So you’re gearing up for your annual charity event! There’s lots of enthusiasm from the committee members and volunteers, pressure in the office to ensure that this year’s event is the most successful event yet, meetings, more meetings, deadlines, designs, plans, ideas, re-designs … it’s finally all behind you and you’re ready to send out those beautiful invitations.  

With a database full of previous donors and supporters, odds are very good you’ll sell out this golf tournament with only 200 spots and knock this out of the park. In addition to the usual sponsors and participants, you have an incredible team of volunteers who curated a spectacular silent auction by reaching out to local businesses and individuals for gifts in kind. With over 100 donated auction items worth over $75,000 that auction is going do great, right? Wrong!  

Auctions are a different beast

Every fundraising event is unique and brings with it its own set of challenges. Here are some of the most common challenges with charity auctions:

  • The success of the auction is limited to the people in the room. You’ve got 100 items up for auction and only 200 people in the room. Mathematically, there’s just no chance that you’ll maximize the amount raised for each of the items.
  • The people in the room have already paid to attend the event, are attending as guests of a sponsoring company (and have no connection to the cause or interest in spending any money), or they are regular donors who may be feeling donor fatigue; you’ve hit them up throughout the year and they simply cannot be bothered to donate yet again to your cause.
  • The “big boys” in the room are likely having their ears chewed off by other attendees who are trying to impress them or finagle their way into some business deal or another. It is also very probable that your heavy hitters are not even interested in the items being offered on the silent auction table. After all, they probably already have whatever they want, and the last thing they need is another signed jersey by a player who has retired twice since signing it.

When any, or all of these, occur, half of the items up for auction do not receive any bids and the other items end up selling for minimum bid, or close to it.

Creating auctions that sell – and sell big 

So … what do you do?

Consider the following ideas in order to generate buzz and most importantly, additional revenue:

  • Engage your ENTIRE database of supporters in the auction component of the event. You’ve got a donor database of 2,000+ people but only 10% of them will be attending the event. It is worth your time and effort to try and get everyone involved.
  • Pick 2-3 unique and incredible items that have been donated, and instead of auctioning them off at your event, sell them as raffle prizes. It will be a lot easier to get attendees, and even staff and/or volunteers, to purchase raffle tickets for the chance to win something amazing, than it will be for you to get maximum bids on all the auction items. Raffles keeps things a bit more exciting, and they allow everyone in the room to contribute towards the success of the event and share in the fun by allowing them to play on an even playing field.   
  • Highlight specific auction lots that you feel have a wider appeal and allow people to call the office and place reserve bids in advance.
  • Run an online auction leading up to the event in order to engage those who are not planning to attend and to bring select items to the attention of those who will be in attendance.
  • Email specific donors ahead of time (even if they plan to attend the event) to let them know about a specific auction item that you feel they might personally appreciate. The personal touch will help the donor seriously consider bidding on the item. This can be tricky as you might need to know specific donors intimately. But if you connect the right donor with the right auction item, you’re guaranteed success! 

The most important piece of advice I can offer is this: Don’t put out every single item that you were able to solicit for the auction. 

  1. Be selective when choosing what to display. Most people will browse quickly and if they scan a few items and none of them seem exciting, you’ve lost them.
  2. Be creative in how you present certain auction lots. If you can create a more exciting and valuable package by bundling a hotel stay, a limo, a restaurant certificate and concert tickets (each donated by a different business or contact), do it! You’ll end up making more at the end of the day, and you’ll be sending home a much happier winning bidder at the end of the night!

Auctions take a lot of planning, organization, and yes, a ton of dreaded meetings. But by following a couple of simple rules, your organization has the chance to have its best event yet! Now you get to start planning next year’s auction…SUCCESS!

Israel Schachter co-founded Charity Bids and serves as its CEO. Charity Bids helps nonprofits impress donors, increase revenues and build mission awareness by providing them with no-risk charity auction items of exclusive and priceless trips and experiences. In his “spare” time, Israel has raised over $30 million as a volunteer fundraiser. You can reach Israel via email.

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