BYOB Bring Your Own Buyers!

Kathy’s Hot Tips to Procure High Profit Benefit Auction Items

After three decades as a benefit auctioneer and fundraising consultant, the #1 question I’m still asked is: “Kathy, what are THE BEST SELLING live auction items that will raise the most money?”

But you know, that’s actually the wrong question. Before you can forecast the most lucrative auction items, ask these two questions first.

  1. Who are your benefit auction guests?
  2. “WHO will actually BUY each live auction item over the value?”

I’ve noticed a bit of a troubling trend this past spring auction season. In numerous benefit auctions, I’ve observed one or two live auction items in that have not performed financially as well as the auction committee had hoped. Why? The answer might surprise you – it’s a commonly overlooked mistake.

The reason is failure to BYOB: Bring Your Own Buyers.

In order to procure high profit live auction items every time, it’s imperative to absolutely know who will actually buy each auction item before you include it in your live auction line up.

Here’s the key factor. Don’t be satisfied to accept items without forecasting who will actually be THE high bidder. Too often auction committees, boards and volunteers cross your fingers and hope someone bids on an auction item. To be truly profitable, you must hand select and curate the RIGHT BUYERS for each of your live auction items.

Match Your Guests to Each Live Auction Item.

Steal this lesson for item procurement. Know who attends your fundraiser and what they want, then match unique auction items with the wants of your audience. With this highly strategic approach to item solicitation, you won’t end up with low selling or unwanted auction items that will fail to bring full or over value.

Build More Donor Relationships.

From a strategic perspective, what drives a fundraising event is the opportunity to better know and build relationships with your guests, so they become more engaged, more passionate about your cause, and more willing to contribute.

Before you begin procuring items, it’s imperative to understand the buying behaviors of the guests and donors. The goal is to offer exciting auction items people actually want and will BUY OVER THE VALUE, so they can freely and eagerly support a cause they love – yours!

Benefit auction guest behaviors have changed.

Auction guests are bidding much more intentionally. Let’s face it: Not everyone really wants or needs another silent or live auction item. So it’s vital for you and your benefit auction team to be quite strategic, and to make sure you exclusively procure and offer items that will keep the auction exciting and lucrative.

Know your guests and curate your auction items.

This is the most lucrative way to boost bidding and make more money. What’s the very best way to know what your donors, past bidders, guests, and sponsors want? Ask them what they would love to bid on at your next auction. Then ask for their advice. Ask them what’s missing at the auction. Study past auction data, list the top items, and note who bought them. Then focus on procuring those high-performing auction items.

Plus, DOUBLE your money.

Always, always ask the donor if you can offer two packages on auction night. Be sure to let your auctioneer know when they can sell two!

What about YOU?

If you have more great ideas about high profit live auction items, drop me a note or call.

If I can ever help you or a colleague or friend, I’d love to hear from you. I always offer a complimentary consultation. Referrals are the greatest compliment.

Contact:   603-235-1196   Thank you!


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It’s Auction Night! Now What?

Kathy’s 8 New Strategies to Skyrocket In-room Revenue by Empowering Your Board, Staff and Volunteers

You’ve spent months planning your benefit auction gala fundraiser. Don’t just cross your fingers and hope. Adopt my simple yet powerful strategies to get those bid cards waving and to inspire greater generosity.

What your nonprofit leaders do during your event is vital to raising more money and retaining donors.

Does this sound familiar? Do your committee members and board members congregate together during the cocktail hour and silent auction and talk among themselves. Then during dinner and fundraising program, it’s the same, they continue to sit together and continue talk among themselves. Creating a warm welcoming environment, building relationships with donor and sharing meaningful gratitude are essential to transform event guests into loyal year round donors.

So, who are your leaders? Consider each person: board members, Head of School, staff, faculty, auction and gala committee members, table hosts, sponsors and key donors and even students and alumni.

Create a donor engagement plan for your event night.

