Do You Attract the Right Charity Auction Guests?

Auctioneer June DeLair says SOLD to delighted bidders at the Angelight Films benefit auction

How can we attract the right guests at my charity auction?

How can you get the right people in the room for your fundraising auction? Make audience development a top priority year round. While procurement of great auction items is important, filling your venue with the RIGHT bidders is doubly critical to your fundraising auction success.  Audience development is the number one factor that can influence the success of a charity auction. Why? In order to raise significantly more funds at your benefit auction, it’s vital to have guests who love your cause, have the capacity to bid high during the auction and most importantly can continue to support you throughout the year!

Here are five key steps to filling your venue with power bidders to raise more money.

First, position your auction as a cultivation event and a major “power networking” occasion. Audience development is best achieved through targeted outreach and careful guest list creation.  It’s important to attract and engage supporters that have the capacity to generously support you at the auction event. Do you understand the reasons people don’t come to fundraising auctions? It might surprise you.

Here are three reasons people generally do not attend fundraising auctions:

# 1 Reason: They have not been asked personally to attend the auction.

# 2 Reason: They don’t think that they’re going to know anybody there.

# 3 Reason: They don’t think they are going to have any fun.

Luckily these are all things that can be easily remedied. And all three can be done it one simple personal phone call.

Secondly, deeply engage your Board members, Volunteers and Auction Committee to organize and make personal phone calls to contact your top donors and donor prospects. Ask them to invite their friends, colleagues, family who care about your cause. Invite them to attend the auction and let them know they will know the other people who will be attending. Plus tell them that it will be a fun event. They are going to say “yes” because someone they like and know has asked them personally. Recently, I overheard a donor tell her friend, “You know, I only go to an auction if I’m asked by someone I like.”

Next: Get organized! Create a specific audience development committee. Obsess on audience development because it will be the number one factor that will help you raise more money.

Fourth, find new guests for your benefit auction. Empower the entire Board, Sponsors, Auction Committee members, Donors and Vendors to invite everyone on their personal and business rolodex and to engage all their social network friends.  Create Table Captains/Table Hosts — that’s only 4 phone calls to invite 4 couples or even Half Table Captains — sure, that’s only 2 phone calls to invite 2 couples. Follow up on your Save the Date Cards and Invitation with personal calls. Be sure to communicate the results to your development office or auction chairpersons to ensure excellent record keeping and to avoid embarrassing duplication of solicitation efforts.

Fifth, here are a few more tips to reel in Power Bidders:  Research and identify and then personally invite those who strongly support your cause. Identify your top 20 bidders for the last 3 years. Phone them to personally invite them. Be sure to write a handwritten note on the auction invitation.

BONUS! My favorite: personally engage your organization’s vendors. This is a segment of potential auction guests that are overlooked and are powerful supporters. These are the individuals and businesses provide services to you.  It is easy to identify vendors, just work closely with the accounting office for a list of everybody in accounts payable. Vendors and suppliers have a vested interest to support your great cause. Finally, think of board members and sponsors. Consider that sponsors have an additional huge sphere of influence and it is important to ask them to participate in the audience development. Don’t forget to network online. Your online social network, whatever the size, is a great potential source of auction guests.

Do you have other benefit auction audience development tips to share?  Feel free to share them here or email me at

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