Going, Going, Gone!

on in Fundraising

The gavel comes down – on every auction-organizer’s nightmare.

An exclusive back-stage tour of Hamilton is going for $500 – and the donor is going to be mad.

Expecting it would raise at least $5,000, the donor is sitting in the back of the room wondering why this jewel, which is clearly worth so much more, is going for so low a price.

The answer is a mismatch between the item and the people in the room. 

An auction is not successful just because it’s got the right items – it only works when the alignment between bidders and items is high. 

Auctions, and silent auctions especially, tend to be the dog that wags the tail of fundraising events. Volunteers love to solicit items willy-nilly, experiencing the thrill of victory when a particularly alluring service or hot restaurant says yes. 

But the other side of the equation is just as important – the bidders have to be in the room. If no-one in the room is interested in sports, a signed baseball from Aaron Judge is going to languish on the shelf. If no-one’s got kids, an overflowing basket of art supplies coupled with a semester-long kid’s crafts course won’t move for more than the minimum. Both interests and budget must align for real profit to occur.

One way to avoid the empty-bidders-card syndrome is to charge the auction committee not just with procuring items, but with filling the room as well. Every time someone on the committee gets a donation, they need to sell a ticket to someone who’d be likely to go for that item in a big way.

And – people have to be primed to bid. Sitting back on one’s hands does not make a good table guest. Attendees need to be reminded, both before and during the event, that all bidding benefits a charity that provides real good in the world. Bidders shouldn’t be looking for bargains; they should be focused on supporting an important cause – while getting a cool item at the same time.

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