Write specific responsibilities for each of your leaders. Hold a training and remind each person before your event. Use my 8 new strategies to guide your new plan.

  1. First, treat every guest as a donor

Your fundraising gala and auction is a golden catalyst for donor engagement. So let’s change the paradigm to a “donor-focused approach” to benefit auction bidding and giving!  In the room or under the tent, here are my strategies that you can use right now.

  1. During Cocktail Hour and Silent Auction

Create the expectation that your board, staff, committee members and volunteers will actively participate. Ask your nonprofit leaders to adopt a personal approach. Go to at least three people you do not know, introduce your self, ask how the guest is connected to the nonprofit and share your passion about the impact of your organization. Thank them for coming and supporting the cause. Bring guests to your “Mission Stations” and staff to learn more about your great cause. Showcase the Silent & Super Silent Auctions & Live Auction display. Talk about what your guests might like to buy. Encourage guests to sign up for any additional revenue activities such as Party Board Experiences, Raffles, Wine Pulls etc. Introduce your guests to other board members and sponsors and donors.

  1. Speed Into the Ballroom or Tent

Be the FIRST to take your seats and guide your guests to do the same. Help invite other guests into the tent along the way. Guests will wait to do what your leaders do. The quicker you move into the main room for fundraising, the more funds you will raise. Set the pace.

  1. Prepare Your Guests to Be Generous

During dinner and the live auction and fund a need, guide conversations to focus on your nonprofit or school impact. (This is not a social catch up time to talk about shoes, chit chat etc…) Invite everyone at your table to get out and view the auction program catalog and peak interest in the live auction items. Ask each person what they would like to buy. For Fund a Need, explain how it works and that everyone can give at a level meaningful to them. Also it’s great to suggest that it’s easy that your entire table, 100% of at your table can give to your cause.

  1. During the Live Auction

Actively encourage bidding. Talk to your table guests. Say YES, thank you for bidding again. Cheer, clap and nod your head. Get up out of your chair, walk around show your gratitude for winning bidders and back up bidders too. Keep smiling and encourage “Philanthropic Bidding” I’ve named that bidding OVER the value of the live auction item! Show heartfelt gratitude

  1. During Fund a Need

Exude gratitude. Consider your own personal gift and raise your bid card proudly. Explain how the funds will be used to impact your great cause. Keep up the energy and clap and cheer as more and more gifts are made. Thank each donor at your table and surrounding tables personally. It’s okay to get up from your table and thank people. Explain how every single gift is meaningful.

  1. Be the Last to Leave

The end of your fundraising event is a very important time for your leaders to be visible and active. This is a critical time to show your gratitude. Ask your leaders to be available to listen to guests and donors. Ask: what was your most memorable moment? Be available to receive: some donors wish to give anonymously or personally to a board member, gala chair or executive director.

  1. Show Heartfelt Thanks Immediately

Walk around, say thank you to each person. Consider stopping at each table to show your gratitude. Invite guests to come back next year and to bring their friends. Use “donor-focused language” YOUR gift make it possible to ______ (fill in how their gift will be used to impact your organization.) YOU did it! We couldn’t do it without YOU!

What about you?

If you have more great ideas to empower your leaders, drop me a note or call

If I can ever help you or a colleague or friend, I’d love to hear from you. I always offer a complimentary consultation. Referrals are the greatest compliment.   603-235-1196   Thank you!


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High Profit Party Boards

A fresh lucrative approach to engage more donors

Nick Colineri and Sally Kingston volunteering at Party Board at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction

Party Boards, sometimes called Signup Boards or Experience Boards are fun and lucrative. Here’s a fresh way to maximize fundraising with a unique, fun experience for multiple people with a fixed date and time. Just think, in the space of about nine square feet you can raise thousands of dollars plus create a perfect and way to engage donors long after your fundraiser.

