a professional fundraising auctioneer and consultant because she was afraid she wouldn’t see the return from hiring a professional vs. using a volunteer.

Since we are professional fundraising auctioneers and consultants you can imagine that was something of a shock… made us think.

The fundraising auction business does use a lot of specialized techniques, but there really isn’t anything complicated or mysterious about what those techniques accomplish for your nonprofit or school.  Because we’ve used them so long and so frequently, we’ve just assumed that everybody understood them.

That has been our mistake.  And a big mistake.  For if nonprofits and schools don’t understand what professional fundraising auctioneers and consultants do, they aren’t likely to invest their money in them.

“So what?” you ask.  Well, here’s “what”.

If nonprofits and schools don’t invest their funds in professional fundraising auctioneers and consultants, they won’t have the capital they need for growth which ultimately affects the people they help.  That capital can come from primarily from one place; People at your fundraising auction event.  Not just a few people with great fortunes, but from many people who have the means to support your cause.

Or look at it from a different point of view.  Nonprofits or schools who don’t understand the value of a professional fundraising auctioneer and consultant are easy prey for a wide variety of mistakes often made at benefit auction events that ultimately result in mediocre returns.

Or look at it from the purely personal points of view.  A lot of nonprofits and schools might like to invest in a professional fundraising auctioneer and consultant where they could increase their fundraising event revenue.  But if they are unfamiliar with the techniques and value provided by a professional, they aren’t likely to invest their money in them.

For all these reasons, it is important that nonprofits and schools know as much as they can about the fundraising auction event business.

But where do you start?

Well, it would seem that a good place to start would be with the “techniques” used by professional fundraising auctioneers and consultants that our friend, the Executive Director, was concerned about.  And we might as well go back to the most common techniques in the business.  You may find a lot of this explanation pretty elementary, but the next person may not be completely clear about the exact differences between the various techniques.  So we’ll start right there, in the belief that you’ll be kind enough to skip what you already know.


What Are Fundraising Auction Events?

Fundraising auctions are the single most important revenue generator and donor retention tool that your nonprofit organization or school can utlize.  They use a variety of techniques to raise funds for your cause and spread your message.  Techniques include: silent auction, live auction, fund-a-need, revenue enhancers, auction hero, table sales, ticket sales, marketing and much more.  Fundraising auction events allow you to raise a large amount of funds needed for your cause and spread your message to the current and future donors in attendance.

Why Should You Invest In A Professional Fundraising Auctioneer?

Professional fundraising auctioneers engage your audience, read the audience, adjust increments on the fly, keep the pace of the auction moving, can control large crowds, won’t get boring, and can double or more what a volunteer auctioneer will get.  Simply put they know how to interact with the audience and drive the prices of your items to their full potential.  It is a proven fact that experienced auctioneers can easily attain 15%-50% higher for your items.  Fundraising auctioneers have a passion for their profession and understand that their performance reflects the quality of their public perception.  Having a volunteer call your auction is like having an accountant work on your car.   They understand that the two main goals of any event are to raise money and awareness.  Auctioneers make giving money fun, emotional and competitive!  Keeping the audience entertained and having fun is the key element to a successful auction event and that is exactly what a professional fundraising auctioneer will do.  According to a National Auctioneers Association survey, FUN is the number one reason why people attend auctions.  Good auctioneers are always training and educating themselves about the latest trends in the business and some of the best auctioneers are designated BAS (Benefit Auctioneer Specialist).

What is a Professional Ringman?

Professional Ringman is an auction term used to describe a person or persons who work the auction floor before, during and after the auction and are primarily used during the Live Auction.  They work directly with the Auctioneer, your staff and your guests.  You may know them as “Bid Spotters”.  They have received in-depth training on all aspects of the auction process, are experienced in bid spotting and making guests feel comfortable to make just one more bid to support your cause. Simply put, Ringmen can help you take your event to the next level and can easily add an additional 10 -15% to your Live Auction revenue.  Ringmen become an extra set of eyes and ears for the auctioneer during the live auction process.  Their communication link with the Auctioneer is solid and trusted.  They are the auctioneer’s “Right Hand”.  Ringmen bring an energy to the room that promotes excitement and fun; this increases the number of bids and ensures everyone is having a great time at your event.

What is the Benefit Auctioneer Specialist (BAS) designation?

BAS is a two-part educational program which trains auction professionals to enhance their services to clients.  Coursework focuses on the fundraising components of the benefit auction event, item acquisition, audience development, additional revenue items, contractual agreements, and public relations.  The BAS program is offered through the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) Education Institute and is taught by nationally recognized Auctioneers and professionals who serve the benefit auction industry.  Earning the BAS designation requires not only completion of the coursework, but also testing, submission of specialized reports and various experiential projects.  BAS auctioneers are among the less than one percent of Auctioneers throughout North America with specialized training in benefit auctions.  To maintain this designation, each auctioneer and fundraising consultant holding a BAS designation must complete 24 additional hours of continuing education courses every three years.

