Got a silent auction coming up?
Silent auctions are a bit like the story of the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: When they are good they are very, very good; when they are bad they are horrid.
Silent auctions can be a great way to increase event revenue and entertain your guests.
The very best events I’ve witnessed are those where the silent auction is viewed as a primary form of entertainment for the guests. The items are valued by the attendees, and folks are excited by the prospect of walking away with (1) something they’d have bought anyway, and this way they get it and also ‘do good’ for your cause; (2) an incredible bargain, or (3) a once-in-a-lifetime experience they’d never have had access to anyplace else.
When they “win” an item they truly feel more like they got lucky than that they paid for something. They look forward to coming year after year for the opportunity to bid on great surprises and possible bargains.
Silent auctions can be a complete time suck and not come near to generating the value of the donated items for your organization.
The last thing you want to do is spend hours and hours of time collecting items that won’t sell well. It takes just as much time to solicit non-saleable items as saleable ones, but there’s little reward for your efforts.
Don’t waste your precious resources collecting “dogs”. You only have so many staff and volunteers and they only have so many hours in the day. If you waste those soliciting items no one wants you’re losing the opportunity to solicit more valuable gifts. Here’s what I mean: Your volunteer gets businessman Joe to give you a $750 tax preparation package. No one buys it, because no one knows or trusts Joe. You get nothing. Joe gets ticked off that no one wanted his service. You’d have been better off asking Joe to simply make a $250 gift in exchange for a listing in your event program. You’re fooling yourself if you think it’s better to solicit $100,000 worth of items (donor value) that then sell for a mere $10,000 than to simply concentrate on seeking $10,000 in direct donations, ad revenue or sponsorships. The latter takes less time, and no one ends up with wounded feelings. Speaking of which…
Silent auctions can alienate donors, and disappoint event guests.
A dreary auction is depressing in every way. It depresses your guests because there’s nothing there they want to bid on. It depresses your event revenue. And it even depresses further donations from auction item donors. If donors find out the item they donated didn’t sell (or sold well below retail value) they can become angry and disaffected. They may have thought the $500 glass vase they donated was a beauty, but generally there’s a reason they let go of it (it had been sitting around as unsold inventory for some time and no one liked it enough to buy it). The same is true for the antique (ugly) brooch and vintage (with a slight whiff of old tobacco) purses donated by your board member. They may have paid $5,000, $300 and $150 for them respectively, but that doesn’t mean they’re worth even $50 as a package to any of your guests. Unless your guests happen to be knowledgeable collectors who appreciate their worth, to most folks these are just unappealing used items.
So… what does it take to create a very, very good result, and avoid the bad and the ugly?
There are a number of variables, of course. Your committee members and their connections… the way you describe your items… venue, set-up and signage… pricing and bidding increments…the bidding process… check-out procedures… even the people in the room. My next post will take a look at the really big kahuna: the donated items.
For now, however, I want to remind you that you’ve got items already that you don’t need to solicit. Yes!
Silent auctions that don’t tap into the power of mission-related, or “fund a need,” items are missing a big boat.
Sometimes folks have no real desire to take home “stuff.” But they’d be more than willing to make a donation to you at the event if you made it easy for them. This is especially true when attendees are guests of friends or employers, and haven’t paid for their tickets. If you do a good job inspiring folks about your cause at your event, your audience is primed to support you. Don’t waste the good feelings you’ve generated!
You can set up an auction table devoted to these gift-from-the-heart items. Your bid sheet might say “$50 buys one hour of home care for a senior.” Or “Buy 10 meals for a hungry child for $25” or “$35 buys art supplies for one classroom for a year.” People can buy as many hours, meals or classrooms worth of supplies as they wish, and you can have numerous buyers. You can set up several of these types of auctions on the same table. Or you can have cards on the table and have volunteers come around to collect the cards towards the end of the event.
I’ll have more for you in my next post on the good, the bad and the ugly. Meanwhile, please share any tips you have about mission-related silent auctions with which you’ve had success. I’d love to hear what’s working for you — and your experience will help others!
Image courtesy of freedigitalimages.net
Silent auctions can be a boon to a fundraising event, or it can be a detriment. The key is procuring items that people will want and marketing your items is a way that will drive the bidding to go higher and higher. In my experience, travel, brushes with celebrities, and unique opportunities make that happen. It also helps to create packages with the smaller donations. One year, I put together a gift certificate for a dinner, a pair of highly sought after concert tickets, and a stay at a local downtown hotel that brought in three times the value of the three separate items.
Great idea making the “fund a need” a silent auction item. I’ve seen it done live after auction, but some people don’t want the attention, so this is a great option.
I’d like to add that making the auction catalog available PRIOR to the event also drives great results because bidders have time to shop and research donor companies and service providers ahead of time. (I upload it to Google Drive and share the link. This lets me update if necessary, and attendees can download/print their own copies.) Promoting the catalog prior to ticket sales closing can even increase attendance.
If your ticketing system allows, throwing in a quick survey about items attendees would like to bid on can also help focus precious procurement time on the right packages.
Great suggestions Renee. And uploading to Google drive is a nice, inexpensive way to accomplish sharing the catalogue — w/o the expense of auction software (which can be great, provided you can afford it). I’ve never tried a survey. I suppose that could also be done after the event, as a way to follow up with folks and ask for feedback — a good way to engage them w/o asking for money.
Claire, wonderful resources re the conducting of a charitable auction. Would like to point out that there are other important considerations when conducting a charitable auction. For example, something we see constantly missed, is compliance from an Internal Revenue Service perspective and a state regulaor perspective. The completion of Schedule G of the Form 990 is not an easy task, nor is properly valuing items from an Internal Revenue Service perspective. Additionally, the accounting for auctions can be a rather complex process and it is rarely done correctly in our experience. Finally, charities need to be cognizant of the laws regarding the issuance of charitable contribution acknowledgements when conducting an auction.
can you please tell me the best and most efficient way to collect bid sheets and post/notify winners?
Alas, Linda, there is no one right way to do anything. A lot depends on the size of your organization, the number of staff and volunteers you have to deploy, and the ways you’ve chosen to enable bidding. Many organizations today are using mobile bidding, so the collection of bid sheets has become more or less moot. What ever you do, people will want to know whether they “won” contemporaneously. So you need to figure out a way to speedily input data into a spreadsheet and make the results available. I would shoot for doing this no more than 30 minutes after the bidding closes. For those who leave before finding out who the winners are, you will need to call them the next day.