Be inclusive. At many fundraising auctions, galas and benefit events, there’s a wide socioeconomic mix. Many guests who attend don’t want, don’t need, or can’t afford to bid on a big-ticket auction item. But they do want to contribute and participate, and to have fun, too. By strategically including a Party Board, you can creatively engage everyone, add excitement and raise more money.

Live Auction or Party Board? How do you decide if the experience should go into the Live Auction or be a Party Board? From a strategic perspective, Party Board experiences involve a large number of participants, so they may be a harder sell in the live auction. Experiences with many guests lend themselves well to a Party Board sales strategy, because even a single guest or one couple can join the group and feel part of your organization.

Party Board Ideas. Here are a few examples of creative parties you can sell during your cocktail hour by using Party Boards. What if you had someone willing to host a lobster bake for 40 people on a private beach? What about a poker party, poker lessons from a dealer with BBQ and scotch tasting for 30 people? How about a wine tasting and food pairing for 50 people? What about a Ladies Latin Night for 60 moms at your school, complete with margaritas, Latin dancing instructor, and Mexican food? Or even a Mystery Weekend Trip for 25 lucky winners? Or, Dinner with the Nuns for 12 couples? Be creative!

Party Board Benefits. It’s a unique and successful way you to engage more guests in a fun experience and it’s wonderful for people who don’t know anyone to get involved in your organization. It’s also a great way to promote bidding for guests who are looking for an exciting group experience.

Engage more donors. You make it easy for your guests to get to know each other and to share a communal, cathartic experience while raising money for a cause they love. From a donor development standpoint, it’s this kind of meaningful, exciting engagement that builds loyalty.

Kathy Kingston’s High Profit Party Board Success Factors. Ready to add fresh, innovative experiences and new revenue? Here are my 14 success factors for High Profit Party Boards.

Do the math. Calculate the price per spot and number of spots you need to reach your Party Board goal. Be sure to include any costs to you.

Make it BIG. Create a BIG free-standing Party Board. Build it about the size of a door in your home. Approximate dimensions 2.5 feet by 7.5 feet. Really!

Prominent location. Place your Party Board co-located to food/drink INSIDE the area where you are holding your cocktail hour. Make sure your Party Board is well lighted and professional looking. Make sure there is enough space around the Party Board for your volunteers to engage guests.

Read it 10 feet away. Guests need to read all of the Party Board 10 feet away. Please use BIG font. Remember, guests are mingling at your cocktail hour, and you will need to attract attention to it. Make it easy to read.  Supply volunteers 2 new big fat black magic markers.

Communicate Impact. Put your logo on the top of the party board. Remind guests how their gift makes a difference. Write it on the top: “Your generosity supports: fill in the blank about your impact.”

Be explicit in bullets. Place the name of your experience in giant font at the top. Describe the what the experience in bullets on top of Party Board. Big font. Day. Date. Time. Venue. Sponsors.  Write in bullet format what the experience includes. Make it very easy to read. Consider using this language. RESERVE YOUR SPOT NOW.  List the dollar amount per spot List the number of spots available. Write the number of spots, name and bid numbers as column headings. Then list the number of spots down the left side.

Activate your auctioneer. Give your auctioneer all the talking points to announce and create excitement and URGENCY during cocktail hour. Make sure your auctioneer announces how many spots are left and keeps building that frenzy to sell out during your cocktail hour. Note: you must have a good sound system in your cocktail area space.

Select gregarious volunteers. Pick four gregarious, happy, well trained volunteers: two volunteers at the board to write name and bid numbers, and two volunteers to purposefully engage and talk with guests, who guide guests the Party Board. Active excited volunteers will make ALL the difference in your success!

Train your volunteers. Create a time to train your volunteers on exactly what to say to promote your Party Board. For example: It’s new. Describe what the experience entails. Guests MUST go to Party Board to sign up. This is NOT A LIVE AUCTION ITEM.  Price per spot. ONLY x spots available. This will sell out quickly. Tell what is unique about this special experience.