Why Should You Invest In A Professional Fundraising Consultant?

A fundraising consultant is completely different from an auctioneer.  Fundraising consultants provide support throughout the year leading up to your event.  They also: design a winning fund-a-need, answer any questions surrounding your fundraising efforts, provide professionally trained bid assistants, organize a timeline to maximize your event revenue, put your auction items in their most effective order, provide training on donor development and procurement, set up your venue to maximize returns, give advice on auction event marketing techniques, share several revenue enhancers to increase your event’s bottom line, teach you how to run the most successful silent auction, show you which items you should be obtaining for your audience, give advice on how to effectively check-in and checkout attendees, oversee committee consultations, provide volunteer training, have access to exclusive auction items, and hold an event follow-up meeting.

Are Professional Fundraising Auctioneers the Same as Any Type of Auctioneer (i.e. Cars, Live Stock, Art, Etc.)?

Cattle auctioneers and many auto auctioneers have quick chants with minimal filler because their job requires them to sell several items as quickly as possible to “professional” bidders that understand a super fast chant.  The vast majority of fundraising auction attendees have never been to an auction before and will have no idea what a “fast-chanting” auctioneer is saying.  What happens when a bidder doesn’t understand the auctioneer?  THEY DON’T BID!!  What happens when they don’t bid?  YOUR CHARITY RAISES FAR LESS MONEY!!  You have to ask yourself if it’s worth a “free” auctioneer when he or she is raising you significantly less proceeds for your non profit or school. 

Is Marketing Your Benefit Event Important?

Marketing your fundraising event is critical to its success.  You have to make sure that potential attendees know that you are having a fundraiser/benefit/auction so they come prepared to donate.  Get out there and use your social media, your local television and radio stations, email, mailers, etc.  You need to create buzz about your event and your auction items.  Every time you receive a new front lining live auction item you should be promoting it to your attendees so that they come prepared to spend the big dollars.

What Are Silent Auctions?

Silent auctions differ from a live auction conducted by an auctioneer.  Usually, a silent auction is conducted by setting up tables or displays of items or services upon which people can bid.  There is a starting bid and preset increments that the bidders must follow.  Generally a paper bid sheet is located near the item, which allows for people to write down their bidder numbers next to the increment they wish to bid on.  This gives people a chance, during the event, to tour the different items available for auction and decide upon which items they would like to bid on.  Often one sheet of paper (bid sheet) shows all previous bids so that people participating in the silent auction know that they need to bid higher in order to get the item.  They also have the opportunity to revisit bidding sheets several times before the auction is closed if they really want something being offered.

What Are Live Auctions?

A live auction is a method of selling items where bidders attend your fundraising event and compete in a fun and friendly competition lead by an auctioneer.  The items are described and an auctioneer solicits bids from the room using a bid calling chant for each item.  The highest bidder wins the auction.   Live auctions can be used to sell a wide variety of goods.  The live auction is generally where your higher valued, most popular items are sold and usually brings in far more revenue than a silent auction.

What Is A Fund-A-Need?

If you are not using a fund-a-need you are missing the boat and leaving thousands of dollars on the table!  The fund-a-need, paddle raiser, cash ask, etc. is the single most important part of your event when it comes to raising an incredible amount of money for the cause.  The fund-a-need has to be positioned properly during the event.  Depending on your style of event the fund-a-need can be placed prior to the live auction, in the middle of the live auction or after the live auction.  Your fundraising consultant will be able to place your fund-a-need in the most profitable place at your event after asking just a few questions.  This advice alone will make you thousands of extra dollars that you otherwise wouldn’t capture!  How you set up your fund-a-need is also extremely critical to the success of the evening.  Do not simply put all the emphasis on your live auction and forget about how important funding that specific need can be.

What Are Online Auctions?

Online auctions take place on a website which allows bidders to bid against each other from a computer or mobile device connected to the internet.  Proxy bids can be set which allow the computer to place bids for the bidder up to a specified amount.  If a bidder is outbid then they are generally notified by email.  Webcast auctions are also another form of online auctions which allow bidders that cannot attend the live auction event to bid against the live bidders in real time via a simulcast audio/video feed online.  In fundraising, online auctions are held prior to the live event replacing the need for a silent auction at the event, or they are done following the live event to sell any unsold items.  There are many online auction companies, however Ebay is the most commonly known.

What Are Revenue Enhancers?

Revenue enhancers are extra money making activities (not including auctions or fund-a-need) that can be done throughout your event to boost your bottom line.  There are several revenue enhancers available and they can be done at different times throughout your event (i.e. during the silent auction/cocktail hour, prior to the live auction, in the middle of the live auction, or following the fund-a-need).  Many organizations are even replacing their silent auctions with revenue enhancers.

