2 Quick Tips to Raise More Dollars During Your Live Auction


Folks that know me well know that I am not an events guy.  I spend far more time coaching my clients to get rid of some of their special events than I do coaching them on how to form new ones.  But if you have a successful special event, I’m all about maximizing it and pulling in as much revenue as possible.

Galas are one of the most common types of charitable events.  They typically include an auction component.  While I am no fan of silent auctions (tons of labor for minimal return), live auctions can generate significant revenue for a modest amount of prep work (assuming you have the connections to get awesome, exclusive stuff).

I have two quick tips to consider implementing if you run a live auction as part of your gala or other fundraising event.  Before I share them I’d like to give a shout out to Tim Keller of Keller Auctioneers in Lancaster, PA who originally suggested them to me.  Tim is a great auctioneer and he and is team really bring great energy to live auctions (and therefore lots of dollars as well).

Here’s a Tim in action at my most recent gala auction for the Cultural Enrichment Fund in Harrisburg, PA on 2.27.16.

Now on with the tips …

1) Auction Something of No Value

To get the auction started, auction something of no value. This item is not printed in the auction listing, but it is sold before the first lot.  The introduction goes something like this … “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here tonight to support a good cause.  We’re going to bid generously at this auction.  We’re not looking for bargains.  We’re supporting a cause that we love and would support even if there wasn’t an awesome item that we were trying to win.  Therefore, I’d like to start tonight’s auction off by selling this glass of water.  All the proceeds will go straight to the cause.  Who will give me $500 …”

The glass of water was the item originally suggested to me, but I put a different spin on it and like to make the item mission related.  I recently ran an auction that benefited the arts so I sold a blank unframed canvas (which I purchased for $15 and sold for $850, pretty good ROI).  Get creative and find something (of no or minimal value) that ties into your mission.

2) Offer a Prize for the Last Fund A Cause Donation

Hopefully you hold a Fund A Cause at the conclusion of your live auction.  If you don’t know, a Fund A Cause is the part of the auction where the board chair or executive director comes to the stage, tells a brief story about the impact of the charity’s work and asks for direct donations by folks simply raising their bidder numbers.  The auctioneer will then start high (perhaps $2,500) and work his way down to usually $100.  You get more and more folks raising their numbers as the amount goes down (I recommend having a few plants for the larger numbers to get things rolling).  Well, here’s one tip to get LOTS of donations at the last level:  offer a prize for the last $100 donation.

It works like this:  after taking a few donations at this level the auctioneer announces “Ladies and Gentlemen, as we wrap up tonight’s auction we have a special surprise for you.  The very last $100 donation made this evening will receive this great prize.”  The auctioneer then calls up a staff member to show the prize and as he takes donations (via raised paddles) he send the staff member over to award the prize, only to divert them to the next person.  It becomes a lot of fun and really gets the crowd going (and is exhausting for the staff member, I can attest to that).  You actually end up getting multiple $100 donations from some people because they simply want the prize.  The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate … something in the $200-$300 range is perfect.  My favorite item … one of those large format bottles of wine (they have great names depending on the size, like Jeroboam and Balthazar).  This is a great way to stretch the ten to fifteen $100 donations you’d receive into forty or more (like I did last year).

These are just two easy ways to maximize your live auction — there are many more.  If you’re going to the trouble of doing a gala and an auction, please make sure you’re getting everything out of it that you can.