Over the past 6 years, I have logged thousands of hours learning everything I can about benefit auctions. Through countless pre-event consultations with organizations, teaching workshops at Greenlights for Nonprofit Success, conducting more than 250 benefit auctions around the country, and attending the debriefing meetings of all those auctions, I’ve heard a lot of regrets from nonprofits about what their organization would have done differently at their benefit auction.
To save you from the same fate, here are the top three regrets I most often hear and how you can avoid them.
1. We shouldn’t have wasted so much time getting a bazillion silent auction items.
A couple of years ago, the silent auction mentality was the more items, the better. The rationale is if you get the items for free anyway, why not accept anything and everything? That will make us more money, right? Not necessarily. I’ve been working with committees to change that kind of thinking so they start approaching the silent auction more strategically in terms of what sells best and the right number of items to solicit. Having less can actually make them more.
Sometimes I will still see silent auction tables, row after row, crammed tight with more items than there are guests. The sheer number of auction items can overwhelm your guests and so they often just brush past the tables without stopping. Remember this is not a retail store where you need one item or more for every guest. The right balance of supply and demand creates competition for the items and results in higher bidding.
How do you figure the right number of silent auction items? Take the number of guests and divide it by four, or strive for 1 item for every 4 guests. For an event with 400 people, you’d need 100 items. If you find you have more items than you need, package or bundle some of the smaller items into one unit. And make it easy for your guests to bid. Don’t exhaust them before they get to dinner.
2. We let the program go too long!
If the program runs too long and the live auction is planned at the end of the event, you lose a lot of the major donors who would typically participate in either the auction or the Fund-a-Cause (a direct ask made via auctioneer for funds to support a major purchase or initiative).
This happened to an event that I worked on that had not one, not two, but three different speakers. All three speakers went over their allotted 5 minutes and the auction eventually started 75 minutes late, and many of the guests had left. Remember that your guests will be drinking, eating and socializing and it will be hard to keep their attention on one speaker, let alone three.
I usually recommend just one speaker who talks for about 7 minutes. Even 15 or 20 minutes of speaking is too long at an evening function where folks come primarily to socialize. If you must have multiple speakers, keep the program running tight and on time by providing a scripted version of the timeline for anyone who has time at the microphone.
3. We should have had more sound.
Sound is the most overlooked item and one you don’t notice it until it is not there.
Too often, well meaning nonprofits opt to save money by using the built-in house system at the hotel. What most don’t realize is that 99% the built-in sound in hotels is designed for a lecture or wedding environment and not for a noisy room full of distractions.
The audio and visual components at an auction can make or break the event and this is an area where you don’t want to cut corners. In trying to save several hundred dollars by not hiring a professional sound company, you can literally loose several thousand dollars in auction revenue. If your guests can’t hear the auctioneer, your guests won’t bid!
All of these “regrets” can be easily avoided at your benefit auction event. I urge you to maximize your auction’s potential by taking a closer look at the number of silent auction items you offer, how long your program is, and if your guests will be able to hear the live auction clearly. And if you’d like to learn more tips and strategies for making your next auction great, contact me!
For additional fundraising tools and ideas, visit the FUNauctions Resources page.
Follow the FUN!