How to Make Your Auction Awesome

Just about everyone is doing it. Big and small, live and silent – an auction is the cornerstone revenue generator of just about every fundraising event. And that’s the challenge. When every charity event hosts an auction, how do you make yours awesome? Here are three of my go-to tips to help ignite bidding by your guests.

1. Underwrite items
Just about every fundraising event holds either a silent auction, live auction or both. And everyone is looking for items to be donated. You can imagine the number the requests that a business receives.

You could go the route of investing in a mass mailing campaign to businesses with diligent phone follow-up. This approach has the potential to yield some great items, but has a significant investment of time, persistence and direct mail costs.

The simpler option is to seek sponsorships to underwrite your items. An ask of $250 or $500 to a select group of individuals or businesses can provide funds that will help you purchase great one-of-a-kind items. And while a business may not donate something outright, they will probably be open to giving a discount.

This is a great engagement method for donors who can’t attend your event; and for small businesses or your local vendors.

And here’s the best part: underwriting items allows you to control what lands on the auction table. No more hodgepodge of items. No more pairing disparate donated items together.

2. Design to the demographics

Chances are you have some great data about who are your guests. Did you know that if you have their postal code, you can find out some great insights into their lifestyle, buying preferences and values?

Environics Prizm5 is a census and demographic look-up application. When you plug in a postal code, the website will provide you with a lifestyle synopsis.
The challenge with this free service is that it does limit the number of postal codes you can assess daily and depending on the number of guests you host at an event, it will require an investment of time. However, this is a great project for a volunteer to tackle. It will provide you with information needed to make data driven decisions on things like sponsorship, auction items, entertainment, venue, etc.
The caveat is: because you are working at the postal code level; you will be working in generalities. But wouldn’t it be great to know that a specific percentage of your guests are married, have an average household income of $85,000; enjoy live theatre and Pilates?

Think of what that means for your auction acquisition. Suddenly you can confidently say to a prospective prospect that a specific percentage of your guests are their target customer. The conversation shifts from a charitable ask to an investment opportunity. Suddenly the business isn’t viewing you as ‘another charity looking for a handout’ but a potential marketing partner.

3. Focus on the unusual and unexpected

Just about any organization can secure a gift certificate for the symphony orchestra and local restaurant in town. It’s also relatively easy to acquire tickets to a national sports event. And a golf foursome? Not a problem. These are very common items for any charity auction.

If your guests can bid on these items at every event they attend, why are they going to bid often and bid high at your event?

You need to differentiate your auction items; tailor them to the guests in the room (that’s where demographics help) and ensure that the items are one-of-a-kind (that’s where underwriting your auction can help enhance a package’s uniqueness).

For example, a local art gallery auctioned off a vault tour accompanied with the ability to curate a wall in the gallery. Now that is an experience you can’t buy at the mall. The buzz that is generated, not to mention the revenue, will leave your golf foursome certificate and standard symphony tickets in the dust.

Auctions are resource heavy – they take a lot of time, talent and creativity. But by investing some funds, insights and originality you will ignite some serious giving with your auction as the spark.

Want to learn more about the art, science and psychology to auction design? Check out my #LayneWay learning opportunity on Auction Design here.