Engage Donors in 7 Ways at Live Auctions

Anyone can throw party. Only YOU can develop relationships with your guests that will help them realize the impact of their gift for your great cause.

How do you engage auction guests, whip up your live auction, focus on your mission, keep it fresh, get those bid cards waving, and make sure your guests return year after year? After more than 30 years of consulting and auctioneering for all sizes and types of nonprofits, charities, schools, and associations, I’ve experienced every imaginable live auction situation. Here are seven of my favorite strategies so you can turbo-charge your live auction:

  1. First and foremost, focus on fundraising! If your event has been planned like a dance or party and your live auction is an afterthought, you are leaving untold thousands of dollars in the room. However, if you strategically design your benefit auction first to engage donors and purposefully create a dynamic culture for giving, far more funds and goodwill for your nonprofit will be raised. Kingston Tip: Intentionally script brief compelling mission-related remarks for every speaker. These remarks should illustrate how you transform the lives of your clients. Inspire your guests to bid high and make a difference. It’s vital that every one of your guests needs to understand what the funds raised will support, who the funds will benefit, and how their high bidding for your nonprofit makes a difference.

  3. Communicate impact before you start the live auction. Insist on making emotionally inspiring remarks (limit to two minutes, maximum) about how your guests’ high bids will change lives. Kingston Tip: Immediately before your live auction, remind supporters “Why We’re Here!” If you can effectively communicate this, you’ll rivet your guests’ attention and wrap people’s hearts and minds around your mission and seriously increase your guests’ generous support. Prepare your auction guests to bid generously!

  5. Sell the sizzle. Show an exciting PowerPoint slide for each live auction item. Make sure your guests know exactly what is being sold. Remember, a confused mind never buys. Your audience won’t look at boring or crowded slides. Kingston Tip: Use high-quality photos of what you’re selling. Each slide needs the name of the item (its title) and item number. Bidders will memorize the item numbers they’re going to bid on, and they often don’t pay attention until that item comes up. For trip number 3 to Greece, create a PowerPoint slide with a couple of great pictures (the whitewashed buildings of Mykonos, perhaps) and a few key bullet points. Be sure to include the name of the donor as well. That’s all you need on the PowerPoint slide. Use one slide for each item. Locate these visuals strategically, so the audience is facing both the benefit auctioneer and the presentation.

  7. Insist on a professional, fundraising-quality sound system. You must also be strategic about placement of the audio speakers. Kingston Tip: Make sure that you place individually powered audio speakers on stands to surround your room, not just at the front of the room. This ensures that everyone in the room can hear your live auction clearly. Plus, your auctioneer needs a dedicated handheld wireless microphone set to his or her voice. Remember to add a good sound system for your silent auction, too—there’s a lot of noise in silent auction areas and it’s critical that your bidders hear your announcements and understand when the silent auction sections are closing. Not investing in a great sound system is a surefire way to lose money and your guests’ attention.

  9. Conduct your live auction far earlier than ever. Don’t put the live auction at the end of the evening, or interest will fizzle. To keep the momentum of the auction and narrow the focus, put the live auction earlier. Kingston Tip: Conduct the live auction before dinner or start your live auction during dinner. A lively and energetic live auction makes for inspired bidders who spend their money happily for your cause. However, beware of the dreaded “auction fatigue” that can cause your fundraising auction to be dull and boring and, worst of all, fail to bring in money for your cause. You will recognize auction fatigue. It often occurs when the live auction is scheduled at the end of the event, when your guests are done in. No one can raise money when guests are tired or already heading for their cars!

  11. Pre-promote your live auction items. Gone are the days where your guests will automatically come to your auction and bid high. Help your supporters learn about and get excited about your amazing live auction items. Remember, hot items are trips and experiences and that means your guests need to check their calendars and prepare in advance of your live auction. Kingston Tip: Create a compelling mini-promotional campaign with personal contacts, e-mails, letters, and social media to stimulate buzz and create competition far before your fundraising event. And remember that less is more! Hand-select fewer live auction items with greater value and make sure they match your guests’ interests and tastes.

  13. Retain a professional benefit auctioneer. Why risk it? You and your dedicated auction committee work for months on end, then on auction night you turn your entire event over to your auctioneer. Don’t leave money in the room. With a professional benefit auctioneer who has wide experience, proven fundraising ideas, and a dedication to good causes, you will raise more money. For me, I typically see an average increase of 10 to 100 percent in live auction revenue when I am the professional auctioneer following a year that an organization uses a volunteer, parent, celebrity, media or VIP personality. That is the value of hiring a pro who knows how to engage the audience, move bids along to reach the highest possible amount, keep the focus on the nonprofit mission, and create a lively and entertaining event that maximizes your fundraising and leaves your guests eager to return the following year. Kingston Tip: Remember, investing in a professional auctioneer does not cost you money in the long run, because you will generate more profit and engage more donors. Note: Hire auctioneers with the “BAS” Benefit Auctioneers Association professional designation from National Auctioneers Association. They are uniquely trained and dedicated to raising funds for nonprofits, schools and charitable organizations. You can visit: www.Auctioneers.org

Need an Auctioneer? If I can help you find an auctioneer, please feel free to contact me: 603-235-1196  kathy@kingstonauction.com

(From A Higher Bid: How to Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Benefit Auctions by Kathy Kingston)

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