To achieve record-breaking live auction success, you need a highly strategic perspective and months of careful pre-event design that includes a whole choreography of strategies. What you and your audience see on the live auction stage is just the tip of the iceberg.
While your live auction is an entertaining, highly profitable focal point of the entire event, adding dollars, sparkle and fun, it’s also a key opportunity to inspiring your guests to stay involved with you and become loyal donors.
Looking through the lens of my Fundraising Auction Philanthropy Model, here are seven of my favorite (and often overlooked strategies) to get those bid cards waving generously and to keep them engaged in your mission long after auction night.
1. Stand Up Front and Gain a New Perspective
Auction organizers, try this enlightening tip. During the live auction, stand up front, face your audience and see what the auctioneer sees. (Do not sit in the audience or stand in the back of the room and watch the auctioneer.)
From a donor relationship standpoint, it is much more powerful—and revealing—to watch your guests. Stand up front, near the auctioneer, and you’ll experience a different dynamic. You’ll be able to focus on all the action. You’ll see exactly who is bidding, who is not bidding, which guests are focusing at which moments, who is more engaged during which live items, and who is not even in the room. This rich information will be invaluable to you as you create your donor follow-up and cultivation plans. Knowing on a firsthand basis exactly what your guests are actually doing during the live auction and how they are participating will give you strategic insights on the best way to make personal connections after your event.
2. Stop Selling Items — Start Selling Your Cause
It’s not about what bidders get, it’s what they give. Always tie your mission into the item description to showcase the impact of your guests’ generous bidding.
It is essential for an auctioneer working at a benefit auction to inspire guests and show them how high bids will positively impact the cause. Be sure to prepare numerous mission related bullet points in writing for your auctioneer. That way in addition to describing and auctioning your live items, your auctioneer needs to make inspiring comments about the impact of your mission throughout the live auction. During the bidding process, he or she can engage and educate your guests by interspersing inspirational talking points about the mission of the organization.
3. Curate Every Live Auction Item
Waste no time or energy on live auction items that do not bring a return of at least 85 percent of value — and shoot for items that sail over the value!
Act and think like a top marketer: Match your auction items to your guests. Study your live auction results each year and only procure items that are incredibly successful for you. Remember, less is more. Fewer items with higher values will fetch more profit. Hand-select premium items. Make a chart calculating retail value, high bid, and percentage of value achieved. Study what your guests love. Go get more of these top revenue producers! Solicit live auction items that are personal and unique: trips, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, exclusive wine, multi-person, multi-course gourmet dinners, one-of-a-kind travel, and sold-out and unique group experiences. (For more in-depth discussion of auction items, see Chapter 6. of A Higher Bid)
4. Double Double—Dollars and Donors
Double your money, double your donors. Selling two of the same live auction item is an oftentimes overlooked fundraising opportunity that has the potential to raise a lot more money. To be strategic, always ask your live auction donors, before the event, if they would consider offering two packages. With a doubled item, you will engage more bidders and their supportive friends.
5. Why Risk It? Retain A Professional Benefit Auctioneer
Don’t leave money in the room. With a professional benefit auctioneer who has wide fundraising experience, proven ideas, and a dedication to good causes, you will raise more money.
Over the three decades as a professional auctioneer, I typically see an average increase of 20 to 200 percent in live auction revenue when either I am the professional auctioneer or if an experienced professional benefit auctioneer colleague follows a year that an organization uses a volunteer, celebrity, or VIP personality. That’s because professional benefit auctioneers know 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. Remember, investing in a professional benefit auctioneer does not cost you money in the long run, because you will generate more profit.
6. Prepare Your Guests to Bid Generously
Bidder behavior has changed. No longer do guests come to charity auctions with the express purpose of bidding no matter what. Now, your supporters are much more strategic—so you have to be strategic, too.
Leverage this trend and design a comprehensive, personalized approach to market your live auction items heavily before your event. Create a specialized marketing campaign before the event to showcase and build excitement about your live auction. An often overlooked yet powerfully effective strategy is to mail an auction catalogue in advance to all your guests.
7. Empower your Board and Leaders
Long before auction night, train your board and stakeholders to “talk up” your live auction items by personally speaking to your previous top bidders and letting them know about hot live auction items that they, especially, will love!
On auction night, during the cocktail reception invite your table captains, board members, VIPs, and sponsors to bring their guests to your live auction display and talk up these live items. To get more bid cards in the air, you must prepare your guests in advance to bid generously.
What are your top way to increase profit, excitement and guest engagement? Share your ideas in the COMMENT box below … OR email me with your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org