Talk it up. Include Party Board talking points for other volunteers. In this way you can have more promotion to showcase this new exciting opportunity as welcome guests. It’s always great for these volunteers to share how funds support will support your great cause.

Pre-sell spots. Pre-sell a few spots and write it down on your Party Board BEFORE any guests come into the room. This way you already have sales momentum.

Capture the winners for cashiering. Add all Party Board winners bid numbers into your cashiering system right away. Have a key staff member copy all the winning bid numbers and bring it immediately to your cashier station for immediate entry into your payment system.

Avoid 5 common mistakes: When Party Boards fail, there are five root problems:

Mistake #1: Shy, reticent, untrained volunteers
Mistake #2: Size of Party Board is too small
Mistake #3: Wrong placement in the venue
Mistake #4: None or poor sound system
Mistake #5: Not using auctioneer for exciting announcements

Sell out fast. The goal is to sell ALL SPOTS by the end of cocktail hour. Make sure your auctioneer drives sales with frequent updates and announces when you are sold out. When you sell out – simply write:  SOLD OUT!

How about you? What’s your success with Party Boards? I’d love to hear from you and your ideas:

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5 Deadly Sins of Benefit Auctions

How to avoid commonly overlooked and easy to fix mistakes at benefit auctions, fundraisers and galas.

By: Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS

Mistake #1: Leave Money in the Room

THE most expensive mistake you can make is using a volunteer amateur auctioneer. Why risk it? Retaining an experienced professional fundraising auctioneer can increase your net auction profits from 20% to over 300% immediately. Uniquely experienced and dedicated to maximizing fundraising, a professional benefit auctioneer does not cost — it pays!  

Mistake #2: Dont Ask for Funds

It’s financial suicide not to properly conduct a profitable Fund a Need Special Appeal. Let’s face it, not everyone wants or needs a live or silent auction item. Create this opportunity for everyone to contribute to your great cause at a level that is meaningful to them. Ignite generosity with a well conducted, inspiring Fund A Need that that can literally double your live auction profits in just 10 minutes!

Mistake #3: Offer Too Many Auction Items That No One Wants

This catastrophic calamity will insure that you lose thousands of dollars. First, be sure to match your auction items to the unique profile of what your auction guests really want. Second, less is more. Reduce the number of auction items and focus on fewer unique items that produce bigger results. Make sure your organization procures hot auction items that keep driving excitement and interest – items that fulfill fantasies and dream vacations and experiences the are unique to your supporters. And remember to consider adding consignment items to complement your donated items to add excitement and dollars.

Mistake #4: Plan a Party and Forget Fundraising

An epic error is to plan your auction fundraiser like it’s your social soiree, business function or even worst a wedding. Focus first on fundraising – not your centerpieces, variety of wines, entertainment nor the color of tablecloths – all which raise zero dollars. Remember, your charity auction is often one of your biggest fundraisers of the year. You simply can not afford to lose precious dollars or support in this new economy. Strategically design your benefit auction to emphasize your unique mission and how your donors can make a difference. Proudly promote your cause and emphasize that the reason “Why We Are Here” is to raise funds so that your guests can change lives and improve your community.

Mistake #5: Bore Your Audience

The quickest way to loose money and momentum at your benefit auction is to sedate your guests with a string of talking-head long speeches.  Just say No BS. (No Boring Speeches!)  Insist on a few well placed brief inspiring remarks that emphasize first person testimonials and your success stories. Capture the hearts and wallets of your guests and showcase your cause and your transformational results.

Do you have ideas and solutions for other benefit auction mistakes? Feel free to email me to add to the conversation,

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Warm Thanksgiving Wishes

On full display a wild tom turkey struts through Kathy’s backyard
Photo Credit: Kathy Kingston

Warm Thanksgiving wishes to you and your loved ones.

Kathy Kingston

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