Sunday, January 24, 2016

{MY} Auctions 101

I have been involved in many fundraising efforts, ranging from participating in Dancing With The Rogue Valley Stars, to putting on a 5K fundraiser, to being the event manager for the local Polar Plunge for Special Olympics. I enjoy the event planning portion, and love the challenge of reaching & surpassing a goal.  I have helped with a couple local auctions, but on a rather limited scale.  I have been involved with the Gingerbread Jubilee for a couple of years, and now as a board member of the Craterian Theater, I agreed to take on a larger role...that of procurement co-chair.   With the help of my co-chair and our committee, we were responsible for procuring all of the silent and live auction items. I took on the role with a goal to spice things up, changing up items that we had repeated for several years, and introducing new, perhaps risky packages.  I am happy to say, that with a phenomenal team and great collaborative effort, we pulled off the most successful Gingerbread Jubilee Auction in history.  I did a lot of research to learn HOW to put on a successful auction, and I want to pay it forward and share what I learned from my experience.  

Do your research. Google "Tips to a successful auction." "Top Selling LIVE auction items."  There are so many amazing resources out there...take advantage of them. There is in fact a science to putting on a successful auction, including how to put together the LIVE auction order, how many items to auction off, when to do the ask, etc.  Also, research the history of your event and notice what has sold well in the past, how many years a certain package has been offered,  what areas you are lacking auction items,'s important to be familiar with your event.

I came across a list of unique auction items, one being to auction off dessert prepared & served table side by a local famous chef, and we did just that! The dessert was part of the entertainment for the evening, a huge success, and got the evening off to a fun & exciting start...I mean, if a dessert goes for over $1,000, its bound to be a good night!

Put in the extra effort. If you are easily able to put together a package valued at $1,000, put in the extra effort to create a $2,000 package.  That might mean adding a transportation component, a live performance to a dinner package, OR a behind the scenes experience. 

Make it a night to remember.  It's important that your guests enjoy themselves, and want to come back the following year.  So in addition to offering a quality dinner & great auction packages you need to incorporate entrainment components into the evening.

At this year's {well now last year's} Gingerbread Jubilee Auction we knew we were going to hit the $1,000,000 mark {over the history of the auction}, and it was important to make a big deal of it. During the auction we celebrated raising $1 million by having a surprise celebration complete with champagne, sirens, and confetti!

Get items donated. I am a firm believer that the auction items need to be donated NOT purchased. The ultimate goal is to raise money for the organization, so it is counter intuitive to purchase {aka underwrite} items to be auctioned off.

With that being said, there are a few {very few} situations in which adding a component to a package will significantly leverage the package, thus increasing the perceived value.  For instance, I was able to get 4 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Grandstand seats donated, and while those are priceless, I knew the package didn't have much value without overnight accommodations.  After submitting over a dozen donation request letters to NYC hotels with ZERO leads, I had to go to plan B. So with the help of a board member I solicited a financial donation from a local physician group to cover the cost of the hotel room & tickets to a broadway show.  It was win-win situation...the package was our highest selling auction item at just under $8,000 and we developed new friends of the theater from the physician group.

Include an element of exclusivity with each package.  For the live auction it is important that every package include a component of exclusivity, something that is truly priceless; whether it be a behind the scenes experience, signed memorabilia, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Tickets :), a VIP dining experience with a local celebrity, a private flight for a day golf trip etc.

Be willing to take a risk. In an effort to change things up, and spice up the auction, we had to be willing to take a risk and get rid of packages we have offered for several years, and introduce completely new & exciting packages.  While some weren't as well received as we would've liked, others were a HUGE success! 

Ensure the right people are in attendance.  You can have the most perfectly executed event, but without the right buns in the seat, the event will not be a success.  I think there are 3 categories of people you need to focus on 1) Those who are big supporters of your cause/organization.  They want to and will give, despite what packages etc you offer.  2) Specific buyers for specific packages.  3) People who are well known in the community for their support of several always want to be introducing new people to the event and the organization. 

Continue to cultivate relationships after the auction.  When the night comes to an end, it is so important to continue to cultivate & develop lasting relationships with your donors, sponsors, and buyers.  Don't ever under estimate the power of a hand written thank you note or a nice bottle of wine to show your appreciation.  

While there were moments I said NEVER AGAIN, I enjoyed the process and the challenge of figuring out the ins & outs of putting on a successful auction.  It took a lot {and I mean A LOT} of time, energy and resource to pull it off, but in the end it was all worth it and an incredibly rewarding night & experience.