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  • Writer's pictureTammy Miller

More about charity auctioneers

A few weeks ago, we talked about the benefits of hiring a charity auctioneer to improve fundraising at your events. Today, we would like to provide more detail about those benefits ... and encourage you to reach out to us and talk about the options that are available for your nonprofit!

As a fundraiser, you already know that good donor development requires quality segmenting of your donor base. The materials you send to a potential donor are much different than the materials and engagement you have with a leadership donor. But have you considered the same is true for the auction you hold at an event? If your goal is to raise maximum dollars via your auction, then it will be important to make sure donors capable and willing to spend are in the room. Have you ever marveled at the amount an item will sell for in a huge, national or regional organization's live auction? Their success is because they have invited the right people to attend.

In addition to making certain that the correct donor is in the room, it is imperative to put the "right" items up for sale. If your organization is in a college town, putting up unique memorabelia from a favorite coach might be a huge source of income. If your organization is close to a pro-sports franchise, securing unique items from that franchise might make sense. Even better, auctioning personal time with local heros might be the way your donors will become more engaged. On the other hand, maybe they already have that access but would prefer access to something else ... like a private tour of a local business or historical property. A good charity auctioneer will work with you long before your actual event to understand your donors and to help you segment the items you secure in a way that will best appeal to your guests.

In addition, just as you craft language in your outreach and meeting materials to best engage leadership donors, it is important for your charity auctioneer to understand and use language around leadership momentum gifts that generate and inspire giving. We will work with you to define that language and to understand the things that inspire the folks who attend your event.

Unlike an auction for the sale of just goods or services, charity auctions require pacing, energy and engagment. For example, if dessert has just been served, it's probably not the best time put your most promising item up for sale! If the event is running long and your guests are getting restless, a good charity auctioneer will know how to inject some fun and engagement into the process.

Perhaps the most important skills a charity auctioneer brings to the table are:

  1. The ability to appropriately value an item, start at the correct bid, and know what the most effective bid increments might be to advance the bid, and

  2. The ability to maximize bids through revenue enhancering games.

We once worked with a local non-profit that was kicking off a new social media campaign. A piece of that campaign was yard signs that local, supporting businesses would place on their property. We were able to raise significant funds by auctioning off the right to be the FIRST business to place the yard sign. It was fun, competitive, and the businesses in the room enjoyed the competition!

Sadly, we have watched as untrained auctioneers have misunderstood the importance of appealing to donors vs appealing to buyers. In one case, an auctioneer started bids for a highly priced vacation package at its retail price. It was an incredibly luxurious and rare opportunity and the auctioneer believed the bidders in the room had the wealth and desire to pay for it. Unfortunately, it ended up not selling at all. In this case, the auctioneer misread the donors in the room. The auctioneer believed the donors were there to give money and would be happy to "over pay" for a unique experience. Although the donors may well have been willing to over pay if they were afforded the opportunity to work up to it, starting at such a high amount failed to recognize that even a major donor's first impulse is to calculate value. When a high-priced item is put up for bid at a charity auction and the auctionner doesn't attach it's value to the cause itself but instead focuses on just the experience, the likelihood of it selling at the price the committee had hoped it would achieve is pretty slim. It is imperative that the auctioneer understand the audience, where to start to bid, and how to increase bidding by appealing to the donor in the bidder and the cause the donor is passionate about instead of working to appeal only to the buyer in the bidder.

We have borrowed much of this information from resources available through our auction training and charity auctioneer network. One of our favorites resources is We encourage you to visit them for more information about charity auctions and the value of hiring an auctioneer who has been trained in charity auctioneering. We also encourage you to reach out to us by emailing us: or calling 814-212-3115. We would love to talk to you about ways to improve your fundraising via live auctions.

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