Is Your Silent Auction a Horror Show

Scared of losing a cauldron of money at your next auction fundraiser? In the spirit of Halloween, let’s have fun with this imaginary horror story with scary parallels to many silent auctions. Read my article to learn how to avoid frightful fundraising failures.

Visualize this…close your eyes and take a deep breath…Imagine

Imagine you have a new job. It’s your first day as Vice President of Sales & Customer Relations at a superb store like Nordstrom or a high-end boutique shop. Now open your eyes. Your new boss, the store president is in a panicked fright. She says, “We have a monstrous problem, I need your help! Today is our annual VIP Appreciation Reception and Sale. It’s our biggest profit event of the year! Right now our store is flooded with our most loyal beloved customers. They are not spending. Why? We’ve has been open for almost two hours, but no one is even browsing our great offerings and worst yet, there are NO sales at all and our event is ALMOST OVER! We are loosing thousands of dollars!”

It’s your worst nightmare!
You dash to the sales floor: here’s what you see. The caterer placed the bar, food, bar and beautiful decorations right in the middle of your retail space.  All of your unique boutique items were pushed back far out to the outer edges of the room. You can’t see your merchandise, the room is dim. Further, all your lovely items are crammed flat on low tables only eight inches apart, some are even on top of each other two deep. There is no point of sale signage. All of your guests are drinking at the bars and gobbling up your lovely appetizers on the central food station with the towering ice sculpture. A handful of guests talk gregariously near your lovingly selected merchandise with their backs turned away from your beautiful items. Some people are sitting on your merchandise tables and placed their drinks on front of your boutique items. You grab the microphone to welcome guests and to promote your merchandise, no one moves a muscle; they can not hear you. A new wave of VIP customers arrives, the floor is so packed that no one can move at all. You are loosing thousands of dollars. Indeed, it’s turned into a ghastly horror show.

Does this scenario remind you of anything? Are you chuckling to yourself?
Nonprofits and schools call upon me to consult with them about how to raise more money and engage their guests. Unfortunately I’ve heard and seen one to many of these grizzly scenes at silent auctions. Here are some tips to help you make your silent auction sing!

Benefit Auctions Are a One-Day Business
Sad to say, many Silent Auctions often resemble our scenario. Every time you design and run a silent auction, remember that there are strong parallels to best business profit practices. In fact, a benefit auction is really a “one day business.” However unlike retail stores open year round, you MUST make all your revenue in just the span of several hours! Maximize your fundraising auction revenue in your one-day business when you design your silent auction.  Avoid common mistakes and make the most ever with your silent auctions.

Have a Retail Mindset
In retail, businesses use strategic design concepts to promote sales. Similarly, strategically designed spaces for silent auctions promote bidding and fundraising.  In a grocery store, why is the milk at the way far corner?  So you can impulsively purchase other merchandise. So use the same set up in your silent auction! Place the bar as far away as possible from the entrance and food, silent auction items.

Claim the “Prime Real Estate”
Where will your silent auction items make the most money and have the best visibility? Every venue is different, think like a retailer!  Do not put the food in the middle of the room. Do not place the bar right when you walk in the venue. Do not position all of the silent auction items around the edge of the room. (Think back to our scary story)   Why? Because this design only emphasizes food and drinks and socialization. Maximize your fundraising.

Use a Pod Design
Use the concept of pods to strategically design your silent auction.  Co-locate silent auction sections with some food station and a bar along with mission-based signage; this way your guests will need to walk past silent auction items to get to cocktails and appetizers.

Don’t Divert Your Bidders
Here are some more tips. Solicit few items with greater value for higher revenue. Place high-end food items close to expensive silent auction items. . When someone asks, “Where did you get the scallop wrapped in bacon?” The guest will respond, “See those gold balloons? Over there by the silent auction items, I just bid on a fabulous gourmet food basket too.” Avoid a silent auction layout that will predictably distract and divert your guests from silent auction bidding.  For example, a school auction in Santa Barbara, California was held at a venue with an amazing balcony that was adorned with beautiful bougainvillea in full bloom and had a beautiful view of the bay. Imagine the allure!  Out went all of the guests to the balcony to enjoy the view and food and drink, which had been placed there. They completely ignored the silent auction inside the venue and quite sadly lost about half of what it raised the previous year.

Designed and conducted strategically, Silent Auctions still have great potential for raising funds for your nonprofit or school.  Use these proven silent auction strategies and techniques in this article to ensure achieve record-breaking fundraising!

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