Fundraising Auctions: Frequently Asked Questions

question gavelThere are many questions that arise when planning for a charity event.  Here are some commonly asked questions and answers.

Q: How much time do I need to plan a successful charity event?

A: Every organization is going to need a different amount of time to plan, but do not cut yourself short.  There are many aspects that need to be covered prior to the event and if you do not get your invitations out or your tables sold with plenty of time prior to the event your guests may already have that night booked up.  At a bare minimum you should start planning at least six months in advance, but it is best to have an entire year so you are not completely stressed out to hit deadlines.

Q: Our emcee has a great personality and is well respected in the community.  Should we just ask him to be our auctioneer?

A: This is the biggest mistake you can make!  Charity auctioneers are professionals in their field and will increase your bottom line not only with their bid calling skills, but also with their consulting and revenue generating ideas.  The cost of paying a professional charity auctioneer will be absorbed by the extra money they bring to your organization… so don’t skimp in this category.

Q: Where should we hold our charity event?

A: Large ballrooms at hotels or country clubs make great venues for your event.  Smaller events can use smaller rooms of course but make sure you have plenty of “breathing room” for your guests or they can become frustrated and possibly leave early.  Simple box-shaped rooms will be easiest for your auctioneer to conduct a smooth-flowing auction because they can see all of the bidders.

Q: Where can I procure items for the auction?

A: Ask your friends and relatives if they can donate anything to start.  Business clients and vendors are another great source and many times are glad to be part of an event that is raising money for a good cause.  If you donate items, it may be an easier sell to others because they see that you have a vested interest as well.  Quite simply, you have to hit the pavement and know that every no brings you closer to a yes.

Q: Should I accept items that have to reach a certain amount before we can sell them?

A: This is called consignment and is not recommended.  If a donor needs to receive $300 for an item before you can sell the item and you sell it for $500 then the organization only receives $200.  This also takes $300 of bidding out of the auction and the auctioneer will have to make an announcement that the item has a minimum bid or reserve prior to selling it.  If the item does not bring at least $300 you have to pass on it during the auction and this can be very discouraging for the bidders.

Q: If someone wants to donate cash should I take it?

A: Absolutely!  Actually you can use cash donations in your fund-a-need segment to spur on bidding.  For example, if a donor gives $5,000 you can incorporate their donation in the fund-a-need by having the auctioneer say “We have an opening donation of $5,000 from Mr. Smith would anyone like to match?”

Q: We are thinking about doing a buffet dinner, is this a good idea?

A: Buffets take too much time and encourage guests to be out of their seats.  Always do a plated dinner so your guests are in their seats and paying attention to the auctioneer.  Saving on the cost of food by having a buffet will seriously hurt your bottom line.

Q: Should we have a raffle at our event?

A: Raffles are great ideas for extra revenue and tickets should be sold during the silent auction and prior to the start of the live auction.  Close the raffle sales prior to beginning the live auction so that your guests have their full attention on the live auction and the fund-a-need.  Raffle sales are also great to keep people at your event until the winners are announced.  Save the winner announcement until the live auction and fund-a-need are completed.

Q: How can we most effectively use all of the gift cards that we received during procurement?

A: Gift card frenzy as I described in chapter four is a great way to utilize all those gift cards.

Q: How can we increase our silent auction results?

A: Always use silent bid sheets with pre-printed increments and only have the bidders put their bidder numbers on the sheets.  I am a firm believer in having the auctioneer talk up the items on a sound system in the silent auction area.  Not too much talking but just enough to keep guests thinking about bidding.  Also, do not have opening bids that are more than 33 percent (one third) of the items value.

Q: Should we have an auction event coupled with a golf tournament?

A: Golf tournaments are an all-day event and are designed to raise money generally with an entry fee that each golfer or team pays to participate.  After a long day of golf the competitors are usually exhausted and just want to eat and head to bed.  Attempting to sell auction items to them will negatively affect your bottom line.  Either have a golf tournament or have a fundraising auction, do not attempt to mix the two.  If you absolutely must have both then have the golf tournament on the second day following the charity auction event.

Q: Should we use bidder paddles or just have runners collect names and information from the bidders?

A: Using bidder paddles is the best way to keep the auction simple.  You don’t want runners having to go out and find all the bidders after they have won an item and make them write down all their information.  This distracts their entire table from focusing on the next item up for auction.  With a fairly large group, the fund-a-need would be nearly impossible without having bidder paddles.  A simple way to make bidder paddles is by putting bidder numbers on the back cover of each program in big, bold, easy to read font.

Q: We have two items that are exactly the same to sell; how should we sell them?

A: You never want your bidders to know that you have two items that are exactly the same to sell or they will hold back on their bidding.  Have the auctioneer sell the item while keeping the bid increments close.  Once the winning bid is sealed then the auctioneer will tell the winning bidder and the back-up bidder that there are two items available and offer the items to both bidders at the back-up bidder’s price.  For example, the winning bid amount is $1,000 and the back-up bidder’s bid was $900; the auctioneer will offer both bidders the item at $900 resulting in a final amount of $1,800.

Q: Will the auctioneer help with consulting as well?

A: Myself and most other professional charity auctioneers will help with consulting and can let you know the best way to accomplish each one of your goals for the event.  We are not only bid callers but are charity event professionals and have been involved with just about every scenario you can imagine.  We know what works and what doesn’t.