Last week, CausePlanet asked its readers for questions they had about community auctions. As the author of SOLD: How to Run a Great Community Auction and owner of Community Auction Services, I was anxious to share what I’ve experienced over the years. I hope these answers help those of you who use this exciting fundraising strategy.
Q: What are first-timers most surprised to learn after completing their first auction?
Well, there are good surprises and bad ones! Many first-timers are overwhelmed by the checkout process, which has to take place in an organized way and very quickly. A chaotic checkout experience can turn any organization off auctions forever: it’s traumatic for those giving the auction and also for attendees.
The key to avoiding bad surprises is planning. Read up on how auctions should be run—there are a myriad of websites where you can get information, or you can purchase SOLD: How to Run a Great Community Auction. Ask friends about auctions they attended to find out what went well and what didn’t. To avoid checkout trauma, a good data system is essential, whether it’s created by an organization member or purchased (like EasyAuction™).
Of course, the best surprise is to learn that the auction made more than was forecasted, which happens a lot with well-organized auctions, whether they’re first-timers or not. Items you didn’t think would sell end up making a lot; items you thought were real winners go for peanuts! But overall, you can find yourself amazed at the total. My favorite story: a preschool wanted to raise $1000 and ended up with over $3500 by the end of the evening!
Q: What are some ways I can boost the creativity of the auction items my committee collects?
The number one rule when trying to improve your donations is: find out what the bidders want and give it to them! How can you do that? Look at the population who will be attending the auction. What do they like to do?
· If your organization is a community (a church, school or other organization where people know each other), encourage people to offer dinners and other social events in their homes. This can be an untapped source of fantastic items.
· Are a lot of the attendees’ families with children? Host ice cream socials or magic shows in a backyard, or sponsor a family softball game complete with hot dogs and root beer. People love buying things for their kids!
· Combine smaller donations into attractive and desirable baskets. Have a gift certificate for an oil change? Buy some wax and a car wash mitt and create a “Love Your Car” basket. Hand-thrown pottery mugs? Add a Starbuck’s gift card and a bag of gourmet coffee. You can get baskets at thrift stores and use leftover Christmas ribbon to make them more appealing.
· Borrow ideas wherever you can find them! If you know of another organization that’s giving an auction, get a copy of the catalog. (By the way, I’m happy to share ideas from some of my previous auctions—just ask!) Again, a web search will turn up lots of information.
· ALWAYS analyze your auction after it’s over to determine which types of items sold well and which didn’t. Then get more of the former next year.
· Ask potential bidders what they’d like to bid on. Put a “donation tree” in the lobby or on your organization’s auction information table. Encourage people to write their desired auction items on “leaves” and tape them to the tree. Then find someone to donate them. Note: of course, in today’s world, this can be a virtual tree via email or a Facebook page.
Q: What are the best strategies for keeping people bidding in a live or silent auction without being annoying?
Of course, the best way to keep people bidding is to have great items, but you can stir up a little excitement with these techniques:
· Use Psychology: People tend to start bidding more when they think the auction is almost over, so have several (two or three) closing times for silent auction items. (This helps your data entry people too.) You can close a whole category at one time or choose to close individual items, generally those that will not benefit by extended bidding. Mark the bid sheets with colored dots to indicate which closing time applies. For example, Red Dot items might close at 8:00, Blue Dot at 8:15 and the rest at 8:30. Be sure to announce, “Red Dot items closing in five minutes!”
· Provide Bargains: About 15 minutes before the silent auction is over, reduce the price of items that have no bids by marking the bid sheets with a marker or pen. Then, be sure to announce that you’re doing it—people will come out of the woodwork anticipating a bargain. I often reduce minimum bids by one-third to one-half. Remember: you’ll make more by selling the item cheaply than by not selling it at all.
· Entertain: For oral/live auctions, hire a professional auctioneer if at all possible. This makes a huge difference when it comes to keeping people interested. If you can’t afford a pro, use entertaining ways of describing the items for bid. For example, have one of your helpers dress in an evening gown to display the items in a Vanna White-type walk across the stage! Make sure the auctioneer includes a lot of humor, including stories everyone will relate to.
· Keep it Simple: Don’t include too many items in your oral/live auction. It’s hard to set an absolute number, but if you keep the number at 20 or below, you will have more interest (and higher bids) for the items offered. Be sure the items are chosen for their general appeal, not necessarily just their value. You can offer the other items in your silent auction.
Image credit: blspi.org