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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“Midwinter” Watercolor © 2017 Kathy Kingston

May the beauty of the season
remind us of our many blessings.
Warm holiday wishes,



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Owl Always Be Grateful

Owl Always Be Grateful
© 2017. Watercolor by Kathy Kingston

Gracias, Ahó, Bayarlalaa, Siyabonga, Obrigado, Thank You, Xièxie, Danke, Mauruuru roa, Quyanaq, Diakuju, Todah, Takk, Merci!

In every language, thank you for all of your dedication and passion for nonprofits, schools, associations and charitable organizations. You change lives every day and offer immeasurable value to your volunteers and your donors to make an impact on causes that impassion them.

Thank you for making a difference! Wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving.


Kathy Kingston signature

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Riveting Remarks Raise More Money

“It’s not what you are bidding on,
it’s what you are bidding for.”
~Kathy Kingston

Ever wonder how to start your live auction so you can raise more money? Design a special moment right before your Live Auction. In this even more competitive fundraising environment, it’s vital to prepare your guests to be generous.

W W H. Why We’re Here!

Here are a few tips to create your WWH moment. Immediately before you start your live auction, communicate the impact of the donors contribution with brief inspiring remarks (1-2 minutes max) to raise more funds and to further engage your donors.

Prepare. A month or more before the event, start working with the person who is going to “make your WWH inspiring remarks.” Help them understand that their remarks need to be about the transformation, benefits, results, and impact of your non-profit organization. Creating purposeful remarks will make a huge difference in your momentum. Be sure that you personally approve all the remarks to be made your benefit auction event. (And time all the remarks with your stopwatch too.)

Avoid this common costly mistake. Coach your speaker not to make statistical remarks, such as, “We serve 100 at-risk youth,” or “We taught 2,347 kids to read.” Having speakers who share transformational results about your organization, however, will inspire your audience to give generously. Try this: “In our organization, our youth musicians have improved their grades at school. They’ve all been accepted to college. They’ve had the benefit of high-quality music instruction, which has transformed their lives.” This will rivet the audience in a way that numbers and statistics cannot.

Be sure to conclude your WWH with this expectation: “And that is exactly why we are here … to raise as much money as we can to support our great cause. And to help us do just that, please welcome our auctioneer.” Then immediately introduce your auctioneer and let the generous and spirited the bidding begin!

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Who Are Your Super Connectors?

The secret to attracting new donors to your fundraiser auction

One of the top questions I’m often asked is, “How can I attract the new donors to my fundraiser auction who will give generously?”

The answer: be highly strategic to include people in your next circle of influence in your audience development plans. Leveraging your stakeholders’ multiple spheres of influence is one of the most overlooked aspects of developing and engaging audiences at fundraising events and auctions.

This article includes an often overlooked target audience for fundraising events. I call this powerful group: Super Connectors!

When I was writing A Higher Bid I realized there was a special group to feature. These wonderful supporters are already deeply connected to organizations and understand the impact of your mission. I call them “Super Connectors.” Remember, people want to give to causes that they love. For super connectors, all you need to do is invite them in. They already love YOU!

For school auctions, there are numerous super connector groups. When working with an educational institution or a school, the alumni, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and new families are great sources to develop your benefit auction audience. How can you engage them? Well, do you have a special outreach plan for new families? One school created a special alumni appreciation raffle, and the winning ticket won a donated upscale dinner for two at a popular new restaurant.

For wine charity auctions, your vintners, wine growers, wine industry vendors, specialty sponsors, and the media are knowledgeable and supportive of the profession. Golf charity auctions can focus on golf lovers, golf specialty stores, golf pros, and the golf media. Art charity auctions bring an exciting array of supporters including artists, dealers, brokers, collectors, art supply vendors, museum professionals and curators, and art lovers in general. Think about the possibilities for other arts and culture groups and for animal rescue and humane societies.

Also consider your allied professionals. Personally invite other professionals with whom your organization shares a strategic alliance. Brainstorm those to whom you refer clients and those who refer clients to you. What about feeder schools or schools your students attend after graduation? Who engages your students and clients in work-study programs? Who hires the clients that you train, serve, or treat? Who attends the same professional conferences, hearings, and coalitions? Who is doing research, teaching, health care, or law in your area of your cause? I hope these questions and ideas stimulate your creativity and a new action plan for engaging new donors!

Super Connectors are already there. They understand and care about your cause. Just invite them in, personally. Push the boundaries of your audience development plan. It’s an easy win-win to raise more funds and to engage more donors!

If you have ideas about your Super Connectors – feel free to write me at kathy@kingstonauction.com

“It’s an honor to invite someone to
give to a cause that impassions THEM
so THEY can make a difference.”
~Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS

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