Is Your Event Timeline Important?

Your timeline is the “backbone” of your entire event and will create the proper flow for your entire evening.  A timeline that has fundraising efforts taking place too late is a recipe for failure.  It should be set up so that the fundraising takes place earlier rather than later and should never have your guests doing one particular thing too long.  People want to keep moving at a fundraising event and we are noticing that more and more people are leaving earlier and earlier each year.  Best piece of advice: Don’t save your fundraising for last or too late; get it done.

What Is Mobile Bidding?

Mobile bidding is a tool that is used to replace the “old fashioned” method of bid sheets in your silent auction.  Rather than your bidders being required to visit the bid sheet and physically write down their bid each time they want to advance, mobile bidding allows your bidders to bid from the comfort of their mobile devices (usually smart phones).  There is a portal that is sent to their mobile device which has the entire silent auction, with pictures and descriptions, preloaded and your guests simply click the bid button on the item(s) they wish to bid on.  Every time they are outbid a text message is sent to them letting them know that they have been outbid and would they like to bid again.

What Is Event Software?

Imagine an event night with seamless transactions and automation systems that track bid packages, bids, and donor activity. Many nonprofit organizations are managing their single largest fundraising event on Access or Excel spreadsheets.  This can create certain challenges like version control if there are a number of people managing the events details.  There are many types of software out there.  Determine what actions your organizations need to be able to do.  For example, do you need a website to share information about your event?  Do you need to take donations, ticket sales, preview your catalog, sell sponsorships and display your sponsors?  Do you have one person entering and managing auction data or a team?  Once you’ve answered some of these questions, start comparing and contrasting software to your list of musts.  Software helps you keep the history of the event to hand off to next year’s team.  Also, software that runs reports helps organizations measure areas of success and opportunities to improve.  Lastly, it can help with quick registration, entering winning bids and checking attendees out quickly.  It might be time for software if you’ve recently said, “I’ll never volunteer again!”

What Is Auction Hero?

Auction Hero is a technique that is done immediately prior to the first level ask of the fund-a-need.  It is designed to pull extra funds from your donors on a large scale when there are many wealthy donors in your audience.  It is accomplished by your professional fundraising auctioneer with the proper training on how to ask for these larger donations without causing an uncomfortable vibe.

What Is Procurement?

Procurement is the act of asking friends, businesses, family, etc. for items or donations to help support your event and cause.  There are specific techniques in performing “The Ask” that make this, often times, nerve racking activity much more bearable.  Don’t be afraid to get on your local radio, television or other news media shows and talk about your event.  Tell people about your cause and why it is so important to donate items and money.

How to Invest in Your Fundraising Event

How Do You Do Business with a Professional Fundraising Auctioneer and Consultant?

A professional fundraising auctioneer and consultant will first begin by either meeting you and/or your committee in person or by phone to assess the services that your organization needs.  After the initial meeting the fundraising auctioneer and consultant will present a proposal to you and your organization outlining the complete scope of services they provide and at what investment it will be to your organization.  If you agree to the terms and services, your organization will sign an agreement and pay a deposit to reserve consultations and your event date.  After that, several meetings will be set up for various consulting needs, planning, and training.  The auction team will arrive early the day of your event to make sure that all systems are set up properly and will commence with auction and emcee services.  Following your event, a wrap up meeting will be set up to go over all aspects and potential areas of improvement regarding your event.

How Big Does Your Event Have to Be to Use A Professional Auctioneer and Consultant?

The size of your event generally does not matter.  If you want to put on an event correctly then you simply must have professional help with the fundraising, whether it be for auctioneer services, consulting or both.  If you feel you cannot afford a professional auctioneer and/or consultant then you probably shouldn’t be doing a fundraising auction event.  It will cost you far more to have a volunteer running your auction and fundraising efforts in lost opportunities and revenue.

What Does It Cost to Invest in a Professional Auctioneer and Consultant?

Every organization has different needs, therefore every organization will have a customized set of services resulting in different pricing based on what they need.  You have to look at a fundraising auctioneer and consultant as an investment because they make you money, unlike the DJ, caterer or venue rental.  Many proposals have different options such as percentages, flat fee or bonus structures.  You have to ask yourself: “Is it worth the amount we’re paying to make more money at our event.”  If you feel the services you will be receiving outweigh the risk of what you’re paying then pull the trigger.


This isn’t the complete story of how to have a successful fundraising auction event, of course.  That would take volumes.

All we have tried to do here is set down answers to some of the most common techniques that are asked to us.  In order to truly have a successful fundraising auction event you really need to enlist a professional auctioneer and consultant to guide you correctly through the process.  You do not want to have a volunteer on stage calling your auction and representing your organization, therefore we advise you to work with a professional auctioneer.